You are on page 1of 25

FOOD FOR THE gODS(?

by

Shawn I. Craigmiles
197232
SPO BOX 206

Submitted to Dr. Oswalt


in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for
OT999, Spring 2014
at
Asbury Theological Seminary

Wilmore, Kentucky
May 2014

Introduction
My pathway into this investigation has been an interest in the introductory passage of Leviticus
17, especially with respect to its directions and warnings concerning offerings at locations other than the
opening of the Tent of Congregation (
) . In previous papers I have explored the
relationship of this passage in Leviticus to other passages in Deuteronomy which appear to amplify, if
not openly contradict, what is being said here, especially in regards to the issue of secular or profane
slaughter in distinction from sacral or sacrificial slaughter.1 Further, I have attempted to explore the
relationship between the instruction given regarding the stranger who lived in the midst of the
Israelites in Leviticus and the prohibitions decided upon by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.2
Finally, I have attempted to discern how the instructions to bring a certain type of offering,

offerings, to the dwelling place of YHWH may shed light on issues mentioned in the NT,
specifically regarding the incompatibility of fellowship at the table of an idol or demon with fellowship
Shawn I. Craigmiles, Profane Slaughter in Leviticus 17 (Unpublished Paper, Wilmore, Ky.:
Asbury Theological Seminary, 2013). On page 3 I advanced the claims that Lev 17:3-7 does not
prohibit the profane slaughter of sacrificeable quadrupeds and that that the slaughter being performed
was for sacrifices, not secular consumption.
2
Shawn I. Craigmiles, Leviticus 17 and the Prohibitions Against the Consumption of Blood and
Things Offered to Idols in Acts 15 (Unpublished Paper, Wilmore, Ky.: Asbury Theological Seminary,
2013). The thrust of my argument, as presented on page 3 of that paper, was the following: that the
assertions in Lev 3:1-7 regarding the proper presentation and consumption of the -sacrifice
before the Lord, taken with the prohibition against the consumption of blood in Lev 17:10-12, are
helpful in understanding the proper references to the pollutions of idols (
of Acts 15:20), to things offered to idols ( of 15:29) and to blood ( in
both 15:20 and 29). My proposal was a synthesis of two positions that I presented earlier the paper:
namely, these two prohibitions, of the four mentioned, do have their grounding in Lev 17 and they refer
to the partaking of such meat in the venue of a pagan temple in the presence of the god or gods
represented there in the form of idols ().
1

at the Lords Table. In doing so, I have worked with what I thought was the generally accepted view
of as the peace offering, or the offering of well-being, that was eaten before the Lord, being
shared with his priests, and signaling a sort of table fellowship that showed loyalty to and communion
with the Lord. And yet, as I have searched through various secondary source discussions related to (1)
these offerings, (2) the meaning and significance of offerings/sacrifices to YHWH in general, (3) the
question of whether the foodstuffs offered were considered to actually be food for YHWH, and (4) the
similarities and differences between Israelite views and the views of their neighbors concerning their
respective deitys/deities need for food, I have found that there a many questions still unanswered
concerning each of these issues.
For the purposes of this paper, I will be restricting my attention to a brief survey of the parallels
and divergences between the Mesopotamian view of their gods need for food, in contrast to the view
generally held by the Greeks. This study is intended to set the table, as it were, for an exploration of
the perspective of the Israelites on YHWHs need for food in comparison with those of their
contemporary neighbors in Mesopotamia and Greece. Obviously, this latter pursuit will not be a part of
this paper: rather, it is a natural follow-on project informed and enriched by this investigation. As such,
I would like to conduct this investigation with some other important considerations in mind.
Auxiliary Considerations
First, although much has been made of the comparison of Israelite with Mesopotamian beliefs
and practices, I believe that there are nearer, more fruitful parallels to be found to the west of Israel,
along the northeastern and northern shores of the Mediterranean: in particular, Ugarit, Anatolia, and
Greece. I presently hold this hypothesis lightly, based upon the presentation of some works which

attempt to argue for just such a conclusion: I will refer to various of these works within the body of this
paper.
The second consideration I would like to keep in mind is this: What exactly is being performed
and/or represented by offerings?3 Related to this question, I would also ask, Why are they
being offered? What event, life situation, or other catalyst signaled to the Israelite offerer that now was
the time for this specific offering, in contrast to the others which were known? These questions appear
to be live in scholarship, and are of interest to me in my ongoing engagement with the book of
Leviticus. By no means will I be able to conduct a thorough survey of the primary and secondary
sources relating to these questions: quite clearly, then, I will not be able to answer these questions in this
work. However, I would like to note where the sources with which I am interacting in this paper may
shed light on these questions and that larger inquiry that they naturally feed into.
The final consideration is the impact that all of these findings might have on NT interpretation,
especially in light of one of the thorniest issues faced in early Christianity: eating meat offered to idols.
Is there a community meal aspect of the offering, especially as presented in Lev 17, that
should inform our understanding of how early Jewish Christians viewed this sacral table fellowship?
Could this actually provide the scriptural and theological underpinnings of the animosity of early
Christian teaching toward meat offered to other gods/idols/demons? Due to the constraints of this paper,
I will not be able to explore each of these facets of the primary research question in as great detail as I
might wish.

