Purification (prop. טָהַרָה, tohorah, καθαρισμός), a ceremony enjoined in the Mosaic law for the purpose of cleansing from pollution or defilement (Nu 19:9). Purifications were, for the most part, perfortmed with water, sometimes with blood and with oil (Heb 9:21-22; Ex 30:26-29; Le 8:10-11). Sometimes fire was used for the purpose of purging or purifying (Isa 1:25; Isa 10:26; Zec 13:9; Mal 3:3).
In its legal and technical sense, the term is specially applied to the ritual observances whereby an Israelite was formally absolved from the taint of uncleanness, whether evidenced by any overt act or state, or connected with man's natural depravity. The cases that demanded it in the former instance are defined in the Levitical law, SEE UNCLEANNESS: with regard to the latter, it is only possible to lay down the general rule that it was a fitting prelude to any nearer approach to the Deity; as, for instance, in the admission of a proselyte to the congregation, SEE PROSELYTE, in the baptism (καθαρισμός Joh 3:25) of the Jews as a sign of repentance SEE BAPTISM, in the consecration of priests and Levites, SEE LEVITE; SEE PRIEST, or in the performance of special religious acts (Le 16:4; 2Ch 30:19). In the present article we are concerned solely with the former class, inasmuch as in this alone were the ritual observances of a special character. The essence of purification, indeed, in all cases, consisted in the use of water, whether by way of ablution or aspersion; but in the majora delicta of legal uncleanness, sacrifices of various kinds were added, and the ceremonies throughout bore an expiatory character. Simple ablution of the person was required after sexual intercourse (Le 15:18; 2Sa 11:4); ablution of the clothes after touching the carcass of an unclean beast, or eating or carrying the carcass of a clean beast that had died a natural death (Le 11:25,40); ablution both of the person and of the defiled garments in cases of gonorrhea dormientium (15:16, 17) — the ceremony in each of the above instances to take place on the day on which the uncleanness was contracted. A higher degree of uncleanness resulted from prolonged gonorrhea in males and menstruation in women: in these cases a probationary interval of seven days was to be allowed after the cessation of the symptoms; on the evening of the seventh day the candidate for purification performed an ablution both of the person and of the garments, and on the eighth offered two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a sin-offering, the other for a burnt-offering (vers. 1-15, 19-30). Contact with persons in the above states, or even with clothing or furniture that had been used by them while in those states, involved uncleanness in a minor degree, to be absolved by ablution on the day of infection generally (vers. 5-11, 21-23), but in one particular case after an interval of seven days (ver. 24). In cases of childbirth the sacrifice was increased to a lamb of the first year, with a pigeon or turtle-dove (12:6), an exception being made in favor of the poor, who might present the same offering as in the preceding case (ver. 8; Lu 2:22-24). The purification took place forty days after the birth of a son, and eighty after that of a daughter, the difference in the interval being based on physical considerations. The uncleannesses already specified were comparatively of a mild character: the more severe were connected with death, which. viewed as the penalty of sin, was in the highest degree contaminating. To this heald we refer the two cases of (1) touching a corpse, or a grave (Nu 19:16), or even killing a man in war (31:19); and (2) leprosy, which was regarded by the Hebrews as nothing less than a living death. The ceremonies of purification in the first of these two cases are detailed in Numbers 19.
A peculiar kind of water, termed the water of uncleanness (מֵיאּהִנַּדָּה, A.V. "water of separation"), was prepared in the following manner: an unblemished red heifer, on which the yoke had not passed, was slain by the eldest son of the high-priest outside the camp. A portion of its blood was sprinkled seven times towards (אֶלאּנֹכִח פּנֵי) the sanctuary; the rest of it, and the whole of the carcass, including even its dung, were then burned in the sight of the officiating priest, together with cedar-wood, hyssop, and scarlet. The ashes were collected by a clean manl and deposited in a clean place outside the camp. Whenever occasion required, a portion of the ashes was mixed with spring-water in a jar, and the unclean person was sprinkled with it on the third and again on the seventh day after the contraction of the uncleanness. That the water had an expiatory efficacy is implied in the term sin-offering (חִטָּאת, A.V. "purification for sin") applied to it (Nu 19:9), and all the particulars connected with its preparation had a symbolical significance appropriate to the object sought. The sex of the victim (female, and hence life-giving) its red color (the color of blood, the seat of life), its unimpaired vigor (never having borne the yoke), its youth, and the absence in it of spot or blemish, the cedar and the hyssop (possessing the qualities, the former of incorruption, the latter of purity), and the scarlet (again the color of blood)-all these symbolized life in its fulness and freshness as the antidote of death. At the same time, the extreme virulence of the uncleanness is taught by the regulations that the victim should be wholly consumed outside the camp, whereas generally certain parts were consumed on the altar, and the offal only outside the canmp (comp. Le 4:11-12); that the blood was sprinkled towards, and not before, the sanctuary; that the officiating minister should be neither the high-priest, nor yet simply a priest, but the presumptive high- priest, the office being too impure for the first and too important for the second; that even the priest and the person that burned the heifer were rendered unclean by reason of their contact with the victim; and, lastly, that the purification should be effected, not simply by the use of water, but of water mixed with ashes which served as a lye, and would, therefore, have peculiarly cleansing qualities. SEE PURIFICATION-WATERS.
