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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Leviticus

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Chs. 1–7 describe the sacrificial system. Contrary to popular opinion, there is more to the book of Leviticus than just a description of various sacrifices. Nevertheless, the cult was central to Israelite worship, and it is important to understand the sacrifices if one wishes to understand Israelite religion (see c.1–2 above). It was through the sacrificial cult that sins were forgiven and evil was removed from the land. And an important question is what was thought to happen when an animal was slain at the altar. Milgrom (1976) has dismissed the idea of the sacrificial victim being a substitute for the sinner. He does acknowledge, though, that on the ‘day of kippûrîm’ (Day of Atonement) the sins were placed metaphorically on the head of the goat for Azazel. In this case, there is no sense of ‘wiping off’ but of the transfer of sins from the people to the animal (see further at LEV 1:4 and 16 ). That this is really a type of substitute or surrogate for the sinner, however, is a point well made by Kiuchi (1987). Kiuchi argues that the sin offering is envisaged as a substitute for the sinner; in other words, it purges the sin of the individual and not just, as Milgrom asserts, the effects of these sins on the sanctuary. (The transfer of sins in the Day of Atonement ceremony may be somewhat different from this, since the victim is sent away and not slain. Nevertheless, he argues that the scapegoat ceremony is a form of sin offering.) This transfer of sins might be indicated when the offerer lays hands on the animal's head. Kiuchi (1987: 112–19) notes that there are a number of interpretations of this act. Although he favours the interpretation that it represents substitution, he recognizes that the evidence is scanty. Knierim (1992: 34–40) opposes the idea of substitution and considers the gesture (which he translates as ‘firm pressing down of the hand’) a means of denoting transfer of ownership, i.e. from the offerer to God. If so, this aspect of the discussion does not help resolve the main problem of the elimination of sin.

Perhaps part of the problem is being too literal in interpretation. The sacrificial system was a symbolic system, filled with metaphor, allegory, and analogy. It would be a mistake to assume that only one symbol or metaphor was used for removing sin (e.g. ritual detergent). In the same way, the cultic terminology may have a more general meaning and should not be defined in terms of the specific metaphor used. The individual's sins were removed, whatever the precise symbolic conceptualization used.

Chs. 1–5 tend to address the whole people, lay as well as priest, in contrast to 6–7 which seem aimed primarily at the priests. The main term for offering is qorbān, a generic term which refers to a variety of different types (cf. the reference to the term in its Greek transliteration korban ‘gift’ in Mk 7:11 ). The instructions about how to prepare the sacrifice are often stereotyped, so that similar instructions are given about those which are parallel; however, it is interesting to notice that small differences in wording are often found, even when the same instructions seem to be in mind. The sacrificial pattern for animals generally goes according to the following schema:

  • 1. The sacrificer laid hands on the head of the animal.

  • 2. It was killed at the entrance to the tabernacle, north of the altar, and cut up. The most natural interpretation of the Hebrew wording is that the slaughtering was done by the one making the offering rather than by the priest. If so, it contradicts Ezek 44:11 , where it is done by the Levites, and 2 Chr 29:22,24 where done by the priests.

  • 3. Blood was sprinkled or dashed or poured, usually on the sides and/or base of the altar.

  • 4. The parts burned for cattle included the entrails with their fat, the kidneys and suet, and the caul of the liver; the same was true with sheep or goats, except that the fat tail was also added.

  • 5. Except for the whole burnt offering, the breast of the animal went to the priests as a body, while the right thigh went to the presiding priest specifically.

( 1:1–2 )

is an introduction to the entire section of chs. 1–7 and forms an inclusio with 7:37–8 , to mark off chs. 1–7 as a unit.

( 1:3–17 )

describes the whole burnt offering (῾ôlâ). Sometimes referred to as the ‘holocaust’, this whole burnt offering was the complete sacrifice, for none of it went to the sacrificing priest (except for the hide, 7:8 ) or to the one bringing the offering. The entire animal was ‘turned into smoke’, to use the Hebrew expression (hiqṭîr). The offering could be from the herd or flock, a male animal in either case, or from the birds (turtle-doves or pigeons). Although the animal was cut up, all the pieces (not just the fat, kidneys, etc.) were placed on the altar. The legs and entrails were washed but placed on the altar as well. The burnt offering had expiatory function, as indicated by 1:4, 9:7, 14:20 , and 16:24 (cf. also Ezek 45:15, 17 ). But it also seems to have been used for a wide range of functions, according to other passages, including entreaty (1 Sam 13:12 ) and appeasement of God's wrath (1 Sam 7:9; 2 Sam 24:21–5 ). It could also be used as an occasion for rejoicing (Lev 22:17–19; Num 15:3 ). It has been proposed that because of its ubiquity in early texts, it and the well-being offering (Lev 3 ) were the only sacrifices in the earliest period, with the sin and guilt offerings being added later when the temple was established. Gerstenberger (1993: 31) also suggests that the sin offering was a later replacement for the whole burnt offering.

( 1:4 )

says that the purpose of the sacrifice is for ‘atonement’ for the one making the offering. The Hebrew word is kipper and is used in a number of contexts to describe the removal of sin or ritual impurity. Although often translated as ‘atone’ or ‘cover up’, the precise connotation has been much debated. The denominative verb can mean ‘serve as a ransom, expiation gift’. Levine (1974: 56–77) has argued that it means ‘remove, wipe off’ impurity, not ‘cover up’. In the cult, the word was used primarily in functional terms to mean ‘perform rites of expiation’ rather than ‘to clean’. Milgrom (1991: 1079–84) sees a development in the word from a basic meaning ‘purge’. It also carried the idea of ‘rub, wipe’, so that the meanings ‘cover’ (‘wipe on’) and ‘wipe off’ are complementary rather than contradictory. In ritual texts, the idea of ‘wipe off’ predominated in that the blood was thought of as wiping off impurity, acting as a sort of cultic detergent. With certain rituals, such as those on the Day of Atonement or involving the red cow (Num 19:1–10 ), the idea of ‘ransom’ or ‘substitute’ was the main connotation. This finally led to the meaning ‘atone, expiate’ in some passages, especially with regard to all sacrifices where blood was not daubed on the horns of the altar.

Central to the cult was the shedding of blood. There is a major disagreement about the function of the blood between Milgrom and Levine, however. Levine argues that it has two functions: (1) an apotropaic function for the deity; that is, the blood was placed on the altar to protect God from the malignancy of impurity which was regarded as an external force; (2) purificatory or expiatory, in which the blood served as a ransom substituting for the life owed by the offerer. According to Milgrom, the idea of demonic or malignant forces which might harm the deity had no place in the thought of the P tradition. Impurities did compromise the holiness of the sanctuary and altar, so the purpose of the offering was to remove these. As noted above, Milgrom's opinion is that the blood acted as a ritual detergent, washing off the impurities which had attached themselves to the sacred things. For further comments on the blood, see at LEV 17:10–14 .

( 1:14–17 )

gives instructions for a whole burnt offering of birds. There are differences from those of other animals. For birds the neck was wrung off but, rather than being cut up, the body was torn open by the wings without severing it. The crop and excrement were placed on the ash pile. The whole of the offering was done by the priests, perhaps because only the poorest, such as slaves, used birds and were perhaps not as observant of the cult (Gerstenberger 1993: 27–8). On fowls for the sin offering, see at LEV 5:14–6:7 .

( 2:1–16 )

describes the cereal or meal offering (minḥāh). The word minḥāh means ‘gift’ and is used with such a general meaning in some texts (e.g. in reference to animals in Gen 4:3–4 and 1 Sam 2:17 ). It could even have the meaning of ‘tribute’ (Judg 3:15; 2 Sam 8:2 ). In Leviticus and priestly tradition in general, it refers exclusively to the offering of grain or meal. The cereal offering was the only non-blood sacrifice. It had two functions: (1) it was often an accompanying offering to one of the others, in particular the burnt and thanksgiving offerings; (2) it could be offered in its own right as an independent sacrifice. The meal offering follows this basic pattern:

  • 1. Choice flour was to be used, with oil mixed in before cooking or added afterwards; anything cooked was always unleavened; frankincense accompanied the offering.

  • 2. The frankincense and a token portion of the flour or cake were burnt on the altar.

  • 3. The rest of the offering went to the priest.

It could be raw flour (mixed with oil) or it could be baked in an oven, cooked on a griddle, or fried in a pan. It was always unleavened since no leaven was to be burnt on the altar (v. 11 ), and was to be salted (v. 13 ) as a sign of the covenant. Other vegetable offerings could be brought: first fruits (v. 12 : rē᾽šît, no details given) and a cereal offering of first fruits (bikkûrîm) which was to consist of roasted grain with the usual oil and frankincense (vv. 14–16 ).

In his recent study Marx (1994) argues that the vegetable offering plays a central role in the system of P (including Ezek 40–8 and Chr), and is an accompaniment not only of the whole burnt offering but also of the well-being offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. (P represents a utopian ideal which views vegetarianism as the original state of mankind.) As noted above, the cereal offering can also stand alone and be offered independently of other offerings. By contrast, the J source (followed by Deut, Hos, and Ezek 1–39 ) limits its horizon to the blood offering, according to Marx.

( 3:1–17 )

describes the šĕlāmîm offering. There is no agreed translation for this term. It was long connected with šālôm ‘peace’ and called the ‘peace offering’, a translation still found in the RSV. More recent translations have often derived the name from šālēm ‘well-being’, the translation used in the New Jewish Publication Society translation and the NRSV (the NEB and REB have ‘shared-offering’). Levine himself suggests the meaning ‘gift’, based on the Akkadian šulmānu which means ‘gift of greeting’. These are all only educated guesses, and exactly how one renders the term is to some extent arbitrary. The actual terminology used for the well-being offering is zebaḥ šĕlāmîm ‘sacrifice of well-being’. The term zebaḥ is often translated by the general term ‘sacrifice’; however, it seems to be limited to those sacrifices which were eaten by the offerer and would not be applied to the burnt offering or the sin offering since these were burnt whole or eaten only by the priests. The question is why the double terminology is used. Rendtorff has suggested that two originally separate offerings must have been combined, since such double terminology is unparalleled in cultic language. Also, zebaḥ šĕlāmîm is limited to Leviticus and Numbers; zebaḥ often occurs by itself outside these two books, but šĕlāmîm is never alone and often in the context of the burnt offering. Milgrom (1991), on the other hand, argues that zebaḥ šĕlāmîm is merely a synonym for šĕlāmîm. This passage does not discuss the various sorts of well-being offerings, and one must see the later treatment at 7:11–18 for a breakdown of the types of usage for this offering.

v. 11 : A number of offerings are said to be ᾽iššeh, which is often translated as ‘offerings by fire’. This depends on the presumed origin of the word from ᾽ēš ‘fire’, which is also reflected in later translations. This presents two difficulties: some offerings are referred to as ᾽iššeh even when they are not burned (e.g. the wine offering: Num 15:10 ), whereas some offerings burned on the altar (e.g. the sin offering) are not called ᾽iššeh. Milgrom has related the zword to Ugaritic itt͟ ‘gift’ and perhaps Arabic ᾽aâu ‘possession of every kind’. He suggests the translation ‘food gift’, perhaps a shortened term from leḥem ᾽iššeh ‘food gift’ (Lev 3:11, 16 ). In his opinion, the word may have become obsolete by exilic times since it is absent from later OT collections.

