Rich Paxson

In what ways is the Ancient Hebrew Atonement sacrifice different than what James called the Aztec model, the people making a sacrifice to God?Both the Ancient Hebrew Atonement sacrifice and the Aztec model reflect practices aimed at reestablishing the broken relationship between a metaphysical other and humanity. The Aztecs sacrificed humans to appease their god’s anger.
Ancient Hebrews, on the other hand, developed an Atonement liturgy reflecting their evolving understanding that God, who was not one of the gods, was completely loving. In the ancient Hebrew or First Temple Liturgy of Atonement God re-entered material reality to forgive creation, to return it to its rightful order. God did not come into material reality to punish the wrathful conditions humans had created among themselves through rivalrous striving against each other. Atonement liturgy acted out God’s constant desire to draw near to love and to forgive. Forgiveness was, and is, a process happening within the material world, within time.

God’s loving forgiveness calls us into living fully within a “broad place” as the Psalmist put it. Loving forgiveness implies that God wants us to let go of small, tightly bound lives for the expanded, generous lives for which God created us. God’s forgiveness and loving embrace are much more difficult to imagine than an angry god demanding retribution. Therefore, atonement liturgy is a “reverse flow” motion, an iterative process that happens over time.