Of course this is just one of the offerings/sacrifices for which this same question could be
asked. As I have been working primarily with Leviticus 17, however, this particular sacrifice has been
of interest to me.
4

Primary Focus
I should, however, be able to provide an overview of the some of the differences in the
Mesopotamian mindset and practice concerning the feeding of the gods, in comparison with, and
contrast to, those of the Greeks. That is the rather modest goal for this paper: my hope is to be able, in a
future work, to move forward from the research in this paper to a consideration of the perspective on
food for YHWH in the Hebrew Bible. The course before us for this work, however, is fairly
straightforward. I will first attempt to engage recent, representative scholarship in order to arrive at a
plausible picture of the Mesopotamian conception of the gods and their need for food, along with the
practical outworking of the same in the state-supported cultic apparatus. I will then turn to the
secondary sources engaging parallel Greek conception and practice, attempting to discern point of
similarity and points of difference. Finally, we will circle back to briefly engage the ongoing scholarly
discussion about the Israelites and their views about YHWHs need for and consumption of food
presented to him. In this engagement I will suggest some paths forward for comparing these views to
those of the contemporary Mesopotamians and Greeks.
Sources
Due to the comparative nature of this paper, I will be utilizing sources outside the text of the
Hebrew Bible. As may be expected, the primary source for my investigation of the Israelite view of
Gods need for food has been the Hebrew Bible.4

As I have noted, my special interest is in the book of Leviticus. Although I am fully aware of
the ongoing discussion about the division of the book based on sources, most notably the P source and
Holiness Code of chapters 17-26, I will not be engaging that discussion here. I am not attempting a
comparison of texts from one portion of Leviticus to another, purportedly alternatively-sourced portion,
5

With respect to secondary sources on this topic, in my previous papers I have engaged some of
the major Leviticus commentaries, most notably J. Milgroms work,5 as well as some relevant
monographs, essays, and articles. For this phase of my inquiry, however I have encountered several new
secondary sources which have both informed my thinking on this topic and raised new questions
concerning auxiliary concerns. One of these monographs deserves special attention, due to both the
breadth and depth of the authors coverage of the offerings. Sacrifice and Symbol,6 by M.
Modus, stands as the single most important secondary source that has informed my overall
investigation. It has proven useful in guiding some of my inquiry in the course of this paper, and should
prove even more so in the next phase of this ongoing investigation, namely the interrogation of, and
interaction with the primary texts with the Hebrew Bible. Another important study is G. A. Andersons
Sacrifices and Offerings in Ancient Israel,7 which, along with his later article in the ABD,8 raises some
important questions about the offering as it had been presented in earlier scholarship.
My dialogue partners for considering Israels neighbors in Mesopotamia will primarily be A. L.
Oppenheims work, Ancient Mesopotamia,9 M. Selmans Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East,10 W. G.

from the same book. Rather, I am considering the final form of the text of Leviticus and the unified,
although admittedly composite and multi-faceted, picture of the offerings presented therein.
5
Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB
3A; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).
6
Martin Modus, Sacrifice and Symbol: Biblical lmm in a Ritual Perspective (ConBOT 52;
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2005).
7
Gary A. Anderson, Sacrifices and Offerings in Ancient Israel: Studies in Their Social and
Political Importance (HSM 41; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987).
8
Gary A. Anderson, Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings. Old Testament., in ABD, 1992, 870
86.
9
A. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization (ed. Erica Reiner;
Revised.; Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1977).
10
Martin J. Selman, Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, in Sacrifice in the Bible (ed. Roger T.
Beckwith and Martin J. Selman; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 88104.
6

Lamberts Donations of Food and Drink to the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia,11 and J. Waltons Ancient
Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament.12 For my brief auxiliary coverage of the Greek context, I
will primarily be consulting the works of B. Bergquist,13 W. Burkert,14 as well as F. S. Naiden and C.
Faraone.15 Of course, this latter inquiry will be brief and incidental as occasioned by my pursuit of our
primary focus.
Food for the gods
M. Modus, in discussing the and some evidences which suggest that the inclusion of
different kinds of food in the cult could be interpreted as a ritual feeding of YHWH, interacts with de
Vauxs presentation of and refutation of several key indications.16 Modus comments on one of these
indications may provide a helpful point of departure for our discussion in these next sections:
W. G. Lambert, Donations of Food and Drink to the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia, in
Ritual and Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the International Conference Organized
by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven from the 17th to the 20th of April 1991 (ed. J. Quaegebeur and W.
G. Lambert; OLA 55; Leuven: Peeters, 1993), 191202.
12
John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the
Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).
13
B. Bergquist, Bronze Age Sacrificial Koine in the Eastern Mediterranean? A Study of
Animal Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, in Ritual and Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East:
Proceedings of the International Conference Organized by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven from the
17th to the 20th of April 1991 (ed. J. Quaegebeur; OLA 55; Leuven: Peeters, 1993), 1143.
14
Walter Burkert, Griechische Religion der archaischen and klassischen Epoche (Stuttgart:
Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 1977); Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (trans. John Raffan; English Translation
of Griechische Religion der archaischen and klassischen Epoche.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1985).
15
Christopher A. Faraone and F. S. Naiden, eds., Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient
Victims, Modern Observers (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); F. S. Naiden,
Blessd Are the Parasites, in Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient Victims, Modern Observers
(ed. Christopher A. Faraone and F. S. Naiden; Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press,
2012), 5583; F. S. Naiden, Smoke Signals for the Gods: Ancient Greek Sacrifice from the Archaic
through Roman Periods (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
16
Roland de Vaux, Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice (Cardiff: University of Wales Press,
1964); Modus, Sacrifice and Symbol, 154158. For each of these indications, Modus provides
generous interaction with, and bibliographical information for, several relevant sources.
11

