Greek sacrifice

K. Meuli on Greek sacrifice

K. Meuli's article 'Griechische Opferbrauche', in Phylloboliafur P. Von der Muhl (1946), constitutes a genuinely new approach to Greek sacriWce, especially animal sacriWce. Meuli concentrated on the type of sacriWce where the kill precedes a feast. He was the Wrst to have claimed that the ritual behaviour involved in a Greek sacriWce derived from that of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunters. Meuli Wrst coined the term Unschuldkomodie (comedy of innocence); this is a kind of 'staging' during the sacriWcial ritual, by which worshippers try to hide and deny the slaughter of the victim.

From that point onwards, theories on Greek sacriWce have reached the highest point in scholarly sophistication, and have exerted an influence which is still felt by scholars today; that is why I shall give more space to their exposition.

W. Burkert on Greek sacrifice

The scholar who, in making the most of Meuli's theory, has gone further than he did, is W. Burkert. He continues the tradition of those scholars who pay attention to the ritual form of religion rather than to its myths. Burkert justifies this attitude by means of physiology: myth requires the development of articulate human speech,

17 See Kirk (1981), 47-50, and, more extensively, de Heusch (1985).

whereas ritual goes back even to animals. This last remark provided the main basis for Burkert's theory, since what he is best known for is the application of ethology (the study of behaviour) to the analysis of religious phenomena. His most famous work, Homo Necans (1972), in which his theory of sacrifice is to be found, is an excellent sample of this method. A further Weld which contributed to shaping Burkert's theory is phenomenology. The reason why he has actually adopted phenomenology is to counterbalance the use of ethology, in other words, to avoid being accused of reductionism (the reduction of an event to a basic external cause). Through phenomenology, the scholar approaches the events from inside.18 However, Burkert specifies again that an exaggerated phenomenological approach might deprive the scholar of the ability to stand at a distance from his subject, and thus lead him to the neglect of further important aspects. Burkert is only partly in favour of the theory that religion is a system of signs, i.e. of the structuralist approach: for him, the scholar must also try to keep in contact with history. But, again, Burkert does not rely on history in an evolutionist way: he is against the evolutionist views of'primitive' and 'rational' ways of thinking or of a 'primary' feeling underlying the ritual. Functionalism has also partly influenced Burkert, in the sense that he seeks only to place the behavioural signs of the ritual in their social context; according to Burkert, mere functionalism might be misleading, since it supposes the stability of society, an assumption which, he claims, derived from modern expectations of stability in the world.

With all these methodological tools, Burkert created a sacrificial theory which continued the paradigm of Meuli. Burkert considers sacrifice to be a remnant of the society of Palaeolithic hunters: those men ritualized their collective ferocious action of killing in order to strengthen the sense of community vis-à-vis its external enemies. Being influenced by the work of R. Otto, Das Heilige (1917), where the author regards the 'sacred' as the tool for a phenomenological approach to religion, Burkert reinterprets the categories of the sacred

18 Burkert gives a beautiful explanation of what the phenomenological approach to religion is: 'Religion erschliesse sich nur von innen her, fur den Glaubigen, so wie die Kirchenfenster nur fuir den in vollen Farben strahlen, der im Innern der Kirche ist.' Burkert (1981), 99.

on a behaviouristic basis.19 The behaviouristic terms have been borrowed from K. Lorenz, who, in his book On Aggression (1963), talked about the progressive institutionalization of violence in human societies.20 Thus, Burkert's Palaeolithic hunters are violent killers; but, at the same time, these killers are aware of their aggressive instincts; they almost feel guilty, and here is where the 'comedy of innocence' comes into play.

After the exposition of the aforementioned theory, Burkert dedicates the rest of his book to the application of his general principles to various Greek rites. Basing himself on literary and epigraphic evidence, Burkert mainly focuses on Greek religion as depicted in myth and as practised in the Classical period. However, despite the fact that the immense amount of philological and archaeological data collected by Burkert is sometimes later than the Classical period, it is never used by him as evidence for the period covered in our book.

