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The Ceremony of the Red Heifer: Its Purpose and Function in Narrative Context

HUMANN, JOEL,RICHARD (2011) The Ceremony of the Red Heifer: Its Purpose and Function in Narrative Context. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The present thesis is a synchronic investigation of the ceremony of the Red Heifer of Num 19, which describes a purificatory ritual that cleanses persons who have become defiled through contact with the dead. In seeking the authorial intent and meaning behind the elusive symbolism of the rite, two avenues are pursued: 1) an investigation of the rite’s relationship to the חטאת complex of sacrifices; 2) an analysis of the text of Num 19 from within, and in relationship to, its narrative framework in Numbers and the Torah. Comparative study with other חטאת reveals that the Red Heifer is best understood as a rite de passage which effects separation and transfer from a state of impurity. In narrative context, this rite of separation entails a spatial transfer—separation from the domain of death typified by the wilderness and reintegration into the camp of Israel gathered around the holy Sanctuary. Narrative context supplies much of the symbolic import of the law. By means of its placement in Numbers, juxtaposition with narrative, and employment of allusive keywords, the prescriptions of the ritual text are endowed with symbolic meaning. The Red Heifer thematises Israel’s transit through the wilderness, the death of the old generation and the birth of the new. Its textual location contributes to Numbers’ rhetorical concern for high-priestly succession. Lastly, the primeval narratives of Creation and Flood, the story of Israel’s passage through the Red Sea, and the drama of man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, all provide cosmological and foundational motifs with which the symbolism of the ceremony of the Red Heifer interacts.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:red; heifer; cow; numbers; 19; narrative; law; biblical; symbolism; torah; ritual; purification; hattat; milgrom
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2011
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:11 Feb 2011 16:10

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