Fourth, in the surrounding cultures, the motif of the gods consumption of sacrifices was
common. The Mesopotamian sacrifice centered around feeding gods at their table in the temple,
as did the Egyptian, Hittite, and Greek cultures. Further, Deut 32:38 describes the Canaanite
gods eating fat and drinking libations, and the gods of Ugarit eat and drink the same substances
as the participants in the sacrifices.17
The general scholarly consensus is that, for Israels neighbors during the first millennium, the belief
appears to be that the gods (along with other spirits) needed food and drink, which was provided to them
in the course of the various religious practices and rituals exercised throughout the Mediterranean and
the ancient Near East.
In Mesopotamia
For our coursework this semester, we engaged Oppenheims Ancient Mesopotamia as part of our
reading. In his coverage of the services rendered to the deity by the staff of the temple, Oppenheim
presents a picture of how meals may have been served to the images within the temples throughout
Mesopotamia. This generalized picture is built from the description in one text of the service in a
particular sanctuary, namely the temple of Uruk. He asserts that We have every right to assume that
the ceremonial of these meals reveals to us the practices of the Babylonian court, which otherwise
remain completely unknown to us.18
Modus, Sacrifice and Symbol, 156. Emphasis is the authors. On pages 156-157, Modus
goes on to say that De Vaux however argues that despite the influence from many surrounding cultures,
this meal motif was weakened in the lmm, since no meat was burned.
18
Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, 188. I will not presume to dispute this assertion, but
simply note that the distance in time between the period of the text, namely the Seleucid dynasty, and
the times with which we are most interested, namely the first half of the first millennium B.C. As
Oppenheim notes, this text is dated to the Seleucid period, or roughly the last three centuries of the first
millennium B.C. Selman similarly notes the lateness of this text, saying that The text most usually
offered as an example of the care and feeding of the gods is actually a late one, dating from the Seleucid
period at Uruk (biblical Erech). However, he goes on to say that it is quite clear that Babylonian
religion even in those Hellenistic times showed very little change from practices and beliefs of much
17

It is also worthwhile to note that the religion we are speaking of here is representative of the
official one, we can by no means say that it is representative of what was practiced by the average
person, as such a person would not have been allowed into the temple confines of which we are
speaking. Lambert reminds us that the texts which we have concerning Sumero-Babylonian religion
describe what was done in these publically-supported but not publically-attended centers of the cult,
not what was done by private individuals according to their personal piety.19 Waltons comments echo
this view:
Much of what we know about the religious practice of the ancient Near East concerns what
would be called the state religion. This is because most written documents (the primary sources
available to us) derive from the palaces and temples. The ordinary commoner in the ancient
world had little relationship with religion at that level (aside from the festivals and other
spectacle events).20
And now to the description of this official ritual meal itself.
Oppenheim details the presentation of water for the images use in washing before the meal, the
setting of the food and drink for the meal, and the offering of water for cleaning at the end of the meal.
The picture he presents is unmistakable: The Mesopotamian image was served its meals in a style and
manner befitting a king.21 I might add the additional comment as if it was partaking of the food and
drink as a king would. Oppenheim notes the following:
Several distinct ceremonial patterns externalized the nature of the transcendental concepts that
underlay the feeding of the Mesopotamian gods. Food was placed in front of the image, which

earlier days (Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, in Sacrifice in the Bible [ed. Roger T. Beckwith and
Martin J. Selman; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995], 90).
19
Lambert, Donations of Food and Drink to the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia, 193.
20
Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought, 135.
21
Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, 188.
9

was apparently assumed to consume it by merely looking at it, and beverages were poured out
before it for the same purpose.22
Selman follows Oppenheims treatment of the meal service, helpfully including a translation of
the text from which their description is derived. Selmans conclusions provide some important insights
for our investigation. First, he notes that
The nature of sacrifice in Mesopotamia was determined by contemporary concepts of divinity.
Because the gods were thought to possess human as well as divine qualities, sacrifice had a much
more domestic flavor that it does in the OT.The fact that even the great gods apparently
accepted the same food and drink offerings [as the spirits that people approached outside the
temple] only confirmed that sacrifice, although carried out according to strict rules, remained in
essence an activity closely associated with the regular pattern of human existence.23
The relevance of this insight to our study should be clear: the gods were, in some way, analogous to or
even the same as a normal person with respect to their need for food and drink. We cannot say that it is
the thought that counts when we speak of these offerings to the images and the deities that they
represented. Rather, it would appear that the offerers perceived a genuine desire and need for the food
and drink that was offered to the gods. Lambert thus asserts that The nearest equivalent to Hebrew
animal sacrifices in Sumero-Babylonian religion was the feeding of the gods. It was conceived that the
gods needed food and drink just like humans. Thus twice a day a meal on a tray was set on a stand in
front of divine statues in temples.24 He goes on further to state that It is a communis opinio of
Sumerian and Babylonian literature that the human race was created solely to serve the gods by
22

