A mystery

From a blue scrap of paper on which I scribbled something in red ink, which then went through the wash, and was found finally by yours truly in the dryer:

[illegible] last part of sacrifice — water washes away the blood from the altar’s side, a sign of the erasing of the sin.

Hmm. The reference is the part that is illegible! Now I don’t remember where the washing away of the blood from the altar was described. I don’t think it’s Biblical. A search doesn’t reveal it. Maybe in the Septuagint? It was more likely a chance encounter in the either the Mishnah, Tosefta, or Babylonian Talmud. Or maybe somewhere else. (Sigh.)

I really have to remember to check all my pockets before doing the wash. That’s disappointing.


  1. I had a really frustrating experience working on the St Cædmon post last night. I could have sworn I’d read something, and more than just a passing reference, about the notion of ruminatio in prayer and Scripture reading in either Burton-Christie or de Vogüé, and I don’t know how long I spent looking through them and other books and doing internet searches, all in vain. I still have no idea where I read it! If I take my own life, you’ll know why.

  2. Rather than the source mystery, I am overwhelmed by the spiritual significance of the irony.

    Also, regarding your current book, I hope to read that one soon. I recently acquired BKiraz’s New Syriac Primer. It has the exact same cover graphic, which is why it caught my eye. Thanks for your great blog by the way. 🙂

  3. Sounds like it is from from Tractate Zehavim. The idea shows up repeatedly in Zehavim, and could have been drawn from multiple places, although my best guess would be Bavli 93b-94b.

  4. Aaron, I know what you mean. Usually, I remember not only the book, but the approximate page number and the place on the page where I read something striking. (I’m not bragging, it’s just a peculiarity of mine that’s come in handy.) I hate it when that normal system doesn’t work!

    David, yes, it’s George Kiraz’s new Primer. I’ve got that too! I’m going to start with Muraoka’s Classical Syriac for Hebraists, though, since I’m very well-skilled in Classical Hebrew. It’ll be helpful to have that leg-up. The irony is a bit much. A good lesson, but frustrating!

    Theophrastus, aren’t you a bundle of surprises! A classicist of both West and East! I thought of Zevahim, too, but it’s a bit too long to find in a glance. 93b-94b looks close, as this does cover sprinkling (blood) and rinsing (water), but this is other things than the altar. So I’ll look earlier than that, as it goes into other portable items (hides, stains, etc) past 94b.

    I think common sense indicates that there was some washing of the blood-besprinkled sides of the altar, as an accumulation of too much blood would lead to putrefaction, which is definitely a no-no for the sanctuary. I do recall mention (perhaps in Mishnah Middoth?) of the opening of valves which would release water from a high-level aqueduct that would wash the entire Court of the Priests, with the water flowing down into sewers leading away from the sanctuary. This is separate from the altar itself, though, which had its own gutter, though perhaps it emptied into the same system. It was in relation to this that I recall the blood mixed with the water that washed it away. Also, it would be likely to have washed away the sprinkled blood between each sacrifice, seeing the generally scrupulous manner in which sacrifices are described and the determination to have them validly attributed to those who brought them. To wash away the blood of a sacrifice as one of the the last things done in relation to one sacrfice before commencing with the next the kind of internal logic reflected in the restrictions on maintaining the certainty of attribution for each sacrifice. It’s not as though God would ever be confused, of course, but it’s better not to screw up.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the sacrificial system, particularly as laid out in Leviticus. Having had Milgrom for a program director and teacher made it all the more fascinating. It’s a vast, intricate, detailed purification engine, full of interlocking parts. If any of those parts don’t work properly, BANG! God’s favor (indeed Presence!) is withdrawn and bad things happen. It really is a kind of science.

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