On Animals Fit for Sacrifice,
Or On Victims.
I. Of the creatures which are fit to be offered as sacrifices, some are land animals, and some are such as fly through the air. Passing over, therefore, the infinite varieties of birds, God chose only two classes out of them all, the turtle-dove and the pigeon; because the pigeon is by nature the most gentle of all those birds which are domesticated and gregarious, and the turtle-dove the most gentle of those which love solitude. Also, passing over the innumerable troops of land animals, whose very numbers it is not easy to ascertain, he selected these especially as the best -- the oxen, and sheep, and goats; for these are the most gentle and the most manageable of all animals. At all events, great herds of oxen, and numerous flocks of goats and sheep, are easily driven by any one, not merely by any man, but by any little child, when they go forth to pasture, and in the same way they are brought back to their folds in good order when the time comes. And of this gentleness, there are many other proofs, and the most evident are these: that they all feed on herbage, and that no one of them is carnivorous, and that they have neither crooked talons, nor any projecting tusks or teeth whatever; for the back parts of the upper jaw do not hold teeth, but all the incisor teeth are deficient in them: and, besides these facts, they are of all animals the most useful to man. Rams are the most useful for the necessary covering of the body; oxen, for ploughing the ground and preparing the arable land for seed, and for the growth of the crops that shall hereafter come to be threshed out, in order that men may partake of and enjoy food; and the hair and fleeces of goats, where one is woven, or the other sewn together, make movable tents for travellers, and especially for men engaged in military expeditions, whom their necessities constantly compel to abide outside of the city in the open air.
II. And the victims must be whole and entire, without any blemish on any part of their bodies, unmutilated, perfect in every part, and without spot or defect of any kind. At all events, so great is the caution used with respect not only to those who offer the sacrifices, but also to the victims which are offered, that the most eminent of the priests are carefully selected to examine whether they have any blemishes or not, and scrutinize them from head to foot, inspecting not only those parts which are easily visible, but all those which are more out of sight, such as the belly and the thighs, lest any slight imperfection should escape notice. And the accuracy and minuteness of the investigation is directed not so much on account of the victims themselves, as in order that those who offer them should be irreproachable; for God designed to teach the Jews by these figures, whenever they went up to the altars, when there to pray or to give thanks, never to bring with them any weakness or evil passion in their soul, but to endeavor to make it wholly and entirely bright and clean, without any blemish, so that God might not turn away with aversion from the sight of it.
III. And since, of the sacrifices to be offered, some are on behalf of the whole nation, and indeed, if one should tell the real truth, in behalf of all mankind, while others are only in behalf of each individual who has chosen to offer them; we must speak first of all of those which are for the common welfare of the whole nation, and the regulations with respect to this kind of sacrifice are of a marvellous nature.
For some of them are offered up every day, and some on the days of the new moon, and at the festivals of the full moon; others on days of fasting; and others at three different occasions of festival. Accordingly, it is commanded that every day the priests should offer up two lambs, one at the dawn of day, and the other in the evening; each of them being a sacrifice of thanksgiving; the one for the kindnesses which have been bestowed during the day, and the other for the mercies which have been vouchsafed in the night, which God is incessantly and uninterruptedly pouring upon the race of men. And on the seventh day he doubles the number of victims to be offered, giving equal honor to equal things, inasmuch as he looks upon the seventh day as equal in dignity to eternity, since he has recorded it as being the birth-day of the whole world. On which account he has thought fit to make the sacrifice to be offered on the seventh day, equal to the continuation of what is usually sacrificed in one day.
Moreover, the most fragrant of all incenses are offered up twice every day in the fire, being burnt within the veil, both when the sun rises and sets, before the morning and after the evening sacrifice, so that the sacrifices of blood display our gratitude for ourselves as being composed of blood, but the offerings of incense show our thankfulness for the dominant part within us, our rational spirit, which was fashioned after the archetypal model of the divine image. And loaves are placed on the seventh day on the sacred table, being equal in number to the months of the year, twelve loaves, arranged in two rows of six each, in accordance with the arrangement of the equinoxes; for there are two equinoxes every year, the vernal and the autumnal, which are each reckoned by periods of six months.
