Click here to join the effort!
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Atonement, Day of
(יוֹם הִכַּפֻּרַים, yoma hakkippurim', day of the expiations; Sept. ἡμέρα ἐξιλασμοῦ, Vulg. dies expiationum or diespropitiationis), the Jewish day of annual expiation for national sin. In the Talmud this day is called תִּעֲנַית גְּדוֹלָה, great fasting, and so in Philo, νηστείας ἑορτή (Lib. de Sept. v. 47, ed. Tauchn.); and in Acts 27:9, ἡ νηστεία. The Talmudical writers, however, often designate it merely as יוֹמָא, THE day; a circumstance which has suggested to some commentators the notion that by ἡμέρα (Hebrews 7:27) the apostle intended this atonement day. Though perhaps originally meant as a temporary day of expiation for the sin of the golden calf (as some would infer from Exodus 33), yet it was permanently instituted by Moses as a day of atonement for sins in general; indeed, it was the great day of national humiliation, and the only one commanded in the Mosaic law, though the later Jews, in commemoration of some disastrous events, especially those which occurred at and after the destruction of the two temples, instituted a few more fast days, which they observed with scarcely less rigor and strictness than the one ordained by Moses for the purpose of general absolution (Hottinger, Solen. expiationum diei, Tirur. 1754). (See FAST).
I. The Time. — It was kept on the tenth day of Tisri, that is, from the evening of the ninth to the evening of the tenth of that month, five days before the Feast of Tabernacles. (See FESTIVAL). This would correspond to the early part of October. (See CALENDAR (JEWISH).) This great fast, like all others among the Jews, commenced at sunset of the previous day, and lasted twenty-four hours, that is, from sunset to sunset, or, as the rabbins will have it, until three stars were visible in the horizon. — Kitto, s.v. See DAY.
II. Commemorative Signification. — Some have inferred from Leviticus 16:1, that the day was instituted on account of the sin and punishment of Nadab and Abihu. Maimonides (More Nevochim, 18) regards it as a commemoration of the day on which Moses came down from the mount with the second tables of the law, and proclaimed to the people the forgiveness of their great sin in worshipping the golden calf (q.v.).
III. Scriptural Prescriptions respecting it. — The mode of its observance is described in Leviticus 16, where it should be noticed that in Leviticus 16:3-10 an outline of the whole ceremonial is given, while in the rest of the chapter certain points are mentioned with more details. The victims which were offered, in addition to those strictly belonging to the special service of the day, and to those of the usual daily sacrifice, are enumerated in Numbers 29:7-11; and the conduct of the people is emphatically enjoined in Leviticus 23:26-32. The ceremonies were of a very laborious character, especially for the high-priest, who had to prepare himself during the previous seven days in nearly solitary confinement for the peculiar services that awaited him, and abstain during that period from all that could render him unclean, or disturb his devotions. It was kept by the people as a solemn sabbath. They were commanded to set aside all work and "to afflict their souls," under pain of being "cut off from among the people." It was on this occasion only that the high-priest was permitted to enter into the Holy of Holies.
1. Having bathed his person and dressed himself entirely in the holy white linen garments, he brought forward a young bullock for a sin-offering and a ram for a burnt-offering, purchased at his own cost, on account of himself and his family, and two young goats for a sin-offering with a ram for a burnt-offering, which were paid for out of the public treasury, on account of the people. He then presented the two goats before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle and cast lots upon them. On one lot the word לִיהוָֹה (i.e. for Jehovah) was inscribed, and on the other לִעֲזָאזֵל (i. e for Azazel). He next sacrificed the young bullock as a sin-offering for himself and his family. Taking with him some of the blood of the bullock, he filled a censer with burning coals from the brazen altar, took a handful of incense, and entered into the most holy place. He then threw the incense upon the coals and enveloped the mercy-seat in a cloud of smoke. Then, dipping his finger into the blood, he sprinkled it seven times before the mercy-seat, eastward. (See Leviticus 16:14. The English version, "upon the mercy-seat," appears to be opposed to every Jewish authority. [See Drusius in loc. in the Critici Sacri.] It has, however the support of Ewald's authority. The Vulgate omits the clause; the Sept. follows the ambiguity of the Hebrew.