Ibid., 192.
Selman, Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, 95.
24
Lambert, Donations of Food and Drink to the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia, 194. Lambert
provides a concise yet comprehensive coverage of the various terms used in conjunction with the
various offerings addressed within the Sumerian and Babylonian literature on pages 195-198, as well as
the explanations, often contained with narratives, of why these offerings were necessary and/or
appropriate.
23

10

providing their food and drink. The whole matter is conceived of anthropomorphically. Sacrifice is a
misnomer applied to this conceptual world.25 This accords with, and leads to Selmans next
conclusion:
The emphasis on the feeding of gods and spirits reveals the interdependence of the human and
divine worlds. Deities and spirits were felt to have human needs and depended on human beings
to meet them, while conversely humanity relied on well-fed gods as a necessary basis for power
and blessingWhat should be stressed here, however, is that the ultimate purpose of the feeding
of the gods had more to do with the need for king, land, and people to be blessed rather than that
the gods were pleased. To that extent, Mesopotamian sacrifice was anthropocentric rather than
theocentric, and was obviously susceptible to being manipulated for human purposes.26
One final scholarly witness should suffice to establish the generally held Mesopotamian beliefs
concerning the gods, and how the religious practices reflected these beliefs. Waltons comments accord
well with the assertions of the scholars we have already heard from:
The literature from throughout the ancient Near East clearly addresses the fact that the gods have
needs that are met by human beings.rituals and other cultic activities were designed to address
those needs.All public worship revolved around the image. It marked the deitys presence and
was the center of any ceremony involving the divine.Thus worship took place by caring for the
needs of the god through his image. This care was intended to ensure the continued presence of
the deity in the image.27
Walton also addresses the fact that the people practicing these rituals, and the society supporting such
state religion, had a vested interest in the continued well-being of the gods for whom they cared.
In this both Selman and Walton make explicit what might otherwise be missed: the gods are
cared for, not primarily from the offerers love and devotion to them, although that might be
25

Ibid., 198.
Selman, Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, 95.
27
Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought, 136.
26

11

encouraged. Rather, as Walton comments, interacting with J. Assmanns coverage of the religious
practice and mindset of the Egyptians, that The rituals provide a means by which humans could play a
role in maintaining order in the cosmos.28 He goes on to discuss the interconnected system of human
and divine activity that was thought to exist, and with which the religions practitioners interacted. He
concludes that Sacrifices played an important role in this system. As the food of the gods, it is
arguably the most important provision to sustain their presence, favor, and the smooth operation of the
cosmos.29
My coverage within this section has been, unfortunately but necessarily brief. My hope is that
the reader will be convinced at this point that the generally prevailing view of the religious institutions
of Mesopotamia was (1) the gods that they served actually needed and, in some way, consumed the food
and drink which these practitioners supplied to them; (2) the well-being of the gods was inextricably
linked to the well-being of those who served them; and (3) as such there existed established religious
institutions which had more or less complex arrangements and organization in place to provide for the
nutritional care of the images within their sacred sanctuaries. Such may reasonably be said to be the
state of affairs within Mesopotamia. But what of the regions to the west? In the brief compass of this
paper I will not be able to interact as I would like to with the religions of Ugarit and the Hittites of
Anatolia. However, I would like to turn my attention to the sacrifice and mindset prevalent in Greece
and her close neighbors.
My coverage of the religious practice and mindset of Greece with respect to feeding the gods
will begin with a slightly different consideration than that which has guided our exploration of
Mesopotamian religious practice. Namely, I will be considering whether the ancient Greeks of the first
28
29

Ibid., 130.
Ibid.
12

millennium consumed meat apart from some sacred ritual or associate festival: put more simply, Did the
Greeks always share their meal of meat with a god or gods?
This consideration has not been important for our previous discussion, as the Mesopotamian
rituals do not involve the offerers or others eating with the deity. As Oppenheim has noted,
There is no trace in Mesopotamia of that communion between the deity and its worshippers that
finds expression in the several forms of commensality observed in the sacrificial practices of
circum-Mediterranean civilizations, as shown in the Old Testament in certain early instances and
observed in Hittite and Greek customs. The Mesopotamian deity remained aloof.His [the
images] attendant worshippers lived from the gods table, but they did not sit down with him.30
This is an important consideration, in that we see in Oppenheims coverage of the temple institutions a
setting aside of food and other goods from the public for the use of the institution, whether for the
images table, or the tables of those who waited upon it. People outside the institution have their own
food, places of preparation and consumption, etc. There is not necessarily a connection between food,
and particularly meat, that they would consume, and the deity within the temple confines.
In Greece
In the case of Greek religious practice, however, the connection between the consumption of
meat, even by those not involved in the temple/sanctuary proper, and the sacrifices to the gods is still
under discussion. G. Ekroths description of his investigation, and the research question driving it, is
helpful in understanding what he and other scholars have been asking concerning this issue:
The starting point is whether all meat eaten by the Greeks came from sacrificial victims and
whether there was no consumption of meat that was not linked to the sacred sphere. That meat
for the Greeks was intimately connected to religion and to animal sacrifice in particular is
30

Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, 191.