( 4:1–6:7 )

(HB 4:1–5:26 ) treats the sin and guilt offerings. There is considerable difficulty in separating these. The guilt offering especially has been a notorious problem since antiquity. Early Jewish commentators already had difficulties in interpreting it (cf. Philo, Spec. leg. 1.226–38; Josephus, Ant. 3.9.3 §§ 230–2). The same quandary has afflicted modern commentators, with various solutions proposed. For example Kellermann (1977) suggested that the guilt offering developed from the sin offering, to provide a form of sacrifice between the sin and burnt offerings, as the atonement sacrifice for all cases of gross negligence. In Lev 5:15 , however, it is probably equivalent to the sin offering. Levine (1974) believes that it was not originally an altar sacrifice but a cultic offering presented to the deity in the form of silver or an object of value in expiation for certain offences. A necessary precondition is that the sin be done inadvertently, although Lev 5:20–6 may seem to go against this, because a false oath cannot be given inadvertently, Levine explains this as a separate category of crime. Milgrom (1976) opposes Levine with the view that the guilt offering must be a blood sacrifice. Any mention of silver has reference to buying an animal to sacrifice. Milgrom thinks he has found a solution in the meaning of the name, which he takes to mean ‘feel guilt’ when there is no verbal object. The notion common to all offences which call for it is that they are all cases of sacrilege against God, i.e. either an actual infringement of holy things or a trespass against the name of God.

( 4:1–35 )

The term ḥaṭṭā᾽t is traditionally translated ‘sin offering’ because the word also means ‘sin’. The difficulty with this translation is that the sacrifice is required in certain cases where no sin is involved (e.g. Lev 12:6 ). Therefore, Milgrom argues for the translation ‘purificatory offering’. His point is well taken; however, it seems a cumbersome title and one which may not be readily apparent to those more used to ‘sin offering’. For this reason, ‘sin offering’ is still used here despite being somewhat problematic. The sin offering is to be offered when one has committed a sin unwittingly. The instructions vary according to the rank of the person offering it, and the pattern differs in certain details from that given at the head of this section on LEV 1–5. It is clear that two sorts of sin offering are in mind here. There is the one which is offered because of the sin of the priests or the congregation as a whole and is burnt entirely. The other, offered on behalf of the ordinary Israelite (including the tribal chieftain), was eaten by the priests after the normal parts were burned on the altar. vv. 3–12 , if the anointed priest (high priest?) is atoning for his own sin, he is to offer a bull. The blood is sprinkled inside the tabernacle itself, before the curtain covering the Holy of Holies, and some of it put on the horns of the incense altar. The normal portions are burnt on the altar, but the rest of the animal is taken outside the camp and burned where the ashes from the altar are dumped. vv. 13–21 , if the whole community has sinned, the ceremony is the same as for the priest, except that the elders take the part of the offerer. vv. 22–6 , if a tribal chieftain (nāśî᾽) has sinned, a male goat is offered, with blood put on the horns of the altar of burnt offerings. In this case only the normal portions are burned, while the rest goes to the priest to be eaten. vv. 27–31 , if an ordinary person (῾am hā᾽āreṣ) has sinned, a female goat or sheep is offered, with the other details being the same as for the chieftain.

( 5:1–13 )

is generally interpreted as describing the graduated sin offering. That is, there are two sorts of sin offering: the normal sin offering ( 4:1–35 ) and the graduated sin offering. Confusion is caused by the fact that the term ᾽āšām is used here (vv. 6–7 ) as in 5:14–6:7 (HB 5:14–26 ), suggesting that the offerings of ch. 5 are separate from ch. 4 . However, it is usually argued that ᾽āšām means ‘atonement for guilt’ in vv. 6–7 rather than ‘guilt offering’, especially since reference is specifically made to the ‘sin offering’ in vv. 6, 7, 11 . The breaches for which this is offered do not form a clear pattern: not acting as a witness, uttering a rash oath, or touching the corpse of an unclean animal or some other unclean thing without realizing it. The person must first confess the sin, then bring an offering of a female goat or sheep. If he does not have enough wealth for sheep or goat, he can bring two turtle-doves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering. Since there are no instructions about fowls for a sin offering, some details are given: the neck is wrung but the head not severed from the body, and part of the blood is sprinkled on the side of the altar while the rest is poured out at the base. What happens then is not stated. The flesh of the guilt offering normally went to the priest, after the fat etc. were burned on the altar, but we do not have precise instructions about birds. The other bird is treated as a burnt offering. If the person does not have enough for birds, a tenth of an ephah of fine flour (without oil or frankincense) is offered. A token portion is burnt, and the rest goes to the priest, as is normal in cereal offerings. This is the only case where a cereal offering can serve for a transgression (though cf. Num 5:15 ).

( 5:14–6:7 )

(HB 5:14–26 ) describes the guilt offering. The precise meaning of ᾽āšām is not clear. The verb can mean ‘commit an offence’ and ‘become guilty’ (by committing an offence); hence, the traditional translation ‘guilt offering’. Milgrom (1976) opposes this, arguing that when confined to cultic usage it has four meanings: (1) reparation, (2) reparation offering, (3) incur liability to someone, (4) feel guilt. It is especially this last which he emphasizes. The translation ‘realize guilt’ or ‘become conscious of guilt’, as found in a number of translations, he thinks is wrong. Rather, the clue to the sacrifice lies in the fact that the person becomes conscience-stricken, afraid that he has committed an offence. For the offering itself, he uses the translation ‘reparation offering’.

5:14–16 : the first transgression relating to the guilt offering involves unwitting violation of the ‘holy things’ of God (qodšê yhwh). The type of violation is not described, but the later ceremony suggests that the person has used something belonging to God for his own purposes, for restitution has to be made with another 20 per cent (fifth part) added to it (v. 16 ). A ram is also brought (v. 15; cf. 6:6 (HB 5:25 )). A debate has arisen concerning the expression ‘convertible into silver’ (v. 15 ). Does this mean that only the value of the ram in money was brought rather than the animal itself (Noth 1977: 47)? Hartley (1992: 81–2) disagrees. However, Levine (1974: 98–100) thinks this was the earlier practice which later developed into the use of a ram of a minimal value, while Milgrom (1991: 326–7) argues that the value of the ram could be assessed and the equivalent value paid. vv. 17–19 follow the instructions about the transgression with regard to holy things by a general statement that a ram is to be brought for any transgressions of YHWH's commands which at first escape the person's notice. 6:1–7 (HB 5:20–6 ) expands the the concept of 5:17–19 further to include defrauding one's neighbour by illicitly appropriating a pledge or not returning a lost object. Again, restitution has to be made, with 20 per cent added, and a ram or its equivalent value is brought for a guilt offering.

( 6:8–7:38 )

(HB 6:1–7:38 ) gives the laws (tôrôt) of the offerings. The term tôrâ in these texts often refers to a priestly ruling. The sacrifices enumerated in chs. 1–5 are covered once more, but this time the instructions relate to the responsibilities of the priests rather than focusing on the offerings from the point of view of the lay person. It also emphasizes the priestly dues to be given over from each sacrifice. 6:8–13 (HB 6:1–6 ) gives the law of the burnt offering; cf. 1:3–17 . 6:14–18 (HB 6:7–11 ) gives the law of the cereal offering; cf. Lev 2 . 6:19–23 (HB 6:12–16 ) discusses the offering at Aaron's anointing. This section seems out of place because of its subject, though it was probably put here because a cereal offering is being described. It seems to be referring to a type of tāmîd or daily meal offering. It consisted of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour (about 2 litres), mixed with oil, and cooked on a griddle. Half is offered in the morning and half in the evening. This is burned entirely on the altar, with no portion eaten by the priests. We know that there was a daily or tāmîd offering made on the altar, and it seems to have included a cereal offering as well as a burnt offering in the morning. The daily offering was extremely important in antiquity because it was the chief sign that the temple was functioning and God accessible to the people. The times when the daily sacrifice was stopped were times of dire consequences, as when the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzer or the Romans, or when the sacrifice was stopped by force in the time of the Maccabees. Surprisingly, though, what constituted the daily offering is not clear. Leviticus mentions only the cereal offering of the high priest, made in the morning and in the evening. Other priestly passages mention a daily burnt offering of two lambs, one in the morning and one in the evening (Ex 29:38–42; Num 28:3–8 ). Was this separate from the cereal offering or was the cereal offering thought of only as a companion offering? If the cereal offering accompanied it, why is this not mentioned in Leviticus, and why is the required drink offering also ignored? Other passages are different yet again. Dating from the time of the Maccabees, the practice of sacrificing the tāmîd twice a day is attested in Dan 8:11–14 , while 9:21 mentions an evening cereal offering. 2 Kings 16:15 refers to a morning whole burnt offering and an evening cereal offering. Ezek 46:13–15 differs from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers by describing a daily sacrifice of one lamb (not two), accompanied by one-sixth of an ephah of flour (instead of one-tenth). The question is, What is the offering of 6:19–23 ? Is it identical with the cereal offering of the tāmîd? Most likely, it is a separate offering but one offered daily by the high priest (Milgrom 1991 ).

