Atonement, Day of



1. Named

2. Leviticus 16

(1) Contents, Structure and Position

(a) Leviticus 16:1-10

(b) Leviticus 16:11-24

(c) Leviticus 16:25-28

(d) Leviticus 16:29-34

Use of Number Four

Place in Leviticus

(2) Modern Attempts to Disprove Unity of Chapter


1. The Significance for Israel

2. The Significance from a Christian Standpoint


1. The Long Silence of History

(1) The Facts and the False Conclusions

(2) The Historicity of the Day of Atonement

2. Further Development

Topical Bible outline for "Atonement, The Day of."

I. The Legal Enactments.

1. Named:

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

In addition to the chief passage, Le 16:1-34, which is treated under a separate head, we have the following:

In Ex 30:10 it is mentioned in the directions that are given for the construction of the altar of incense that Aaron, once a year, is to make an atonement on the horns of the altar, with the blood of the sin offering, which is used for the purpose of an atonement for sin.

In Le 23:26-32 mention is made in the list of festivals of the Day of Atonement, on the Le 10:1-20th day of the Le 7:1-38th month. It is ordered that for this day there shall be a holy convocation at the sanctuary, a fast, an offering by fire, and rest from labor from the 9th day of the 7th month in the evening.

According to Le 25:9 the year of jubilee begins with the Day of Atonement.

Nu 18:1-32 speaks of the duties and the rights of the priests and the Levites. In contrast with the latter, according to Nu 18:7, Aaron and his sons are to perform the duties of the priesthood in all matters pertaining to the altar and of the service within the veil and shall render this service. We have here doubtless a comprehensive law for the entire priestly order, so that from this alone it cannot be determined that the service within the veil, by which reference is made to the ceremony of the Day of Atonement, has been reserved for the high priest alone, just as in De 10:8; 33:8 ff, everything that pertains to the whole tribe of Levi is found combined, without thereby the division into high priest, priests and Levites, being regarded as excluded (compare EZEKIEL,II , 2, (1), c).

Nu 29:7-11 contains in connection with the laws treating of sacrifices also the enactment, that on the Nu 10:1-36th day of the Nu 7:1-89th month there shall take place a holy convocation at the sanctuary, fasting and rest from labor. In addition to the sin offering, which is brought for the purpose of atonement for sin, and in addition to the regular burnt offerings and the accompanying meal offerings and drink offerings, burnt offerings also are to be brought, namely, one young bullock, one young ram, seven lambs of the first year (all without blemish); then meal offerings, namely, three-tenths (compare Nu 28:12-14) of fine flour mingled with oil for each bullock; two-tenths for each ram; one-tenth for each lamb; then a sin offering, namely, one he-goat.

Ezekiel in his vision of the new temple, of the holy city and the holy country (chapters 40 through 48), in 45:18 ff, gives a series of enactments for the festivals and the sacrifices. According to these, on the 1st day of the 1st month and on the 7th day of the 1st month (on the 1st day of the 7th month according to the Septuagint), the sanctuary is to be cleansed through a young bullock without blemish, the priest taking some of the blood of the sin offering and putting it on the posts of the temple, on the four corners of the altar and on the posts of the gate of the inner court; and this is to be done for the sake of those who perhaps have sinned through error or ignorance. Further, that sacrifice which is to be brought on the Passover by the princes for themselves and all the people of the land (compare 45:22) appears to present a clear analogy to Le 16:1-34. As for the rest, Eze 40:1-49 through Eze 48:1-35 cannot without further consideration be put on the same level with the other legal enactments, but are to be regarded as an ideal scheme, the realization of which is conditioned on the entrance of the wonderful future (compare EZEKIEL).

2. Leviticus 16:

(1) Contents, Structure and Position.

Le 16:1-28 contains instructions given by Yahweh to Moses for his brother Aaron (Le 16:1-2).

(a) Leviticus 16:1-10.