The word eastward must mean either the direction in which the drops were thrown by the priest, or else on the east side of the ark, i.e. the side toward the vail. The last clause of the verse may be taken as a repetition of the command, for the sake of emphasis on the number of sprinklings: "And he shall take of the blood of the bullock and sprinkle it before the mercy-seat, on the east; and seven times shall he sprinkle the blood with his finger before the mercyseat.") The goat upon which the lot "for Jehovah" had fallen was then slain, and the high-priest sprinkled its blood before the mercy-seat in the same manner as he had done that of the bullock. Going out from the Holy of Holies, he purified the holy place, sprinkling some of the blood of both the victims on the altar of incense. (That the altar of incense was thus purified on the day of atonement we learn expressly from Exodus 30:10. Most critics consider that this is what is spoken of in Leviticus 16:18; Leviticus 16:20. But some suppose that it is the altar of burnt- offerings in which is referred to in those verses, the purification of the altar of incense being implied in that of the holy place mentioned in Leviticus 16:16. Abenezra was of this opinion [see Drusius in loc.]. That the expression "before the Lord" does not necessarily mean within the tabernacle, is evident from Exodus 29:11. If the golden altar is here referred to, it seems remarkable that no mention is made in the ritual of the cleansing of the brazen altar. But perhaps the practice spoken of by Josephus and in the Mishna of pouring what remained of the; mixed blood at the foot of the large altar was an ancient one, and was regarded as its purification.) At this time no one besides the high-priest was suffered to be present in the holy place. The purification of the Holy of Holies, and of the holy place, being thus completed, the high-priest laid his hands upon the head of the goat on which the lot "for Azazel" had fallen, and confessed over it all the sins of the people. The goat was then led, by a man chosen for the purpose, into the wilderness, into "a land not inhabited," and was there let loose.
2. The high-priest after this returned into the holy place, bathed himself again, put on his usual garments of office, and offered the two rams as burnt-offerings, one for himself and one for the people. He also burnt upon the altar the fat of the two sin-offerings, while their flesh was carried away and burned outside the camp. Those who took away' the flesh and the man who had led away the goat had to bathe their persons and wash their clothes as soon as their service was performed.
The accessory burnt-offerings mentioned Numbers 29:7-11, were a young bullock, a ram, seven lambs, and a young goat. It would seem that (at least in the time of the second Temple) these were offered by the high- priest along with the evening sacrifice (see below, V, 7).
3. The ceremonies of worship peculiar to this day alone (besides those which were common to it with all other days) were:
(1.) That the high-priest, in a simple dress, confessed his own sins and those of his family, for the expiation of which he offered a bullock, on which he laid them;
(2.) That two goats were set aside, one of which was by lot sacrificed to Jehovah, while the other (AZAZEL), which was determined by lot to be set at liberty, was sent to the desert burdened with the sins of the people.
(3.) On this day, also, the high-priest gave his blessing to the whole nation; and the remainder of the day was spent in prayers and other works of penance.. It may be seen that in the special rites of the Day of Atonement there is a natural gradation. In the first place, the high- priest and his family are cleansed; then atonement is made by the purified priest for the sanctuary and all contained in it; then (if the view to which reference has been made be correct) for the brazen altar in the court; and, lastly, reconciliation is made for the people. (See SIN- OFFERING).
IV. Statement of Josephus. — In the short account of the ritual of the day which is given by this Jewish writer in one passage (Ant.3, 10, 3), there are a few particulars which are worthy of notice. His words, of course, apply to the practice in the second Temple, when the ark of the covenant had disappeared. He states that the high-priest sprinkled the blood with his finger seven times on the ceiling and seven times on the floor of the most holy place, and seven times toward it (as it would appear, outside the vail), and round the golden altar. Then, going into the court, he either sprinkled or poured the blood round the great altar. He also informs us that along with the fat, the kidneys, the top of the liver, and the extremities (αἱ ἐξοχαι ) of the victims were burned.
V. Rabbinical Details. — The treatise of the Mishna, entitled Yoma, professes to give a full account of the observances of the day according to the usage in the second Temple. The following particulars appear either to be interesting in themselves, or to illustrate the language of the Pentateuch.
1. The high-priest himself, dressed in his colored official garments, used, on the Day of Atonement, to perform all the duties of the ordinary daily service, such as lighting the lamps, presenting the daily sacrifices, and offering the incense. After this he bathed himself, put on the white garments, and commenced the special rites of the day. There is nothing in the Old Testament to render it improbable that this was the original practice.