6:24–30 (HB 6:17–23 ) gives the law of the sin offering; cf. 4:1–5:13 . 7:1–10 gives the law of the guilt offering; cf. 5:14–6:7 . 7:11–21 gives the law of the well-being offering. 3:1–16 gives the details of the ritual, but it is only here that the basic rationale is given, i.e. the various sorts of well-being offering. Three types seem to be included under the well-being offering:

  • 1. The freewill offering (nĕdābâ), given voluntarily on the part of the offerer, without any special motivation.

  • 2. The votive offering (nēder). Whenever a vow was made, it was completed by an offering.

  • 3. The thanksgiving offering (tôdâ), given as an expression of thanks for deliverance in time of trouble. There are several problems with understanding this offering.

Is it the same as the freewill offering? Some scholars have thought so. Others (e.g. Milgrom 1976 ) think the two are always clearly distinguished in the OT and should be kept separate. There are certain anomalies about the tôdâ offering when compared with the other well-being offering, suggesting that it was once considered separate. The main distinction from the other similar offerings is that it is accompanied by a cereal offering and must be eaten the same day it is offered. The freewill and votive offerings do not have the accompanying cereal offering and can be eaten both on the day of the offering and the next day. Indeed, in other passages the thanksgiving does seem to be an independent offering alongside the well-being (Lev 22:21, 29; Jer 17:26; 2 Chr 29:31–3; 33:16 ) and only in the supposed P source is it made a sub-division of the well-being offering.

7:22–38 has a set of miscellaneous instructions. Formally, it consists of two speeches of YHWH to Moses, and it seems to form a sort of appendix or supplement to instructions on the various sacrifices: vv. 22–7 prohibit the eating of any fat or blood, under pain of the penalty of being ‘cut off’ (nikrat; also in 7:21 ). This expression of being ‘cut off’ has been much debated but without a clear resolution (e.g. Levine 1989: 241–2; Milgrom 1991: 457–60). In some passages it refers to an early death, perhaps because of judicial punishment (Lev 20:2–3 ). Others have argued that passages with the expression generally imply divine punishment, not human. Some passages envisage that one's line of descendants would be cut off, not necessarily involving human action (1 Sam 2:30–4; Ps 109:13; Mal 2:12; Ruth 4:10 ). vv. 28–36 talk specifically of the well-being offering, but the main theme concerns those portions of the animal which are due to the priests: the breast and the right thigh. In Leviticus the maintenance of the priesthood is alluded to only in chs. 6–7 , plus a brief discussion of tithing of animals (see at LEV 27:26–7 ). But the priesthood could not have been supported on portions of sacrifices alone, and other P passages speak of tithes and other support; see the discussion in Grabbe (1993: 70–2). vv. 37–8 are a concluding summary for the entire section on sacrifices, i.e. chs. 1–7; cf. 1:1–2 .

(Chs. 8–10 )

describe the initiation of Aaron and sons into the priesthood and an unfortunate episode relating to priestly service in the sanctuary. Chs. 8–9 concern the ceremony in which Aaron and his sons were anointed and consecrated to their offices. There is general agreement that this is a priestly fiction; that is, these chapters do not describe an actual event involving a literal Aaron and Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. On the other hand, these chapters may tell us something about priestly belief or practice. Leviticus seems to envisage the anointing of Aaron and his sons as a once-only event, setting apart their descendants to the priesthood forever, as apparently does Exodus ( 29:9; 40:15 ). But each new high priest was customarily designated by anointing (Lev 6:22 (HB 6:15 )). The lengthy ritual described in Lev 8–9 has many characteristics of what is often referred to as a ‘rite of passage’ (Gennep 1960 ). This is an anthropological term for rites which take place as a person passes from one stage to another, such as from boyhood to manhood or girlhood to womanhood. There is first a rite of separation, next a transitional rite during which the person is in a ‘liminal’ state (on the doorstep between one phase and another). There may be dangers while in this liminal state, and various rituals have to be carefully performed to protect the one undergoing the transition. In the case of Aaron and sons, they were undergoing the passage from ‘common’ to ‘sacred’. Various purification and burnt offerings and washings were performed, a special ordination offering carried out ( 8:22–9 ), and the anointing done. Those involved were then required to remain a week segregated in the Tent of Meeting (transitional rite). The final act was a ritual of incorporation, in this case sacrifices and ceremonies on the eighth day (Lev 9 ). Thus, the ceremony of consecration in Lev 8–9 is very much parallel to rites of passage known both from preliterate modern societies and from many examples in modern Western culture. Ch. 10 seems to be an inset chapter relating the incident of Nadab and Abihu (sons of Aaron) and its consequences, though the chapter follows naturally on the anointing ritual of Aaron and his sons.

( 10:1–20 )

vv. 1–7 describe the death of Nadab and Abihu as a result of offering ‘alien fire’ (᾽ēš zārâ) on the altar. The episode is very puzzling since the ‘sin’ of the two sons is never clearly indicated, with the result that the passage generated many explanations in later Judaism (Hecht 1979–80; Kirschner 1982–3 ). Thus, as with the Golden Calf episode, one must ask what lies behind the story. Those who date this part of Leviticus late usually look for some event in the exilic or post-exilic period. For example, Noth (1977) thought he saw internal disputes between different priestly groups. However, others are willing to ascribe the background to one or other event during the time of the monarchy. Milgrom (1976) suggests that it is a polemic against private offerings of incense. There are textual and archaeological indications that it was common for Israelites to offer incense to God in their homes and elsewhere outside the Jerusalem temple. Those who believed in cult centralization would have disapproved of this practice. Thus, a graphic story like that in Lev 10 would serve as a salutary reminder that private incense offerings were fraught with danger. vv. 6–7 command Aaron and his other sons not to mourn for Nadab and Abihu. This is parallel to the passage in 21:10–12 which forbids the high priest to mourn for his near kin. vv. 8–11 give a general instruction about not drinking alcohol when on duty in the sanctuary, another possible occasion for divine punishment for a serving priest. vv. 12–20 use the the death of Aaron's sons related in the previous verses to discuss a particular situation—the question of consuming the offerings in a time of mourning.

(Chs. 11–15 )

form an important section on ritual purity and pollution. An explanation now almost universally rejected is that the various laws in this section have hygiene as their basis. Although some of the laws of ritual purity roughly correspond to modern ideas of physical cleanliness, many of them have little to do with hygiene. For example, there is no evidence that the ‘unclean’ animals are intrinsically bad to eat or to be avoided in a Mediterranean climate, as is sometimes asserted. For a further discussion, see LEV c.3–4.

( 11:1–47 )

describes the clean and unclean animals. Eating was very much involved with purity. Certain things were not to be eaten. The Israelite was especially to be concerned about the types of animal considered fit for consumption and how they were to be prepared. Lev 11 (paralleled by Deut 14 ) lists the various animals available for food and those to be avoided. There are some difficulties here because it is not always clear which animals were being referred to. The standard treatment of this chapter is now the study by Houston (1993). He argues that the animals allowed or forbidden under Israelite law were generally those similarly permitted or prohibited in the surrounding cultures. The laws of the Pentateuch thus reflect and systematize the general habits not only of the Israelites but also of their north-west Semitic neighbours. Thus, the animals permitted or forbidden seem to have come first, and the criteria for distinguishing them were worked out only subsequently. The presentation in this chapter is an intellectual exercise, a learned attempt to systematize and provide formal criteria and probably had little practical significance (Houston 1993: 231).

In vv. 2–12 the mammals and sea life are fairly easy to identify. For mammals (vv. 2–8 ) two questions are asked: ‘Does it chew the cud?’ ‘Does it have cloven hooves?’ If ‘yes’ is the response to both these, the animal can be eaten; if ‘no’ to either or both, it is off limits. A few borderline cases are mentioned to clarify the situation: the pig has cloven hooves but does not chew the cud; the camel chews the cud but does not have cloven hooves; the hare might be thought to chew the cud, because of the movements of its jaws, but it has no hooves. In scientific terminology, mammal food is limited to the ruminating bi-hooved ungulates. The practical implications were that edible mammals were limited to those offered on the altar and to their wild counterparts. Although pigs are attested in many areas of Palestine (Hübner 1989 ), the number seems to have declined fairly rapidly during the Iron Age. There is almost no evidence for their being used for sacrifice (even where they were eaten), with the possible exception of some special rites to underworld gods. However, it should be noted that pigs were included in these particular sacrifices because they were unclean, rather than that they were declared unclean because of being used in cults, as so often asserted (Houston 1993: 253). So the Israelite avoidance of pork fits with the general practice in the west Semitic area.

Consumption of sea creatures is restricted to those that have fins and scales (vv. 9–12 ). No animals are named, but it is clear that some fish (those without scales), all crustaceans, and most other fresh and saltwater animals are forbidden. The birds are hard to categorize because not all can be positively identified (vv. 13–19 ). Nevertheless, the majority of those which can be recognized are carnivorous or scavengers. Other flying things are also discussed here, including the bat (unclean) and some insects. A few insects could be eaten, mainly of the locust, cricket, or grasshopper type (vv. 20–3 ). This concession of some insects seems to be because of common dietary habits among the people, since insects seem to have been forbidden in the parallel passage in Deut 14:29 (Houston 1993: 236). vv. 24–40 seem to repeat earlier instructions, with quadrupeds again (vv. 24–8 ), followed by a long section on ‘swarming things’ (vv. 29–45 ). However, some sort of structure does emerge with a closer look, since vv. 24–40 are primarily about the carcasses of unclean animals, not the animals themselves. Then, vv. 41–5 are about the swarming things which had not really been discussed in vv. 1–23 . Despite a somewhat coherent structure, though, most critics have seen evidence of growth and supplementation here. Further evidence of this is found in vv. 43–5 which use language reminiscent of H: ‘be holy as I am holy’. vv. 41–5 discuss the ‘swarming things’, which seem to be a miscellaneous collection of small animals regarded as abhorrent by the Israelites. vv. 46–7 are a summary of the chapter.

(Ch. 12 )

gives directions about the purity procedure which follows childbirth. The first form of impurity for women listed in Leviticus is that of childbirth. If a woman bore a boy, she was unclean for 7 days, until the circumcision of the boy on the eighth day. For another 33 days she was not unclean as such (i.e. passing on uncleanness to others who had contact with her) but was not allowed to come into the sanctuary or touch any holy thing.

