On Collective and Individual Responsibility

From the late Jacob Milgrom’s 3 volume Anchor Bible Commentary on Leviticus, specifically on Leviticus 4:1-35, Purification Offering:

The Priestly doctrine of collective responsibility yields yet another corollary. The “good” people who perish with the evildoers are not innocent. For allowing the evildoers to flourish, to pollute the sanctuary beyond repair, they share the blame. Indeed, they are the inadvertent sinners who contribute to the pollution of the sanctuary. Let a modern–hence, more vivid–example illustrate the point. World War II would have presented no theological quandary for Israel’s priests of old. They would have rejected with scorn our contemporary theologians who have proclaimed that “God is dead.” Instead of bewailing the silence of God, they would have pointed the accusing finger at the human culprits, the inadvertent sinners, the “silent majority”–the German people who voted the Nazis into power and the peoples of the free world who acquiesced to the annexation of the Saar, Austria, and Sudetenland while barring their own doors to the refugees who managed to escape. A worldwide cataclysm was thus inevitable. Indeed, Israel’s priests would have asked: How long under these circumstances could God have been willing to abide in his earthly sanctuary?

Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, The Anchor Bible, p. 261 (emphasis mine)

Similar Posts

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *