Skip to main content

Holiness Code

HOLINESS CODE

HOLINESS CODE , the name designating the collection of laws in Leviticus 17–26, which – according to the classical documentary hypothesis – constitutes a particular division within the so-called Priestly Source (p). One of the characteristics of the Holiness Code is the demand that Israel be holy and thereby imitate the Lord their God. Some dozen times and in several different formulations it contains the call: "You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy" (likewise: "Sanctify yourselves and be holy," or "You shall be holy to me, for I am the Lord who sanctifies you," and the like). The idea that it is obligatory for Israel to consecrate itself to God is found also in a few other places in the Pentateuch (Ex. 19:6; 22:30; Deut. 14:2, 21), but the above-mentioned call, in its typical form, occurs only in this collection, distinguishing it from the other parts of the Pentateuch. Therefore, A. Klosterman who first observed the singularity of this code, as well as its relation to Ezekiel, in 1877, gave it the epithet Heiligkeitsgesetz (Holiness Code) and the symbol h was assigned to it.

Characteristic Features

The singularity of h is discernible also in its structure and style. Except for the fact that it does not have a special heading, its structure is parallel to that of the *Book of the Covenant (Ex. 20:21–23:33) and the collection of laws of *Deuteronomy (Deut. 12–28). Like these two codes, h opens with a discussion of the proper place for making sacrifices and the legitimate form of eating meat (Lev. 17), and ends with admonitions and warnings to Israel to observe the laws contained therein (Lev. 26:3–45). The conclusion of h (Lev. 26:46) is similar to that of the Deuteronomic code (Deut. 28:69). This conclusion is repeated with minor variations in Leviticus 27:34, and it appears indeed that Leviticus 27 is a kind of appendix to the Holiness Code. The style of h is generally close to that of P, though it has certain features of its own. The style of the book of Ezekiel is close to that of p and of h, but its connection with h is much stronger than to the other parts of P. Ezekiel often enumerates a number of laws in the same order as the lists of h and the similarities in Ezekiel to the admonitions at the end of h are numerous. Characteristic of h are several phrases that do not occur, or occur only rarely, in the other parts of P, and which appear again, some of them rarely, others often, in the prophecies of Ezekiel. An example of such a phrase is: "I am the Lord," a typical conclusion to the presentation of a law, or a list of laws, which appears sometimes in conjunction with a few words before ("For holy am I the Lord") or after it ("Your God" "Who sanctifies you," "Who sanctifies them," and the like). Similarly, the following expressions are common in h: ʾish ʾish "whatsoever man there be" (sometimes with the added words "from the House of Israel"), an introductory formula to a law of warning; ve-natatti panai ba (we-natatti panai ba-), "And I shall set my face against so-and-so"; ve-hikhratti oto mi-kerev ammo (we-hikhratti ʾoto mi-qerev ʿammo), "And I shall cut him off from the midst of his people" (but in P's style always: ve-nikhrat me-ammav (we-nikhrat me-ʿammaw), "And he shall be cut off from his people"); ḥukkotai u-mishpatai (ḥuqqotai u-mishpatai), "My statutes and ordinances"; ve-yareta me-Elohekha (we-yareʾta me-ʾElohekha). "And you shall fear your God"; demehem bam, "Their blood will be upon them." Similarly, the code is characterized by the use of the following idioms: ʿamit, "neighbor," "fellow-man"; she'er meaning a relative; shabbetotai, "my sabbaths" (in the plural declined in the first person); leḥem Elohav (leḥem ʾElohaw) "the bread of his God," as an epithet for sacrifice, and others. All the laws of h concern everyday affairs of the Israelite community and individual. In this respect, h serves as a collection of the civil, "secular" laws of p, and its content is different from the rest of the sections of the source, which all concern the cultic ceremonies themselves and problems of ritual impurity. There are also cultic laws in h, but they are presented mainly from the point of view of the life of the citizen. The text is not interested in them so much from a ritualistic point of view as from the point of view of the daily needs of the Israelites: how they will eat meat and where they will bring their sacrifices (Lev. 17); how long they may eat the meat of the peace offering after they have offered the sacrifice (19:5–8); which animals they will pick for the sacrifice (22:17–30); and the like. Even the laws concerning the priests are dealt with in h from the point of view of the everyday life of the priest as "citizen": how he should behave in his mourning and from which women he may choose a wife (21:1–15); no one with a blemish may serve as priest (21:16–24); how he should consume the holy gifts given him by the Children of Israel (22:1–13); and the like. Moreover, even the matters of the oil for the lighting of the Temple (24:1–4) and the showbread (24:5–9) are referred to in h only because Israel is obliged always to supply oil and fine flour in order to fulfill these two ritual activities in the sanctuary, as is hinted in the text (24:2: "Command the Children of Israel that they bring unto you…" and 24:8: "From the Children of Israel…"). Since h contains the civil or secular legislation within p there are in it several points of similarity to the Book of the Covenant; at any rate, of all parts of p it is the closest in its content and character to the Book of the Covenant. In h, as in the Book of the Covenant, there are many short apodictic laws (given without reasons), as well as casuistic laws. There are in the two collections a number of parallel laws, such as the lex talionis (Ex. 21:23–25; Lev. 24:19–20). In addition, in h the conditions of life in the land of Canaan are reflected, whereas in p the matters are discussed against the background of the camp in the wilderness. In a number of sections of h the agricultural mode of life is explicitly mentioned and the importance of husbandry as an expression of religious life is emphasized (this quality isalso representative of the appendix, Lev. 27). Again, h is the only part of the p source in which the threat that Israel would be uprooted from its land is found (Lev. 18:28; 20:22; 26:32; 41). Such a threat appears in the Pentateuch again only in the warning of Deuteronomy (Deut. 28:36–37, 63–68).

