Previously Sklar argued that the verb kipper comes from the noun kopher (at least in some instances) which is best translated as “ransom.” The third chapter examines passages where the topic is sin and kipper is mentioned in order to “understand the verb kipper in contexts of sin” (80). His examination includes two words or phrases used in conjunction with kipper, namely the verb “to forgive” (salah) and the phrase “to bear sin” (nasa’ ‘avon).
The verb “to forgive” is used often in the priestly literature, and usually, it is in the passive voice, such as “and he shall be forgiven,” or “it shall be forgiven to him.” Working from the English definition of “forgive,” Sklar suggests this definition:
a requital claimed for the wrong of the guilty is released, or an offense which the guilty has committed is pardoned. This latter sense of forgiveness also implies that the person granting the forgiveness has some authority over the guilty party, insofar as the guilty party is dependent upon this person’s forgiveness in order to avoid the consequences of their wrong (83).
Sklar uses Num 14:11-25 to illustrate his point. The passage records Israel’s rebellion against God by refusing to take the promised land by faith. God, speaking to Moses, threatens to destroy the entire nation, but Moses asks God to forgive their sin. God promises to forgive their sin, and he will prohibit the rebels from entering the promised land (Num 14:20, 29-30). From this passage, Sklar concludes that kipper, when forgiveness is needed, refers to the “paying of a kopher” (86).
The second phrase that Sklar examines is “to bear iniquity” in two special contexts: when the person wronged is the one who bears the iniquity, or when a priest bears the iniquity for someone else. When the person wronged is the subject of the verb, the verb is translated “forgive” (89). This forgiveness is similar to salah, and refers to “the remission of the original penalty” (92). The priests are said to bear the iniquity of the people through the means of various rituals (Lev 10:17; Lev 16:10, 21-22; Exod 28:38). Instead of referring to the remission of the original penalty for the sin, it means “the sin of the sinner being taken away so that the sinner does not suffer the original penalty which their sin deserves” (100). Therefore, Sklar concludes, “the verb kipper in sin contexts refers to the effecting of a kopher on behalf of the guilty party” (101).
Sklar demonstrates again in this chapter an ability to write clearly and to argue well. Nonetheless, this chapter is not without its problems. First, he bases his argument on an English definition of “forgive,” which he then seems to import into the Hebrew texts. Scholars generally caution against this method for word studies.
Secondly, Sklar’s implication that the offended party must have authority over the guilty party presents a couple difficulties. On the one hand, in contexts of sin where kipper is performed, God is always the person sinned against, and he always has authority over someone. On the other hand, the offended party does not have authority over the guilty party, per se. Rather, the law itself is the authority; it sets the boundaries of acceptable punishments. In Sklar’s discussion of the goring ox in chapter 2, he does not mention authority explicitly, although he states that the guilty person does not have a choice in the punishment meted out (51). Exodus 21 includes many laws in addition to the goring ox, and they all are examples one principle: the law of retribution. For example, if a master injures the eye of his slave, he must grant the slave his freedom. The slave, however, does not have authority over the master. Rather, if necessary, he may appeal to the law which is the governing authority.
Thirdly, his translation of kipper combines two different ideas which he does not justify but assumes. He uses the English phrase “effecting of a kopher.” If kopher is a payment, perhaps a financial term would make more sense. For example, it could be said that the priest accepts payment, although this renders awkwardly the Hebrew phrase that follows “on his behalf.” Perhaps a better translation would be “to transact the payment” on behalf of the guilty party. Thus lending this notion: the priest takes the payment, processes it, and returns a receipt to the guilty party: the original debt is forgiven.
Fourthly, and significantly, Sklar mentions in passing Milgrom’s view that inadvertent sins defile the sanctuary. This interpretation is essential to Sklar’s conclusion. Yet, he deals with it superficially and almost always with the qualifiers (87-88). Gane published his book Cult and Character the same year (2005), where he argues strongly that Milgrom is wrong on this point. Sklar later published a lengthy review and critique of Cult and Character but remains unconvinced by Gane’s argument. To Sklar, the fact that the hattat sacrifice cleanses the sinner in a couple of instances does not preclude the fact that it may also cleanse the sanctuary.
Finally, Sklar contradicts himself in the section discussing the phrase “to bear iniquity.” He states clearly that when the person wronged is the subject of the verb, the meaning is that the original penalty for the sin is removed or mitigated, just like salah. (See pp. 89-92). In his conclusion on the priest’s role in bearing iniquity for the people, he states that the phrase has the same meaning in both of these circumstances (the person wronged is the subject and the priest is the subject). Not only is the original penalty removed, but also the sin that caused the penalty is removed (95).
Aside from these weaknesses, Sklar contributes to the conversation on the understanding of kipper in contexts of sin. Kipper in these contexts can be viewed in relation to kopher, especially if kopher is understood as a payment. If so, kipper is the process of transacting that payment-an important idea to keep in mind when reading the next part of Sklar’s book.
Sklar, Jay. Sin, Impurity, Sacrifice, Atonement: The Priestly Conceptions. Hebrew Bible Monographs 2. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005.