These periods were doubled for the birth of a girl: 14 days and 66 days. The allotted period was completed and purity restored with a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or dove for a sin offering. A poor person could substitute two pigeons or doves, one for the burnt offering and one for the sin offering.

(Chs. 13–14 )

discuss a variety of skin diseases under the general Hebrew term of ṣāra῾at. Although this is often presented in older English translations as ‘leprosy’, the modern condition of leprosy is limited to Hanson's disease; by contrast, it is not clear that modern leprosy is even covered by the ancient disease; in fact, there is some question as to whether Hanson's disease was known in the Mediterranean world before the Hellenistic period. Also, some objects can be infected with ‘leprosy’.

( 13:1–59 )

Various skin afflictions are listed in vv. 1–46 , along with the priestly response to them. The main function of the priest was to examine any affliction or inflammation brought to him, isolate the individual if it looked like the real disease, check again after seven days, and finally pronounce the afflicted person whole or leprous. Despite the length of the regulations, they are fairly repetitive, with slightly different criteria for scaly patches, burns, boils, and so on. As with Lev 11 , the text is not dealing with medical treatment or hygiene but rather with ritual. What is being discussed is not how to treat the various diseases under the rubric ṣāra῾at but only how to recognize them and how to view them from the point of view of cultic purity. The medical question was no doubt of concern in Israel but it is not within the scope of the discussion here. The job of the priest was to pronounce on ritual purity and impurity, and the text gives some guidance on how to decide whether the person is clean or not, but he was not treating the disease as such. Even the isolation was not a quarantine for purposes of preventing the spread of the disease but only a way of allowing it time to develop or recede so an authoritative pronouncement could be made about it. In vv. 47–59 the infected object is a piece of cloth or leather. This is an additional complication to the identification of the disease(s) falling under the generic term ṣāra῾at. This section appears to deal with mould or fungus infections. From a medical point of view, there is no connection between these and the skin diseases otherwise dealt with. This reinforces the view that something other than pathological conditions is in the mind of the writer.

( 14:1–53 )

In vv. 1–32 a good deal of space is devoted to the question of re-entry into the cultic community once the disease is cured. A major feature was a ritual in which two birds were taken, one killed but the other released into the open country. As is obvious, this ritual has certain features in common with the scapegoat ritual, especially the use of two creatures, one of which is slain and the other released (see further at LEV 16). The cured person then had to wash himself and his clothes, shave off his hair, and remain outside his tent (though within the camp) for a further 7 days. He then presented three lambs (one for a guilt offering, one for a sin offering, and one for a burnt offering), a cereal offering, and a quantity of oil. Some of the blood of the guilt offering and some of the oil was put on different parts of the former sufferer's anatomy. A poor person need bring only one lamb (for the guilt offering), two turtle-doves or pigeons (for the sin and burnt offerings), the cereal offering, and the oil. The range of offerings required in this case is paralleled only by those required for the nazirites to finish their vow (Num 6:13–20 ). vv. 33–53 envisage that a house could get ṣāraat, in the same way as a piece of cloth or leather. Again, it seems to be some sort of fungus which the writer has in mind. As with a person, the cleansing would be completed with the ceremony of the two birds.

( 15:1–30 )

deals with a variety of genital discharges, normal and abnormal, for both men and women. vv. 2–24 : a number of discharges were regarded as more or less normal, because they were a part of everyday life, and the person becoming polluted by them would be purified by washing and the passage of time. There was no requirement to offer a sacrifice. First to be treated, in vv. 1–16 , are men. If there is an abnormal emission of semen or other penile discharge, the man (zab) becomes impure. The pollution is passed on to anyone touching him or anything on which he sits, as it is also if he spits on anyone or touches anyone without first washing his hands. The person so polluted was required to bathe in spring water, wash his clothes, and would become clean with the going down of the sun. A normal discharge of semen in marital intercourse (vv. 16–18 ) was also polluting, though less contagious than an abnormal discharge. The man and woman both were to wash themselves and remain unclean until evening. Any cloth or leather object on which semen fell was also to be washed and remain unclean until evening.

With regard to women (vv. 19–24 ), the flow of blood caused by childbirth was already dealt with in 12:1–8 . The most basic and regular genital discharge was the monthly menstrual period. The time of impurity lasted 7 days even if the actual flow of blood finished sooner. During this time the woman transmitted impurity by direct contact or indirectly via anything on which she sat or lay. The person who touched her or that on which she lay or sat would need to wash himself or herself and his or her clothes and be unclean until evening. A man who had sexual relations with her would be unclean for 7 days. Any other prolonged discharge of blood for a woman also brought on uncleanness on the same order as menstruation (vv. 25–30 ). If the flow stopped, the woman would become clean after 7 days. In this case, though, there was a significant difference, for she had to make a sacrifice. On the eighth day she was to bring two pigeons or doves, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering.

( 16:1–34 )

describes the atonement for sanctuary and people popularly known as the ‘scapegoat ritual’. The central core of the ritual was the ceremony with the two goats. One goat was for God and one was for ‘Azazel’ (on this word, see at v. 8 ), the choice being determined by lot. This ceremony differs from most of the cultic rituals in having the sins of the people placed on a live animal rather than sacrificing one and putting its blood on the altar. Part of the peculiarities of this chapter may arise from its origins. A variety of possibilities have been suggested, the most recent seeing parallels—and perhaps even the origin—of the rite in southern Anatolia and northern Syria (Janowski and Wilhelm 1993 ). Expiation rituals in the Hittite and Hurrian texts have some striking points in common with the scapegoat ritual (ibid. 134–57; Wright 1987: 31–60).

v. 1 connects the chapter back to the regulations about the priests in chs. 8–10 , linking it with the one proper occasion when a priest (limited to the high priest) could appear before God in the Holy of Holies. That is, whereas Adab and Abihu had acted improperly (though their sin is never specified) and had been punished by death, the right ceremony at the right time could allow the right priest to come into God's actual presence. vv. 2–14 , before the high priest could come into God's presence, he first had to offer a bull as a sin offering for himself and his household. Then he went inside the veil and placed incense on the coals of his censer to make a cloud of smoke and hide the ark, thus protecting himself from God who was seated on top of the ark, and sprinkled the blood of the bull on the ark. This was all to atone for his own sins. Before this was done, however, two goats were chosen to perform separate roles by lot (vv. 7–10 ). One goat was for YHWH, the other for ‘Azazel’ (v. 8 ). What was this Azazel? Unfortunately, it remains an enigma. No explanation is found in the text of Lev 16 , and the word does not occur elsewhere in the OT or early inscriptions. Various etymologies have been proposed, but none is clearly compelling. Later Jewish tradition identified Azazel with the leader of the fallen angels (Grabbe 1987 ). Although this identification may itself be the result of exegesis, scholars have often proposed that Azazel represents some sort of demonic figure. This is suggested by the context as well as later Jewish interpretation. While accepting this interpretation as the one which developed in Judaism, Janowski and Wilhelm (1993: 161–2) argue that the original meaning of the word was ‘for (the elimination of) God's wrath’. vv. 15–19 , after the priest had sacrificed for himself and his family, he next sacrificed the goat on whom the lot for God had fallen. This goat became a sin offering and was sacrificed and the blood sprinkled on the ark, which atoned for the holy place (polluted because of the sins of the people). The altar was atoned for by sprinkling on it the blood from both the bull and goat. vv. 20–8 , in the rituals earlier in the chapter the various sacrifices had been used to atone for the sins of the high priest himself and then to cleanse the sanctuary of impurities because of the sins of the people. Now a unique ceremony takes place in which the sins of the people are removed by the treatment of the goat ‘for Azazel’. It was not slain. Rather, the high priest laid hands on it and confessed the sins of the congregation, thus transferring them to its head. The goat was then taken away and sent into the wilderness, bearing away all the sins of Israel on its head. As noted above, the different conceptualization of removing sins in this ritual may be due to its origins.

vv. 29–34 summarize the ceremony and associate it with the tenth day of the seventh month. The detailed ceremony of ch. 16 is only at this point connected with the Day of Atonement listed as one of the festivals of Israel (Lev 23 ). It also specifies that the day should be one of fasting by the people. This suggests that the ritual of ch. 16 may have been only secondarily connected with the Day of Atonement in the list of festivals (Noth 1977 ). Before this it was likely to have been a ceremony evoked by the high priest whenever it was needed (Milgrom 1991: 1061–5).

Chs. 17–26 form the Holiness Code according to a long-term consensus in scholarship; nevertheless, there have been significant voices raised against this identification. See LEV B. 7 above.

( 17:1–16 )

Ch. 17 does not provide a formal introduction to the Holiness Code (assuming one accepts the idea of H). Indeed, Gerstenberger sees chs. 16–26 as a unit separate from chs. 1–15 , and puts ch. 17 in with ch. 16 as a thematic unit on ‘the prime festival and the prime rule of the offerings’ (1993: 17). The subject of ch. 17 is proper sacrifice; under this heading come the matters of handling blood and of eating meat. The reason for these is that eating of meat is intimately associated with cultic sacrifice in the mind of the writer.

vv. 3–7 cover the law regarding slaughter, requiring that domestic animals be killed at the altar. The reason is that the blood can be disposed of at the altar, and people will not sacrifice to goat demons (vv. 6–7 ). It is generally assumed that this chapter envisages all slaughter as being done at the altar so that the blood can be dashed against the altar and the fat burned on it. The exception to this rule was the case of clean wild animals or birds which could be hunted, killed, and eaten apart from the shrine as long as the blood was drained out onto the earth. If so, all slaughter of domestic animals for food would have to take place in a sacrificial context. How could this be carried out from a practical point of view, if no butchering or eating of meat could be done apart from the shrine? The difficulty is highlighted by Deut 12:20–5 which seems to be changing just such a regulation when it states that profane slaughter is now allowed, as long as the blood is drained out of the animal. This means that Lev 17 must either be an idealized system divorced from reality or have in mind a society small enough in numbers and territory to allow a trip to the altar and back within a day or so. The post-exilic community had just such a size, and the majority of scholars apply this to the post-exilic community (cf. Gerstenberger 1993: 216–17). Milgrom, however, argues that the original setting was the pre-monarchic community, which was also quite small and allowed such laws to operate. Another interpretation argues that only the sacrifice of well-being offerings is in mind and that profane slaughter for food was permitted outside the temple (cf. Hartley 1992 ), though this seems to go against the most obvious meaning of the passage.

vv. 8–9 are a separate law and seem to repeat vv. 3–7 . They may have had a separate existence at one time and thus came to be included in the collection despite some duplication. The penalty of being ‘cut off’ is characteristic of Leviticus (see at LEV 7:22–7 ). vv. 10–14 focus on the question of blood which is a central element in this chapter. The life of both humans and animals is in the blood (vv. 11, 14 ). For that reason, blood should not be eaten but dashed on the altar or poured on the ground and covered with dust. Blood functions as a potent symbol within the sacrificial cult and must be given due weight in any theological discussion of the meaning of the cult (see at LEV 1:4 ). Schwartz (1991: 55–61) argues that kipper in 17:11 has the meaning of ‘ransom’ and is the only biblical passage where sacrificial blood is said to be a ranson for human life. Elsewhere blood has the quality of purifying or cleansing, so v. 11 is a unique verse. Because of the characteristic of blood to serve as a ransom for life, its consumption is prohibited.