At the vernal equinox all the seeds sown in the ground begin to ripen; about which time, also, the trees begin to put forth their fruit. And by the autumnal one the fruit of the trees has arrived at a perfect ripeness; and at this period, again, is the beginning of seed time. Thus nature, going through a long course of time, showers gifts after gifts upon the race of man, the symbols of which are the two sixes of loaves thus placed on the table. And these loaves, also, do figuratively intimate that most useful of all virtues, temperance; which is attended by frugality, and economy, and moderation as so many bodyguards, on account of the pernicious attacks which intemperance and covetousness prepare to make upon it. For, to a lover of wisdom, a loaf is a sufficient nourishment, keeping the bodies free from disease, and the intellect sound, and healthy, and sober. But high seasonings, and cheesecakes, and sweetmeats, and all the other delicacies which the superfluous skill of confectioners and cooks concoct to cajole the illiterate, and unphilosophical, and most slavish of all the outward senses, namely, taste, which is never influenced by any noble sight, or by any perceptible lesson, but only by desire to indulge the appetites of the miserable belly, constantly engenders incurable diseases both in the body and the mind.
And with the loaves there is also placed on the table frankincense and salt. The one as a symbol that there is no sweetmeat more fragrant and wholesome than economy and temperance, if wisdom is to be the judge; while salt is an emblem of the duration of all things (for salt preserves everything over which it is sprinkled), and also of sufficient seasoning.
I know that those men who devote themselves wholly to drinking parties and banquets, and who care only for costly entertainments, will make a mock at these things and turn them into ridicule, miserable slaves as they are of birds, and fishes, and meat, and all such nonsense as that, and not being able to taste of true freedom, not even in a dream. And all such men are to be disregarded and despised by those who seek to live in accordance with the will of God, in a manner pleasing to the true and living God; who, having learnt to despise the pleasures of the flesh, pursue the delights and luxuries of the mind, having exercised themselves in the contemplation of the objects of nature.
IV. After the lawgiver has given these commands with reference to these subjects, he begins to distinguish between the different kinds of sacrifices, and he divides the victims into three classes. The most important of which he makes a whole burnt offering; the next an offering for preservation; the last, a sin-offering. And then he adapts suitable ceremonies and rites to each, aiming, in no inadequate manner, at what is at the same time decorous and holy. And the distinction which he makes is one of great beauty and propriety, having a close connection and a sort of natural kindred with the things themselves; for if any one were to wish to examine minutely the causes for which it seemed good to the first men to betake themselves at the same time to sacrifices to show their gratitude, and also to supplications, he will find two most especial reasons for this conduct. Firstly, that it conduces to the honor of God, which ought to be aimed at not for the sake of any other reason, but for itself alone, as being both honorable and necessary; and, secondly, for the benefits which have been poured upon the sacrificers themselves, as has been said before. And the benefit they derive is also twofold, being both an admission to a share of good things and a deliverance from evils.
Therefore the law has assigned the whole burnt offering as a sacrifice adequate to that honor which is suited to God, and which belongs to God alone, enjoining that what is offered to the all-perfect and absolute God must be itself entire and perfect, having no taint of mortal selfishness in it. But that sacrifice which is offered for the sake of men, since its appearance admits of distinction, the law has distinguished also, appointing it to be a sacrifice for the participation in blessings which mankind has enjoined, and calling it a thank-offering for their preservation. And for the deliverance from evils it has allotted the sacrifice called a sin-offering, so that these are very appropriately their sacrifices for these causes; the whole burnt-offering being sacrificed for God himself alone, who must be honored for his own sake, and not for that of any other being or thing; and the others for our sake; the thank-offering for our preservation, for the safety and amelioration of human affairs; and the sin-offering for the cure of those offenses which the soul has committed.
