The insane search for Biblical purity
by: John Tyrrell
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Numbers 19 And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
2 This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke:
3 And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and one shall slay her before his face:
4 And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times:
5 And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn:
6 And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer.
7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even.
8 And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even.
9 And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin.
10 And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever.
In Meditation 88: Bringing on the Apocalypse, I wrote briefly on those Christians and Jews working on bringing about the building of a Third Temple,* pointing out that their efforts, to be successful, would involve the destruction of two historic mosques, thus igniting a holy war.
(For one of the Christian efforts, see Meditation 138: Setting off Fireworks, about the preacher planting cypress trees in Lebanon which were intended to grow into the timbers for the temple.)
Twelve years later, the efforts continue.
The Temple Institute, a small Jewish organization intent on bringing about the rebuilding of the Temple, and which engages in deliberately provocative visits to the Muslim areas of Temple Mount claims it has already re-created over 60 temple vessels for use in the Temple. Now, it has started raising funds to create the perfect red heifer using surrogacy.
Apparently their attempts to breed such a cow through strictly biblical (or natural) methods have failed. So now they are raising funds to implant red angus embryos.
It seems to me they have lost faith in their God's ability to produce the requisite miracle through natural bull on cow insemination. Now they are going to try science. And if cow surrogacy fails, I would not be surprised to see them switch to attempting genetic modification if they can raise the funds.
Jewish tradition holds that from the time of Solomon to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, only nine perfect red heifers were ever found.** According to Maimonides, the tenth will herald the coming of the Messiah.
Now the Temple Institute is not going to be satisfied with just that tenth perfect heifer - they hope to breed a whole herd of them (Which leads me to question their understanding of the word heifer.) But the ultimate aim is to have at least one available for sacrifice once the Temple is rebuilt. And that sacrificed heifer - together with her dung - has to be burnt. And the cowshit is specified by God, because obviously there's nothing better than burnt shit for purification ceremonies.
Going back to the passage from numbers that this whole perfect red heifer thing is based on, I can't help thinking how insane this whole rite is. The priest who kills the heifer becomes religiously unclean. The man who burns the heifer and her dung becomes religiously unclean. The man who gathers the ashes becomes religiously unclean. And yet the ashes mixed up with a little water bring about purity - a washing away of sin - allowing a priest to serve in the Temple, and a follower to visit the temple. It's a filthy business from end to end. Dirty water is not going to purify anyone.
By itself, this whole red heifer project is nothing more than religious silliness. But, if they do end up producing the perfect unblemished red cow (apparently one single non-red hair is OK, but not two), it will give them added impetus to build their temple.
But to rebuild the temple as planned means the destruction of the second holiest site in Islam. Don't expect the followers of Islam to sit idly by.
* It should be noted that there is no firm evidence outside the Bible for the existence of the First (or Solomon's) Temple, and indeed, if such a temple existed, it is highly questionable that it stood on the same ground that the Second Temple, especially as this location is outside the boundaries of the older Jerusalem.
** If certain characteristics serve to get an animal killed before it reproduces, it should not be surprising that animals with those characteristics become increasingly difficult to find.
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