Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Education and International Services


Religion, Old Testament Studies PhD

First Advisor

Richard M. Davidson

Second Advisor

Jiri Moskala

Third Advisor

Angel Manuel Rodriguez


The ritual gesture of laying on of hands in Scripture has generated significant interest among theologians from rabbinic times until now. Still today, scholars assign various meanings to the ritual. In the second half of the 20th century, the fresh interest that put forward new meanings for this gesture came primarily through the introduction of the new sub-discipline of Ritualistics within Old Testament studies. This relatively new discipline is not founded upon premises found in biblical texts, but rather, upon those found in various secular social, philosophical sciences, and other disciplines such as sociology, philosophy, anthropology, literary criticism, and the study of religion. These disciplines often reject major presuppositions found in biblical texts, and scholarly studies based on these approaches have produced multiple proposals regarding the meaning of this gesture. Such proposals generally offer incomplete, limited insights into the biblical meaning conveyed by laying on of hands. I have sought to avoid this interpretative misstep in the context of identifying the meaning of laying on of hands by (1) adopting premises found in the biblical text, especially concerning the nature of human beings and the concepts of sin and atonement, and (2) conducting a reading of the biblical text that applies a terminological/contextual/intertextual approach.

This study is divided into three sections. In the first section, I explore the concept of sin in the Pentateuch (ch. two) and establish terminology to express the nature of sin (ch. three). I utilize simple legal terminology based upon my reading of Lev 4-6. In the second section, I conduct an in-depth study of the Hebrew כִּפֶּר to establish the concept of atonement (ch. four) and critically evaluate the commonly-accepted automatic defilement hypothesis (ch. five). In the third section, I present the ritual theory created by biblical scholars that coincides with the theoretical framework that I identified in the course of this study, which assisted in achieving the main and initial goal of this study, namely, to identify the meaning of laying on of hands in cultic contexts in the Pentateuch. The resulting data of this study enables me to expose limitations and errors included in various scholarly proposals concerning the meaning of the laying on of hands.'

The traditional meaning of laying on of hands in cultic contexts has been that of transfer, with various qualities transferred such as sin, guilt, authority, general human sinfulness, and others. Very often the idea of substitution is included in the meaning of the ritual. Through a fresh study of the concepts of sin and atonement, and building upon biblical premises concerning the nature of human beings, I conclude that the meaning of transfer emerges from the biblical texts more than any other, and constitutes the foundational meaning of this ritual.

Subject Area

Imposition of hands; Sin--Judaism; Atonement; Rites and ceremonies in the Bible


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