The Hebrew Bible contains a variety of traditions concerning which meat cuts from animal sacrifices comprised the “priestly portion.” The variant textual traditions invite questions related to the historical situations that gave rise to these traditions and fostered their incorporation in the present form of the Pentateuch. This article identifies these traditions and explores questions of priority and provenance, first, from text-critical and source-critical perspectives, and, second, by considering the traditions in light of textual, iconographic, and zooarchaeological data from the broader ancient Near Eastern world. Text-critical and source-critical approaches highlight the complexity of the issue and affirm two dominant systems: one assigning the hindlimb to the priests and another the forelimb, presumably from the right side of the animal in both cases. Ancient Near Eastern texts, iconography, and archaeology suggest that the origins of both traditions stretch deep into the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, the forelimb tradition perhaps the earlier of the two and rooted in southern regions, and the hindlimb tradition rooted in northern regions. A point of coalescence is identified geographically in the southern Levant and chronologically in the Iron Age II, concomitant with the rise of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In this light, any assumption that Priestly cultic literature is a unified, postexilic, Jerusalem-centered corpus may need to be reexamined.

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