Priestly Editing

Before turning to more recent views (see below) it is useful to outline what had been generally accepted. The character of the material embedded in h is composite in part, because in its present form it is found in a priestly garb. While scholars are divided in distinguishing the exact extent of the priestly element in these chapters, the great majority agree about the existence of this element in h in its present form. Signs of the priestly pen are discernible in chapter 17. There are those who claim that such signs are also discernible in chapters 21–22 and 25. Obvious signs of the priestly source are recognizable in chapters 23–24. Moreover, in the latter chapters the relation between the basic elements has changed so that passages that originally belonged to h have been incorporated into p pericopes (likewise, signs of p stand out clearly in the appended chapter, 27). Consequently, it would seem that h has not been preserved in its original form, for the priestly scribes who incorporated it into p made certain changes in it. In several portions the priestly scribes apparently made only minor changes, whereas in others they went so far as to set down portions of their own in which they incorporated only fragments from H. Nevertheless, the priestly scribes preserved the general pattern of h and did not change much in its original order, for, despite the priestly editing and the fragmentation of the body of the code in several places, it still remains a unified collection of laws, whose structure resembles the structures of the other law codes in the Pentateuch. In contrast, traces of the special style of h are found in several places in p outside Lev. 17–26. Such traces are recognizable in the pericope dealing with the impurity of animals (Lev. 11; see verses 43–45), the passage dealing with fringes (Num. 15:37–41), and one of the passages dealing with the Sabbath (Ex. 31:12–17). Some scholars assert that these pericopes and passages, in whole or in part, primarily belonged to h and were subsequently removed from it (Kuenen, Dillmann, Baentsch, Eissfeldt, et al.). It should be noted that these passages deal with civil matters and pertain to the everyday activities of the Israelite, as do the commandments collected within the Holiness Code.

Content

The Holiness Code is divided into sections, each of which is devoted to a specific subject, or to several subjects, and constitutes in itself a literary-rhetorical unit. Every section is divided into internal paragraphs and generally opens with an introductory formula and ends with a concluding formula. It appears that originally each of these sections constituted an individual tablet or tiny scroll and the general composition was made by joining together a series of such tablets. Such a mode of literary consolidation is characteristic of p in general and was probably also used in the original composition of h. The Holiness Code in its priestly edition contains the following sections:

1. Laws concerning sacrifices and the legitimate form of eating meat (chapter 17). This section is divided into the following paragraphs: Introduction (17:1–2); the prohibition of non-sacrificial slaughter (17:3–7); the obligation to offer every sacrifice only at the Tent of Meeting (17:8–9); the prohibition of eating blood and the obligation to sprinkle it on the altar (17:10–12); the obligation to pour out the blood of game animals and birds and cover it with dust (17:13–14); the prohibition of eating animals that died a natural death or were torn apart by beasts (17:15–16).

2. A series of prohibitions concerning sexual intercourse and sexual abominations (chapter 18), between which the prohibition of sacrificing children to Moloch (18:21) is inserted. The series of prohibitions is set between a rhetorical introduction (18:1–5) and a conclusion (18:24–30).

3. A collection of ethical and ritual laws (chapter 19) opening with an introductory section (19:1–2). The laws are arranged in groups and many of them have parallels in the Ten Commandments, the Book of the Covenant, and Deuteronomy. Most of the groups close with the expressions "I am the Lord," "I am the Lord your God." The words: "Who brought you out of the land of Egypt" (19:36) appear at the conclusion of the whole collection, followed by an additional warning (19:37).

