Contagious Holiness

I found this great material in a book called “Temples and Temple Service in Ancient Israel” by Menahem Haran (Oxford 1978). I thought you might enjoy it.

“A non-priest may not touch any piece of furniture, no matter how insignificant, in the tabernacle. This prohibition creates a drastic and clear-cut distinction between the sphere of cult and the rest of the world, and acts as a protective barrier round the most extreme degree of holiness. For all pieces of furniture are endowed with a contagious holiness, that is, that can be transmitted from one object to another.
The concept of contagious holiness in the Old Testament is by no means restricted to P [footnote 1], but the particular emphasis given to it here is indeed one of the distinguishing characteristics of this source. It is conceived of as being virtually intangible, a physical entity, the existence and activity of which can be sensorially perceived. Any person or object coming into contact with the altar (Exod 29:37) or any of the articles of the tabernacle furniture (30:29) becomes ‘holy’, that is, contracts holiness and, like the tabernacle appurtenances themselves, becomes consecrated. At the opposite extreme there is a tangible, contagious defilement. But contagious holiness has one advantage over the latter: it cannot be removed from a person or object. It is possible to purify one who has contracted uncleanness since this substance may be thrust out of the community and into the desert [footnote 2]. Contagious holiness, by contrast, actually exists at the very centre of the camp, in the tabernacle, and we are told of no activity or rite which can deprive a person or object of it. Complete avoidance of all contact with this holiness is an absolute necessity, for anyone who contracts it is liable to meet an immediate death at the hands of heaven.” (pp175-176)

I think this concept may help Catholics better understand the sacramentality of certain objects and the significance of the indelible mark of baptism.

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