Le 16:1-10 contain presuppositions, preparations and summary statements of the ceremonies on the Day of Atonement. According to Le 16:1-2, Aaron is not allowed to enter the holy place at any time whatever, lest he may die as did his sons with their unseemly fire offering (compare Le 10:1 ff); 16:3-5 tell what is necessary for the ceremony: For himself four things: a young bullock as a sin offering (compare 16:6,11,14,15,27); a ram for burnt offering (compare 16:24); sacred garments, namely, a linen coat, linen breeches, linen girdle, linen mitre (compare 16:23,32); a bath. For the congregation: two he-goats as a sin offering (compare 16:7 ff,15-22,25,27,28,32,33), a ram as a burnt offering (compare 16:24). The passages in parentheses show how closely the succeeding parts of this account are connected with this introductory part, 16:1-10. In other parts of Lev also it is often found that the materials used for the sacrifices are mentioned first, before anything is said in detail of what is to be done with this material. Compare 8:1,2 with 8:6,7 ff,10,14,18,22,26 and 9:2-4 with 9:7,8 ff,12 ff,15-18. In 16:6 Aaron's sin-offering bullock is to be used as an atonement for himself; 16:7-10 refer to the two goats: they are to be placed at the door of the tent of meeting (16:7); lots are to be cast upon them for Yahweh and Azazel (16:8); the first to be prepared as a sin offering for Yahweh (16:9); the second, in accordance with the law, to be sent into the desert (16:10).

(b) Leviticus 16:11-24.

Le 16:11-24 describe the ceremony itself and give fuller directions as to how the different sacrificial materials mentioned under (a) are to be used by Aaron: Le 16:11-14 speak of the atonement for Aaron and his house; Le 16:11, of his sin-offering bullock to be killed; Le 16:12, of burning coal from the altar and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small to be placed behind the veil; Le 16:13, of the cloud of incense to be made in the Holy of Holies, so that the top covering is hidden and Aaron is protected from the danger of death; Le 16:14, of some of the blood to be sprinkled once on the front of the top covering and seven times in front of it. Le 16:15-19 prescribe the ceremony with the first sin-offering goat for the congregation: in Le 16:15-16a, the ceremony described in Le 16:14 is directed also to be carried out with the goat, as an atonement for the inner sanctuary, cleansing it from blemishes; in Le 16:16b the same thing is directed to be done in regard to the tabernacle of revelation, i.e. the holy place, in Le 16:17, no one is permitted to be present even in the holy place when these ceremonies take place; in Le 16:18-19, the altar too is directed to be cleansed by an atonement, some of the blood of both sin-offering animals being smeared on the horns and sprinkled seven times on the ground. Le 16:20-22 prescribe the ceremony with the second sin-offering goat for the congregation: Le 16:20 directs it to be brought there; in Le 16:21 there takes place the transfer of guilt; Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the goat; shal l confess all guilt over him; shall lay them upon the head of the goat; shall through a man send him into the desert; in Le 16:22a, the goat carries the guilt into an uninhabited land; in Le 16:22b, he is not to be let go until he is in the desert. Le 16:23-24, the concluding act: in Le 16:23a, Aaron takes off his linen garments in the tent of meeting, and in Le 16:23b puts them down there; in Le 16:24a, he bathes in the holy place and again puts on his usual clothing; in Le 16:24b he brings the burnt offering for himself and his people. (The statement `for himself and his people' at this place concludes the ritual as such.)

(c) Leviticus 16:25-28.

Le 16:25-28 are explanatory, with three additional directions. In 16:25, the fat of the sin offering is directed to be consumed into smoke on the altar; 16:26, he who has taken away the second goat must wash his clothes and bathe himself, and only then is he permitted to enter the camp; 16:27, the fat, flesh and dung of the sin-offering animal, and then the blood that was brought into the (inner) sanctuary, are to be burned outside of the camp; 16:28, he who has burned these must wash his clothes, and must bathe, and only after this can he enter the camp. (In this case 16:25 and 27 correspond, and also 16:26 and 28; and in addition 16:26,27,28 are united by their reference to the camp.)

(d) Leviticus 16:29-34.

