|Easton's Bible Dictionary|
Hebrews `eglah, (Deuteronomy 21:4, 6; Jeremiah 46:20). Untrained to the yoke (Hosea 10:11); giving milk (Isaiah 7:21); ploughing (Judges 14:18); treading out grain (Jeremiah 50:11); unsubdued to the yoke an emblem of Judah (Isaiah 15:5; Jeremiah 48:34).
Hebrews parah (Genesis 41:2; Numbers 19:2). Bearing the yoke (Hosea 4:16); "heifers of Bashan" (Amos 4:1), metaphorical for the voluptuous females of Samaria. The ordinance of sacrifice of the "red heifer" described in Numbers 19:1-10; comp. Hebrews 9:13.
Noah Webster's Dictionary
(n.) A young cow.
Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia
hef'-er (parah, in Numbers 19 (see following article) and Hosea 4:16; `eghlah, elsewhere in the Old Testament; damalis, in Hebrews 9:13):For the "heifer of three years old" in the King James Version, the Revised Version margin of Isaiah 15:5 Jeremiah 48:34, see EGLATH-SHELISHIYAH. A young cow (contrast BULLOCK). The `eghlah figures specifically in religious rites only in the ceremony of Deuteronomy 21:1-9 for the cleansing of the land, where an unexpiated murder had been committed. This was not a sacrificial rite-the priests are witnesses only, and the animal was slain by breaking the neck-but sacrificial purity was required for the heifer. Indeed, it is commonly supposed that the rite as it now stands is a rededication of one that formerly had been sacrificial. In the sacrifices proper the heifer could be used for a peace offering (Leviticus 3:1), but was forbidden for the burnt (Leviticus 1:3) or sin (Leviticus 4:3, 14) offerings. Hence, the sacrifice of 1 Samuel 16:2 was a peace offering. In Genesis 15:9 the ceremony of the ratification of the covenant by God makes use of a heifer and a she-goat, but the reason for the use of the females is altogether obscure. Compare following article.
Figuratively: The heifer appears as representing sleekness combined with helplessness in Jeremiah 46:20 (compare the comparison of the soldiers to `stalled calves' in the next verse). In Jeremiah 50:11 Hosea 10:11, the heifer is pictured as engaged in threshing. This was particularly light work, coupled with unusually abundant food (Deuteronomy 25:4), so that the threshing heifer served especially well for a picture of contentment. ("Wanton" in Jeremiah 50:11, however, is an unfortunate translation in the Revised Version (British and American).) Hosea, in contrast, predicts that the "heifers" shall be set to the hard work of plowing and breaking the sods. In Judges 14:18, Samson uses "heifer" in his riddle to refer to his wife. This, however, was not meant to convey the impression of licentiousness that it gives the modern reader.
Burton Scott Easton
In Numbers 19 a rite is described in which the ashes of a "red heifer" and of certain objects are mixed with running water to obtain the so-called "water for impurity." (Such is the correct translation of the American Standard Revised Version in Numbers 19:9, 13, 10, 21; Numbers 31:23. In these passages, the King James Version and the English Revised Version, through a misunderstanding of a rather difficult Hebrew term, have "water of separation"; Septuagint and the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) have, "water of sprinkling." the English Revised Version margin, "water of impurity," is right, but ambiguous.) This water was employed in the removal of the uncleanness of a person or thing that had been in contact with a dead body, and also in removing ritual defilement from booty taken in war.
1. Origin and Significance of the Rite:
The general origin of the rite is clear enough, as is the fact that this origin lies back of the official sacrificial system of Israel. For the removal of impurity, ritual as well as physical, water, preferably running water (Numbers 19:17; compare Leviticus 14:5; Leviticus 15:13), is the natural means, and is employed universally. But where the impurity was unusually great, mere water was not felt to be adequate, and various substances were mixed with it in order to increase its efficacy. So (among other things) blood is used in Leviticus 14:6, 7, and dust in Numbers 5:17 (see WATER OF BITTERNESS). The use, however, of ashes in Numbers 19:17 is unique in the Old Testament, although parallels from elsewhere can be adduced. So e.g. in Ovid Fasti, iv.639-40, 725, 733, in the last of these references, "The blood of a horse shall be a purification, and the ashes of calves," is remarkably close to the Old Testament. The ashes were obtained by burning the heifer completely, "her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung" (the contents of the entrails) (Numbers 19:5; compare Exodus 29:14). Here only in the Old Testament is blood burned for a ceremonial purpose, and here only is burning a pewliminary; elsewhere it is either a chief act or serves to consume the remnants of a finished sacrifice- Leviticus 4:12 and Numbers 19:3 are altogether different.
