I’ve read so many histories of the Jews that I wondered if I could possibly learn anything new. Well, I have and I’m only up to Herod The Great. But the bit on Herod led me to something I’ve pondered ever since the first time I visited the Kotel, or Western Wall of the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem. And I think Johnson has given me the answer: Please Lord, don’t ever let them rebuild the Temple.
And not because it would outrage the goat lovers. What doesn’t? No, the worst possible consequence would be the return of the animal sacrifices. Here’s Johnson, using multiple sources to convey what it was like 2,000-plus years ago:
“The sacrifice rituals struck visitors as exotic, even barbarous, for most strangers came at feast times when the quantities of sacrifices were enormous. At such times the inner Temple was an awesome place—the screams and bellows of terrified cattle, blending with ritual cries and chants and tremendous blasts of horn and trumpet, and blood everywhere.
“The author of the Letter of Aristeas, an Alexandrine Jew who attended as a pilgrim, says he saw 700 priests performing the sacrifices, working in silence but handling the heavy carcasses with professional skill and putting them on exactly the right part of the altar.
“Because of the huge number of animals, the slaughter, bloodying and carving up of the carcasses had to be done quickly; and to get rid of the copious quantities of blood, the platform was not solid but hollow, a gigantic cleansing system.”
It’s nice to learn they could collect and wash away all that blood “in the twinkling of an eye,” as Aristeas put it with a phrase that shows how really old some cliches can be. But it sounds ghastly. If Israel is unfairly battered by the UN now, and it certainly is, just imagine what condemnations resuming animal sacrifices would bring. In addition to the godawful mess and the smell.
Not to worry. It will never happen. Rabbinic and synagogue Judaism long ago replaced animal sacrifice (with the Roman destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.) and that’s a very, very good thing.