The Red Cow in Numbers 19: From Elimination Ritual to Sacrifice to Elimination Ritual

Keywords: Red Cow, Numbers 19, Elimination ritual, Purification offering, Ritual innovation


The red cow in Numbers 19 has perplexed scholars for quite some time. The paper engages with many of the questions they have raised, but especially with why this ritual is called a חַטָּאת and how the red cow ritual relates to the portrayal of the חַטָּאת in Leviticus. The paper explores the historical development of the חַטָּאת from a possible elimination ritual into two different sacrifices, and then into a ritual which produces a substance with apotropaic qualities. The last phase of this development took place in the late Persian period when the issue of pollution by corpses became more important.

Author Biography

Esias E. Meyer, University of Pretoria
Department of Old Testament and Hebrew Scriptures