The heifer is a female. For the regular sin offering for the congregation, only the male was permitted (Leviticus 4:14), but the female was used in the purificatory ceremony of Deuteronomy 21:3 (a rite that has several points of similarity to that of Numbers 19). An individual sin offering by one of the common people, however, required a female (Leviticus 4:28), but probably only in order to give greater prominence to the more solemn sacrifices for which the male was reserved. A female is required again in the cases enumerated in Leviticus 5:1-6, most of which are ritual defilements needing purification; a female was required at the purification of a leper (in addition to two males, Leviticus 14:10), and a female, with one male, was offered when a Nazirite terminated his vows (Numbers 6:14). Some connection between purification and the sacrifice of a female may be established by this list, for even in the case of the Nazirite the idea may be removal of the state of consecration. But the reason for such a connection is anything but obvious, and the various explanations that have been offered are hardly more than guesses. The most likely is that purificatory rites originated in a very primitive stage when the female was thought to be the more sacred animal on account of its greater usefulness. Of the other requirements for the heifer she must be "red," i.e. reddish brown (Numbers 19:2). Likeness in color to blood is at first sight the most natural explanation, but likeness in color to ripe grain is almost equally plausible. It may be noted that certain Egyptian sacrifices also required red cattle as victims (Plutarch, De Isid. 31). The heifer is to be "without spot" ("faultless"), "wherein is no blemish," the ordinary requirement for sacrifices. (The Jewish exegetes misread this "perfectly red, wherein is no blemish," with extraordinary results; see below.) But an advance on sacrificial requirements is that she shall be one "upon which never came yoke." This requirement is found elsewhere only in Deuteronomy 21:3 and in 1 Samuel 6:7 (that the animals in this last case were finally sacrificed is, however, not in point). But in other religions this requirement was very common (compare Iliad x0.293; Vergil, Georg. iv.550-51; Ovid, Fasti iv.336).
2. Use of Cedar and Hyssop:
While the heifer was being burned, "cedar-wood, and hyssop, and scarlet" (i.e. scarlet wool or thread) were cast into the flames. The same combination of objects (although differently employed) is found at the cleansing of a leper (Leviticus 14:4), but their meaning is entirely unknown. The explanations offered are almost countless. It is quite clear that hyssop was especially prized in purifications (Psalm 51:7), but the use of hyssop as a sprinkler and the use of ashes of hyssop may be quite unrelated. Hyssop and cedar were supposed to have medicinal properties (see CEDAR; HYSSOP). Or the point may be the use of aromatic woods. For a mixture of cedar and other substances in water as a purificatory medium compare Fossey, Magie Assyrienne, 285. The scarlet wool offers still greater difficulties, apart from the color, but it may be noted that scarlet wool plays a part in some of the Babylonian conjurations (Assyrian Bibl., XII, 31). But, obviously, none of this leads very far and it may all be in the wrong direction. All that can be said definitely is that Leviticus 14:4 and Numbers 19:6 show that the combination of objects was deemed to have a high purificatory value.
3. Application and Sacredness of the Ashes:
The ashes, when obtained, were used in removing the greatest of impurities. Consequently, they themselves were deemed to have an extraordinarily "consecrated" character, and they were not to be handled carelessly. Their consecration extended to the rite by which they were produced, so that every person engaged in it was rendered unclean (Numbers 19:7, 8, 10), an excellent example of how in primitive religious thought the ideas of "holiness" and "uncleanness" blend. It was necessary to perform the whole ceremony "without the camp" (Numbers 19:3), and the ashes, when prepared, were also kept without the camp (Numbers 19:9), probably in order to guard against their touch defiling anyone (as well as to keep them from being defiled). When used they were mixed with running water, and the mixture was sprinkled with hyssop on the person or object to be cleansed (Numbers 19:17-19). The same water was used to purify booty (Numbers 31:23), and it may also be meant by the "water of expiation" in Numbers 8:7.