Using the notion of anxiety, Burkert manages to comprehend all kinds of sacrifice: more specifically, he reduces Ovoia, o^ayia, avovo^wq, and Swpov to combinations of four different terms. These are, on the one hand, 'death' and 'gift' and, on the other hand, 'eating' and 'dispensing with'.

Criticism of Burkert's theory on Greek sacrifice

Burkert's book remains a classic. But it has given rise to criticism, both in terms of its theory and of its method.

As regards Burkert's theory, recent discoveries have struck Homo Necans at its very core. The first scholar to have proved Burkert's approach misleading was A. E. Jensen, who showed that, in primitive societies, the ritual killing of a wild animal was not of a 'sacrificial' character; sacrifice took place later, in agricultural societies, and the victim was a domestic, not a wild, animal.21 A more elaborate exposition of this criticism has been offered by the historian of religions J. Z. Smith, who, going even further than Jensen, has

19 Ibid.: The three elements of the sacred, namely 'tremendum', 'fascinans', and 'augustum', become 'Angst', 'Beseligung', and 'Rangordnung'. The way of reinterpretation raised objections among the scholars' audience, as one can see in the discussion following the paper.

20 Burkert himself admits that these books were his sources. See his chapter in Hamerton-Kelly (1987).

21 Jensen (1963).

pointed out that it is wrong to place the origins of ritual killing in pre-agrarian societies ('The Domestication of Sacrifice', in Violent Origins, 1987).

Smith provides us with an ingenious analysis of the importance of domestication for the understanding of sacriWce. Domestication is the result of the sedentary way of living, which in turn presupposes the concepts of future and planning: these are not 'primitive' concepts. The notions involved in the religious meaning of sacriWce are not 'primitive' either: for instance, terms used of pollution and its removal presuppose mental categories of a high level. Smith also stresses that the selection of an animal for sacriWce is a secondary level of selection after that of selective breeding. This selective kill has nothing to do with the fortuitous kill carried out by a hunter. As for the terrible emotions usually attributed to the 'primitive hunter', these derive from the reinterpreted reality of hunt. This reinterpretation, which consists in a mythologization of the past, is effected within agrarian societies, and still persists in modern bibliography. For Smith, ritual is not a remote tremendum fact, but has its roots in the intellection of culture, and it simply emphasizes and exaggerates the breakthroughs of the 'civilized' way of living. Sacrifice is the ritual act which stresses the striving for perfection of the animal species.

Smith focuses on facts, and not on the motives of human action, and he is against any kind of psychological explanation. In my opinion, this is generally acceptable, as long as it does not go too far. But I think that Smith's approach tends towards the opposite direction of interpretation: that of 'demystifying the ritual'.22 A scholar dealing with religion should also take into account internal psychological factors, which lead to the adoption of a religious practice; after all, this is what gives religion its particular character.

Despite his attempts to differentiate his own methodology from that of scholars attached to evolutionist models, Burkert has not even escaped criticism from this point of view. Thus, his work has been regarded as continuing the evolutionist tradition.23 What is to be rejected, according to this criticism, is the evolutionist assumption

22 The expression is used by B. Mack (1987), 50.

23 Avery good point made by an archaeologist, Sarah Peirce (1993); see esp. her n. 18 and p. 224.

that the phenomena-'remnants' under study have their origin in the remote past, and the risky attempt to reconstruct the psychological condition of people in that remote past. Burkert does resort to reductionism, even if he does not admit it: that is, ethological explanations are used to interpret the whole setting of a religious rite.

However, what is especially obvious in Burkert's work is his insistence on the morbid aspect of sacrifice. Maybe it has not been noticed by scholars, but this insistence derives from Burkert's personal pessimism about his own times:

Some overstatements [in Lorenz's book] no doubt have been corrected, but some of the criticism and subsequent neglect may be viewed as part of the schizophrenia of our world, which pursues the ideal of an ever more human, more easygoing life amid growing insecurity and uncontrolled violence____The thrust of Homo Necans runs counter to these trends. It attempts to show that things were different in the formative period of our civilization; it argues that solidarity was achieved through a sacred crime with due reparation. And while it has no intention of thwarting modern optimism, it tries to warn against ignoring what was formerly the case.24