13

beyond dispute, but should this lead us to assume that meat could not be regarded as secular,
that is, as not having any connections to religion?31
This question has direct bearing upon our investigation in this paper. Bergquists presentation of the
partial answer to this question may be taken as representative of the prevailing view of scholarship in the
latter part of the twentieth century:
In historical times, i.e. from some time in the so-called Geometric period (ca. 900-700 B.C.) of
the Greek Iron Age onwards, the burnt animal sacrifice, which was called sacrifice, i.e.
burnt-offering sacrifice or literally smoke sacrifice, was the principal act of Greek cult, i.e. of
doing sacred actions or of working sacred things. The essence of this sacred act was the
slaughter and consumption of a domestic animal for a god.32
Berguist goes on to describe the way in which this sacrifice was conducted, including the
distribution of meat to the participants during the festival meal which followed the slaughter and
offering.33 He makes a strong connection between the sacrifice of meat, and its availability to the
people, asserting that The Greeks derived virtually all their meat from the ritual of animal sacrifice. If
you will excuse my forced phrasing, there was a ritual embargo on meat, except for animal sacrifices.34
Ekroth seems to affirm that this has been the scholarly consensus, although he argues to the contrary,
when he says Sacrifice has been seen a prerequisite for meat eating, and consequently the reason for
Gunnel Ekroth, Meat in Ancient Greece: Sacrificial, Sacred or Secular?, Food & History 5,
no. 1 (2007): 249. I might add that this question also has relevance to my larger interest in and ongoing
investigation of the prohibitions within Lev 17, as some interpreters take the opening verses as a
prohibition of all secular, or profane, slaughter and consumption of meat. I have taken a counter
position in my previous papers, and see the prohibition as being against the giving of offerings at other
places than the approved, the opening of the Tent of Congregation (
) . Ekroths
purpose and temporal focus in his paper is to explore the relation between animal sacrifice and the
consumption of meat in ancient Greece in the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods (ca 700-100
BC) (Meat in Ancient Greece: Sacrificial, Sacred or Secular?, [Food & History 5, no. 1 (2007)],
249).
32
Bergquist, Bronze Age Sacrificial Koine, 12.
33
Ibid., 1317.
34
Ibid., 13.
31

14

performing animal sacrifice in antiquity has been explained as a way of legitimating the killing of
animals for human purposes.35 Bergquist also tentatively posits a connection between the Greek
practice, and the practices within Israel, saying
The historical, Greek, sacrifice may in many respectsthe partial burning and many of the
associated rites, incl. the ritual embargo on meat, except for animal sacrificesbe compared
with the slm sacrifice of the Old Testament. The Greeks also performed holocaust sacrifices, in
which the animals were burnt wholly, in chthonic cults and in some other cults, as in the Old
Testament, as Voropfer to burnt-animal sacrifices.36
Also of importance to our investigation is how the Greeks might have viewed the gods partaking of
food and drink items which were unambiguously offered to or shared with them. Again we turn to
Bergquists comments regarding the offering to the deity:
After slaughter, bleeding, skinning and butchering, the animal was consecrated to the deity
concerned by having the gods portion, viz. the inedible bones wrapped in fat, burnt in the fire on
the raised altar structure. The fragrance of the smoke from the burning, which rose to the sky at
the burnt-animal sacrifice or smoke sacrifice, was considered to be the pleasure and the
nourishment of the deity invoked.37
Naiden offers a helpful overview of the research from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
regarding sacrifice in the Greek and Hellenistic contexts.38 In doing so, he interacts with the older
works of J. Wellhausen, W. Robertson Smith, . Durkheim, K. Meuli, but especially with the more

Ekroth, Meat in Ancient Greece, 251.


Bergquist, Bronze Age Sacrificial Koine, 17.
37
Ibid. He concludes his description of the whole affair with the following, which is suggestive
for Lev 17: After the actual sacrifice, the preparations for the communal meat meal started.The fairly
usual stipulation that the consumption had to take place in the sanctuary indicates, however, that it was
in fact a sacral meal (Bronze Age Sacrificial Koine in the Eastern Mediterranean? [OLA 55. Leuven:
Peeters, 1993], 17.).
38
Naiden, Smoke Signals for the Gods, 415.
35
36