4. A list of prohibitions concerning sexual intercourse and sexual abominations (chapter 20), parallel to chapter 18. This series is also set between an introductory (20:1–8) and concluding formula (20:22–26). In this section, however, the prohibition of sacrificing to Moloch is part of the introduction (20:2–5). In addition, there are in this section prohibitions concerning mediums and wizards – both in the body of the introduction (20:6) and in one verse (27), which apparently became separated from the principal series and emerged at the end of the chapter. The conclusions of the two chapters (18 and 20) are also similar in content and theme.

5. Laws concerning priests and sacrifices (chapters 21–22), which include: listings of those relatives for whom the priest is allowed to defile himself, prohibitions concerning mourning and enumeration of the types of women whom the priest is forbidden to marry (21:1–15); a law forbidding a blemished priest from officiating (21:16–24); laws concerning the eating of sacrifices of minor grade (22:1–16); a law forbidding the bringing of blemished animals for sacrifices (22:17–25); additional laws concerning sacrifices (22:26–30); conclusion (22:31–33).

6. A list of the days of the year that are to be made holy convocations (chapter 23). While enumerating these days the text explains how one is to observe them; however, it is interested principally in listing the days themselves. (In this respect, this section is different from another section in p (Num. 28–29) whose main interest is the listing of sacrifices to be offered on the days that are holy convocations.) The Sabbath is enumerated at the beginning of the list, but the scribe meant to list especially those days that do not recur in the same year, and, therefore, he repeated the introductory formula (23:4) after mentioning the Sabbath (23:3). These are the days: the first and seventh of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, the first and tenth of the seventh month, the first of the Feast of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day of Assembly – altogether, seven days of holy convocation in the year, besides the Sabbath. In connection with the account of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the priestly scribe includes a passage from the original h (23:9–22) that deals with the waving of the sheaf ('Omer), the Feast of Weeks, and the counting of the 49 days in order to establish the date of the holiday.

7. A priestly section (chapter 24) dealing with three matters: The oil for the lighting of the Temple (24:1–4), the showbread (24:5–9); and a story, accompanied by a legal conclusion, of a man in the camp who cursed the Name (24:10–23). The group of laws that are incorporated into this story (24:16–22) was probably taken by the priestly scribe from H (note the ending there, verse 22: "For I am the Lord your God").

8. Laws concerning the sabbatical year and jubilee and matters connected with them (chapter 25), consisting of the following sections: The sabbath of the land (25:1–7); the jubilee year (25:8–17); laws concerning warnings to be fastidious in the observance of these two laws (25:18–24); laws concerning the system of calculating the price of land in order to redeem it before the jubilee (25:25–28); laws of redemption and jubilee for houses (25:29–34); laws prohibiting the charging of interest (25:35–38); laws concerning the freeing of Israelite slaves in the jubilee (25:39–46); and the obligation to try to redeem them even before the jubilee (25:47–55).

9. Two small groups of laws similar to those found in chapter 19 (26:1–2), which have close parallels to the beginning of that chapter (19:3–4; see also 19:30). This section seems to be a fragment from some scroll or the beginning of a collection of laws similar to chapter 19.

10. Admonitions and warnings that serve as a conclusion to the collection of laws (26:3–46). These are divided into promises of blessing (verses 3–13) and a series of threats (verses 14–46).

Date of Composition

There are a few indications that the writing of h was not original, and that several literary compilations of legal material preceded it and were incorporated into it. One indication of this is the two parallel chapters 18 and 20, which are related to each other in content, theme, and even in structure. If it is assumed that both of them were composed by the same scribe, there is the problem of why the scribe would deal with the same material twice. It would be much simpler to assume that these are separate compilations of common legal material and that the writer of h used both of them in his code. This thesis is further confirmed in that several laws appear in H more than once, an indication that they were included in different scrolls e.g., 19:30 and 26:2; 19:31 and 20:6. However, this legal material did not necessarily originate even in those literary compilations which preceded h. Sometimes these literary compilations were preceded by oral traditions, by means of which legal materials were transmitted from an early period. There are then two aspects to the problem of the dating of h: its date as a specially individualized collection of laws (or the time of the earlier literary compositions that were incorporated into it) and the time of the origin of the legal material itself. The legal material is not equally ancient, but, like the rest of the pentateuchal law codes, it has very early elements, some of which go back even to remote periods.