And Homo Necans closes with a truly sombre prophecy:

The modern world, whose pride is in the full emancipation of the individual, has gradually allowed the ritual tradition to break down. At the same time, it has relegated death to the fringes of existence and thought. As the idealistic tradition deteriorates, however, secret societies, ecstatic behavior, love of violence and death spring up all the more wildly and destructively amid seemingly rational orders. Ritual cannot be produced artiWcially, much less its transcendent orientation, which is no longer shrouded in superstition and secrets. The ideal of a new, non-violent man is a protest of hope against the tradition of violence and anxiety. But it is hard to foresee how the individual, egocentric intelligence can be subordinated to the collective need in order to make possible the continuance of mankind over the breach between the generations. In the end, societal forms in which man's archaic psyche will be granted its rights will presumably assert themselves. We can only hope that primitivism and violence will not be released unbridled. In any case, our knowledge of the traditions that proved themselves in the past and thus survived in the various experiments of human development should not be lost as we proceed, by trial and error, toward an uncertain future.25

Burkert finds remnants of primitive violence even in protest demonstrations against the war in Vietnam:'... confronting the authorities and the police, youngsters still experience the sacred shivers of awe.'26 I think that this projection of Burkert's personal pessimism onto ancient societies is what above all exposes him to criticism. However, Burkert, without denouncing his theory of sacriWce, has recently conceded on the centrality of aggression in human society.27

Perhaps one of the weaknesses that remains unchangeable in Burkert's book is that his obsession with origins deprives him of the opportunity to apply his theory to historical periods later than the Classical period. So, it is difficult to imagine what Burkert would have to say about the issue of the encounter between paganism, Judaism, and Christianity, with the latter finally becoming a religion with no altars.

R. Girard on Greek sacrifice

In the same year as Homo Necans, another book of similar character was published. It was La Violence et le sacre (1972), written by the literary critic R. Girard. He too attributes sacrificial killing to violent feelings; but he considers these feelings to stem from the very heart of society and not from a remote stage in the past. According to Girard, violence is repeated mimetically from generation to generation, and religion provides the means to legitimize it; thus, violence reaches its climax in the ritual killing of a victim selected at random. To prove his theory, Girard uses a huge amount of literature taken from every period, Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the twentieth century. This, I think, constitutes the main fault of his approach. Even Burkert notes that Girard's approach is based on literature and not on ritual, and Wnds the theory incompatible with Mediterranean cult.

Where Burkert concentrates his criticism of Girard is on the notion of violence. Burkert admits that many controversial evolutionist ideas found in Homo Necans are corrected by Girard, but he thinks that violence is not the key to the explanation of all kinds of sacrifice. For Burkert, only the notion of anxiety would help to interpret all sacrificial acts, including those not followed by feasts.2®

26 In Hamerton-Kelly (1987), 159-60. 27 Burkert (1997), 333 V.

2s The criticism of Burkert is to be found in his papers in Rudhardt-Reverdin

(1981) and Hamerton-Kelly (1987).

In my view, Girard's theory is an accumulation of various data, which somehow predetermine the end at the cost of ignoring the particularities of each context or period. Recently, however, scholars of Christianity have used Girard's work as a tool to approach Paul's sacrificial terminology in his letters.29

Greek sacrifice according to the Vernant school After Burkert, the second most influential theory on Greek sacrifice is represented by a whole school. Its adherents are influenced by the social anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, who first applied structuralism to the social sciences. This is the French structuralist school of J.-P. Vernant, M. Detienne, J.-L. Durand, and others. The main books which are representative of this trend are: M. Detienne and J. -P. Vernant (eds.), La Cuisine du sacrifice en pays grec (1979), G. Berthiaume, Les Roles du Mageiros (1982), and J.-L. Durand, Sacrifice et labour en Grece ancienne (1986). Burkert provides us with a very clear explanation of structuralism: 'In a more speciWc way, structuralism is termed the science of signs, to coincide with ''semiology'', while at the same time the concept of''sign'' and ''language'' has been expanded to cover nearly every aspect of civilization.'3o