15

recent works of Burkert,39 and Vernant and Detienne,40 and helpfully puts the works of these worthies in
dialogue with one another, offering insightful critique in the process. Naiden appears to be attempting to
put the gods, and their responses to offerings and the associated supplications and worship, back into the
scholarly consideration of sacrifice, since he asserts that Burkert and the French scholars wrote the
gods out of sacrifice.41 The approach of these scholars was, in effect atheistic in method. They
minimized the gods, and they also minimized divine moral standards. Rather than explain what any
worshipper did wrong, they explained what the ritual did right.42
Unfortunately, I will not be able to interact as extensively with Naidens important work as I
might like. However, some of his claims bear mentioning here. First, he asserts that the efficacy, and
even success, of the whole sacrificial enterprise was not dependent upon the particular offering which
was presented.43 Second, he asserts that sacrifice did not depend on an animal as opposed to other
offerings, or on an animals death.44 On the contrary, he argues in his work that Sacrifice required a
worshipper, a god, and a rule of conduct.45 His concern appears to be more how the person approached
the god, and how the god responded to this approach, than what the offerer brought before the god.
Naiden does, however, offer helpful observations concerning what was offered, when it was
offered, and where it was offered. And it is here that we begin to note several important distinctions
between the Greek practice and mindset, over against those of the Mesopotamians. First, Naiden makes
39

Walter Burkert, Homo necans: Interpretationen altgriechischer Opferriten und Mythen


(Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten 32; Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1972);
Burkert, Griechishe Religion.
40
Marcel Vernant Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, The Cuisine of Sacrifice Among the Greeks
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).
41
Naiden, Smoke Signals for the Gods, 4.
42
Ibid.
43
Ibid., 3.
44
Ibid., 4.
45
Ibid.
16

the following claim: Whether an image, a token, or a site marker, the gods manifestation did not
coincide with the god. It might be present, the god absent. Even at Delphi, Apollo was absent all but
one day a month. Then the temple doors were closed, announcing that the god was not in residence.46
He goes on to note some of the rituals and other practices performed by the worshippers in their
desire to make sure that their god was actually present to receive offerings and hear their supplications.
These included such things as chaining the images, so as to bind them in place, or controlled movement
of the image from place to place. One of the most jarring images at Sparta and Athens, where Enyalios
was chained permanently, andNike was kept forever wingless, lest these gods leave and take victory
with them.47 It is apparent that, in contrast to the Mesopotamian view and practice, the image is not
cared for daily, nor provided meals on a regular basis. Further, it is quite possible for the worshippers to
envision the possibility that the god whom the image represented may be gone from the place where the
image resides. The image is not provided for in its own right: offerings are presented before it when
there is a reasonable expectation that the god it represents is in fact present.
And it is this issue of the feeding of the gods that is our special concern. And it would appear
from Naidens presentation, which he carefully argues from primary source evidence, that the in fact the
food offerings were supplementary to the main smoke offering and the supplication of the offerer to
the god. The offerer obviously desires that the god be present, be pleased with what is offered, and
respond favorably to the supplication presented before it.
As such, other incentives might be presented to attract the deitys favorable attention. Naiden
explains why, how, and which incentives might be presented:

46
47

Ibid., 43.
Ibid., 45.
17

Besides coming and listening, the god must also accept the offering made to him. As an
inducement to come, the worshipper would sometimes present the god additional offerings by
way of trapezmata, additional offerings put on a table beside the altar, or theoxenia, a banquet.
These two changes reflected divine flexibility. A god need not be perfectly anthropomorphic.
He must appear, listen, and perhaps eat.48
Expounding on the difference between these two presentations, Naiden observes the following:
Theoxenia substituted a banquet for the table. Two features distinguished this sacrifice from
others: the banqueting couch for the divine visitors and the consignment to them of various,
cooked parts of the animal.Only a few gods received this largesse. Theoxenia also differed
from ordinary sacrifice in the kind of honor rendered to the gods or others. In theoxenia, they
supposedly ate. In ordinary sacrifice, they supposedly battened on the smoke of burning
offerings. In the former case, they received sustenance, but in the latter case only satisfaction.
Theoxenia would appear to be aberrant. Vernant called such feeding of the god Mesopotamian,
not Greek.49
I can add little to this quote without being redundant. We can clearly discern a divide between the
Mesopotamian and Greek conceptions of the gods consumption of food, at least in the opinions of some
scholars. In the Greek context, feeding the gods, or the gods actually being served food for their
consumption, was not the norm: what is acceptable in the Greek context would presumably constitute
unacceptable neglect within the Mesopotamian. The conceptions of the care needed by the gods, and by
extension their images, are quite different.

48

Ibid., 52. Later Naiden notes again the use of these inducements by worshippers to ensure the
presence and attention of the deity, which was thought to be able to be distracted by other supplicants,
worshippers, etc. He says In response, worshippers tempted the god with additional offerings put on a
table beside the altar. Less often, they enlarged this hospitality into a banquet, theoxenia. The latter
practice drew even closer than the former to the degree of intimacy Greeks found dangerous. Yet no
participant at a theoxeniaever reported hearing a god, still less seeing or touching one. None reported
receiving a return invitation. Theoxenia lured the god. It did not aggrandize the worshipper (Smoke
Signals for the Gods [New York: Oxford University Press, 2013], 56).
49
Ibid., 5758.
18

But What of YHWH in Israel?