2. The high-priest went into the Holy of Holies four times in the course of the day: first, with the censer and incense, while a priest continued to agitate the blood of the bullock last it should coagulate; secondly, with the blood of the bullock; thirdly, with the blood of the goat; fourthly, after having offered the evening sacrifice, to fetch out the censer and the plate which had contained the incense. These four entrances, forming, as they do, parts of the one great annual rite, are not opposed to a reasonable view of the statement in Hebrews 9:7 (where the apostle tells us that the high-priest entered only once on that day, since the expression, ἃπαξ τοῦ ἐνιατοῦ, may refer to the one day in the year when such a service alone took place), and that in Josephus (War, 5, 5, 7). Three of the entrances seem to be very distinctly implied in Leviticus 16:12; Leviticus 16:14; Leviticus 15:3. It is said that the blood of the bullock and that of the goat were each sprinkled eight times — once toward the ceiling, and seven times on the floor. This does not agree with the words of Josephus (see above, IV).
4. After he had gone into the most holy place the third time, and had returned into the holy place, the high-priest sprinkled the blood of the bullock eight times toward the vail, and did the same with the blood of the goat. Having then mingled the blood of the two victims together and sprinkled the altar of incense with the mixture, he came into the court and poured out what remained at the foot of the altar of burnt-offering.
5. Most careful directions are given for the preparation of the high-priest for the services of the day. For seven days previously he kept away from his own house and dwelt in a chamber appointed for his use. This was to avoid the accidental causes of pollution which he might meet with in his domestic life. But, to provide for the possibility of his incurring some uncleanness in spite of this precaution, a deputy was chosen who might act for him when the day came. In the treatise of the Mishna entitled "Pirke Aboth," it is stated that no such mischance ever befell the highpriest. But Josephus (Ant. 17, 6, 4) relates an instance of the high-priest Matthias, in the time of Herod the Great, when his relation, Joseph, took his place in the sacred office. During the whole of the seven days the high-priest had to perform the ordinary sacerdotal duties of the daily service himself, as well as on the Day of Atonement. On the third day and on the seventh he was sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer, in order to cleanse him in the event of his having touched a dead body without knowing it. On the seventh day he was also required to take a solemn oath before the elders that he would alter nothing whatever in the accustomed rites of the Day of Atonement. (This, according to the "Jerusalem Gemara" on Yoma [quoted by Lightfoot], was instituted in consequence of an innovation of the Sadducean party, who had directed the high-priest to throw the incense upon the censer outside the vail, and to carry it, smoking, into the Holy of Holies.)
6. Several curious particulars are stated regarding the scape-goat. The two goats of the sin-offering were to be of similar appearance, size, and value. The lots were originally of boxwood, but in later times they were of gold. They were put into a little box or urn, into which the high-priest put both his hands and took out a lot in each, while the two goats stood before him, one at the right side and the other on the left. The lot in each hand belonged to the goat in the corresponding position; and when the lot "for Azazel" happened to be in the right hand, it was regarded as a good omen. The high-priest then tied a piece of scarlet cloth on the scape-goat's head, called "the scarlet tongue" from the shape in which it was cut. Maimonides says that this was only to distinguish him, in order that he might be known when the time came for him to be sent away. But in the Gemara it is asserted that the red cloth ought to turn white, as a token of God's acceptance of the atonement of the day, referring to Isaiah 1:18. A particular instance of. such a change, when also the lot "for Azazel" was in the priest's right hand, is related as having occurred in the time of Simon the Just. It is farther stated that no such change took place for forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. The prayer which the highpriest uttered over the head of the goat was as follows: "O Lord, the house of Israel, thy people, have trespassed, rebelled, and sinned before thee. I beseech thee, O Lord, forgive now their trespasses, rebellions, and sins which thy people have committed, as it is written in the law of Moses, thy servant, saying that in that day there shall be an atonement for you to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord'" (Gemara on Yoma, quoted by Frischmuth). The goat was then goaded and rudely treated by the people till it was led away by the man appointed. As soon as it reached a certain spot, which seems to have been regarded as the commencement of the wilderness, a signal was made by some sort of telegraphic contrivance to the high-priest, who waited for it. The man who led the goat is said to have taken him to the top of a high precipice and thrown him down backward, so as to dash him to pieces. If this was not a mistake of the writer of Yoma, it must have been, as Spencer argues, a modern innovation. It cannot be doubted that the goat was originally set free. Even if there be any uncertainty in the words of the Hebrew, the explicit rendering of the Sept. must be better authority than the Talmud (καὶ ὁ ἐξαποστέλλων τὸν χίμαρον τὸν διεσταλμένον εἰς ἄφεσινκ . τ . Leviticus 16:26).
7. The high-priest, as soon as he had received the signal that the goat had reached the wilderness, read some lessons from the law, and offered up some prayers. He then bathed himself, resumed his colored garments, and offered either the whole or a great part of the necessary offering (mentioned Numbers 29:7-11) with the regular evening sacrifice. After this he washed again, put on the white garments, and entered the most holy place for the fourth time, to fetch out the censer and the incense-plate. This terminated the special rites of the day.
