THEO681 Penance and Penitence
Discussion Summary 9/3/96

I. Theological Sources in TaNaK
Presenter: Richard Bautch, S.J.

Our discussion focused on Deuteronomistic History and Confessional Prayer in Judaism. The Deuteronomist used the book of the law which follows in several cycles--for example, a period of faithfulness to the covenant is followed by a period of lapsing, challenging those in exile towards the next act of the cycle: crying out to Yahweh in order to achieve the return with which a new act of Yahweh's grace begins. The God of the Deuteronomist's history is a gracious God, but exhibits restraint and tentativeness which expresses the gloomy situation in exile. Here God is recognizably at work in history, even to the extent of causing (or at least accelerating) and answering moral decline with warnings, punishments, and ultimately when all else failed, total annihilation. This was just divine retribution in the history of the people (the individual was not specifically considered at this point) as perceived by the Deuteronomist.
The "I"-psalms were an important aspect of confessional prayer in Judaism. The major theme of these psalms is illness, which is directly caused by Yahweh as a consequence of sinfulness. What is implied by illness is the impurity of sin. In confessing his or her sin, the sick person, while pointing to his or her penitence, emphasized his or her faithfulness to the covenant, pointing to piety and good works, and prayers. There is evidence that many of the "I"-psalms were actually congregational psalms, spoken on behalf of the congregation by their representative about disasters which threaten them all.

II. The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)
Presenter: Jeff Truscott

The main topics for discussion were purification rites, the scapegoat rite, self-denial and rest, and confession and repentance. The two main expiatory rites were the purification of the sanctuary and some of its sanctums with blood and the dispatch of the goat bearing the people's sins. The purification included two sacrifices, the first for the priest and the second for the people. The purpose of the sacrifices was to remove impurity which is caused by the sins of the people. The priest confessed his sins and those of his household as he placed his hands on the head of the bull before it is sacrificed. In the sacrifice for the people, one goat is sacrificed to God and another is chosen as a scapegoat. The scapegoat ritual follows the sacrifices. The priest confessed the sins of the Israelites while placing this hands on the head of the goat. Following this the goat is sent off into a remote land, carrying the sins of the people with it. The people were not present at the temple during the sacrifices but stayed at home under the requirement of self-denial and complete cessation from work. These prescriptions of self-denial and rest were chiastically-arranged, as found in Leviticus 16.29. The Day of Atonement stressed repentance in which forgiveness is petitioned on the eve of Yom Kippur. The verbal confession by the priest must be matched by the actual remorse of the people, or the ritual was useless. Such repentance purges humanity like blood purges the temple.