V. And we must now enumerate the laws which have been enacted respecting each sacrifice, making our commencement with that which is the most excellent. Now, the most excellent sacrifice is the whole burnt-offering. The law says, "In the first place the victim shall be a male, carefully selected for its excellence from all the animals which are fit for sacrifice, a calf, or a lamb, or a kid. And then let him who brings it wash his hands, and lay his hands on the head of the victim. And after this let some one of the priests take the victim and sacrifice it, and let another hold a bowl under it, and, having caught some of the blood, let him go all around the altar and sprinkle it with the blood, and let him flay the victim and divide it into large pieces, having washed its entrails and its feet. And then let the whole victim be given to the fire of the altar of God, [Leviticus 1:3] having become many things instead of one, and one instead of many."
These things, then, are comprehended in express words of command. But there is another meaning figuratively concealed under the enigmatical expressions. And the words employed are visible symbols of what is invisible and uncertain. Now the victim which is to be sacrificed as a whole burnt offering must be a male, because a male is both more akin to domination than a female and more nearly related to the efficient cause; for the female is imperfect, subject, seen more as the passive than as the active partner. And since the elements of which our soul consists are two in number, the rational and the irrational part, the rational part belongs to the male sex, being the inheritance of intellect and reason; but the irrational part belongs to the sex of woman, which is the lot also of the outward senses. And the mind is in every respect superior to the outward sense, as the man is to the woman; who, when he is without blemish and purified with the proper purifications, namely, the perfect virtues, is himself the most holy sacrifice, being wholly and in all respects pleasing to God.
Again, the hands which are laid upon the head of the victim are a most manifest symbol of irreproachable actions, and of a life which does nothing which is open to accusation, but which in all respects is passed in a manner consistent with the laws and ordinances of nature; for the law, in the first place, desires that the mind of the man who is offering the sacrifice shall be made holy by being exercised in good and advantageous doctrines; and, in the second place, that his life shall consist of most virtuous actions, so that, in conjunction with the imposition of hands, the man may speak freely out of his cleanly conscience, and may say, "These hands have never received any gift as a bribe to commit an unjust action, nor any division of what has been obtained by rapine or by covetousness, nor have they shed innocent blood, nor have they wrought mutilation, nor works of insolence, nor acts of violence, nor have they inflicted any wounds; nor, in fact, have they performed any action whatever which is liable to accusation or to reproach, but have been ministers in everything which is honorable and advantageous, and which is honored by wisdom, or by the laws, or by honorable and virtuous men."
VI. And the blood is poured out in a circle all round the altar, because a circle is the most complete of all figures, and also in order that no part whatever may be left empty and unoccupied by the libation of life; for, to speak properly, the blood is the libation of the life. Therefore the law here symbolically teaches us that the mind, which is always performing its dances in a circle, is by every description of words, and intentions, and actions which it adopts, always showing its desire to please God.
And it is commanded that the belly and the feet shall be washed, which command is a figurative and very expressive one; for, by the belly it is figuratively meant to be signified that it is desirable that the appetites shall be purified, which are full of stains, and intoxication, and drunkenness, being thus a most pernicious evil, existing, and concocted, and exercised to the great injury of the life of mankind. And by the command that the feet of the victim should be washed, it is figuratively shown that we must no longer walk upon the earth, but soar aloft and traverse the air.
For the soul of the man who is devoted to God, being eager for truth, springs upward and mounts from earth to heaven; and, being borne on wings, traverses the expanse of the air, being eager to be classed with and to move in concert with the sun, and moon, and all the rest of the most sacred and most harmonious company of the stars, under the immediate command and government of God, who has a kingly authority without any rival, and of which he can never be deprived, in accordance with which he justly governs the universe.
And the division of the animal into limbs shows plainly that all things are but one, or that they are derived from one, and dissolved into one; which some persons have called satiety and also want, while others have called it combustion and arrangement: combustion, in accordance with the supreme power of God, who rules all other things in the world; and arrangement, according to the equality of the four elements which they all mutually allow to one another.
And when I have been investigating these matters, this has appeared to me to be a probable conjecture; the soul which honors the living God, ought for that very reason to honor him not inconsiderately nor ignorantly, but with knowledge and reason; and the reasoning which we indulge in respecting God admits of division and partition, according to each of the divine faculties and excellencies; for God is both all good, and is also the maker and creator of the universe; and he also created it having a foreknowledge of what would take place, and being its preserver and most blessed benefactor, full of every kind of happiness; all which circumstances have in themselves a most dignified and praiseworthy character, both separately and when looked at in conjunction with their kindred qualities; and we must speak in the same way of other matters.
