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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Leviticus - Introduction

This segment of Israel's tradition is part of a larger priestly account of the origins of the sanctuary, its personnel and rituals, which begins in Exodus chs. 25–31, 35–40 and continues into Numbers chs. 1–10 (see Introduction to the Pentateuch ). Despite the probability that the account assumed its present form early in the postexilic age, it contains many units and even collections of material handed down from a much earlier time.

The title, Leviticus, supplied in the Greek and Latin translations, arose from the emphasis upon the duties of the tribe of Levi as priests. The concerns of the book, however, are much wider than the title suggests, and may be classified as follows: (1) guidelines for worshipers bringing offerings of animals or grain (chs. 1–7 ); (2) the ordination of the Aaronite priests (chs. 8–10 ); (3) legislation concerning uncleanness (chs. 11–15 ); (4) the annual Day of Atonement (ch. 16 ); (5) the exhortation to be a holy people (chs. 17–26 , the section being called the “Holiness Code”); (6) regulations for the fulfillment of religious vows (ch. 27 ).

During the postexilic age, an impoverished, harassed Israel lived under the domination of the Persian Empire. With its identity as a monarchical political state no longer secure or adequate, Israel sought to recover its ancient identity as a worshiping community ruled by the LORD. Accordingly, Leviticus stresses the antiquity of the Aaronite priestly leadership and of the attendant rituals. In a time of uncertainty about Israel's election and of a tendency to assimilate to the culture of its neighbors, Leviticus placed great stress on the uniqueness of Israel's socio-economic legislation and encouraged the observance of even the smallest details of the cultic regulations. In contrast to the unrestrained social and economic abuses of the late monarchic and exilic periods, it reasserted the ancient prohibition against absolute human domination of persons and physical property. Thus, in spite of the failures of the past and the hardships of the present, Israel could once again recover its identity as a “holy people” in whose midst the LORD dwelled.

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