The Paris school concentrates on the type of sacriWce which is followed by a feast (see Preface, n. 3). In this view, sacrifice is an act of meat-eating, legitimately constructed around the effort of the sacriWcers to hide and deny the violent act of killing an animal. In this regard, the French school totally denies that the notion of 'murder' is the central aspect in a sacrifice: 'Precisement, la ceremonie du sacrifice pourrait se definir comme l'ensemble des procedures permettant d'abattre un animal dans des conditions telles que la violence en apparaisse exclue et que la mise a mort revete sans equivoque un caractere la distinguant nettement du meurtre, la situant dans une autre categorie, a l'ecart de ce que les Grecs entendent par crime de sang, phonos.'31 Starting from the ritual of the Bouphonia, where the animal is pushed to nod assent, the French school adopt the notion of a 'comedy of innocence'; but they claim that sacriWce contains this comedy in order for the guilt of killing to

29 Hamerton-Kelly (1985), (1990a and b). 3o Burkert (1979), 5.

be resolved. Bouphonia also serves as an illustration of the fact that the Greeks were aware that they sacriWced an animal which helped them in their agricultural labour.

The French school totally rejects the separation of Hubert and Mauss between sacred and secular. Instead, they insist on the communal and secular character of the feast, which, however, takes place in a religious context: according to them, Greek meat-eating always took place during a ritual occasion; also, the sharing of the meat between men and gods represented the Weltanschauung of the Greek citizen.

As its adherents are structuralists, the French school does not examine sacriWce over time.32 They rather belong to the trend which Burkert calls 'ahistorical structuralism concerned with formal models'.33

In my opinion, the main error of the structuralist approach is the following: this school tried to construct a theory of sacrifice based on a motif of non-violence, on the basis of one ritual, namely the Bouphonia. So, not only did this school choose to study one particular kind of sacriWce, namely that which was followed by a feast, but it chose one specific example of this kind as a proof of the whole theory. In my view, this selectivity tends to distort the evidence.34

Despite the criticism it might arouse, one has to admit that the French structuralist approach placed sacriWce for the Wrst time in the secular context of the Greek Classical polis, without resorting to psychological or biological reductionism. The new method allowed scholars to deal with aspects which had been neglected, such as women and sacriWce, the symbolisms included in the stages of the sacriWcial procedure, and similar issues.35

32 Georgoudi's chapter in Detienne-Vernant (1989) is one of the exceptions that prove the rule.

33 Burkert (1985), 4. Notice the comment made by John Ma (1994) about the structuralist method: 'The ultimate end, rather than conviction through pure demonstration, is an effect of admirable elegance achieved through structure and balance' (p. 75).

34 A long time after I reached this conclusion, Stella Georgoudi gave a paper criticizing the approach of the book La Cuisine du sacrifice. It is now published in Georgoudi-Koch Piettre-Schmidt (eds.) (2005), 115-47.

35 Detienne's and Durand's chapters in Detienne-Vernant (1989).

Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum

A very important step toward the systematization of all scholarly approaches to sacrifice is the article in the Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum (ThesCRA)3 Although neither a study of historical evolution nor any mention of early Christianity is contained in this article, it must be the most systematic recent treatment of Greek sacrifice. From another point of view, it seems that this article corroborates the importance of the present book: the writers emphasize the privileging of Archaic and Classical sources made so far in the research on sacriWce, and, consequently, the need for the study of evidence from the Imperial period," something which in this book is attempted for the Wrst time.

However, despite the promising attitude adopted by its writers, the article itself rather focuses on Archaic and Classical evidence. Moreover, the remark on the need for the study of later evidence incorporates reservations about the reliability of such evidence. For instance, quite old-fashionedly, the evidence from Pausanias is not considered to be very important, since, according to the writers, Pausanias is interested in ritual because it falls out of the norm.38

The article also stresses the tendency which will probably be the dominant one in the near future, and this is multidisciplinary stud-ies.39 As a proof of this tendency, the writers have provided us with a rich bibliography including an zooarchaeological section. Apart from this section, the bibliography also contains some very interesting recent studies, like the article in which Fritz Graf views Greek sacrifice as a system of signs calling us to interpret them.4°