When you wish to give thanks to God with your mind, and to assert your gratitude for the creation of the world, give him thanks for the creation of it as a whole, and of all its separate parts in their integrity, as if for the limbs of a most perfect animal; and by the parts I mean, for instance, the heaven, and the sun, and the moon, and the fixed stars; and secondly the earth, and the animals, and plants which spring from it; and next the seas and rivers, whether naturally springing from the ground or swollen by rain as winter torrents, and all the things in them: and lastly, the air and all the changes that take place in it; for winter, and summer, and spring, and autumn, being the seasons of the year, and being all of great service to mankind, are what we may call affections of the air for the preservation of all these things that are beneath the moon.
And if ever you give thanks for men and their fortunes, do not do so only for the race taken generally, but you shall give thanks also for the species and most important parts of the race, such as men and women, Greeks and barbarians, men on the continent, and those who have their habitation in the islands; and if you are giving thanks for one individual, do not divide your thankfulness in expression into gratitude for minute trifles and inconsiderable matters, but take in your view the most comprehensive circumstances, first of all, his body and his soul, of which he consists, and then his speech, and his mind, and his outward senses; for such gratitude cannot of itself be unworthy of being listened to by God, when uttered, for each of these particulars.
VII. These things are enough for us to say respecting the sacrifice of the whole burnt-offering. We must now proceed in due order to consider that offering which is called the sacrifice for preservation; for with respect to this one it is a matter of consequence whether the victim be male or female; and when it is slain, these three parts are especially selected for the altar, the fat, and the lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys; and all the other parts are left to make a feast for the sacrificer; and we must consider with great accuracy the reason why these portions of the entrails are in this case looked upon as sacred, and not pass this point by carelessly.
Often when I have been considering this matter in my own mind, and investigating all these commandments, I have doubted why the law selected the lobe of the liver, and the kidneys, and the fat, as the first fruits of the animals thus sacrificed; and did not choose the heart or the brain, though the dominant part of the man resides in one of these parts; and I think also that many other persons who read the sacred scriptures with their mind, rather than merely with their eyes, will ask the same question. If therefore they, when they have considered the matter, can find any more probable reason, they will be benefiting both themselves and us; but if they cannot, let them consider the cause which has been discovered by us, and see whether it will stand the test; and this is it.
The dominant power alone of all those that exist in us is able to restrain our natural folly, and injustice, and cowardice, and our other vices, and does restrain them; and the abode of this dominant power is one or other of the aforesaid portions of us, that is, it is either the brain or the heart; therefore the sacred commandment has thought fit that one should not bring to the altar of God, by means of which a remission and complete pardon of all sins and transgressions is procured, that vessel from which the mind having at one time been abiding in it, has gone forth on the trackless road of injustice and impiety, having turned out of the way which leads to virtue and excellence; for it would be folly to suppose that sacrifices were not to procure a forgetfulness of offenses, but were to act as a reminder of them.
This it is which appears to me to be the reason why neither of those two parts, which are of supreme importance, namely, the brain or the heart, is brought to the altar; and the parts which are commanded to be brought have a very suitable reason why they should be; the fat is brought because it is the richest part, and that which guards the entrails; for it envelops them and makes them to flourish, and benefits them by the softness of its touch.
And the kidneys are commanded to be selected on account of the adjacent parts and the organs of generation, which they, as they dwell near them, do, like good neighbors, assist and co-operate with, in order that the seed of nature may prosper without anything in its vicinity being any obstacle to it; for they are channels resembling blood, by which that part of the purification of the superfluities of the body which is moist is separated from the body; and the testicles are near by which the seed is irrigated.
And the lobe of the liver is the first fruit of the most important of the entrails, by means of which the food is digested, and being conveyed into the stomach is diffused through all the veins, and so conduces to the durability of the whole body; for the stomach, lying close to the gullet which swallows the food, receives it as soon after it has first been chewed by the teeth and been made smooth, and so digests it; and the body again receives it from the stomach and performs the second part of the service required, to which indeed it has been destined by nature, giving forth a juice to aid in liquefying the food; and there are two pipes like channels in the belly, which pour forth chyle into the liver, through the two channels which are originally placed in it.