As I have mentioned previously, I will not be able to fully explore both (1) how the texts of the
Hebrew Bible present YHWHs need for food, or lack thereof, and (2) the similarities and differences
between these presentations and those of contemporary Mesopotamia and Greece. I will however,
present a view from Pisgah of where that exploration might lead, and how it might best proceed.
First, I have already cited sources that present conflicting views regarding the general
presentation of the sacrifices and offerings as food for YHWH. Anderson challenges what he sees as de
Vauxs assertion that Israelite sacrifice is unique because YWHW does not consume the food. In
contrast to the primitive gods of its neighbors who regularly eat and are clothed, Israels God was
radically different.50 Anderson takes de Vauxs presentation to task, mainly due to its dismissal of
many texts which seem to point to the offerings as food, or sustenance, for God in some form. 51 In his
ABD article on the topic of sacrifice and the offerings associated with sacrifice, Anderson repeats the
substance of his earlier presentation, this time directing it more generally against scholars, and not de
Vaux in particular.52
50

Anderson, Sacrifices and Offerings in Ancient Israel, 15.


Ibid.
52
Anderson, Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings, in ABD, 5:872. He states that Commenting
on Ps 50:12-14, he says the following: To be sure, this psalm explicitly says that YHWH needs no food.
But before quickly concluding that the Bibles account of sacrifice is on a higher evolutionary level, one
must account for the enormous amount of evidence that portrays Israelite sacrifice as food for YHWH.
Countless texts from every period describe YHWHs sacrifices as food. The altar itself is called the
table of YHWH. The sacrifices can be called YHWHs food. The aroma of the burnt offerings is said
to be a sweet savor to YHWH. All of this is dismissed by some biblical scholars as ancient relics of
Israels pagan past. No account of the fact is made that these terms and phrases are freely introduced into
all genres (cultic and epic narratives, psalms, and more) of Israels literature in all periods.
The boldness of such an argument is clear. While one can point to a few isolated poetic texts that
speak of YHWHs freedom from human needs such as food, one must dismiss dozens of other texts
from a variety of genres as unrepresentative, or as relics from an archaic past. Moreover, even the
presumption that all non-Israelite conceptualizations of sacrifice uniformly presumed that the gods
51

19

I have already quoted part of Modus interaction with de Vauxs presentation. Modus
acknowledges Andersons presentation of a large body of evidence which would seem to indicate that
Israelite sacrifice was to provide food for God: he also notes that this view is, however, controversial
and denied by several scholars.53 He goes on to issue a helpful call that may prove useful in examining
the various texts cited by both sides of this discussion: Note that there is a significant difference
between a view that the god is sharing a sacrificial meal for the sake of communion, and a view that the
aim of the sacrifice is to nourish the god.54 He then briefly engages the main arguments and supporting
texts presented in favor of sacrifice as food for YHWH, as well as the different scholarly opinions
related to this issue, and the relationship of this view to our understanding of the offerings.55
Clearly, the presentations of de Vaux, Anderson, and Modus would all need to be considered in
any future treatment of this subject. They have helpfully identified many of the texts which need to be
discussed, categorized them both by the genre in which they appear, and by the general facet of the
argument which they support, respectively. I would be neglect if I did not also include Waltons
engagement with these issues. Surprisingly, he seems to begin with somewhat of a concession:
however, he quickly qualifies his remarks, and asserts the distinctiveness of the perspective of the
Hebrew Bible:
Though the language associated with the understanding that sacrifice provided nourishment for
deity is still observable in the biblical text, there are scattered disclaimers that lead us to infer

required food needs to be rethought (Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings. Old Testament., [in ABD,
1992], 5:872).
53
Modus, Sacrifice and Symbol, 155.
54
Ibid.
55
Ibid., 155160. His approach is nuanced, comprehensive, and helpful. He seems to favor a
theological understanding of this representation: in his words, this presentation is theology on the level
of ideology (Sacrifice and Symbol: Biblical lmm in a Ritual Perspective [ConBOT 52; Stockholm:
Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2005], 158).
20

that such terms became lexical vestiges. Certainly the strongest such disclaimer is found in
Psalm 50, where Yahweh denies that he grows hungry or needs Israelite sacrifices for food. The
distinction is reinforced in the fact that the presentation of offerings to Yahweh takes place at the
altar in the outer courtyard in full view, thus resisting the idea of a god partaking of food in
mystical ways in secret chambers.56
Walton later contrasts the religion of the Israelites with that of their Mesopotamian neighbors: Yahweh
has no needs and therefore the state religion has no underlying rationale that is based on the premise of
meeting those needs. There is no image to mediate the care of Yahweh. The rituals respond to
requirements rather than to needs.57
I agree with Waltons assertions here, based both on the primary and secondary sources which I
have encountered. I would extend his argument further though, by noting that the presence of Yahweh
was said to be in the Holy of Holies, wherein the priest would enter with blood to be sprinkled, not food
to be consumed. Also, with respect to other food, such as the bread of the presence, it did not actually
come into the presence of Yahweh, and was in fact directed to be, and known to be, consumed by those
who ministered in the Tabernacle/Temple.

56
57

Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought, 131.


