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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(δάμαλις = פָרָה, ‘a cow’)

The writer of Hebrews finds a parallel between ‘the water (for the removal) of impurity’ (ὕδωρ ῥαντιοσμοῦ = מֵי נָדָּה, ‘water of exclusion’) and the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:13 f.). The former element was a mixture of running (living) water with the ashes of a spotless heifer slain and burnt according to the ritual prescribed in Numbers 19. As contact with a dead body, a bone, or a grave involved defilement, and entrance into the sanctuary in a state of uncleanness made the offender liable to excommunication, the use of this holy water was prescribed as a means of purification. Every detail in the ceremonial leads the student of origins back to the childhood of the Semites. ‘Primarily, purification means the application to the person of some medium which removes a taboo, and enables the person purified to mingle freely in the ordinary life of his fellows’ (W. R. Smith, RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites (W. Robertson Smith).] 2. 1894, p. 425). In those days there was probably a cult of the sacred cow, while juniper, cypress, and aromatic plants were supposed to have power to expel the evil spirits which brought death into the home. It is certain, however, that, when Israel began to put away childish things, the ancient consuetudinary laws in regard to defilement came to be viewed by the more enlightened minds as mere ‘symbols of spiritual truths.’ To the awakened conscience ‘sin was death, and had wrought death, and the dead body as well as the spiritually dead soul were the evidence of its sway’; while cedar-wood, hyssop, and scarlet may ultimately have been regarded-though this is more doubtful-as ‘the symbols of imperishable existence, freedom from corruption, and fulness of life’ (A. Edersheim, The Temple, 1909, p. 305f.). Discarding all magical ideas, the worshipper of Jahweh thus endeavoured to change the antique ritual into an object-lesson or sacramental means of grace. The writer to the Hebrews uses it as a stepping-stone to Christian truth. Rejecting the Philonic distinction between Levitical washings as directed to the purification of the body and sacrifices as intended to effect a purgation of the soul, he views the whole ritual of lustration and sin-offering alike as an opus operatum which can at the best purify only the body. Accepting this idea on the bare authority of Scripture, he makes it the premiss of an argument a minori ad majus. If (a particle which posits a fact, and scarcely insinuates a doubt) the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer cleanse the flesh, defiled by contact with death, much more does the life-blood of the Messiah cleanse the conscience from dead works.

Literature.-Maimonides, Moreh, iii. 47; K. C. W. F. Bähr, Symbolik des mosaischen Cultus, Heidelberg, 1837-39, i. 493ff.; W. Nowack, Lehrbuch der hebräischen Archäologie, Freiburg i. B. and Leipzig, 1894, ii. 288; article ‘Red Heifer’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Jewish Encyclopedia .

James Strahan.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Heifer'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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