And the liver has a twofold power, a secretive one, and also a power of making blood. Now the secretive power secretes everything which is hard and difficult to be digested, and removes it into the adjacent vessels of gall; and the other power turns all that portion of the food which is pure and properly strained, by the means of its own innate flame, into life-like vivifying blood; and presses it into the heart, from which, as has been already said, it is conveyed through the veins and by these channels is diffused through the whole body to which it becomes the nourishment.
We must also add to what has been here said, that the nature of the liver being of a lofty character and very smooth, by reason of its smoothness is looked upon as a very transparent mirror, so that when the mind, retreating from the cares of the day (while the body is lying relaxed in sleep, and while no one of the outward senses is any hindrance or impediment), begins to roll itself about, and to consider the objects of its thought by itself without any interruption, looking into the liver as into a mirror, it then sees, very clearly and without any alloy, every one of the proper objects of the intellect, and looking round upon all vain idols, and seeing that no disgrace can accrue to it, but taking care to avoid that and to choose the contrary, and being contented and pleased with all that it sees, it by dreams obtains a prophetic sight of the future.
VIII. And there are two days only during which God permits the nation to make use of the sacrifice for preservation, enjoining them to carve nothing of it till the third day, on many accounts, first of all, because all the things which are ever placed on the sacred table, ought to be made use of in due season, while the users take care that they shall suffer no deterioration from the lapse of time; but the nature of meat that has been kept is very apt to become putrid, even though it may have been seasoned in the cooking; secondly, because it is fitting that the sacrifices should not be stored up for food, but should be openly exposed, so as to afford a meal to all who are in need of it, for the sacrifice when once placed on the altar, is no longer the property of the person who has offered it, but belongs to that Being to whom the victim is sacrificed, who, being a beneficent and bounteous God, makes the whole company of those who offer the sacrifice, partakers at the altar and messmates, only admonishing them not to look upon it as their own feast, for they are but stewards of the feast, and not the entertainers; and the entertainer is the man to whom all the preparation belongs, which it is not lawful to conceal while preferring parsimony and illiberal meanness to humanity which is a noble virtue.
Lastly, this command was given because it so happens that the sacrifice for preservation is offered up for two things, the soul and the body, to each of which the lawgiver has assigned one day for feasting on the meats, for it was becoming that a number of days should be allotted for this purpose equal to the number of those parts in us which were designed to be sacred; so that in the first day we should, together with our eating of the food, receive a recollection of the salvation of our souls; and on the second day be reminded of the sound health of our bodies. And since there is no third object which is naturally appointed as one that should receive preservation, he has, with all possible strictness, forbidden the use of those meats being reserved to the third day, commanding that if it should so happen that, out of ignorance or forgetfulness, any portion was left, it should be consumed with fire; and he declares that the man who has merely tasted of it is blameable, saying to him, "Though thinking that you were sacrificing, O foolish man, you have not sacrificed; I have not accepted the unholy, unconsecrated, profane, unclean meats which you have roasted, O gluttonous man; never, even in a dream, having a proper idea of sacrifice."
IX. To this species of sacrifice for preservation that other sacrifice also belongs, which is called the sacrifice of praise, and which rests on the following principle. [Leviticus 19:1.] The man who has never fallen into any unexpected disaster whatever, neither as to his body nor as to his external circumstances, but who has passed a tranquil and peaceful life, living in happiness and prosperity, being free from all calamity and all mishap, steering through the long voyage of life in calmness and serenity of circumstances, good fortune always blowing upon the stern of his vessel, is, of necessity, bound to requite God, who has been the pilot of his voyage, who has bestowed upon him untroubled salvation and unalloyed benefits, and, in short, all sorts of blessings unmingled with any evil, with hymns, and songs, and prayers, and also with sacrifices, and all other imaginable tokens of gratitude in a holy manner; all which things taken together have received the one comprehensive name of praise.