( 17:15–16 ) deals with eating that which dies of itself or is killed by animals. One of the reasons is no doubt that the blood is still in the animal and has not been drained away as required (vv. 6, 11, 13–14 ). Surprisingly, though, such eating is not prohibited but only requires the eater to bathe, wash clothes, and be unclean until sunset. No sacrifice is necessary. Priests were specifically prohibited from eating meat not properly slaughtered in Lev 22:8 , while Ex 22:31 (HB 22:30 ) and Deut 14:21 are even more stringent, and prohibit Israelites from eating such meat at all.

( 18:1–30 )

discusses primarily forbidden sexual relations, in two sets of laws (vv. 7–18 and 19–23 ). Much of this chapter covers what is usually referred to as incest, that is, sexual relations forbidden because of the closeness of kinship of the person involved; however, some other sorts of sexual acts are also mentioned. Sexual relations sit at the heart of social practice within any community. Each society has strict views about which sort are allowed and which are not; these views may change over time and—human nature and passions being what they are—such rules are often breached, but they are still there even in what might seem the most promiscuous of societies. Indeed, promiscuity in one area of a society may be matched by great rigidity in another. Social anthropologists have found that laws about permitted and forbidden sexual relationships are an important clue to attitudes towards relatives and outsiders (cf. LEV c. 3–4). In many preliterate societies elaborate codes govern marriage. Often these force exogamy, even if the only source of wives or husbands might be an enemy tribe. Israel's rules here are very lenient (despite the claim that ‘the Canaanites’ allowed sex with close of kin), allowing even first cousins to marry. Israel was thus an endogamous society. This fits their emphasis on rigid barriers to non-Israelites. Easy marriage between groups internally would, of course, help to prevent any feeling of need for marriage to outsiders.

vv. 1–5 : the prohibited relations are framed in two sets of admonitions or paranaetic material (vv. 1–5 , 24–30). The sections justify the laws by an appeal to the ‘abominations’ of the Egyptians and Canaanites (vv. 3, 24–8 ). In fact, there is no evidence that these peoples were less moral than the Israelites, nor that their sexual practices were necessarily that different. There may have been some differences in definition of what constituted incest among these peoples compared with Israel, as is to be expected, but they had their own strict society codes. (The ‘abominations of the Egyptians and Canaanites’ is a fiction which still dominates some discussions, especially with regard to Canaanite religion.) On the theological construction of the Canaanites in the biblical text, see Lemche (1991).

The following sexual relations are considered off limits for the Israelite male (vv. 7–23 ): first are those ‘with his own flesh’ (i.e. near of kin): mother or step-mother (vv. 6–7 ); sister, half-sister, stepsister, or sister-in-law (vv. 9, 11, 16 ); daughter-in-law (v. 10 , 15); aunt (vv. 12–14 ); a woman and her daughter or granddaughter (v. 17 ). Other regulations seem to have to do more with what is deemed appropriate: not to take a wife's sister as rival wife (v. 18 ); not to have sex during the menstrual period (v. 19 ) or with the neighbour's wife (v. 20 ), with another male (v. 22 ), or with animals (v. 23 ). One should not offer one's children to Molech (v. 21 —on this, see further at LEV 20:1–6 ). Omitted is prohibition of relations with a daughter or a sister. The reason may be that the laws are phrased to forbid violation of one's father and one's mother (Rattray 1987 ). Also omitted is any prohibition against homosexual acts between women, though the framers of the laws may not have envisaged that such even existed.

vv. 24–30 put blame for exile from the land on the sins of the inhabitants. The Israelite is the object of the command but, as noted above in the general comments on ch. 18 , the attribution of such abominable sins to the original inhabitants of the land is not based on any objective criteria. Sexual mores were fairly uniform throughout the ancient Near East. For example, adultery was universally condemned (cf. Codex Hammurabi 129–32). Sex with animals seems otherwise unattested in the Near East at this time (Gerstenberger 1993: 232).

(Chs. 19–20 )

list a set of miscellaneous laws on being holy. The term ‘miscellaneous’ is used from a modern perspective; no doubt the ancient authors/compilers had their own view and may have arranged the material according to a perfectly logical pattern from their standpoint. The contents of this section have a number of parallels with the Covenant Code (Ex 21:1–23:33 ) and Deut 12–24 , as well as with laws known elsewhere in the ancient Near East (on Israelite law in the context of ancient Near-Eastern law, see Grabbe (1993: 23–8) and the bibliography cited there).

(Ch. 19 )

has a series of laws preceded by an introduction (vv. 1–2 ) and with a concluding verse (v. 37 ): revere parents (v. 3 ); unusually, the mother is mentioned first; keep the sabbaths (v. 3 ); avoid idols (v. 4 ); law of well-being sacrifice (vv. 5–8 ); leave some of harvest for the poor (vv. 9–10 ); do not steal (v. 11 ); do not lie or deceive (v. 11 ); do not swear falsely (v. 12 ); do not exploit others: friend, hired person, deaf, blind (vv. 13–14 ); judge justly (v. 15 ); do not be a slanderer (v. 16 ); do not hate your fellows but love them (vv. 17–18 ); avoid mixtures (v. 19 ); if a man has sex with a betrothed slave woman (vv. 20–2 ); the first fruits of a fruit tree (vv. 23–5 ); do not eat blood (v. 26 ); do not practice divination (v. 26 ); do not disfigure yourself for the dead (vv. 27–8 ); do not make your daughter a prostitute (v. 29 ); keep the sabbaths and honour the sanctuary (v. 30 ); do not seek to contact spirits of the dead (v. 31 ); show respect for the elderly (v. 32 ); love the resident alien (vv. 33–4 ); have honest scales and measures (vv. 35–6 ).

Many of these are what we might call civil law, but here they are given a religious sanction and thus brought under cultic law. The motive clause, ‘(for) I am YHWH’, occurs frequently. The laws proper (vv. 3–36 ) are not of a piece because there is some overlap between the various ones. For example, the sabbath is mentioned twice (vv. 3, 30 ). It has been noted that vv. 11–18 have a common vocabulary in ‘friend’ (rēa῾), ‘associate’ (῾āmît), and ‘people’ (῾am) (Wenham 1979: 267). Scholars have noted connections between the Decalogue (Ex 20; Deut 5 ) and this chapter (Morgenstern 1955 ). Some have thought they could even find two decalogues (Kilian 1963: 58–9) or a dodecalogue and a decalogue (Elliger 1966: 254), though a good deal of textual rearrangement is required and the precise construction is not agreed on. It is true that the contents of much of the Ten Commandments are echoed here: graven images ( 19:4 ǁ Ex 20:3 ); using God's name in vain ( 19:12 ǁ Ex 20:7 ); the sabbath ( 19:3, 30 ǁ Ex 20:8–12 ); honouring parents ( 19:3 ǁ Ex 20:12 ); murder ( 19:16 ǁ Ex 20:13 ); adultery ( 19:29 ǁ Ex 20:14 ); stealing ( 19:11, 13 ǁ Ex 20:15 ). Lev 19 also has a command against lying (v. 11 ) which might be taken as somewhat parallel to bearing false witness (Ex 20:16 ). Nevertheless, the wording and even the precise concept is often different, and the order of presentation has nothing in common, and there is much here not in the Ten Commandments. Thus, there is no obvious relationship between this chapter and the Decalogue. Comparison of the OT and the legal material elsewhere in the ancient Near East suggests a large amount of traditional exhortative material widespread in the area. The coincidences between the traditional Decalogue and this chapter are most likely due to this fact.

( 20:1–8 )

is a section prohibiting seeking after false sources of supernatural aid. It primarily concerns dedicating children to Molech (vv. 2–5 ) but also forbids necromancy (v. 6 ). The prohibitions about Molech raise two questions: what does it refer to, and why should it be in this collection? There has been much discussion about the first question (cf. Day 1989; Heider 1985 ). Who or what is Molech? Some have argued that the term refers to a type of sacrifice; others assert that Molech is a deity of some sort. Although recent writings have favoured the latter hypothesis, it cannot be said that the matter is settled. Similarly, the expression ‘pass (a child) over to Molech’ has been taken to mean only ‘to dedicate to’ Molech or, more drastically, ‘to sacrifice (the child) to’ Molech. Again, recent writings have tended to support the latter viewpoint. The same prohibition occurs in a similar series in 18:19–23 , but there the writer/editor must have seen a connection between the sexual acts and offering children to Molech. Its presence is more easily explained here in ch. 20 . But why is the law included in a series having to do with sexual relations? Perhaps both were seen as threatening to family solidarity (Hartley 1992: 289–90). As its position here indicates, worship of Molech may be a form of seeking the deities of the underworld. Necromancy was another means of gaining help from the dead and the forces associated with death and the netherworld. The precise development of the cult of the dead and its significance is debated (cf. the summary in Grabbe 1995: 141–5), some thinking it was early in Israel's history (Bloch-Smith 1992 ) while others think it developed only fairly late (Schmidt 1994 ). What is clear is that in Leviticus, as in other passages (e.g. Deut 18:9–14 ), the practice of necromancy was known and forbidden, suggesting that it was practised at the time of writing, whenever that was.

