Abstract

In this article, I argue that the classic rabbinic interpretation of the sin of Nadab and Abihu—that they “feasted their eyes upon the Shekinah”—has strong textual support in the biblical account itself (Lev 10:1–2), which contemporary biblical scholarship helps us to see. While some recent interpreters have argued that it is impossible to know what the brothers did wrong and that the story is intentionally ambiguous, I will argue that a solid theological interpretation is possible and that the rabbis were right when they claimed that the brothers were guilty of arrogance and greed. Furthermore, recent scholarship has made it clear that the closest theological parallel to the Nadab and Abihu event is the story of Adam and Eve. Putting these stories side-by-side, one discovers fascinating echoes between them, which helps us to better understand the sin of the priestly brothers, as well as the sin of Adam and Eve, all of whom are fallen priests in garden sanctuaries. Given that both events occur at the beginning of creation (the first, the macrocosm, and the second, the microcosm), these sins have cosmic significance. By contemplating this reoccurring “original sin,” we also confront the mystery of humanity’s fallen condition and the need for redemption.

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