This sacrifice the lawgiver has not commanded to be spread like the one before mentioned over two days [Leviticus 7:5], but he has confined it to one only, in order that these men, who meet with ready benefits freely poured upon them, may offer up their requital freely and without any delay.
X. This is sufficient to say on these subjects. We must now proceed, in due order, to consider the third sacrifice, which is called the sin-offering. This is varied in many ways, both in respect to the persons and to the description of victims offered; in respect of persons, that is, of the high priest, and of the whole nation, and of the ruler in his turn, and of the private individual; in respect of the victim offered, whether it be a calf, or a kid, or a she-goat, or a lamb. Also there is a distinction made, which is very necessary, as to whether they are voluntary or involuntary, with reference to those who, after they have erred, change for the better, confessing that they have sinned, and reproaching themselves for the offenses that they have committed, and turning, for the future, to an irreproachable way of life.
The sins therefore of the high priest, and of the whole nation, are atoned for by animals of equal value, for the priest is commanded to offer up a calf for each. The sins of the ruler are atoned for by an inferior animal, but still a male, for a kid is the appointed victim. The sins of the private individual by a victim of an inferior species, for it is a female, not a male, a she-goat, that is sacrificed; for it was fitting that a ruler should be ranked above a private individual, even in his performance of sacred ceremonies also: but the nation is superior to the ruler, since the whole must, at all times, be superior to the part. But the high priest is accounted worthy of the same honor as the whole nation, in respect of purification and of entreating a forgiveness of his sins from the merciful power of God.
And he receives an equality of honor, not so much as it appears for his own sake, as because he is a servant of the nation, offering up a common thank-offering for them all in his most sacred prayers and most holy sacrifices. And the commandment given respecting these matters is one of great dignity and admirable solemnity. "If," says the law, "the high priest have sinned unintentionally," and then it adds, "so that the people has sinned too," all but affirming in express words that the true high priest, not the one incorrectly called so, has no participation in sin; and if ever he stumble, this will happen to him, not for his own sake, but for the common errors of the nation, and this error is not incurable, but is one which easily admits of a remedy. When, therefore, the calf has been sacrificed, the lawgiver commands the sacrificer to sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times in front of the veil which is before the holy of holies, within the former veil, in which place the sacred vessels are placed; and after that to smear and anoint the four horns of the altar, for it is square; and to pour out the rest of the blood at the foot of the altar, which is in the open air. And to this altar they are commanded to bring three things, the fat, and the lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys, in accordance with the commandment given with reference to the sacrifice for preservation; but the skin and the flesh, and all the rest of the body of the calf, from the head to the feet, with the entrails, they are commanded to carry out and to burn in an open place, to which the sacred ashes from the altar have been conveyed.
The lawgiver also gives the same command with respect to the whole nation when it has sinned. But if any ruler has sinned he makes his purification with a kid [Leviticus 4:22], as I have said before; and if a private individual has sinned, he must offer a she-goat or a lamb; and for the ruler he appoints a male victim, but to the private individual a female, making all his other injunctions the same in both cases, to anoint the horns of the altar in the open air with blood, to bring the fat and the lobe of the liver, and the two kidneys, and to give the rest of the victim to the priests to eat.
XI. But since, of offenses some are committed against men, and some against holy and sacred things; he has hitherto been speaking with reference to those which are unintentionally committed against men; but for the purification of such as have been committed against sacred things he commands a ram to be offered up, after the offender has first paid the value of the thing to which the offense related, adding one fifth to the exact value.
And after having put forth these and similar enactments with reference to sins committed unintentionally, he proceeds to lay down rules respecting intentional offenses. "If any one," says the law, "shall speak falsely concerning a partnership, or about a deposit, or about a theft, or about the finding of something which another has lost, and being suspected and having had an oath proposed to him, shall swear, and when he appears to have escaped all conviction at the hands of his accusers, shall himself become his own accuser, being convicted by his own conscience residing within, and shall reproach himself for the things which he has denied, and as to which he has sworn falsely, and shall come and openly confess the sin which he has committed, and implore pardon; then pardon shall be given to such a man, who shows the truth of his repentance, not by promises but by works, by restoring the deposit which he has received, and by giving up the things which he has stolen or found, or of which in short he has in any way deprived his neighbor, paying also in addition one fifth of the value, as an atonement for the evil which he had done." [Leviticus 5:20.]
