How Altar and Table are One in Leviticus

Thus, when I started to research Leviticus, I found myself on the ground floor. Early on I discovered that rituals are meaningless in themselves. Only when seen as a set of symbols do their inherent values come to light. I shall cite an example from the same dietary laws. Quadrupeds that qualify for the table must chew the cud and show split hoofs (11:3*). These criteria sound absurd. But consider: they effectively eliminate the entire animal kingdom from human consumption, except for three domestic herbivores: cattle, sheep, and goats. Moreover, these are the same three animals permitted on the sacrificial altar (17:3*). The implications are clear. All life is sacred and inviolable. Only these three stipulated quadrupeds are eligible for the human table because they are eligible for God’s altar/table. The dining table symbolically becomes an altar, and all the diners are symbolically priests. (In Judaism, the equivalence of table and altar is carried further: just as the priest must wash [Exod 30:17–21*] and salt the meat before offering the sacrifice [Lev 2:13*], so must the diners ritually wash their hands and salt the table’s bread, which represents the sacrifice.) Above all, the table is transformed into a sacred altar and the meal must be treated as sacred—a time for thanking God for the repast (cf. Lev 7:11–13*), requesting a blessing for the future (Num 6:22–26*), and engaging in conversation befitting the sanctified meal.

Milgrom, J. (2004). A Continental Commentary: Leviticus: a book of ritual and ethics (p. xii). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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