Le 16:29-34: Over against these sections (a)--(c) (16:1-28), which contain the instructions for the high priest, we have a fourth (16:29-34), which already through the address in the second person plural and also by its contents is intended for the congregation. In 16:29-31, the demand is made of the congregation. As in Le 23:26 ff; Nu 29:7 ff, a fast and absolute rest are prescribed for the Nu 10:1-36th day of the Nu 7:1-89th month as the Day of Atonement; in Le 16:32-34, a number of directions are given in a summary to the congregation on the basis of Le 16:1 ff, namely, Le 16:32, how the atonement is to take place: the priest who is anointed; he shall be consecrated; that he perform the service in his father's place; in his linen garments; Le 16:33 prescribes when and for whom the atonement is to take place: for the holy of holies; for the holy place; for the altar; for the order of priests and all the people; in Le 16:34, the one Day of Atonement in the year for all sins is declared to be an everlasting statute. The statement that Aaron (Le 16:2), according to Yahweh's command, did as Moses directed aptly closes the whole chapter.

Use of Number Four

The number four appears to occupy a predominating place in this chapter, as the bird's-eye view above already shows, and as this can be traced still further in the details of the accounts. But even if this significance of the number four in the division of the chapter is accidental, although this number appears almost as a matter of course, and in Ex 35:4 through Ex 40:38, in Ge 12:1-20 through Ge 25:1-34, in the story of Abraham, Le 11:1-47 through Le 15:1-33, and De 12:1-32 through De 26:1-19 naturally fall into four pericopes with four subdivisions, yet this chapter is, as far as contents are concerned, so closely connected, and so well organized as a whole, that all attempts to ascribe it to different sources, concerning which we shall speak immediately, must come to naught in view of this fact.

Place in Leviticus

At this point we first of all draw attention to the fact that Le 16:1-34 has its well-established place in the whole of the Book of Lev (compare LEVITICUS). The whole book has as its purpose to regulate the dealings of the Israelites with their God, and it does this in such a way that the first part (Le 1:1-17 through Le 17:1-16) removes the hindrances that have been caused by sin. In this the ordinances with reference to the Day of Atonement (Le 16:1-34), and with reference to the significance of the blood (Le 17:1-16), constitute a natural acme and excellent conclusion, while this prepares for the positive sanctification, which is discussed in Le 18:1-30 ff. In 15:31 we find in addition a clear transition to the thoughts of Le 16:1-34, for in this passage mention is made of the uncleanness of the Israelites, which contaminates the dwelling-place of Yahweh that is in their midst.

(2) Modern Attempts to Disprove Unity of Chapter.

A large number of attempts have been made to destroy the unity of this chapter, which has been demonstrated in division (1) above. Thus Stade separates Le 16:3-10 as the original kernel from the explanatory and changing details that were added in Le 16:11-28. But we have already seen that Le 16:3-10 are the preparation for all that follows, so that these verses demand Le 16:11 ff as a necessary complement. Again Oort separates Le 16:1-4,11b,Le 14:1-57,16,18a,Le 19:1-37,23-24a,Le 25:1-55a,29a from the rest, by using the purification of the sanctuary and the atonement of the people as the measure for this separation; but above all it is proved by Eze 45:18-20 that just these two thoughts are inseparably united. In recent times it has become the custom, following the leadership of Benzinger, to divide the text into three parts. Baentsch divides as follows: (a) Le 16:1-4,6,12 f,34b contain a single pericope, which on the basis of the fate of the sons of Aaron, described in Le 10:1-20, determines under what circumstances Aaron alone is permitted to enter the Holy of Holies; (b) Le 16:3-29Le 4:1-35a contain "an older, relatively simpler law in reference to the yearly day of penitence and atonement"; (c) Le 16:5,7-10,11,14-28 are a "later enlargement of this ritual, with a more complicated blood rite," and above all with "the rite of the sin goat." Of these three pieces only (a) is thought to belong to the original Priest Codex, as proved especially by its reference back to Le 10:1-20; (b) is regarded as belonging to the secondary parts, because the day of repentance is not yet mentioned in Ne 8:1-18 ff; compare III , Ne 1:1-11; at any rate the anointing of all the priests is there not yet presupposed (compare LEVITICUS); (c), however, is declared to be very late and its separate parts are regarded as having originated only after the others (thus recently also Bertholet). It is impossible here to enter into all the minor parts eliminated by the exegetes; and in the same way we do not intend in our examination to enter into all the incorrect views found in these criticisms. We confine ourselves to the chief matter. The very foundation of the criticism is wrong. What Aaron's sons experienced according to Le 10:1-20 could very easily have furnished a connecting link for that ritual which is introduced in Le 16:2 ff, but could never have furnished the occasion for the composition of the pericope described above (a); for Nadab and Abihu had not entered into the Holy of Holies at all. Just as little justifiable is the conclusion drawn from chapter 10, that chapter 16 originally followed immediately on chapter 10. For who could possibly have conceived the thought of inserting chapters 11 through 15 in an altogether unsuitable place between chapters 10 and 16 and thus have split asunder a connection so transparent? In general, the different attempts to break the unity of this chapter show how subjective and arbitrary these attempts are. They are a characteristic example of the manner in which the Priest Codex is now being further divided (compare LEVITICUS). In general, sufficient material for the positive refutation of such attempts has been given above.

