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'Ōlāh: the rhetoric of burnt offerings

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image of Vetus Testamentum

The 'ōlāh off ering receives pride of place in most lists of sacrifi ces in the Hebrew Bible, including the ritual rules of Leviticus. Its prominence in these texts suggests that the writers expected its mention to have an eff ect on their audience. This rhetorical eff ect must be evaluated and understood before the references to the 'ōlāh can be used to reconstruct ancient religious practices reliably. A comparative analysis of the rhetoric about the 'ōlāh suggests that its priority burnished the image of priests as devoted selfl essly to divine worship and drew attention away from their economic interests in the sacrifi cial system mandated in the Torah. The eff ect of this rhetoric in later Jewish and Christian traditions was to separate the ideal of "sacrifice" from any necessary connection to actual animal off erings.


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