( 20:9–27 )

has parallels to Lev 19 and, especially, Lev 18 . vv. 10–21 primarily concern the question of sexual relations between relatives and others, though it is introduced by a prohibition against cursing one's parents (v. 9 ). These are similar to Lev 18:6–23 . vv. 22–6 give the rationale for these laws (the previous inhabitants did these things and the land vomited them out) in a manner parallel to 18:24–30 . The section finally ends in a prohibition against necromancy (v. 27 ). This probably forms an inclusio with 20:1–6 (i.e. the chapter begins and ends with the same subject), suggesting that ch. 20 was composed as an independent unit. This implies that the repetition between chs. 18 and 20 is probably due to their being originally separate collections. If so, the final editor included both, despite the parallel material, rather than choosing between them or attempting the difficult task of editing them together. Gerstenberger (1993: 262–6), however, argues that one of the chapters must be dependent on the other, most likely the editor of ch. 20 was dependent on ch. 18 ; the intention of this revision is to give new perspectives relating to the community.

( 21:1–23 )

The concentration in chs. 17–20 has been the community and people; now the text turns to laws relating primarily to the priests. Formally, the passage is divided into two parts by two speeches by YHWH to Moses. The first speech (vv. 1–15 ) is addressed to all the priests, whereas the second (vv. 16–23 ) is specifically to Aaron. The reason the second speech is addressed to Aaron may be because he (and subsequent high priests) were the ones to decide whom to allow near the holy food (Hartley 1992: 346). Otherwise, all the regulations relate to all the priests, since they were all thought of as descendants of Aaron.

vv. 1–9 : the presumption is that all Israel is to be holy, but the priests had to be even more rigorous. They were not allowed to defile themselves by contact with a corpse by participating in funerals other than of close blood relatives: only for a mother, father, son, daughter, brother, or an unmarried sister (vv. 1–4 ). They were not to carry out mourning rites by disfiguring their hair, beards, or flesh by cutting it (vv. 5–6 ). They were not allowed to marry a harlot or divorcee, and the priest's daughter who became a harlot was to be burned (vv. 7–9 ). However, v. 8 makes the holiness of the priests a responsibility of the whole community. vv. 10–15 , the OT as a whole does not say much about a high priest, though we know that the high priest became very important in Second Temple times (Grabbe 1992: 73–83). Leviticus does envisage a high priest, however, as this and other passages (e.g. Lev 16 ) show. The special nature of his office is shown by special restrictions which were even more stringent than in 21:1–9 : he was not to participate in a funeral, even for a close relative, or engage in mourning rites of any kind; he was to marry only a virgin of his own people. vv. 16–23 , the regulations about the physical condition of those who could preside at the altar were also rigorous. Just as animals to be sacrificed were to be without physical defect, so the officiating priests were to be without physical blemish. A number of these defects are described, though they may be only representative. Nevertheless, even priests whose physical deformity or disease prevented them from carrying out their priestly duties were still allowed to eat of the priestly gifts.

( 22:1–33 )

carries on the theme at the end of ch. 21 by giving laws on holy offerings and who may eat of them. Certain portions of the sacrificial animal and other offerings were to go to the priests, as noted in chs. 5–7 . These were sacred and to be eaten only by those qualified and only under certain conditions. vv. 3–16 , the priests and their families who were in a state of purity, and they alone, were to partake of these offerings. The various sorts of uncleanness are specified, but these do not differ from those already known. The basic rule was that only members of the priest's household could eat, including slaves but not hired servants, and unmarried daughters but not married ones. Any unqualified person who ate of holy things had to restore it plus 20 per cent; cf. at 5:14–16 .

vv. 17–25 link again the bodily perfection of both sacrificial animals and the presiding priests. The first part of ch. 22 covers the priest; this section now specifies that all offerings were to be whole, normal animals without major physical defects. Anything which was blind, injured, maimed, or had certain sorts of disease was rejected. Neither was a castrated animal to be accepted. (The implication is that Israelites did not castrate their animals, contrary to the normal practice of those around them.) An animal with a limb extraordinarily short or long could be accepted for a free-will offering but not for a vow. This was the only explicit concession made about blemishes, though how the rules might be interpreted in practice we do not know. v. 21 mentions only the votive (nēder) and the free-will (nĕdābâ) offerings as falling under the well-being offering; this seems to differ from the description given at 7:11–18 which also seems to include the thanksgiving offering (tôdâ), though even this is a moot point. See the discussion at LEV 7:11–18 . vv. 26–30 list another set of miscellaneous laws. A newborn animal was not to be sacrificed until it had been with its mother 7 days (v. 26 ), nor were it and its mother to be sacrificed on the same day (v. 27 ). Any thanksgiving offering had to be eaten on the day it was offered, and anything left over after that time had to be burnt (vv. 29–30 ). This agrees with 7:15 . vv. 31–3 provide a concluding admonition to the chapter.

(Ch. 23 )

is one of several lists itemizing the major religious festivals (cf. Ex 23:14–17; 34:18–26; Deut 16:1–17 ), but it tends to be the most detailed and, in the opinion of many, one of the latest. There is also a late list of festivals in Ezek 45:18–25 ; however, this one is a bit difficult to correlate with the others because it focuses on the duties of the ‘prince’ and perhaps was not meant to be comprehensive in other respects. The list to be most closely compared to Lev 23 is Num 28–9 , however. The conventional view of scholarship has been that Num 28–9 (a part of the P document) is secondary to Lev 23 (a mixture of P and H). This view has now been stood on its head by Knohl (1995; cf. 1987) who argues that H is secondary to P. Specifically, he thinks Lev 23 is an adaptation of Num 28–9 and thus represents the later list. Form-critically, ch. 23 is divided into five commands to Moses for him to speak to Israel: 23:1–8, 9–22, 23–5, 26–32, 33–44 . This serves to give each festival an independent treatment, but it also highlights the fact that the weekly sabbath does not fit easily in the list and draws attention to what seem to be additions made to the original list, especially vv. 39–43 (Feast of Booths). For further information on a number of the festivals, see Grabbe (1993 : ch. 6 ).

( 23:3 )

the word ‘sabbath’ is from the Hebrew root š-b-t which means ‘rest, cessation’. The basic characteristic of the sabbath was that no work (mĕlā ᾽kâ) of any kind was to be done. What exactly made up that prohibited work is not stated in this passage and is nowhere else spelled out as such. Outside Leviticus one passage notes that work is also prohibited on the holy days except ‘that which each person must eat’ (Ex 12:16 ), suggesting that the preparation of food was allowed on these annual sabbaths but not on the weekly sabbath. The sabbath seems to have a long history in Israel and was hardly invented by the Priestly writers, but it is difficult to say how far back the development of sabbath observance can be pushed. It was once common to regard the sabbath as primarily a post-exilic innovation. Sabbath observance is emphasized mainly in exilic and post-exilic texts (e.g. Isa 56; Neh 13:15–22 ). There is also the question of the sabbath passage here, since from a form-critical point of view, v. 3 appears to be a later insertion and not part of the original list. Yet some texts generally acknowledged to be pre-exilic seem to presuppose sabbath observance (Hos 2:11; Am 8:5; Isa 1:13 ), indicating that it was known and followed in some circles as early as the eighth century BCE. Some have even argued for an earlier observance based on such passages as Ex 23:12 and 34:21 (cf. 2 Kings 4:23 ). Although it does not seem to be clearly attested as early as some of the annual festivals, certain scholars have argued that the weekly sabbath goes far back in Israel's history and is not a late development (see Andreasen 1972; Shafer 1976 ).

( 23:5 )

briefly mentions the Passover, but Leviticus is otherwise silent about this important celebration. This may not be significant if there is a P document since other passages normally labelled P include a lengthy description of the observance, especially Ex 12:1–20 . The important point about Leviticus is that Passover is presupposed but intimately tied up with the Festival of Unleavened Bread ( 23:6–8 ). This was the 7-day period when only unleavened bread (maṣṣôt) was eaten and no leavening or leavened products were allowed in the land. The festival was inaugurated by the Passover meal, at which unleavened bread was eaten, on the evening between 14 and 15 Nisan. The first full day (15th) was a holy day, as was the last day (1st). A major question is when the Passover became associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is now generally admitted that some early traditions do mention the Passover (e.g. Ex 23:18; 34:25 ). Haran (1962: 317–48) has argued that the Passover was associated with Unleavened Bread from an early time and is already so linked in all the biblical sources. However, his argument that the Passover goes back to a ‘nomadic’ way of life, with Unleavened Bread arising in settled conditions, is problematic in the light of recent discussion about nomadism and the Israelite settlement (cf. Lemche 1985: esp. 84–163). Haran also makes the point that the Passover in Ex 12 and elsewhere is actually envisaged as a temple sacrifice.

( 23:9–14 )

An important day within the festival of unleavened bread was the Wave Sheaf (῾ōmer) Day. On this day a symbolic sheaf of grain was cut as the first fruits of the harvest and presented before God. In addition, certain specific offerings are enjoined: a male lamb as a burnt offering, a cereal offering of two ephahs of flour mixed with oil, and a quarter hin of wine as a drink offering. This ceremony marked the start of the grain harvest. No bread or grain from the new crop was to be eaten until the first sheaf had been brought. The ceremony took place on the Sunday (‘the day after the sabbath’) during the days of unleavened bread. In later centuries, the various sects disagreed over whether the ‘day after the sabbath’ meant the day after the first annual sabbath (the holy day on 15 Nisan) or after the weekly sabbath, but the most natural reading of the Hebrew text was that which interpreted it as the weekly sabbath (cf. Grabbe 2000: 141). This date also affected the date of Pentecost.