Ibid., 140.
21

Conclusion
I have attempted within this paper to survey in brief compass the broad, detailed, and often
contentious field related to sacrifice and offerings in Mesopotamian and Greek contexts within the first
millennium B.C., seeking to discern some consensus regarding the view of the ancients about sacrifice as
food for their gods. Although there is ongoing discussion of these issues for both contexts, I believe that
we can assert with some confidence that the Mesopotamian view tended to see the regular offering of
foodstuffs as necessary for the sustenance and nourishment of the gods whom they served. Not so the
Greeks: their presentation of food for their gods seems supplementary to their main smoke offering,
and appears to have been uncommon at best. Further, it appears to have functioned as an attraction for
the gods, not as a necessary meal.
With respect to the images, we also see differences in the Mesopotamian and Greek contexts, as
with the former context supporting a constant care and maintenance view of the image, and by
extension, the gods. In contrast, the former context supported an incidental, as needed view that was
flexible enough to realize that the presence of the image was no guarantee of the presence of the god
represented therein.
On the issue of meat availability aside from that offered in sacrifice, I cannot arrive at a clear
conclusion with respect to the Mesopotamian context due to a lack of clear, compelling evidence.
Unless I were to adopt a presupposition that the areas in question only consumed meats slaughtered in
connection with a sacrifice, which I have not, I see no reason to assume that this is the case. On the
other hand, the same issue for the Greek context may be properly said to be on the table, as there are
dissenting voices on both sides of the issue, and there is compelling evidence and convincing arguments
which could reasonably take even a discerning reader either way.
22

Finally, with respect to our ongoing inquiry about the religious practice of Israel, the view of
YHWHs need for food, and the secular or profane slaughter and consumption of meat, I would say
that, although the insights provided by these neighboring contexts are interesting and perhaps
suggestive, they should by no means constrain our examination of the biblical texts, external textual
sources, and/or archeological realia, nor be privileged above these other sources. Greek practices,
Mesopotamian practices, or any other practices, such as those within Ugarit, do not dictate how we must
interpret the evidence related to Israelite practices. Knowledge of these may enlighten our approach,
and inform our inquiry, but it should not skew our reception and interpretation of the evidence which is
closer to, and more informative of, the mindset and practice of Israelite religion as represented in the
Hebrew Bible and in the archeological realia available to us.
In my next work, I would like to engage the primary texts related to sacrifice, most notably those
in Leviticus, as well as those texts most commonly cited by scholars (as mentioned previously) which
seem to support sacrifice as food for YHWH. I would also endeavor to engage a greater number of
recent secondary sources concerning the practice and theology of sacrifice. As such, this next work
might best be seen as an exegetical endeavor, the results of which would then be used to compare and
contrast with primary and secondary sources evaluations of the mindset and practice of Israels
contemporary neighbors.

23

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anderson, Gary A. Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings. Old Testament. Pages 87086 in ABD.
Vol. 5, 1992.
. Sacrifices and Offerings in Ancient Israel: Studies in Their Social and Political
Importance. HSM 41. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987.
Bergquist, B. Bronze Age Sacrificial Koine in the Eastern Mediterranean? A Study of Animal
Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East. Pages 1143 in Ritual and Sacrifice in the Ancient
Near East: Proceedings of the International Conference Organized by the Katholieke
Universiteit Leuven from the 17th to the 20th of April 1991. Edited by J. Quaegebeur.
OLA 55. Leuven: Peeters, 1993.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Translated by John Raffan. English Translation of Griechische
Religion der archaischen and klassischen Epoche. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1985.
. Griechische Religion der archaischen and klassischen Epoche. Stuttgart: Verlag W.
Kohlhammer, 1977.
. Homo necans: Interpretationen altgriechischer Opferriten und Mythen.
Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten 32. Berlin; New York: Walter de
Gruyter, 1972.
Craigmiles, Shawn I. Leviticus 17 and the Prohibitions Against the Consumption of Blood and
Things Offered to Idols in Acts 15. Unpublished Paper, Wilmore, Ky.: Asbury
Theological Seminary, 2013.
. Profane Slaughter in Leviticus 17. Unpublished Paper, Wilmore, Ky.: Asbury
Theological Seminary, 2013.
Detienne, Marcel Vernant, and Jean-Pierre Vernant. The Cuisine of Sacrifice Among the Greeks.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Ekroth, Gunnel. Meat in Ancient Greece: Sacrificial, Sacred or Secular? Food & History 5,
no. 1 (2007): 24972.

24

Faraone, Christopher A., and F. S. Naiden, eds. Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient
Victims, Modern Observers. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Lambert, W. G. Donations of Food and Drink to the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia. Pages
191202 in Ritual and Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the
International Conference Organized by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven from the 17th
to the 20th of April 1991. Edited by J. Quaegebeur and W. G. Lambert. OLA 55. Leuven:
Peeters, 1993.
Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. AB
3A. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
Modus, Martin. Sacrifice and Symbol: Biblical lmm in a Ritual Perspective. ConBOT 52.
Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2005.
Naiden, F. S. Blessd Are the Parasites. Pages 5583 in Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice:
Ancient Victims, Modern Observers. Edited by Christopher A. Faraone and F. S. Naiden.
Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
. Smoke Signals for the Gods: Ancient Greek Sacrifice from the Archaic through Roman
Periods. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
Oppenheim, A. Leo. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. Edited by Erica
Reiner. Revised. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1977.
Selman, Martin J. Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East. Pages 88104 in Sacrifice in the Bible.
Edited by Roger T. Beckwith and Martin J. Selman. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995.
Vaux, Roland de. Studies in Old Testament Sacrifice. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1964.
Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the
Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

25