Sin, Purification and Sacrifice: Analysis and Comparison of Texts from the Book of Leviticus and Malagasy Traditional Rituals
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This study is an analysis and comparison of rituals in two different settings. Due to its ancient content, the book of Leviticus has been negatively received or is simply ignored by most western Churches. They see the book of Leviticus as irrelevant to today’s Christians. This research grows out of the interest to find why Malagasy Christians feel at home when reading the book of Leviticus. My research starts from the hypothesis that there might be some identifiable correspondences between ancient rituals in the book of Leviticus and some traditional Malagasy rituals. These correspondences might be the rationale behind the familiarity of Malagasy readers with the book of Leviticus and hence their positive acceptance. All these rituals have to do with sin, purification and sacrifice. My research is divided into two main parts. In Part One, I study three rituals from the book of Leviticus, namely, the ritual purification relating to intentional and unintentional sins in Lev 4:1–5:13, the postpartum ritual purification in Lev 12 and the global ritual purification on the Day of Atonement in Lev 16. Part Two is devoted to the study of three seleted traditional Malagasy rituals, namely, the ritual purification relating to violation of taboo (fady), the eighth day postpartum ritual purification of the Malagasy northern ethnic groups and the New Year royal bath ritual of purification called fandroana. Throughout my study I seek to explore and analyze these rituals with the purpose of finding identifiable correspondences between rituals in Leviticus and Malagasy traditional rituals. As a result, I find out that the first “pair” of rituals have the same cause and consequence: violation of divine (or ancestral) prohibitions inevitably leads into sin and impurity that is fatally threatening God-human and human-human relationship. Violation of divine prohibitions does not only incur guilt towards God but also delineates the violator from his/her surroundings. To remedy such a catastrophe the violator must perform ritual purification by means of bloody sacrifice which substitutes for the transgressor. The second point to be highlihted is that in the second “pair” of rituals, after childbirth, the parturient has to offer a sacrifice to God. The purpose and the output of the sacrifice is slightly different in the two settings. In Leviticus, it aims at purifying the parturient who becomes ritually impure because of the postnatal discharge while in the Malagasy context the sacrifice is offered to beg the ancestors’ blessings for the newborn baby and the mother. The third “pair” of rituals relate to the need for a global purification used to purify the whole nation. In Leviticus, according to the Priestly theology, daily sacrifices purify sinners and transgressors from their sins and impurities but their impurities are accumulated in the Holy of Holies, which is the dwelling place of God in the sanctuary. Consequently, each year the ancient Israelites must undergo a global ritual purification on the Day of Atonement with the purpose of purifying both humans and the Tabernacle. The same concept is found in the traditional Malagasy royal bath called fandroana. At the New Year celebration a ritual purification is led by the monarch to purify the whole kingdom and the population. In both contexts sacrificial blood plays central role since it functions as ritual purifying detergent.