Levitical Dance

The description of the rite of the ascension offering for herd-animals (Leviticus 1:3-9) includes twelve verbs that describe distinct actions. Verse 3 uses the verb qarav (come near; bring near in hiphil) twice, but these two uses describe the same action, namely, bringing an animal near to the tent for acceptance and covering.

In addition to qarav in verse 2, the other verbs are: lean, slaughter, bring near, sprinkle, skin, dismember, give/put, arrange, arrange, wash, turn to smoke.

A worshiper (‘adam, v. 2) and the priest(s) are involved. Who does which action? Who does what steps in the dance of the ‘olah? If we take assume that the priest(s) act only when the text explicitly says so, and that the other actions are performed by the worshiper, we arrive at an even distribution of the ritual, 6 + 6:

Adam Priest
Brings near ‘olah  
Leans hand  
Slaughters  
  Brings near blood
  Sprinkles blood
Skins  
Dismembers  
  Gives fire on altar
  Arranges wood on fire
  Arranges pieces on wood
Washes entrails & feet  
  Turns to smoke

The ritual even has a dancelike symmetry: Adam / Priest / Adam / Priest / Adam / Priest. And the numerical pattern is also symmetrical; using “A” to represent Adam, and “P” to represent Priest, we get: 3A / 2P / 2A / 3P / 1A / 1P.

The fact that there are 12 actions hints an an all-Israel motif; the offering is made not merely for the worshiper, but on behalf of all Israel. The fact that the actions are evenly divided between priest and layman suggests that drawing near is the combined act of priest and people.

The ritual for flock animals includes only 8 verbs, but there is a similar distribution of actions and a similar patterning:

Adam Priest
Brings near  
Slaughters  
  Sprinkles blood
Dismember  
  Arranges pieces on wood
Washes entrails & legs  
  Brings near
  Turns to smoke

Once again, worshiper and priest evenly divide the actions. Once again, there is a rhythm to the distribution: 2A, 1P, 1A, 1P, 1A, 2P.