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Holiness as Competing Ideologies in Scripture

Source critics, who generally hold that the Bible is composed of various textual sources, often argue that the Bible contains competing ideologies of holiness. Three proposed sources in the Bible attested to communicate divergent views of holiness are:

1. the Priestly School

2. the Holiness School

3. Deuteronomy

According to Wright, the Priestly literature depicted holiness as “a responsibility ensuing from God choosing Israel” (Wright, “Holiness,” 3:238). In his view, the texts belonging to the Priestly source depict God as “holy” in the present (see Lev 11:41, 45; 19:2; 20:26) and the Israelites’ holiness as a potential future. Wright goes on to suggest that the Deuteronomistic source countered the Priestly literature by depicting the Israelites as existing in a state of holiness since God chose them (see Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21). Regev similarly suggests that the Priestly literature presented a “dynamic holiness,” whereas the Deuteronomist presented a “static holiness” (Regev, “Priestly Dynamic Holiness,” 243–61). Miller similarly detects varying holiness ideologies in the sources of the Bible, particularly the Priestly Writings and Deuteronomy. According to Miller, the Priestly writings depict holiness strictly in terms of the holy-profane categories of priest and sanctuary. Yet in Deuteronomy, the ideology of holiness was transferred to categories of Israel and nations (Miller, Religion of Ancient Israel, 155–61; on the distinct ideologies of holiness in the Pentateuch sources, see Milgrom, “Changing Concept,” 65–75).

Wright further distinguished between the Priestly source and a later source called the Holiness School (see Knohl, The Sanctuary of Silence), which repackaged holiness as seen first in the Priestly literature (Wright, “Holiness in Leviticus and Beyond,” 351–64). He proposed that the Holiness School made holiness a requirement for Israel in texts like Lev 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7, 26, whereas it was not a requirement in the earlier Priestly literature. Milgrom similarly believes that the Holiness School altered the Priestly writings’ conception of holiness, particularly by expanding holiness to all of Israel and introducing ethical dimensions (Milgrom, “Changing Concept,” 67; see also Lohfink, “Opfer und Säkularisierung im Deuteronomium,” 35–36).

The source-critical approach offers helpful insight into the different perspectives of holiness contained within the Bible, demonstrating that different biblical authors may have assigned different meanings to the terms “holy” and “holiness.” However, the source critical arguments have been criticized as offering unproven assumptions based on the outdated Documentary Hypothesis and dating of texts (see e.g., Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch; see also Hess, Israelite Religions, 46–59).


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