Responding to Mary Douglas, The Eucharist: Its Continuity with the Bread Sacrifice of Leviticus

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Again, rough draft in response to this paper, which you should be able to find here.

I must admit, that it is most difficult to respond to someone of the stature of either Erich Zenger or Mary Douglas, and no matter how much I might disagree with them, my responses pale in comparison to their established body of work. Douglas knows that her argument is unconvincing, but given the space of a journal, and indeed, her work on the anthropology of Leviticus, I wouldn’t expect it to be neatly contained in this article. I believe that her argument about the bread/cereal sacrifice continued from the priestly codes to that of the Eucharistic celebration of the New Testament makes sense and can be easily verified; however, her outright dismissal of Deuteronomy (p 218) is in my opinion completely wrong. I note that the publication date of this article is 1999, and while the author most likely did not benefit from the studies produced by the New Perspective on Paul group and other, fuller, treatments of Second Temple Judaism, I think that her casual dismissal of Deuteronomy misshapes her entire argument and gives it a rather shaky defense.

She notes that the ‘continuity of writing and reading Leviticus was broken’ but still doesn’t see the role which Deuteronomy played in Second Temple Judaism and especially the Pharisaic community which gave rise to the early Church. For one, I don’t believe that there was such a stringent continuity which enabled Leviticus to shape the different Judaisms of the day, a fact which the author doesn’t call attention to. It is almost as if she assumes that the Judaism of Christ and the Apostles were the same as those who wrote the priestly codes, and yet we know from a simple reading of the Gospels (and indeed, comparing and contrasting Ruth/Ezra-Nehemiah and the books of the Kingdoms/Chronicles) that there was no such thing as a single Judaism. It would be my contention that instead of examining Leviticus tin search of a connection, Deuteronomy is the central book of the Torah for the Gospel writers and early Jewish-Christian community. Yes, while Leviticus is much more open to strangers and foreigners, which would have played well with the God-fearers (Acts 10.2), Deuteronomy shaped exiled-Israel’s view of itself through seeing the system of blessings and curses which the early Jewish-Christians would have seen brought about by the ultimate blessing, namely Christ, the prophet of Deuteronomy 18.

Further, Douglas, while examining minute texts in Leviticus to support the importance of the bread offering – and I believe she is correct in that the bread offering is an essential sacrifice which is often missed – she misses the Deuteronomic passages of 8.2-16 and 12.23-24 which speaks about the value of a heavenly bread given during redemption and the pouring out of a blood sacrifice. Further, her case, here at least, is not made for the notion of Temple sacrifice mimicking the body. I am not versed enough in this conversation to offer dialogue; however, I would note that some of the recent theological developments regarding Genesis One and is liturgical relationship identifying the Hebrew notion of Cosmos and Temple. Further, Deuteronomy sees little value in the Temple, preferring to focus more on the Land, which fit into the Christian theological spectrum, especially as the Temple was destroyed (before the Gospels were written) and the Gentiles became the dominant group in the Way.

With this said, I would agree with Douglas that the use of the bread in the Eucharist is not happenstance, and would have triggered something in the minds of the disciples and later readers (although I think it is the manna of the Wilderness saga). She is correct that the Eucharist is connected to the Paschal Meal and that it was ‘continuous with Bible teaching on sacrifice and that there was a solid basis for bread sacrifice laid down in Leviticus itself.’ Further, Douglas highlights the almost forgotten notion that illegal aliens were allowed to partake of the Passover meal which is something foreign to much of Deuteronomy, if not all. Finally, I ultimately disagree with her first premise, “For Christians, a loaf of bread and a cup of mine would substitute for the flesh and blood of animals,” and her exclusion of Deuteronomy to the favoring of Leviticus while seeing in her limited argument presented here many things that are missed in Leviticus.

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