II. The Significance of the Day of Atonement.

1. The Significance for Israel:

The significance of the day is expressed in the name "Day of Atonement" Yom ha-kippurim: Le 23:27 f; Le 25:9) in the same manner as it is in the fast which was enjoined on the congregation as a sign of sorrow for their sins (this fasting being the only one enjoined by the law: Le 16:29,31; 23:26 ff; Nu 29:7 ff), as also finally and chiefly in the entire ritual (Ex 30:10; Le 23:28; Nu 29:11; Le 16:1-34; compare also Eze 18:20,22). Then, too, the atonement takes place for the sanctuary which has been defiled by the contamination of the Israelites (Ex 30:10; Le 16:16-20,33; compare also Eze 45:18-20). In particular, mention is made of the Holy of Holies (Le 16:33, called Miqdash ha-qodhesh; otherwise in Lev regularly ha-qodhesh), then of the holy place (Le 16:16b,Le 20:1-27,33), and then of the altar (Le 16:18,20,33). In the last-mentioned case it is a matter of discussion whether the altar of incense is meant, as is claimed by Jewish tradition, on the basis of Ex 30:10, or the altar of burnt offerings, for which reference could be made to the additional statements in Le 16:18, to those of Le 16:16, and to the conclusion in Le 16:17. The altar of incense (Ex 30:10) would then be included in the atonement of the tent of meeting. The somewhat remarkable position of Ex 16:17b would then at the same time find its motive in this, that, while Ex 16:6 and Ex 11:1-10b mention an atonement only for Aaron and his house, the atonement of the Holy of Holies and of the holy place in Ex 16:17 is for Aaron, his house, and the whole congregation, while the atonement of the burnt-offering altar in the forecourt (Ex 16:18) would be intended only for the sins of the congregation. The atonement, however, takes place for all the transgressions of the congregation since the last Day of Atonement (compare Ex 16:21 f,Ex 30:1-38,34). In reference to the significance of what is done with the second goat of sin offering, compare Ex 16:8 ff,Ex 20:1-26 ff, and AZAZEL, II, Ex 1:1-22. In this way Delitzsch has correctly called the Day of Atonement "the Good Friday of the Old Testament." How deeply the consciousness of sin must have been awakened, if the many otherwise commanded private and congregational sacrifices did not make such an institution superfluous, and if even the high priest himself stood before God as a sinner (Ex 16:6,11 ff). On this day, with the exception of the mitre, he does not wear the insignia of his high-priestly office, but wears white garments, which in their simplicity correspond to the earnestness of the situation. The repetition of the bath, both in his case and in that of the other persons engaged in the ceremony (Ex 16:4,24,26,28), was necessary, because the mere washing of the hands and feet (Ex 30:19 f) would not suffice on this occasion (compare Nu 19:7 ff,Nu 19:1-22,21). The flesh of the sin-offering animals was not permitted to be eaten but had to be burned (Nu 16:27) because it was sacrificed also for Aaron's sin, and its blood was carried not only into the holy place but also into the Holy of Holies (compare Nu 16:27 with Le 6:23; 4:11 f,Le 21:1-24; Ex 29:14; Le 8:17; 9:11; 10:19). And in comparison with the consciousness of sin that had been aroused, how great must on the other hand God's grace appear, when once in each year a general remission of all the sins that had been forgiven was guaranteed.