8. The Mishna gives very strict rules for the fasting of the people. In the law itself no express mention is made of abstinence from food; but it is most likely implied in the command that the people were "to afflict their souls." According to Yoma, every Jew (except invalids, and children under thirteen years of age) is forbidden to eat anything so large as a date, to drink, or to wash from sunset to sunset.
VI. On the Scape-goat, (See AZAZEL).
VII. Modern Observance of the Day. — The day previous to the day of expiation, the strict class of Jews provide a cock, which they send to an inferior rabbi to be slain; the person whose property it is then takes the fowl by the legs, and with uplifted hands swings it nine times over the heads of himself and his company, and at the same time prays to God that the sins they have been guilty of during the year may enter into the fowl. This cock, which they call כִּפָּרָה (pardon, atonement), seems to be substituted for the scape-goat of old. They then take the fowl and give it to the poor to eat, with a donation according to their means. On the same evening, one hour before synagogue service, they partake of a sumptuous feast, which they call taking their fast, after which they go to the synagogue. In the great synagogue in London, the clerk stands up in the midst, where a large stage is erected for the accommodation of the singers, who chant the customary prayers. The clerk offers up a blessing, and afterward the free-gift offering. Every man, according to his capacity (but it is not compulsory), gives a sum, which is offered up, and inserted in a book kept for that purpose. Most of the Jews endeavor on this occasion to provide themselves with the best apparel, as they say they appear before the King of kings to have their final doom settled upon them. Then begins the evening prayer of the fast, when the reader and chief rabbi, and many of the congregation, are clad with the shroud in which they are to be buried, continuing in prayer and supplication for upward of three hours. There are many who will stand upon one spot from the ninth day (of Tisri) at even until the tenth day at even; and when the service is ended on the ninth eve, those who return home to their dwellings come again in the morning at five o'clock, and continue until dark, observing the following order: First are said the morning prayers, which commence as soon as they come to the synagogue. After saying the usual prayers and supplications peculiar to the day, they then take forth the Law, and read the portion Leviticus 16; the mophter (a certain portion of the Law so named by the Jews) is Numbers 29:7-11; the portion from the prophets from Isaiah 57:14, to the end of chap. 58. They then say the prayer for the prosperity of the government under which they dwell, and then put the Law into the ark again, which ends the morning prayer, after having continued for six hours without intermission. They next say the prayer of the masoph (i.e. "addition"), which makes mention of the additional sacrifice of the day (Numbers 29:7), and supplicates the Almighty to be propitious to them. They finally say the offering of the day from Numbers 29:7-27. They abstain from food altogether during the day. For many more ceremonies observed among the present Jews on the Day of Atonement, see Picard, Ceremonies et Coutumes Religieuses, etc. t. i, c. 6, p. 18.
VIII. Typical Import of the Entire Observance. — As it might be supposed, the Talmudists miserably degraded the meaning of the Day of Atonement. They regarded it as an opportunity afforded them of wiping off the score of their more heavy offenses. Thus Yomar (cap. 8) says, "The day of atonement and death make atonement through penitence. Penitence itself makes atonement for slight transgressions, and in the case of grosser sins it obtains a respite until the coming of the Day of Atonement, which completes the reconciliation." More authorities to the same general purpose are quoted by Frischmuth (p. 917), some of which seem also to indicate that the peculiar atoning virtue of the day was supposed to rest in the scapegoat. Philo (Lib. de Septenario) regarded the day in a far nobler light. He speaks of it as an occasion for the discipline of self-restraint in regard to bodily indulgence, and for bringing home to our minds the truth that man does not live by bread alone, but by whatever God is pleased to appoint. The prayers proper for the day, he says, are those for forgiveness of sins past and for amendment of life in future, to be offered in dependence, not on our own merits, but on the goodness of God. It cannot be doubted that what especially distinguished the symbolical expiation of this day from that of the other services of the law was its broad and national character, with perhaps a deeper reference to the sin which belongs to the nature of man. Ewald instructively remarks that, though the least uncleanness of an individual might be atoned by the rites of the law which could be observed at other times, there was a consciousness of secret and indefinite sin pervading the congregation which was aptly met by this great annual fast. Hence, in its national character, he sees an antithesis between it and the Passover, the great festival of social life; and in its atoning significance, he regards it as a fit preparation for the rejoicing at the ingathering of the fruits of the earth in the Feast of Tabernacles. Philo looked upon its position in the Jewish calendar in the same light.
