Josephus’s Seven Purities and the Mishnah’s Ten Holinesses

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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This paper compares two descriptions of the Jewish hierarchy of holiness in relation to the Jerusalem temple: one from Josephus’s Jewish War, books 1 and 5, where the relevant hierarchy is referred to as the seven purities, and the other, in Mishnah Kelim 1:6-9, titled (the) ten holinesses. After analyzing the guiding principles behind the seven purities, this paper will examine the two hierarchies against the background of the biblical instructions for the exclusion of impure persons from the desert camp, and the interpretation of these instructions according to Josephus, the Temple Scroll from Qumran, and rabbinic literature. It will show that, while the seven purities is a cultic perception coherent to the exclusion of different categories of people from the temple, the ten holinesses follows different guiding principles.

Josephus’s Seven Purities and the Mishnah’s Ten Holinesses

in Journal for the Study of Judaism




Jonathan Klawans“Moral and Ritual Purity,” in The Historical Jesus in Contexted. Amy-Jill Levine Dale C. Allison Jr. and John D. Crossan (Princeton: Princeton University Press2006) 266-84at 274 in reference to m. Kelim 1:6-8: “there are two kinds of exclusions some based on levels of defilement and others based on class.”


MilgromLeviticus 1-16148.


See Yohanan Aharoni“The Solomonic Temple, The Tabernacle and the Arad Sanctuary,” in Orient and Occident: Essays presented to Cyrus H. Gordon on the Occasion of his Sixty–fifth Birthdayed. Harry A. Hoffner Jr. (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag1973) 1-8; Israel Knohl The Sanctuary of Silence: A Study of the Priestly Strata in the Pentateuch (Jerusalem: Magnes 1992) 204 [Hebrew]; Victor A. Hurowitz “YHWH’s Exalted House: Aspects of the design and Symbolism of Solomon’s Temple” in Temple and Worship in Biblical Israel ed. John Day (London: T&T Clark 2005) 63-110 esp. 68 92; Gershon Galil “Solomon’s Temple: Fiction or Reality?” in The Ancient Near East in the 12th-10th Centuries BCE: Culture and History ed. Gershon Galil et al. aoat 392 (Münster: Ugarit Verlag 2012) 137-48.


MilgromLeviticus 1-16148.


Aharon Shemesh“The Dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees on the Death Penalty,” Tarbiz 70 (2000): 17-33 [Hebrew] esp. 20-25. He relies on the Temple Scroll (11QTa 35:4-5); a non-verbal reference to הזר הקרב יומת and on 4Q266 (4QDa) 6 ii 9-10; as well as on the reference of the Temple Scroll to the chel around the temple (46:9-12). See also t. Kelim B. Qam 1:6—even the high priest they (would) break his skull with clubs—and m. Sanh. 9:6 which is ambiguous concerning who is in charge of killing an impure priest and a non-priest who served in the temple (see also t. Sanh. 14:16 Ker. 1:5 Zebaḥ. 12:17).


Translation based on Richard S. Sarason“The Significance of the Land of Israel in the Mishnah,” in The Land of Israel: Jewish Perspectivesed. Lawrence A. Hoffman (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press1986) 109-36at 112 and Herbert Danby The Mishnah (New York: Oxford University Press 1933) 605. The numbering is mine.


Vered NoamFrom Qumran to the Rabbinic Revolution: Concepts of Impurity (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi2010) 27-33 [Hebrew].


Already Hanoch AlbeckThe Six Orders of the Mishnah Volume 6: The Order of Purities with New Commentary Introductions Additions and Supplements (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute; Tel Aviv: Dvir1959) 508 [Hebrew] points out the correlation between the ten impurities of mishnah 5 and the ten holinesses. However the ten holinesses like mishnayot 1-4 also contains eleven degrees but as can be seen (note 35 above) the degree of “between the vestibule and the altar” is disputed. This is not the only case in rabbinic literature where a literary manipulation is fashioned in order to reach the number ten following a previous list of ten elements; see b. Roš Haš. 31a-b where two stations in the “wandering” of the Sanhedrin are repeated in order to reach ten stations altogether (pace the view of R. Eleazar who relies on scripture to argue for only six stations) as a parallel to the ten stations of the Shekinah. However the relevant duplication is absent from considerable number of Babylonian Talmud manuscripts such as ms London (bl) Munich (95) Oxford (Bodl. heb. d. 45) Cambridge (T-S F1) and New York (jts 108 and 1608) as well as the Pesaro print.