4. Of Non-Priestly and Non-Israelitish Origin:
In addition to the similarities already pointed out between Numbers 19 and Deuteronomy 21:1-9, the rites resemble each other also in the fact that, in both, laymen are the chief functionaries and that the priests have little to do (in Deuteronomy 21:1-9 they are mere passive witnesses). This suggests a non-priestly origin. The title "sin-offering" in Numbers 19:9, 17 (unless used in a unique sense) points to an original sacrificial meaning, although in Numbers 19 the heifer is carefully kept away from the altar. Again, the correspondences with rites in other religions indicate a non-Israelitish origin. Such a ceremony may well have passed among the Israelites and have become prized by them. It contained nothing objectionable and seemed to have much of deep worth, and a few slight additions-chiefly the sprinkling (Numbers 19:4; compare Leviticus 4:6, 17)-made it fit for adoption into the highest system. Some older features may have been eliminated also, but as to this, of course, there is no information. But, in any case, the ceremony is formed of separate rites that are exceedingly old and that are found in a great diversity of religions so that any elaborate symbolic interpretation of the details would seem to be without justification. The same result can be reached by comparing the countless symbolic interpretations that have been attempted in the past, for they differ hopelessly. As a matter of fact, the immense advance that has been gained in the understanding of the meaning of the Old Testament rites through the comparative study of religions has shown the futility of much that has been written on symbolism. That a Certain rite is widely practiced may merely mean that it rests on a true instinct. To be sure, the symbolism of the future will be written on broader lines and will be less pretentious in its claims, but for these very reasons it will rest on a more solid basis. At present, however, the chief task is the collection of material and its correct historical interpretation.
5. Obscurity of Later History:
The later history of the rite is altogether obscure. As no provision was made in Numbers 19 for sending the ashes to different points, the purification could have been practiced only by those living near the sanctuary. Rabbinical casuistry still further complicated. matters by providing that two black or white hairs from the same follicle would disqualify the heifer (see above), and that one on whom even a cloth had been laid could not be used. In consequence, it became virtually or altogether impossible to secure a proper animal, and the Mishnic statement that only nine had ever been found (Parah, iii.5) probably means that the rite had been obsolete long before New Testament times. Still, the existence of the tractate, Parah, and the mention in Hebrews 9:13 show that the provisions were well remembered.
See also SACRIFICE.
Baentsch (1903), Holzinger (1903), and (especially) Grey (1903) on Numbers; Kennedy in HDB; Edersheim, Temple and Ministry, chapter xviii (rabbinic traditions. Edersheim gives the best of the "typological" explanations).
Burton Scott Easton
See HEIFER, RED.
Heifer (22 Occurrences)
Hebrews 9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of the flesh: (WEB KJV WEY ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Genesis 15:9 He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Numbers 19:2 "This is the statute of the law which Yahweh has commanded: Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without spot, in which is no blemish, and on which never came yoke. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS NAS RSV NIV)
Numbers 19:5 One shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn: (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS NAS RSV NIV)
Numbers 19:6 and the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS NAS RSV NIV)
Numbers 19:8 He who burns her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the evening. (See RSV)
Numbers 19:9 "A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up outside of the camp in a clean place; and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water for impurity: it is a sin offering. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS NAS RSV NIV)
Numbers 19:10 He who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be to the children of Israel, and to the stranger who lives as a foreigner among them, for a statute forever. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Numbers 19:17 And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel: (KJV WBS)
Deuteronomy 21:3 and it shall be, that the city which is nearest to the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take a heifer of the herd, which hasn't been worked with, and which has not drawn in the yoke; (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Deuteronomy 21:4 and the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer's neck there in the valley. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Deuteronomy 21:6 All the elders of that city, who are nearest to the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley; (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Judges 14:18 The men of the city said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down, "What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?" He said to them, "If you hadn't plowed with my heifer, you wouldn't have found out my riddle." (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
1 Samuel 16:2 Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me." Yahweh said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, I have come to sacrifice to Yahweh. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Isaiah 7:21 And it hath come to pass, in that day, A man keepeth alive a heifer of the herd, And two of the flock, (YLT NAS)
Isaiah 15:5 My heart shall cry out for Moab; his fugitives shall flee unto Zoar, an heifer of three years old: for by the mounting up of Luhith with weeping shall they go it up; for in the way of Horonaim they shall raise up a cry of destruction. (KJV JPS WBS YLT)
Jeremiah 31:18 I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself, 'Thou hast chastised me, And I am chastised, as a heifer not taught, Turn me back, and I turn back, For thou 'art' Jehovah my God. (YLT)
Jeremiah 46:20 Egypt is a very beautiful heifer; but destruction out of the north is come, it is come. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 48:34 From the cry of Heshbon even unto Elealeh, and even unto Jahaz, have they uttered their voice, from Zoar even unto Horonaim, as an heifer of three years old: for the waters also of Nimrim shall be desolate. (KJV JPS WBS YLT)
Jeremiah 50:11 Because you are glad, because you rejoice, O you who plunder my heritage, because you are wanton as a heifer that treads out the grain, and neigh as strong horses; (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Hosea 4:16 For Israel has behaved extremely stubbornly, like a stubborn heifer. Then how will Yahweh feed them like a lamb in a meadow. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Hosea 10:11 Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her beautiful neck. I will set a rider on Ephraim. Judah will plow. Jacob will break his clods. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)