I am working my way through Leithart’s The Priesthood of the Plebs. It is absolutely fantastic. I will review it in due time, but I wanted to make another note on it here. I will simply quote Leithart, “[E]very Israelite was distinguished from non-Israelites by the tassel at the corner of his garment (Num. 15:37-41). Hebrew tassels had a blue cord in them, and since ancient dyes worked only on wool, the blue thread was a woolen addition to what would have been a linen garment. Normally, such mixtures were forbidden because of their holiness (Lev. 19;19), so the mixed cloth worked into the common dress of Israel communicated Israel’s holy status (Milgrom 1991: 548-549).”
Here we learn that something forbidden becomes the sign of holiness. The people are set apart in a way that is forbidden by God’s law. I have been thinking a lot about how the law functioned in Israel. Walton has some insight here in his Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. I might do a longer post on the topic, but basically law-codes back then did not function how they do today. The law-code was more about wisdom than about proscribing judicial rulings and the like. Possibly this is another insight into that matrix.
Here I think of two more incidents that have puzzled me. First, Saul makes an oath that whoever eats after a certain battle will be put to death. But when Jonathan eats, the people of Israel protect Jonathan so that he is not put to death. Second, when Absalom killed Amnon, David takes no action against Absalom. Both of these are texts that occur in narratives and Hebrew authors seldom communicate their assessment of the actions taken, but they are still part of the relevant puzzle pieces.
Nonetheless, a forbidden action making a holy people should not be overlooked. We see it in the tassels. It is even more clear in that Jesus is made a curse for Israelites (?). Should this be suggestive in our own wisdom-guided ethical practices?