( 23:15–21 )

The spring grain harvest began on the Wave Sheaf Day and continued for 7 weeks until the Feast of Weeks. For some reason, though, no specific term (‘Feast of Weeks’ or otherwise) occurs for this festival in Leviticus. The Feast of Weeks did not fall on a specific day of the month but was counted from the Wave Sheaf Day, reckoning 7 sabbaths. The Feast of Weeks (ḥag šābu ῾ôt: Ex 34:22 ) was on the day after the seventh sabbath, called the fiftieth day when counting inclusively (i.e. including both the starting and finishing day in the total). Hence, in later times the day was given the Greek name of Pentēkostē ‘fiftieth (day)’, from which the English Pentecost comes. From later Jewish sources, we know that there was disagreement among the various sects about the day of this festival. The dispute concerned whether one counted 7 weeks from a floating annual sabbath on 15 Nisan or 7 sabbaths from the first day of the week, to arrive at another first day of the week. (As noted above, the debate mainly concerned the exact time of the Wave Sheaf Day.) Some translations and lexicons render the Hebrew phrase šeba῾ šabbātôt as ‘seven weeks’, but this would be the only place where šabbāt means week in the OT; more likely is that the word means ‘sabbath’ here as elsewhere. It was only in Second Temple times that the meaning ‘week’ developed and allowed some sects to try to count from a fixed day of the month. Hebrew usage and later priestly practice indicate that Shavuot was always celebrated on a Sunday as long as the temple stood and only later became fixed on 6 Sivan as it is among most Jews today (Grabbe 1992: 486). Shavuot also had its own specific offerings. Two loaves of bread were baked from flour made from the new grain and presented before God. Unusually, they were to be baked with leaven; this seems the only exception to the requirement that cereal offerings were to be unleavened, though nothing is said about their being burnt on the altar.

( 23:23–5 )

the first day of the seventh month (Tishri) was a holy day celebrated by the blowing of trumpets. The type of trumpet used is not specified. Another passage usually associated with P mentions a set of silver trumpets to be used for ceremonial occasions and war (Num 10:1–10 ). One might therefore think of these, but the symbolic blowing may not have been confined to them. The ram's horn (šôpār) associated with the festival in modern times may have been a later development or interpretation, but we have no way of knowing. Other than the blowing of trumpets and the command to do no work, nothing further is stated about this day here. Num 29:1–5 lists sacrifices to be offered, though why they should be omitted here is a problem.

( 23:26–32 )

The tenth day of the seventh month was the Day of Atonement (yôm hakkippûrîm). This passage states that the day is a time of no work, fasting (‘you shall afflict your souls’), a holy convocation, with an ‘offering of fire’ (see at 3:11 ) to be carried out. No further data are given. Yet we know that the ceremony of the two goats was also associated with this day, as Lev 16 describes in detail. Was the ceremony of Lev 16 once an independent observance which only later became associated with 10 Tishri? Most of the chapter gives no indication of when the ceremony was to take place. It is only towards the end of the chapter ( 16:29–34 ) that the ritual is connected with the Day of Atonement known from Lev 23 .

( 23:33–6, 39–43 )

The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (sukkôt) was the final festival of the year, celebrated after the autumn harvest ( 23:33–6, 39–43 ) on 15–22 Tishri. It probably arose from the practice of farmers who would build a temporary shelter (booth) in the field to sleep in to protect the harvest and maximize the daylight until it was gathered. The people were to take fruit, palm leaves, tree branches, and willows and make booths as a part of the celebration. The first day was a holy day on which no work was to be done, as was the eighth day. As with the Day of Trumpets, no sacrifices are listed for Sukkot in Leviticus. At Num 29:12–39 , however, we find that an elaborate series of sacrifices was to take place, with each of the eight days having its own particular ceremony. They followed a diminishing series, beginning with 13 bulls on the first day, 12 bulls on the second, and so on down to 7 bulls on the seventh day. The eighth day had its own separate ceremony.

( 24:1–9 )

describes the lamps and the bread of the presence in the foyer of the temple. Why this section and the next ( 24:10–23 ) go here is not immediately apparent, but both 24:2–4 and 24:5–9 relate to the area inside the Holy Place, in front of the curtain separating it from the Holy of Holies. A very pure olive oil was to be provided to keep the lampstand burning on a regular basis (vv. 2–4 ). (The concept of a perpetual lamp occurs in 1 Sam 3:3 .) There was also to be a table on which 12 loaves (along with frankincense) were to be placed each sabbath. The frankincense was burned at the end of the week, and the priests were allowed to eat the loaves. This was known as the ‘bread of presence’ or ‘show bread’. It is these loaves or something similar which David and his men ate in 1 Sam 21:1–6 . This bread is referred to in passing at Ex 39:36 , but it is a puzzle why an actual description is delayed until this point in Leviticus.

( 24:10–23 )

discusses the question of blasphemy. Here and there within Leviticus narrative replaces direct commands. In such cases, the episode seems meant to explain what should be done by example rather than just instruction. It is similar to Lev 8–10 which is also a narrative section and, especially, to Num 15:32–6 where a sinner is likewise imprisoned until God decides the punishment for the crime (in this case, the sin is sabbath-breaking). The passage is made of up two sections: a narrative about the blasphemer and his ultimate fate (vv. 10–12, 23 ), and the command of YHWH not only about blasphemy but also other sins (vv. 13–22 ). The narrative tells how a man with an Israelite mother but an Egyptian father used God's name in a blasphemous way. He was put in custody until God could be consulted. God's judgement was that he be stoned to death by the entire community. Anyone in the future blaspheming with God's name was likewise to be executed by stoning. The commands of YHWH (vv. 13–22 ) concern not only blasphemy but also causing death to a man (which brings the death penalty) or a beast (compensation has to be paid), and they apply not only to Israelites but also to the resident alien. Within this section is an inset paragraph about life and reciprocation of punishment, otherwise known as the lex talionis.

( 24:17–22 )

makes the point of the importance of life, especially human life. The one who kills a person is to be executed. Anyone who kills an animal must make restitution. There is also the principle that injuries were to be compensated by having a reciprocal injury done to the perpetrator, the famous ‘eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. This law has often been misunderstood as if it were a primitive barbaric practice which embarrassed legislators later did their best to soften. In fact, the earlier principle was that a person injuring another was to pay compensation. For example, the earliest Mesopotamian law codes (Eshnuna 42–7; Ur-Nammu 15–19 = A324–325? ǁ B§§13–24) have monetary compensation. In the case of an extended family or community, that was the simplest way of handling it. The injured party received some benefit, or at least his family did. On the other hand, the later law codes (Hammurabi 195–223) evoke the lex talionis for those of equal status (though monetary compensation applies to injury of someone of lower status). The lex talionis was an important advance in jurisprudence for two reasons: first, it made all equal before the law. The rich man could not get away with his crime of injuring another by monetary payment. The ‘eye for an eye’ principle was a great leveller. Secondly, it marks the stage at which the tribe or state takes over the function of justice from the local community.

(Chs. 25–6 )

seem to be envisaged as a unit by the author or editor, because they consist of one speech by YHWH to Moses and because they are marked off by an inclusio (the phrase ‘on Mount Sinai’) in the first verse ( 25:1 ) and the last verse ( 26:46 ). Each of the two chapters has different subject-matter and can be treated separately, but they are also connected in that the punishments of ch. 26 are in part the result of not observing the sabbatical year commanded in ch. 25 .

(Ch. 25 )

describes two year-long observances: the seventh or sabbatical year (year of release: šĕmiṭṭâ) in vv. 2–7 , and the jubilee (yôbēl) year in vv. 8–55 . Comparison has been made with the Mesopotamian mīšarum and the andurāru (Lewy 1958 ) which go back to the Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian periods (early second millennium BCE). Among the points to note are the following: Babylonian andurāru is cognate with the Hebrew dĕrôr release. A king would declare a mīšarum which was a general declaration of justice. He might also declare an andurāru ‘release’, which could include a remission of certain taxes, a release of debts, reversion of property to its original owners, or manumission of slaves. It was common for a king to declare such in his first year of reign. The Israelite innovation was to declare a jubilee at regular intervals rather than in the first year of a king as in Mesopotamia. The Akkadian evidence for the mīšarum and andurāru is generally accepted (cf. Finkelstein 1961 ), but its interpretation in relation to the Israelite institution is not necessarily simple. In solidly argued studies of both the biblical and the Mesopotamian evidence, N. P. Lemche (1976; 1979) found a lot of sloppy comparison in earlier studies. For example, OT material was used to interpret the Old Babylonian which was then used to interpret the Israelite, with clear dangers of circular reasoning. The existence of the practice of a king's granting a release in his first year in the Old Babylonian period proves nothing about the antiquity of the jubilee in Israel which is, after all, somewhat different. Lemche admits some evidence for the antiquity of a seventh fallow year in agriculture, but the development of a sabbatical year with all its social accoutrements seems late.

( 25:2–7 )

envisages a basic cycle of 7-year periods or sabbatical years. The last year of this cycle was a year when the land had to be left fallow. No crops were to be sown. That which grew up by itself (volunteer growth) was allowed, and the people could eat it for food on a day-to-day basis, but no harvesting as such was permitted. Of course, by a divine miracle there would be no hardship since the land would produce enough in the sixth year to tide the inhabitants over to the harvest of the crops sown in the new cycle (vv. 19–22 ). In Leviticus the seventh year seems to be primarily an agricultural observance (cf. also Ex 23:10–11 ). According to some passages, however, loans and the enslavement of Israelites were also cancelled in the seventh year (Deut 15:1–3, 12–15; Jer 34:8–16 ). If so, the seventh year would have been an integral part of the nation's life, with widespread implications for the economy. On the other hand, there seems to be a contradiction between Leviticus, which sees the year of release as the jubilee, and those other passages which ascribe release to the sabbatical year (see below). This suggests that we find two separate systems, one in which the year of release is the seventh year, and the other in which the year of release is the fiftieth. Those texts which view the seventh year as the year of release do not seem to envisage a jubilee year at all.

The existence of a sabbatical year is attested in historical sources of the Second Temple period (Grabbe 1991: 60–3). This included a rest from growing crops, at least from the time of the Maccabees (1 Macc 6:49, 53 ; Josephus, Ant. 13.7.4–8.1 §§228–35; 14.16.2 §475). We also know from actual documents found in the Judean Desert that the cancellation of debts and return of property in the seventh year was a known institution (Murabba῾at 18; 24). There is no mention of the jubilee year, however, except in literature such as the Book of Jubilees. The indication is, therefore, that the sabbatical year but not the jubilee was observed in Second Temple times. It is also reasonable to conclude that the seventh year was in some way observed in early post-exilic times, though how much further back it can be projected is a question. Whether the jubilee was ever observed is a matter of speculation.

The tithing cycle is not mentioned in Leviticus (or other P passages) but, if a sabbatical year existed, the tithes of Deut 14–15 would work only if operated on a 7-year cycle. That is, the tithe of the third year (Deut 14:28–9 ) would have to be coordinated with the seventh year, or it would sometimes fall on the sabbatical year when there was no produce on which to pay tithes. Thus, the tithe of the third year would have been paid on the third and sixth year out of the cycle rather than forming an independent 3-year cycle. On the matter of tithing in general, see Grabbe (1993: 66–72).