And then, after he has appeased the man who had been injured, the law proceeds to say, "After this let him go also into the temple, to implore remission of the sins which he has committed, taking with him an irreproachable mediator, namely, that conviction of the soul which has delivered him from his incurable calamity, curing him of the disease which would cause death, and wholly changing and bringing him to good health." And it orders that he should sacrifice a ram, and this victim is expressly mentioned, as it is in the case of the man who has offended in respect of the holy things; for the law speaks of an unintentional offense in the matter of holy things as of equal importance with an intentional sin in respect of men; if we may not indeed say that this also is holy, since an oath is added to it, which, as having been taken for an unjust cause, it has corrected by an alteration for the better.
And we must take notice that the parts of the victim slain as a sin-offering which are placed upon the altar, are the same as those which are taken from the sacrifice for preservation, namely the lobe of the liver, and the fat, and the kidneys; for in a manner we may speak also of the man who repents as being preserved, since he is cured of a disease of the soul, which is worse than the diseases of the body; but the other parts of the animal are assigned to be eaten in a different manner; and the difference consists in three things; in the place, and time, and in those who receive it. [Leviticus 6:9.] Now the place is the temple; the time is one day instead of two; and the persons who partake of it are the priests, and the male servants of the priests, but not the men who offer the sacrifice. Therefore the law does not permit the sacrifice to be brought out of the temple, with the intent that, if the man who repents has committed any previous offense also, he may not now be overwhelmed by envious and malicious men, with foolish dispositions and unbridled tongues, always lying in wait for reproach and false accusation; but it must be eaten in the sacred precincts, within which the purification has taken place.
XII. And the law orders the priests to feast on what is offered in the sacrifice for many reasons; first of all, that by this command it may do honor to him who has offered the sacrifice, for the dignity of those who eat of the feast is an honor to those who furnish it; secondly, that they may believe the more firmly that those men who feel repentance for their sins do really have God propitious to them, for he would never have invited his servants and ministers to a participation in such a banquet, if his forgiveness of those who provided it had not been complete; and thirdly, because it is not lawful for any one of the priests to bear a part in the sacred ceremonies who is not perfect, for they are rejected for the slightest blemish.
And God comforts those who have ceased to travel by the road of wickedness, as if they now, by means of the race of the priesthood, had received a pure purpose of life for the future, and had been sent forth so as to obtain an equal share of honor with the priests. And it is for this reason that the victim sacrificed as a sin-offering is consumed in one day, because men ought to delay to sin, being always slow and reluctant to approach it, but to exert all possible haste and promptness in doing well.
But the sacrifices offered up for the sins of the high priest, or for those of the whole nation, are not prepared to be eaten at all, but are burnt to ashes, and the ashes are sacred as has been said; for there is no one who is superior to the high priest or to the whole nation, or who can as such be an intercessor for them, as to the sins which they have committed.
Very naturally, therefore, is the meat of this sacrifice ordered to be consumed by fire, in imitation of the whole burnt offerings, and this to the honor of those who offer it; not because the sacred judgments of God are given with reference to the rank of those who come before his tribunal, but because the offenses committed by men of pre-eminent virtue and real holiness are accounted of a character nearly akin to the good actions of others; for as a deep and fertile soil, even if it at times yields a bad crop, still bears more and better fruit than one which is naturally unproductive, so in the same manner it happens that the barrenness of virtuous and God-fearing men is more full of excellence than the best actions which ordinary people perform by chance; for these men cannot intentionally endure to do anything blameable.
XIII. Having given these commandments about every description of sacrifice in its turn, namely, about the burnt offering, and the sacrifice for preservation, and the sin-offering, he adds another kind of offering common to all the three, in order to show that they are friendly and connected with one another; and this combination of them all is called the great vow; and why it received this appellation we must now proceed to say.
