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Shawn I. Craigmiles



Submitted to Dr. Oswalt in partial fulfillment of the requirements for OT999, Spring 2014 at Asbury Theological Seminary

Wilmore, Kentucky May 2014


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 (דעוֹמֵ


חתַ פֶּ).” 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,

םימִ לָשְׁ

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

1 Shawn I. Craigmiles, “Profane Slaughter in Leviticus 17” (Unpublished Paper, Wilmore, Ky.: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“Leviticus 17 and the Prohibitions Against the Consumption of Blood and Things Offered to Idols in Acts 15” (Unpublished Paper, Wilmore, Ky.: Asbury Theological Seminary, 2013).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 םימִ לָשְׁ -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” (τῶν ἀλισγημάτων τῶν εἰδώλων of Acts 15:20), to “things offered to idols” (εἰδωλοθύτων of 15:29) and to blood (αἵματος 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 (εἴδωλα).”


at the Lord’s Table. In doing so, I have worked with what I thought was the generally accepted view

of םימִ לָשְׁ

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 deity’s/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 YHWH’s 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


The second consideration I would like to keep in mind is this: What exactly is being performed

and/or represented by םימִ לָשְׁ

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 םימִ לָשְׁ

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.

3 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.


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 YHWH’s 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.


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

God’s need for food has been the Hebrew Bible. 4

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,


With respect to secondary sources on this topic, in my previous papers I have engaged some of

the major Leviticus commentaries, most notably J. Milgrom’s 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 author’s coverage of the םימִ לָשְׁ

offerings. Sacrifice and Symbol, 6 by M.

Modéus, 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. Anderson’s

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 Israel’s neighbors in Mesopotamia will primarily be A. L.

Oppenheim’s work, Ancient Mesopotamia, 9 M. Selman’s 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 םימִ לָשְׁ

Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 3A; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).

6 Martin Modéus, Sacrifice and Symbol: Biblical Šĕlāmîm 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).

offerings presented therein.


8 Gary A. Anderson, “Sacrifice and Sacrificial Offerings. Old Testament.,” in ABD, 1992, 870


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.


Lambert’s Donations of Food and Drink to the Gods in Ancient Mesopotamia, 11 and J. Walton’s 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. Modéus, in discussing the םימִ לָשְׁ

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

Vaux’s presentation of and refutation of several key indications. 16 Modéus’ comments on one of these

indications may provide a helpful point of departure for our discussion in these next sections:

11 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, “Blessèd 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); Modéus, Sacrifice and Symbol, 154158. For each of these indications, Modéus provides generous interaction with, and bibliographical information for, several relevant sources.


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 Israel’s 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 Oppenheim’s 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

17 Modéus, Sacrifice and Symbol, 156. Emphasis is the author’s. On pages 156-157, Modéus goes on to say that “De Vaux however argues that despite the influence from many surrounding cultures, this meal motif was weakened in the šĕlāmȋm, 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


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 Walton’s 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 image’s 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.


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 Oppenheim’s treatment of the meal service, helpfully including a translation of

the text from which their description is derived. Selman’s 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.

23 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.


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 Selman’s next


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 blessing…What 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. Walton’s 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 deity’s 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.

26 Selman, “Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East,” 95.

27 Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought, 136.


encouraged. Rather, as Walton comments, interacting with J. Assmann’s 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 Ibid., 130.

29 Ibid.


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 image’s] attendant worshippers lived from the god’s table, but they did not sit down with him. 30

This is an important consideration, in that we see in Oppenheim’s 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

image’s 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. Ekroth’s 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.


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. Bergquist’s 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 θυσία 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

31 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 (דעוֹמֵ

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)],



חתַפֶּ).” Ekroth’s

32 Bergquist, “Bronze Age Sacrificial Koine,” 12.

33 Ibid., 1317.

34 Ibid., 13.


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, θυσία 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

Bergquist’s comments regarding the offering to the deity:

After slaughter, bleeding, skinning and butchering, the animal was consecrated to the deity

concerned by having the god’s 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, É. Durkheim, K. Meuli, but especially with the more

35 Ekroth, “Meat in Ancient Greece,” 251.

36 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.


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 Naiden’s 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 animal’s 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.


the following claim: “Whether an image, a token, or a site marker, the god’s 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, and…Nike 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 Naiden’s 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 deity’s favorable attention. Naiden

explains why, how, and which incentives might be presented:

46 Ibid., 43.

47 Ibid., 45.


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 trapezōmata, 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 theoxenia…ever 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.


…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 YHWH’s 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

Vaux’s 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, Israel’s God was

radically different.” 50 Anderson takes de Vaux’s 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.

51 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 Bible’s 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 YHWH’s sacrifices as food. The altar itself is called “the table of YHWH.” The sacrifices can be called “YHWH’s 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 Israel’s 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 Israel’s 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 YHWH’s 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


I have already quoted part of Modéus’ interaction with de Vaux’s presentation. Modéus

acknowledges Anderson’s 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 םימִ לָשְׁ

offerings. 55

Clearly, the presentations of de Vaux, Anderson, and Modéus 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 Walton’s

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 Modéus, 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 Šĕlāmîm in a Ritual Perspective [ConBOT 52; Stockholm:

Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2005], 158).


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 Walton’s 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 Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought, 131.

57 Ibid., 140.



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.


Finally, with respect to our ongoing inquiry about the religious practice of Israel, the view of

YHWH’s 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 Israel’s

contemporary neighbors.



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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:

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