Thursday, July 19, 2007

Turkey Travelogue 5f - Sacrifice in the Greco-Roman World

Click here for the Turkey Travelogue Index.

The carved bulls and wreath in this Bas-relief sculpture, as well as others like it in Didyma and Aphrodisias, reminded us of the story in Acts 14, where the inhabitants of Lystra concluded that Barnabas and Paul were Zeus and Hermes come down to earth in human form, and the "The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city [just like the temple of Artemis outside Ephesus], brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them" (Acts 14:13 NIV).

We must have come close to Lystra (middle green dot on the map below) on our way from Denizli (blue dot on the left) to Göreme (blue dot on the right) in Cappadocia, because the shortest road appears to go through Konya (ancient Iconium; top blue dot). But it was a night bus, and I paid no attention to the stops along the way.

Still, it is safe to assume that sacrifice in Lystra would have been performed in much the same way as it was performed in Ephesus, and indeed, in most of the Greco-Roman world. According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary, "Three main stages [of Greek sacrifice] can be distinguished:
"1. Preparatory. An animal was led to the altar, usually in procession. The participants assembled in a circle, rinsed their hands in lustral water, and took a handful of barley grain from a basket. Water was sprinkled on the victim to force it to 'nod' agreement to its own sacrifice. The main sacrificer...then cut hair from the victim, put it on the altar fire, and uttered a prayer which defined the return that was desired (e.g. 'health and safety') for the offering. The other participants threw forwards their barley grains.
"2. The kill. The victim's throat was cut with a knife; larger victims had been stunned with a blow from an axe first. Women participants raised the cry known as ololyge. In Attic practice it was important to 'bloody the altar'; small animals were held over it to be killed, the blood from larger ones was caught in a bowl and poured out over it.
"3. Treatment of the meat, which itself had three stages. First the god's portion, typically the thigh bones wrapped in fat..., was burnt on the altar fire. Wine was poured on as it burnt....Then the entrails were roasted on skewers and shared among all the participants. Finally the rest of the meat was boiled and distributed (normally in equal portions)....Omens were often taken both from the burning of the god's portion and from the condition of the entrails."
(R.C.T.P., "sacrifice, Greek" OCD [2003], 1344)
Roman sacrifice differed in some respects from Greek, but the basic procedure appears to have been very similar (at least to this novice). Which brings me back to bulls and wreaths:

We were reminded of images like this a couple weeks ago, as someone read from Psalm 118 in our church in Saskatoon:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD; We have blessed you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. (Ps 118:26-27 NASB)

Update: t. thinks the passage was really Psalm 51:18-19: "Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar" (NRSV).
It helps me to remember that sacrifice offered in Jerusalem to the one God of Israel would also have been similar, in certain important ways, to sacrifice in the Greco-Roman world, for, as E.P. Sanders puts it, "The work of the priesthood proper, put in terms of tasks known today, was a combination of liturgical worship and expert butchery, mostly the latter" (Judaism: Practice and Belief, 79).

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