Today, Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar. But how did it develop from a day centered around cleansing the wilderness tabernacle to a day focused on personal atonement?
Is “the Day of Atonement” a good translation of the Hebrew Yom Kippur?
The fall holy day celebrated on the tenth day of the seventh month is called twice in the Hebrew Bible, Yom Hakippurim (
The main biblical text that describes the Yom Kippur ritual is
Leviticus 16 describes other rituals as well, including a scapegoat that carries away the sins of the Israelites. Thus, the chapter is broadly concerned with cleansing sin but not with repentance, which would become the main theme of the day’s activities after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. In such ritual practices, the significance of repentance is emphasized through the liturgical reading of the book of Jonah, whose main theme is the efficacy of sincere repentance. Most of the other activities now associated with Yom Kippur, such as fasting, are based on the interpretation of the phrase “you shall deny yourselves,” which appears in various biblical texts about Yom Kippur (e.g.,
Why is Yom Kippur important in the New Testament?
The rituals surrounding Yom Kippur play a major role in the New Testament, in which a number of texts implicitly view Jesus as a Yom Kippur offering. This association is found in a wide variety of texts: in the gospels (
9:11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
This is one of many cases that shows the manner in which the religion that would develop into Christianity is deeply indebted to the Hebrew Bible, which the early Christ-believing community interpreted in novel ways.