2. Significance from a Christian Standpoint:

"The Day of Atonement, the good Friday of the Old Testament"--these words express not only the highest significance of the day but also its limitations. As the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, the entire law, thus too the Day of Atonement in particular contained only the shadow of future good things, but not these things themselves (Heb 10:1), and is "like in pattern to the true" (Heb 9:24). Christ Himself entered into the holy place, which was not made with hands, namely, into heaven itself, and has now appeared before God, by once for all giving Himself as a sacrifice for the removal of sin (Heb 9:23 ff). By this act the purpose of the Old Testament sacrificial cult and its highest development, namely, the Day of Atonement, understood in its typical significance, has been fulfilled, and at the same time surpassed and thereby abrogated (compare LEVITICUS). Accordingly, our hope, too, like an anchor--(Heb 6:19), penetrates to the inner part of the veil in the higher sense of the term, i.e. to heaven.

III. On the History of the Day of Atonement.

1. The Long Silence of History:

(1) The Facts and the False Conclusions.

The Day of Atonement is stated to have been instituted in the times of Moses (Le 16:1); the ceremony takes place in the tabernacle (tent of meeting); the people are presupposed to be in the camp (Le 16:26 ff); Aaron is still the high priest. Very remarkably there is but little evidence of the observance of this prominent day in the later history of Israel. Down to the time of the Exile there is found a deep silence on this subject. The days of atonement in Eze 45:18 ff (compare under I, 1) differ in number and observance from that in Le 16:1-34. According to Zec 3:9, God in the Messianic future will take away the guilt of the land in a single day; but this too presents no more than an analogy to the results of the Day of Atonement. On the other hand, there is no reference made to the day where we could expect it. Not only 2Ch 7:7-9 in connection with the consecration of Solomon's temple, and Ezr 3:1-6, in the account of the reintroduction of the sacrificial services after the return from the Exile, are silent on the subject, which fact could possibly be explained in an easy manner; but also Ne 8:1-18 f. According to Ne 8:2 f, Ezra begins on the Ne 1:1-11st day of the Ne 7:1-73th month in the year 444 BC to read from the law; on the Ne 2:1-20nd day of the Ne 7:1-73th month remembrance is made of the ordinance treating of the feast of tabernacles, and on the 22nd day of the Ne 7:1-73th month (Ne 8:13 ff), this festival is observed; on the 24th day of the 7th month a day of penance is observed (Ne 9:1); but of the Day of Atonement coming in between Ne 8:1 and chapter Ne 9:1, namely, on the Ne 10:1-39th day of the Ne 7:1-73th month, which would seem to make the day of penance superfluous, nothing is said. From these facts the Wellhausen school has drawn the conclusion, in accordance with its principles elsewhere observed, that all those legal enactments that have not in the history a sufficient evidence of having been observed, did not exist until the time when they have such historical evidence; that therefore the Day of Atonement did not originate until after the year 444 BC. It is claimed that the day originated in the two days of atonement mentioned in Eze 45:18-20 (compare under I, 1); in the four national fast days of Zec 7:5, and Zec 8:19, and in the day of penance of 444 BC, just mentioned, on the 24th day of the Zec 7:1-14th month, which is said to hav e been repeated on the following New Year's day, the Zec 10:1-12th day of the Zec 7:1-14th month; and that by the sacred character of its observance it soon crowded the New Year day upon the Zec 1:1-21st day of the Zec 7:1-14th month (compare Le 23:23 ff; Nu 29:1 ff; contrary to Le 25:9 and Eze 40:1). In this way it is thought that Le 16:29 ff first originated, and that at a still later time the complicated blood ritual had been added (compare under I, 1, 2). But it is to be observed that in still later times there is found no more frequent mention of the Day of Atonement than in the earlier, although it is the custom of modern criticism to place a much larger bulk of Biblical literature into this later period. It is only when we come to Jesus Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 50:5 ff) that the high priest Simon is praised, when he came forth from behind the veil; and this is certainly a reference. to the Day of Atonement, although no further mention is made at this place of the ceremony as such. Then there is a further silence on the subject down to Philo and the Epistle to the Hebrews (6:19; 9:7,13 ff; 10:1 ff; compare underII , 2). It is probable too that the fasting mentioned in Ac 27:9 is based on the Day of Atonement. We have in this manner a characteristic example to show how carefully we must handle the argument from silence, if we do not want to arrive at uncomfortable results.

(2) The Historicity of the Day of Atonement.