Mayer E. Lichtenstein“There are Ten Degrees of Holiness,” Mishlav 28 (1995): 31-37 [Hebew]. That the holiness of the Land of Israel is exceptional in the ten holinesses list was pointed out already by R. Hai Gaon and A. Kohut Aruch Completum 9 vols. (New York: Pardes 1955) 6:235 as referred to by Albeck The Six Orders 508. See also Yitzhaq Feder “The Wilderness Camp Paradigm in the Holiness Source and the Temple Scroll: From Purity Laws to Cult Politics” jaj 5 (2014): 290-310 n. 48. In addition to the different nature of the holiness of the land of Israel and Jerusalem compared with the rest of the ten holinesses there are of course other aspects to the sanctity of the land of Israel and Jerusalem not mentioned in the ten holinesses. However as we are dealing here with concentric circles around the temple any aspect of holiness in this list needs to relate to the temple; see Yaakov H. Charlap The Land of Israel in Tannaitic and Amoraic Literature (Jerusalem: Yad HaRav Nissim 2003) 8-10 [Hebrew]. Regarding the different aspects of the uniqueness of Jerusalem in rabbinic literature see ʾAbot R. Nat. A 35 B 39 (Shechter 104 107); t. Neg. 6:2 (Zuckermandel 625); b. B. Qam. 82b; Maimonides Mishneh Torah Beit Habechirah 7:14; and Samuel Bialoblocki “Jerusalem in the Halakhah” in Alei Ayin: The Salman Schocken Jubilee Volume (Jerusalem 1948-1952) 25-74 [Hebrew] esp. 47; Louis Finkelstein “The Halakhoth Applied to Jerusalem” in Alexander Marx Jubilee Volume Hebrew Section (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary 1950) 351-69; Alexander Guttmann “Jerusalem in Tannaitic Law” huca 40-41 (1969-1970): 251-75; Tuvia Kahana “To the Understanding of the Jerusalem Stipulations Baraita” Beit Mikra 21 (1976): 182-92 [Hebrew]. Concerning the area within the wall of Jerusalem see the discussion in Hanan Birenboim “Observance of the Laws of Bodily Purity in Jewish Society in the Land of Israel During the Second Temple Period” (PhD diss. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 2006) 174-78.


Noam“Josephus and Early Halakhah” 137-39. As for Num 5 in relation to a person who had contact with a corpse regarding the man who has a nocturnal emission there is a specific biblical reference demanding his exclusion from the war camp: Deut 23:11. Hanan Birenboim “Expelling the Unclean from the Cities of Israel and the Uncleanness of Lepers and Men with a Discharge according to 4Q274 1 idsd 19 (2012): 28-54 reads the Temple Scroll as isolating zavim within the city but does not explain the discrepancy created in that case with Josephus J.W. 5.227 and Ant. 3.261-264 where they are excluded from the city.


Yoram ErderThe Karaite Mourners of Zion and the Qumran Scrolls: On the History of an Alternative to Rabbinic Judaism (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad2004) 249-50 260 [Hebrew]


As observed by David E. Aune“Paul, Ritual Purity, and the Ritual Baths South of the Temple Mount (Acts 21:15-28),” in Celebrating Paul: Festschrift in Honor of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor and Joseph A. Fitzmyered. Peter Spitaler (Washington dc: The Catholic Biblical Association of America 2011) 287-320 esp. 288; repr. in Aune Jesus Gospel Tradition and Paul in the Context of Jewish and Greco-Roman Antiquitywunt 1.303 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck2013) 414-41.


Walfish“Conceptual Ramifications”; Ishay Rosen-Zvi, “Bodies and Temple: The List of Priestly Bodily Defects in Mishnah Bekhorot, Chapter 7,” Jewish Studies 43 (2005-2006): 49-87 esp. 78-79; Rosen-Zvi The Mishnaic Sotah Ritual: Temple Gender and Midrash JSJSup 160 (Leiden: Brill 2012) 163 n. 50 239-54; Rosen-Zvi “Orality Narrative Rhetoric: New Directions in Mishnah Research” ajsr 32 (2008): 235-49 esp. 242-48. For a suggested polemic with other Jewish views of the temple as lying behind Middot see Meir Bar-Ilan “Are Tammid and Middoth Polemical Tractates?” Sidra 5 (1989): 27-40 [Hebrew].


See Joshua Schwartz“The Temple Cult Without the Sages: Prolegomena on the Description of the Second Temple Period Cult according to Sources of the Second Temple Period,” New Studies on Jerusalem 14 (2008): 7-19at 7: “The writings of Josephus reflect the reality of the Second Temple period those of the rabbis whether in Middot or in other rabbinic writings do not.” Nevertheless and more surprisingly when we have a parallel description in Josephus for comparison some still adopt the reliability of the description in the Mishnah as an axiom e.g. Nakman “The Halakhah in the Writings of Josephus” 232: “the Mishnah is a book of halakhah whereas Josephus gives a more general description incidentally to the historical narrative.”


Schwartz“Once More” 245.


Naftali S. CohnThe Memory of the Temple and the Making of the Rabbis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press2013) 88: “When the Temple still existed it is doubtful that a non-priestly and non-aristocratic group like the rabbis could have had any important role in the Temple. But when the Temple was gone the rabbis could lay claim to it . . . They did so not merely by inserting their predecessors into a position of authority over Temple ritual . . . but also by constructing and mapping the Temple’s sacred space.”


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