The purification of the leper was a yet more formal proceeding, and indicated the highest pitch of uncleanness. The rites are thus described in Le 14:4-32: The priest having examined the leper and pronounced him clear of his disease, took for him two birds "alive and clean," with cedar, scarlet, and hyssop. One of the birds was killed under the priest's directions over a vessel filled with spring-water, into which its blood fell; the other, with the adjuncts, cedar, etc., was dipped by the priest into the mixed blood and water, and, after the unclean person had been seven times sprinkled with the same liquid, was permitted to fly away "into the open field." The leper then washed himself and his clothes, and shaved his head. The above proceedings took place outside the camp, and formed the first stage of purification. A probationary interval of seven days as then allowed, which period the leper was to pass "abroad out of his tent:" on the last of these days the washing was repeated, and the shaving was more rigidly performed, even to the eyebrows and all his hair. The second stage of the purification took place on the eighth day, and was performed "before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." The leper brought thither an offering consisting of two he-lambs, a yearling ewe- lamb, fine flour mingled with oil, and a log of oil. In cases of poverty the offering was reduced to one lamb, and two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, with a less quantity of fine flour, and a log of oil. The priest slew one of the he-lambs as a trespass-offering, and applied a portion of its blood to the right ear, right thumb, and great toe of the right foot of the leper; he next sprinkled a portion of the oil seven times before the Lord, applied another portion of it to the parts of the body already specified, and poured the remainder over the leper's head. The other he-lamb and the ewe-lamb, or the two birds, as the case might be, were then offered as a sin-offering and a burnt-offering, together with the meat-offering. The significance of the cedar, the scarlet, and the hyssop, of the running water, and of the "alive (full of life) and clean" condition of the birds, is the same as in the case previously described. The two stages of the proceedings indicated, the first, which took place outside the camp, the readmission of the leper to the community of men; the second, before the sanctuary, his readmission to communion with God. In the first stage, the slaughter of the one bird and the dismissal of the other symbolized the punishment of death deserved and fully remitted. In the second, the use of oil and its application to the same parts of the body as in the consecration of priests (Le 8:23-24) symbolized the rededication of the leper to the service of Jehovah. SEE PURIFICATION-OFFERING.
The ceremonies to be observed in the purification of a house or a garment infected with leprosy were identical with the first stage of the proceedings used for the leper (Le 14:33-53). SEE LEPROSY.
The necessity of purification was extended in the post-Babylonian period to a variety of unauthorized cases. Cups and pots, brazen vessels and couches, were washed as a matter of ritual observance (Mr 7:4). The washing of the hands before meals was conducted in a formal manner (Mr 7:3), and minute regulations are laid down on this subject in a treatise of the Mishna entitled Yadaim. These ablutions required a large supply of water, and hence we find at a marriage feast no less than six jars containing two or three firkins apiece, prepared for the purpose (Joh 2:6). We meet with references to purification after childbirth (Lu 2:22), and after the cure of leprosy (Mt 8:4; Lu 17:14), the sprinkling of the water mixed with ashes being still retained in the latter case (Heb 9:13). What may have been the specific causes of uncleanness in those who came up to purify themselves before the Passover (Joh 11:55), or in those who had taken upon themselves the Nazarite's vow (Ac 21:24,26), we are not informed; in either case it may have been contact with a corpse, though in the latter it would rather appear to have been a general purification preparatory to the accomplishment of the vow. SEE WASHING.
In conclusion, it may be observed that the distinctive feature in the Mosaic rites of purification is their expiatory character. The idea of uncleanness was not peculiar to the Jew: it was attached by the Greeks to the events of childbirth and death (Thucyd. 3, 104; Eurip. Iph. in Taur. 383), and by various nations to the case of sexual intercourse (Herod. 1, 198; 2, 64; Pers. 2, 16). But with all these nations simple ablution sufficed: no sacrifices were demanded. The Jew alone was taught by the use of expiatory offerings to discern to its full extent the connection between the outward sign and the inward fount of impurity. SEE ABLUTION.