Since Le 16:1-34 constitutes only one part of the Levitical legislation, the question as to the original and historical character of the day cannot be fully discussed at this place (see LEVITICUS). At so late a period, naturally all the data that would lead to an explanation of the origin of such a fundamental institution as the Day of Atonement are lacking. It is all the more impossible to separate Le 16:1-34 from the other priestly ordinances, because the name of the lid of the ark of covenant hakapporeth: Ex 25:17 ff; Ex 26:34) stands in the clearest relation to the ceremony that takes place with this ark on the Day of Atonement. The impossibility of splitting up Le 16:1-34 as is the manner of critics, or even as much as separating it from Le 11:1-47 through Le 15:1-33, has been sufficiently demonstrated above (compare under I). Against the view which forces the Priest Codex down at least to the Exile and to claim the tabernacle as the product of imagination and as a copy of the temple of Solomon (see EXODUS), we have still the following to add: If the ark of the covenant was no longer in existence after the Exile and if, according to Jer 3:16, the Israelites no longer expected its restoration, then it would have been absolutely impossible in the ritual of the Day of Atonement to connect the most important ceremony of this ritual with this ark and on this to base the atonement. In the second temple, as is well known, the incense pan was placed on the "foundation stone" in the Holy of Holies, because there was no tabernacle. Against these facts the counter-arguments mentioned above cannot stand. Even those who deny the existence of the Day of Atonement do not lay much stress on 2Ch 7:1-9 and Ezr 3:1-6; but Ne 8:1-18 ff also does not deserve mention, since in this place the emphasis lies on the purpose of showing how the congregation was to declare its adherence to the law, and how the Day of Repentance, which had been observed since the beginning of the history of Israel, was instituted to be observed on the 24th day of the Ne 7:1-73th month for all sins (Ne 9:1 ff), and was not made superfluous by the celebration of the Day of Atonement on the 10th day of the 7th month, on which day only the sins of the last year were taken into consideration. But Ezekiel changed or ignored also other pre-exilic arrangements (compare EZEKIEL), so that he is no authority in deciding the question as to the earlier existence of the Day of Atonement. Finally, attention must be drawn to the fact that the Passover festival is mentioned in prophetic literature, in addition to the mere reference in Isa 30:29, only in Eze 45:21; the ark of the covenant only in Jer 3:16; the Feast of Tabernacles only in Ho 12:9; Eze 45:25; and that in its historical connection the Feast of Weeks is mentioned incidentally only in 2Ch 8:13, and possibly in 1Ki 9:25, and is not at all found in Ezek (compare 45:18 ff), although the existence of these institutions has for a very long time been called into question.

2. Further Development:

The Day of Atonement, in accordance with its purpose in later times, came more and more into the foreground and was called "the great fast" or "the great day," or merely "the day." Its ritual was further enlarged and the special parts mentioned in the law were fully explained, fixed and specialized. Compare especially the tract "Yoma" in the Mish; and for the further elaborations and stories in poetry and prose on the basis of the Talmud, see, e.g. Delitzsch's translation from Maim, Ha-yadh ha-chazaqah, in the supplement to his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 1857. According to these accounts, e.g. the high priest had to be a married man. Already seven days before the beginning of the Day of Atonement he was ordered to leave his house and had to submit to a series of purifications and had to practice for the performance of the different purification ceremonies, some of which were difficult. The last night he was not allowed to sleep and had to spend his time in studying the sacred writings. On the Day of Atonement he took five baths and ten washings. Four times he enters the Holy of Holies (with the incense), with the blood of both sin offerings, and when he brings out the utensils used with the incense he makes three confessions of sins (for himself, for himself and his house, for Israel); 10 times in all he utters the name of Yahweh; 43 times he sprinkles; in addition he must read certain sections of the Scriptures or repeat them from memory (compare also AZAZEL). When he returns home he celebrates a festival of rejoicing, because he has without harm been able to leave the sanctuary. In addition, he had performed severe physical work, and especially difficult was the manipulation of the incense. The modern estimate put on the Day of Atonement appears from the following citation of Wellhausen: "The rite and the sacrifice through the unfavorable circumstances of the times have disappeared; but it has retained the same sacred character. He who has not yet entirely broken with Judaism observes this day, no matter how indifferent he may be otherwise to old customs and festivals."

Wilhelm Moller

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