Jewish sacrifice M. Douglas and F. Schmidt

A scholar who, even though an anthropologist, has been specifically concerned with Jewish sacriWce is Mary Douglas. Her recent work on Leviticus, Leviticus as Literature (1999), is a very good analysis of the conceptual structures underlying a text dealing with animals. As

36 Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum (ThesCRA), vol. 1 (Los Angeles, 2004).

such, it is extremely valuable for the student of animal sacriWce, especially when used in parallel with the French school's analysis of similar concepts in Greek sacrifice.41 What is lacking from Douglas's approach is the insertion of her study into the historical context of Jewish religion. This insertion has begun to be eVected in the work of F. Schmidt, who has applied the structuralist models used by Mary Douglas to late Judaism.

Schmidt, in La Pensee du Temple (1994), has mainly stressed the importance of a certain vision of the Jerusalem Temple in the thought of the sectarian Judaism found at Qumran. Since the central motif in his study is the Jerusalem Temple, Schmidt has also dealt with sacriWce, but unfortunately he has not fully exploited his method in the study of mainstream Judaism, which is the subject of this book.42

Structuralism is a good example of a method which, even though widely followed, has not managed to influence all areas of a particular Weld. Thus, if, in Greek religion, structuralism has helped scholars to see sacriWce in its context, by disentangling it from theories on the origins of the practice, a similar tendency has not yet been noted in the bibliography on Jewish religion, with the exception of the anthropologist Mary Douglas. Instead, the existing studies on Jewish sacriWce, still haunted by the evolutionist model, mainly deal with its origins, and do not talk about the role of sacriWce in Jewish society, especially that of the late Second Temple period.

Apart from a special reference to the very original book by Kla-wans, below, only a general outline of the theories on Jewish sacrifice is given here, since, independently of my inclusion of Judaism in the study of sacrifice, my overall approach to the subject is primarily that of a classicist.

Main scholarly approaches to Jewish sacrifice

Some of the theories on Jewish sacrifice can be regarded as the equivalent of Evans-Pritchard's approach, as they focus on the substitutory character of the victim; the latter is supposed to be immolated in the

41 See Durand (1979a).

42 An exception is his contribution to the volume by Georgoudi-Koch Piettre-Schmidt (eds.) (2005), 177-96.

place of the oVerer. As a result of the scholarly obsession with origins, evidence for this particular interpretation was even sought in Babylonian religion.43

Apart from the two aforementioned drawbacks, that of seeing Jewish sacriWce from the point of view of its origins, and that of studying it independently of Jewish social history, scholarly approaches to Jewish sacriWce suVer from a further disadvantage: the influence of Christian theology. Thus, certain of the theories stressing the substitutory function of Jewish sacrifice consider the Old Testament sacrificial ritual as prefiguring Jesus's death, the latter having been interpreted as an atoning substitutory sacrifice for man's sake.44 Before Tylor talked about the primary aspect of sacrifice as being that of gift, scholars studying Near Eastern cults had stressed that Jewish sacrifice is predominantly a present to God.45 In its theological variation, this gift theory made sacrifice a projection of the offerer's desire to dedicate himself to God as a gift.46

G. L. Bauer was the Wrst to express clearly the view that the gift offered to the Jewish God in a sacrifice was a meal. In the twentieth century his theory made its reapperance in an evolutionist guise, where the concept of feeding the deity is underplayed by scholars as a 'primitive' element in Jewish cult, or as a Canaanite influence.47 At the same time, other modern scholars do not deny that the concept of God being offered a meal is intrinsic in Jewish sacrificed

Along the same lines, but with its emphasis on the unifying role of the meal, there ran Robertson Smith's theory on Jewish (and, by extension, Semitic) sacriWce: as we have seen above, according to his evolutionist interpretation, at the heart of Jewish sacrificial ritual one Wnds the belief in the natural links uniting the totem with those partaking of its flesh and blood, as well as the worshippers with each other.