( 25:8–55 )

describes the jubilee which took place after seven sabbatical-year cycles. The text is somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, the jubilee might be thought to coincide with the last year of the seventh cycle (Lev 25:8 ); on the other hand, it is explicitly said to be the fiftieth year (Lev 25:10–11 ). If it was indeed the fiftieth year, it would mean two fallow years in a row, yet nothing is said about the effects of such a situation or how to cope with it. The later Jewish Book of Jubilees definitely counts a jubilee cycle of 49 years, showing that the ‘fiftieth year’ might be counted inclusively (i.e. including both the starting and finishing years in the calculation). It may be that this is what the author of Lev 25 has in mind, but the point is never clarified.

vv. 13–28 , the jubilee was also a fallow year but, according to Leviticus, it was more than this; it was a year of release (also Lev 27:16–24; Num 36:4 ). Land was to return to its original family. Agrarian land was considered an inalienable heritage granted by God and to be kept in the family in perpetuity. Therefore, the land could not be sold permanently. Any sale was viewed really as a long-term lease which reverted back to the family in the jubilee year. The sale price was determined according to the length of time to the next jubilee, so that the purchaser was really paying for the number of crops obtained before it reverted to the original owners; the less time until the jubilee, the less was paid for the property. vv. 29–34 note that town property was treated differently and could be transferred without right of repossession, after a probation year in which the seller could change his mind and redeem it. On the other hand, Levitical property was treated like agrarian land in that it would revert to the original owner at the jubilee. vv. 35–55 deal with the question of helping the poor and needy among the Israelites by necessary loans, without charging interest. It moves on to the question of debt slavery. Slavery was accepted as an institution (as, indeed, it was in the NT). Foreign slaves could be bought and sold as chattels (vv. 44–6 ), though there were laws which regulated how they were treated (e.g. Deut 21:15–17 ). But Israelites were not to be treated as slaves. If someone sold himself or his family because of debts or poverty, the person was to be treated as a hired servant. He may also redeem himself or be redeemed by a relative, the redemption price being calculated according to the number of years until the jubilee. If he is not redeemed, he and his family were allowed to go free in the jubilee year. On the question of the release of slaves and cancellation of loans, there is some contradiction between Leviticus and other passages, as already noted above. Lev 25 and Lev 27 are the only descriptions of the jubilee year.

( 26:1–46 )

is mainly composed of a list of blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, and makes a fitting end to the book. An appropriate literary closure of a book such as this is a section which demonstrates the consequences of heeding or not heeding the commands contained in it. A similar conclusion is found in Deut 28 . Such blessings and curses are well known from other ancient Near-Eastern literature. International treaties usually ended with a list of blessings and, especially, curses for disobedience (cf. McCarthy 1978: 172–87). The so-called ‘law codes’ often include a similar section. For example, the epilogue to the Code of Hammurabi spells out how the gods will punish the king in various ways for not heeding the marvellous laws which had just been listed (ANET 163–5). Probably the clearest example of an international treaty is that of Esarhaddon (Wiseman 1958; ANET 534–41). As with the list in Lev 26 , the curses tend to dominate, with the blessings listed only briefly.

vv. 1–2 at first sight seem out of place in the context of chs. 25–6 . However, they may form a connecting section between the two chapters. vv. 3–13 list the blessings for obedience which come first. There seem to be four of these, based on the formal structure (Hartley 1992 ): rain in due season (vv. 4–5 ), peace (vv. 6–8 ), fertility (vv. 9–10 ), and God's presence (vv. 11–13 ), though victory over enemies could be said to be a fifth (vv. 7–8 ), judging from the content (Porter 1976 ). vv. 14–38 give a much longer and more clearly structured section on the curses for disobedience. Five sections are marked off with the phrase, ‘If you (still) disobey, I will punish you sevenfold’ or similar words. The desire seems to be to create a crescendo effect, so that the longer the Israelites refuse to obey, the stronger becomes the punishment, multiplying sevenfold each time. This does not seem to be carried through consistently, though there is a sort of climax in the exile from the land. In fact, the individual curses seem to be listed by subject rather than according to any sense of increasing malignancy: defeat in battle (vv. 14–17 ), drought (vv. 18–20 ), wild animals (vv. 21–2 ), war, pestilence, famine (vv. 23–6 ), dire conditions and exile (vv. 27–39 ). Finally, hope is expressed for repentence and a return from captivity (vv. 39–45 ).

vv. 31–45 end the chapter with reference to an exile and return, which led many scholars to claim that this shows knowledge of the Exile of the Jews in 587/586 BCE and their return in 538. This may be a correct interpretation, but it is interesting to note that one of the traditional punishments is to have the people of the land taken captive (e.g. Codex Hammurabi, xxvi. 73–80; xxviii. 19–23). If the actual Exile is presupposed, the writer is surprisingly vague about the details; alternatively, the account of the Exile known to him was rather different from that described elsewhere in the OT. This suggests that the punishment of exile was a traditional one in such curses and not necessarily to be related to the historical situation. v. 46 forms a concluding piece. Is it the conclusion of ch. 26 only or is it a conclusion to a larger section? Its reference to ‘statutes’ (ḥuqqîm), ‘judgements’ (mišpāṭîm), and ‘laws/teachings’ (tôrôt) suggest that something larger than a chapter or even a couple of chapters is intended. Thus, this seems to be a concluding formula for the entire book (Hartley 1992: 414).

(Ch. 27 )

describes vows and tithe of livestock. It is also an important chapter about support for the priesthood. The chapter is usually seen as an appendix to the book and not part of the Holiness Code proper. The reason is that ch. 26 makes an appropriate ending with its general blessings and curses and, as noted above, 26:46 fits well as a concluding statement for the entire book. On the other hand, in the present structure of the book ch. 27 is parallel with chs. 1–7 in giving specific halakic instructions. Also, just as Deuteronomy does not end with the blessings and curses of ch. 28 , so the final editors of Leviticus may have been reluctant to end with ch. 26 . Therefore, Lev 27 may indeed be a later addition but one which the final editors regarded as appropriate and even essential.

( 27:1–29 )

Much of this chapter is devoted to the question of vows and consecration of objects and property to God. It was possible to dedicate human beings, animals, houses, and land to God. vv. 2–8 : if the dedicated object was a person, then he or she had to be redeemed by money. The valuation of the redemption money was according to age and sex and seems to be primarily economic; that is, it is according to how much the person is likely to earn by physical labour. This means that males were worth more than females of a similar age, and adults in their prime were worth more than children, youths, or the elderly. vv. 9–13 , if an animal suitable for offering had been vowed, it had to be sacrificed, with no substitution being allowed. Any attempt at substitution meant that both the original vow and the substitute became dedicated to God. However, in the case of an unclean animal no sacrifice was possible. Therefore, it had to be redeemed by its valuation plus 20 per cent. vv. 14–15 , if a house was dedicated, it could also be redeemed by paying its value plus 20 per cent. vv. 16–24 : land was valued in relation to the jubilee year. In other words, the number of harvests remaining until the jubilee was calculated and the value set according to that number. Inherited land could then be redeemed for its valuation plus 20 per cent. If the owner did not redeem the land and it was sold, however, it was no longer in his power to redeem. Instead it became priestly property. According to Deut 18:1–21 , Levites (including priests) were not to own land as individuals. Apparently, though, the temple and priesthood could own land jointly. (We know that such was the case in the Second Temple period.) Land which had been purchased (as opposed to inherited) did not belong perpetually to the purchaser but reverted to the original owner in the jubilee. Thus, if such land was consecrated, it would still go back to the owner in the jubilee, so its valuation without any addition was given to the priests.

vv. 26–7 , firstling animals belonged automatically to God. This brief mention is all that Leviticus has on the subject. Other passages of priestly instruction fill this out (Ex 13:11–15; 34:19–20; Num 18:15–18 ): all clean animals were to be offered at the altar, with the appropriate portions burned, but the rest of the meat went entirely to the priests. Unclean animals were more complicated since there seems to be more than one set of instructions. It is clear that they were normally to be redeemed, though Ex 34:20 says this was to be with a lamb, whereas Lev 27:27 states that it is by their monetary value plus 20 per cent. Similarly, if not redeemed, 27:27 says they were to be sold for their assessed value, with the money going to the temple personnel, but Ex 34:20 says the animal's neck was to be broken.

vv. 28–9 devoted things (ḥērem) belonged solely to God and were not to be made use of by man. They could not be sold or redeemed. A devoted human being was to be put to death. This last statement is puzzling because normally the human beings which belonged to God were to be redeemed. For example, the first-born were to be redeemed for money because their place was taken by the Levites (Num 3:5–13; 18:15 ). It seems unlikely that an Israelite would be allowed to devote another Israelite to God in this way. Therefore, it is unclear who the devoted person might be who would be put to death; however, there are several examples of prisoners-of-war being slain at God's orders, suggesting that this might be what was in mind (cf. Josh 10:24–7; 1 Sam 15 ).

( 27:30–3 )

speaks of the tithe of livestock. The tithe of animals is nowhere else referred to in the Pentateuch. They were to be tithed apparently by running them past and cutting out every tenth animal, regardless of whether it was good or bad. If the owner tried to substitute an animal, not only was the original tithe animal still considered as belonging to YHWH but also the substitute. The point was that no substitution was to be made. Nothing is said about how the tithe was to be used. By inference from other passages (2 Chr 31:6 ), it was to go to the priests as a part of their income. A number of questions arise. Why is not the tithe of animals referred to elsewhere in the OT (apart from 2 Chr 31:6 )? How was the tithing to be carried out? If the entire herd or flock was run by each year, the breeding stock would gradually become decimated (literally). Would it just have been the new crop of calves, kids, and lambs each time? This makes sense, but no discussion is given. Why? Is it because this was only a theoretical law which was never put into practice? Giving the first-born of each breeding animal would equal roughly 10 per cent, so how did the tithe relate to the command about the first-born? The question of how these instructions of Leviticus related to the actual situation in Israel is brought forcefully to our attention in these verses. For a further comment on the situation, see LEV E.4 above.

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