After publishing my recent book, I am of course in need of a hiatus from Hebrews and am off to different research projects, particularly my Christian Moses stuff. But when I return to Hebrews--and I shall return--it will likely be because of Hebrews 9:23, a line that has bothered me every time I've read it. Quoting from the RSV:
"Thus it was necessary for copies of the heavenly things to be purified by these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these."
Before this in chapter 9, there is a conflation of several sacrificial rites from the Day of Atonement (Lev 16) to the blood used to establish the covenant (Exod. 24:6-8), etc. These rites established and purified the earthly sanctuary (the copies of heavenly things). But that is not the part that bothers me; it is the second phrase. While the better sacrifices refers to Jesus', why, oh why, would the heavenly things / heavenly sanctuary need to be purified at all? Is it impure, defiled in some way? If so, how might one defile the heavenly sanctuary? Is it due to human defilement? Or, perhaps, angelic defilement?
One could argue that it is inaugural purification (inaugurating the new covenant in the way Moses did the old); I am not remembering off the top of my head, but I think this position is favored by Erich Gräßer and several of his followers; it does, indeed, have some benefits. Its simplicity is attractive. On the other hand, Hebrews still seems to associate the inaugural blood with purgative rites, ridding one of sin. Moreover, it seems to me that this phrase is encapsulating: that is, it is referring to all the rites just mentioned and not just the inaugural one.
Or one could argue that it somehow relies upon what Jacob Milgrom has pointed out in his famous article "The Priestly Picture of Dorian Gray": the magnetic character of sin and how the Day of Atonement and other ceremonies have a predominate function to purge the sanctuary of people's sin. Could the people's sins be, likewise, affecting the heavenly sanctuary, which, as the heavenly sanctuary, needs a greater sacrifice to purge it?
Or, a combination of both.
Or...something else. Indeed, while I address this verse in my book, I don't think I've found an adequate answer.
I at least see a conference paper in my future on this question, and then we'll see from there.