When any persons offer first fruits from any portion of their possessions, wheat, or barley, or oil, or wine, or the best of their fruits, or the first-born males of their flocks and herds, they do so actually dedicating those first fruits which proceed from what is clean, but paying a price as the value of what is unclean; and when they have no longer any materials left in which they can display their piety, they then consecrate and offer up themselves, displaying an unspeakable holiness, and a most superabundant excess of a God-loving disposition, on which account such a dedication is fitly called the great vow; for every man is his own greatest and most valuable possession, and this even he now gives up and abandons.
And when a man has vowed this vow the law gives him the following command; first of all, to touch no unmixed wine, nor any wine that is made of the grape, nor to drink any other strong drink whatever, to the destruction of his reason, considering that during this period his reason also is dedicated to God; for all which could tend to drunkenness is forbidden to those of the priests who are employed in the sacred ministrations, they being commanded to quench their thirst with water; in the second place they are commanded not to show their heads, giving thus a visible sign to all who see them that they are not debasing the pure coinage of their vow; thirdly, they are commanded to keep their body pure and undefiled, so as not even to approach their parents if they are dead, nor their brothers; piety overcoming the natural good will and affection towards their relations and dearest friends, and it is both honorable and expedient that piety should at all times prevail.
XIV. But when the appointed time for their being released [Numbers 6:14] from this vow has arrived, the law then commands the man who has dedicated himself to bring three animals to procure his release from his vow, a male lamb, and a female lamb, and a ram; the one for a burnt offering, the second for a sin-offering, and the ram as a sacrifice for preservation; for in some sense the man who has made such a vow resembles all these things. He resembles the sacrifice of the entire burnt offering, because he is dedicating to his preserver not only a portion of the first fruits of other things, but also of his own self. And he resembles the sin-offering, inasmuch as he is a man; for there is no one born, however perfect he may be, who can wholly avoid the commission of sin. He resembles also the offering for preservation, inasmuch as he has recorded that God the savior is the cause of his preservation, and does not ascribe it to any physician or to any power of his; for those who have been born themselves, and who are liable to infirmity, are not competent to bestow health even on themselves.
Medicine does not benefit all persons, nor does it always benefit the same persons; but there are times even when it does them great injury, since its power depends on different things, both on the thing itself and also on those persons who use it. And a great impression is made on me by the fact that of three animals offered up in these different sacrifices, there is no one of a different species from the others, but they are every one of the same kind, a ram, and a male lamb, and a female lamb; for God wishes, as I said a little while ago, by this commandment to point out that the three kinds of sacrifice are nearly connected with and akin to one another; because, both the man who repents is saved, and the man who is saved from the diseases of the soul repents, and because both of them hasten with eagerness to attain to an entire and perfect disposition, of which the sacrifice of the whole burnt-offering is a symbol.
But since the man has begun to offer himself as his first fruits, and since it is not lawful for the sacred altar to be polluted with human blood, but yet it was by all means necessary that a portion should be consecrated, he has taken care to take a portion, which, being taken, should cause neither pain nor defilement; for he has cut off [Numbers 6:18] the hair of the head, the superfluities of the natural body, as if they were the superfluous branches of a tree, and he has committed them to the fire on which the meat of the sacrifice offered for preservation will be suitably prepared [Leviticus 6:13], in order that some portion of the man who has made the vow, which it is not lawful to place upon the altar, may still at all events be combined with the sacrifice, burning the fuel of the sacred flame.
XV. These sacred fires are common to all the rest of the people. But it was fitting that the priests also should offer up something on the altar as first fruits, not thinking that the services and sacred ministrations to which they have been appointed have secured them an exemption from such duties. And the first fruits suitable for the priests to offer do not come from anything containing blood, but from the purest portion of human food; for the fine wheaten flour is their continual offering; a tenth part of a sacred measure every day; one half of which is offered up in the morning, and one half in the evening, having been soaked in oil, so that no portion of it can be left for food; for the command of God is, that all the sacrifices of the priests shall be wholly burnt, and that no portion of them shall be allotted for food.
Having now, then, to the best of our ability, discussed the matters relating to the sacrifices, we will proceed in due order to speak concerning those who offer them.