The Right Stuff

Credit:, Israel

Leviticus 7 awards priests with portions of sacrificial offerings: The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: Anyone who brings a fellowship offering to the Lord is to bring part of it as their sacrifice to the Lord. With their own hands they are to present the food offering to the Lord; they are to bring the fat, together with the breast, and wave the breast before the Lord as a wave offering. The priest shall burn the fat on the altar, but the breast belongs to Aaron and his sons. You are to give the right thigh of your fellowship offerings to the priest as a contribution. The son of Aaron who offers the blood and the fat of the fellowship offering shall have the right thigh as his share. From the fellowship offerings of the Israelites, I have taken the breast that is waved and the thigh that is presented and have given them to Aaron the priest and his sons as their perpetual share from the Israelites.”

These rules specify that the breast and the right thigh are given to the priests “as their perpetual share from the Israelites.”

In 1 Kings 12, after Jeroboam led the split of the 10 northern tribes from the Rehoboam’s kingdom centered in Jerusalem, he established two competing sites for ritual worship, one at Dan at his kingdom’s northern edge and another at Bethel near his southern border. At Tel Dan, archaeologists discovered a temple sanctuary that dates to the Iron IIA period. The site contained a large sacrificial altar that was used for animal offerings.

An unearthing of the area around the altar at Tel Dan exposed thousands of bone fragments in concentrated deposits. The bones found in this area contained a higher percentage of sheep and goat bones than in the area as a whole. This is in-line with the types of sacrificial animals that the Bible specifies for sin offerings. The bone deposits contained a high percentage of the bones that extend into the hooves of sheep or goats, bones that might have been left intact in the animal hides that were given to the priests. And the bones also are more skewed to the right-sided portions, the portion that the Bible dictates was left for the priests.

Thus if this temple at Tel Dan was indeed the one established by Jeroboam, and used by the Israelite tribes, the practices appear to be aligned with the biblical prescription for sacrificial service.

The image above is of the high place at Dan, with a reconstructed altar.