In considering the meaning of the particular rites of the day, three points appear to be of a very distinctive character:
1. The white garments of the highpriest.
2. His entrance into the Holy of Holies.
3. The scape-goat. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 9:7-25) teaches us to apply the first two particulars.
The high-priest himself, with his person cleansed and dressed in white garments, was the best outward type which a living man could present in his- own person of that pure and holy One who was to purify His people and to cleanse them from their sins. But respecting the meaning of the scape-goat we have no such light to guide us, and (as may be seen from the discussion under the word Azazel) the subject is one of great doubt and difficulty. — Of those who take Azazel for the Evil Spirit, some have supposed that the goat was a sort of bribe or retaining fee for the accuser of men. Spencer, in supposing that it was given up with its load of sin to the enemy to be tormented, made it a symbol of the punishment of the wicked; while, according to the strange notion of Hengstenberg, that it was sent to mock the devil, it was significant of the freedom of those who had become reconciled to God. Some few of those who have held a different opinion on the word Azazel have supposed that the goat was taken into the wilderness to suffer there vicariously for the sins of the people. But it has been generally considered that it was dismissed to signify the carrying away of their sins, as it were, out of the sight of Jehovah. (In the similar part of the rite for the purification of the leper [Leviticus 14:6-7], in which a live bird was set free, it must be evident that the bird signified the carrying away of the uncleanness of the sufferer in precisely the same manner.) If we keep in view that the two goats are spoken of as parts of one and the same sin-offering, and that every circumstance connected with them appears to have been carefully arranged to bring them under the same conditions up to the time of the casting of the lots, we shall not have much difficulty in seeing that they form together but one symbolical expression. Why there were two individuals instead of one may be simply this — that a single material object could not, in its nature, symbolically embrace the whole of the truth which was to be expressed. This is implied in the reasoning of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews on the office and sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9). Hence some, regarding each goat as a type of Christ, supposed that the one which was slain represented his death, and that the goat set free signified his resurrection (Cyril, Bochart, and others, quoted by Spencer). But we shall take a simpler, and perhaps a truer view, if we look upon the slain goat as setting forth the act of sacrifice, in giving up its own life for others "to Jehovah," in accordance with the requirements of the divine law; and the goat which carried off its load of sin "to an utter distance" as signifying the cleansing influence of faith in that sacrifice. Thus, in his degree, the devout Israelite might have felt the truth of the Psalmist's words, "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us." But for us the whole spiritual truth has been revealed in historical fact in the life, death, and resurrection of Him who was made sin for us, who died for us, and who rose again for our justification. This Mediator it was necessary should, "in some unspeakable manner, unite death and life" (Maurice, On Sacrifice, p. 85). See Journ. Sac. Lit. Jan. 1849, p. 74 sq.
IX. Literature. — Josephus, Ant. 3, 10, 3; the Talmud (Mishna, tract Yoma, ed. by Sheringham [Franeq. 1696, 17108], also with notes in Surenhusius, 2:5), with the Jerus. Gemara thereupon; Maimonides הכפורים עבדות יום(Worship of the Day of Atonement); also in Crenii, Opusc. ad philol. sacr. spect. 7, 651 sq., 819 sq.; Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 216 sq.; Spencer, De legibus Hebrcebrum Ritualibus, lib. 3, diss. 8; Lightfoot's Temple Service, c. 15; Buxtorf, Synagoga Judaica, cap. 20; Ugolini Thesaur. 18; see Reland, Antiq. Sacr. 4, 6; Carpzov, Appar. p. 433 sq.; Moller, De ritib.festi expiat. (Jen. 1689); Hochstetter, Defesto expiat.
(Tub. 1707); Hottinger, De ministerio diei erpiationis (Marb. 1708; Tur. 1754); Danz, in Menschen's Nov. Test. Talm. p. 912; BShr, Symbol. 2, 664 sq.; Langenberg, De pontif. in expiationis die vicario (Greifsw. 1739); Michaelis, Num esp. dies sub templo secundo fuerit celebratus (Hal. 1751); Danzere's two Dissertationes de Functione Pontificis Maximi in Adyto Anniversario; Kraft, De mysterio Diei inaugurationum (Marb. 1749); Cohn, Bedeutung und Zweck des Versihnungstages (Lpz. 1862); Ewald, Die Alterthuimer des Volkes Israel, p. 370 sq.; Hengstenberg, Egypt and the Books of Moses, on Leviticus 16 (English translation); Thomson's Bampton Lectures, lect. 3, and notes. (See EXPIATION).
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Atonement, Day of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/a/atonement-day-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the First Week of Advent