I have pointed out the defects in Robertson Smith's theory: evolutionism, and dependence on the Christian concept of Eucharistic

43 See Michaelis (1753), Jahn (1805), Dussaud (1921), Blome (1934).

44 See Riviere (1952).

45 See Bauer (1805), Gramberg (1829, 1830), Lagrange (1905).

sacriWce. A further deWciency which should be mentioned here, in the context of theories on Jewish sacrifice, is Robertson Smith's insistence on the consumption of the victim's blood. How can we reconcile this with the fact that Jewish religion is known for its taboo on blood? Consumption of blood is strictly prohibited in the Bible (Lev. 17: 10-14). Of course, one could say that the adoption of higher social forms caused the Jewish belief in the consanguinity between totem and humans to be superseded by more 'spiritual' motifs. However, this hypothetical evolutionist suggestion cannot sufficiently explain how the element which had been the kernel of sacriWce according to Robertson Smith, namely consumption of blood, did not even remain as a survival in Jewish ritual.

It would be unfair to underestimate the fact that Robertson Smith's theory emphasized the connecting character of the sacrificial meal, both in the direction of man and the divine, and within the framework of the community. In fact, recently, scholars have again stressed the aspect of the common meal in Jewish sacrificed

In the end, scholars have generally come to admit that expiatory killing (based on the substitutory role of the victim), gift, and meal are all essential aspects ofJewish sacriWce. These aspects are not mutually exclusive; instead, the diVerent types of Jewish sacriWce allow for the eVective representation of all these functions.5°

Jonathan Klawans

A very original and challenging analysis of Jewish sacriWce is the study by J. Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice and the Temple (2006). The main aim of Klawans' fluently written book is to refute scholarly appoaches which distort the phenomenon of Jewish sacriWce. Some distorting approaches place Jewish sacriWce at an allegedly 'inferior' religious stage, which was either to be replaced by other, 'better' forms of worship, like prayer and other eirenic cultic acts, or to be superseded by Jesus' death and the Eucharist. Some other distorting approaches see Jewish sacriWce as a development over primitive rituals. Both tendencies deprive sacriWce of any symbolic meaning which it might have incorporated, and take it to be a

49 Marx, in Schenker (1992).

5° See Hartley (1992), pp. lxvii-lxxii. The presentation above owes much to the paper presented by A. Marx in the seminar mentioned in n. 4 of the Preface here.

purely 'material' procedure. Klawans states from the beginning that his book questions the distorting scholarly views on Jewish sacrifice. He stresses and analyses the symbolism which is inherent in the Temple and in Jewish sacriWce, and which he closely connects to purity. This symbolism, according to Klawans, is based on two theological ideas: imitatio Dei, and attracting God's presence in the sanctuary.

According to Klawans, modern biases have made scholars take Old Testament prophecies, rabbinic writings, and Qumranic texts to be radically critical of the Temple, but the author's aim is to prove that this is not the case. The whole book is thus written by Klawans with the aim to prove that the anti-Temple criticism allegedly found in some sources is no more than the result of modern scholarly projections. That is why the author asserts: 'There are any number of reasons why Jewish, Christian, or even secularist moderns may wish to believe that cult sites and animal sacriWce ought to remain things of the past. But scholarship that attempts to prove that point, or that simply rests on it, becomes a tool of theology or politics.'5i

Despite his originality and critical stance, it seems that Klawans is too obsessed with his own symbolic system. Believing sacriWce to be a stage in the procedure of imitatio Dei, he makes all the evidence fit this scheme. In other words, Klawans does what he accuses other scholars of doing, namely, he projects his own biases onto the evidence. Klawans' pro-sacrificial stance, on which his whole book is based,52 alerts one as to the objectivity of the study.

However, in the framework of citing arguments against those who consider the so-called 'cleansing of the Temple' and the Last Supper as rejections of the Temple and sacriWce, Klawans is the only scholar who pays attention to the issue of sacriWcial metaphor. Klawans' treatment of sacriWcial metaphors in the framework of Jesus' words at the Last Supper will concern us in Chapter 6.

52 As Klawans characteristically claims: 'Had the history of religion turned out differently from the way it did, perhaps someone would have to write a book about the fact that scholars denigrate prayer more than they should.' Ibid. 10.

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