Most scholars maintain that h definitely preceded P. In this view it was the priestly scribes who arranged h as it now appears in the Pentateuch and absorbed it into their larger composition. More recently, Knohl has argued that h represents a late level of Priestly material attributable to a Holiness School (hs), which was responsible for the final recension of the earlier Priestly material, to which he refers as Priestly Torah (pt). In pt the festivals were not related to agriculture and were severed from their historical contexts. Nor were the rituals designed with human welfare in mind. The Sabbath in pt was marginal and its prohibition on labor unmentioned. It was hs which added the human dimension and raised the status of the Sabbath. In addition, Knohl maintains that the work of hs extends considerably beyond Leviticus 17–26. Indeed, Knohl argues that hs is responsible for the final editing of the Torah, including the addition of Deuteronomy. According to him, the work of hs began in the eighth century b.c.e. and extended into the post-Exilic period.

While some of Knohl's dating of both pt and hs can be challenged as too early, certainly a hint of the beginnings of the activity of hs can be found in the law forbidding the sacrificing of children to Moloch (18:21; 20:1–5). This ritual spread in Israel in the days of Ahaz (ii Kings 16:3; cf. Isa. 30:33) and Manasseh (ii Kings 21:6). Josiah, however, desecrated the Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, where people passed their children through fire (ii Kings 23:10). Consequently, the earliest work of hs appears to have preceded Josiah. Another hint of the ultimate origins of h can be found in the prohibition of the medium and the wizard (Lev. 19:31; 20:6, 27). These existed in Israel during the monarchy (i Sam. 28:3, 7–25), became widespread in the days of Ahaz (cf. Isa. 8:19; 19:3; 29:4) and Manasseh (ii Kings 21:6), and were finally uprooted in Josiah's reforms (ii Kings 23:24). One may claim that these prohibitions provide evidence only for the dating of the specific scrolls from which they were taken (chaps. 18 and 20), i.e., those same literary compositions that preceded h. Nevertheless, it seems that the kernel of hs and, consequently, of the Holiness Code also preceded the destruction of the first Temple.

See also *Ezekiel, *Leviticus, and *Pentateuch.

bibliography:

A. Klostermann, in: Zeitschrift für die gesamte Lutherische Theologie und Kirche, 38 (1877), 401–5 (= Der Pentateuch, 1 (1893), 368–418); L. Horst, Leviticus xviixxvi und Ezekiel (1881); P. Wurster, in: zaw, 4 (1884), 112–33; A. Kuenen, Historisch-kritische Einleitung in die Bücher des Alten Testaments, 1 (1887), 84–88, 254–6, 236–75; B. Baentsch, Das Heiligkeits-Gesetz (1893); L.B. Paton, in: jbl, 16 (1897), 31–77; 17 (1898), 149–75; 18 (1899), 35–60; J. Wellhausen, Die Composition des Hexateuchs (18993), 149–72; D. Hoffman, Die wichtigsten Instanzen gegen die Graf-Wellhausensche Hypothese, 1 (1904), 16–30; Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 1 (1937), 76, 113–4, 127–8; G. von Rad, Deuteronomium-Studien (19482), 16–24; K. Rabast, Das apodiktische Recht im Deuteronomium und im Heiligkeitsgesetz (1948); G. Fohrer, Die Hauptprobleme des Buches Ezechiel (1952), 144–8; W. Kornfeld, Studien zum Heiligkeitsgesetz (1952); J. Morgenstern, in: huca, 26 (1955), 1–27; K. Elliger, in: zaw, 67 (1955), 1–25; idem, Leviticus (Ger., 1966), 14–20; L.E. Elliot-Binns, ibid., 26–40; H. Graf Reventlow, Das Heiligkeitsgesetz formgeschichtlich untersucht (1961); R. Kilian, Literarkritische und formgeschichtliche Untersuchung des Heiligkeitsgesetzes (1963); Ch. Feucht, Untersuchungen zum Heiligkeitsgesetz (1964); O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (1965), 233–9; E. Sellin and G. Fohrer, Einleitung in das Alte Testament (196510), 150–5; M. Haran, in: em, 5 (1968), 1093–99. add. bibliography: B. Levine, in: J. Neusner et al. (eds.), Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel (1987), 9–34; I. Knohl, in: huca, 58 (1987), 65–117; idem, Sanctuary of Silence (1995); A. Cooper and B. Goldstein, in: jaos, 110 (1990), 19–31; h. Sun, in: abd, 3:254–57 (detailed history of interpretation); J. Milgrom, Leviticus 2327 (2001); D. Wright, in: Interpretation, 53 (1999), 351–64; R. Levitt, A New Heart and a New Soul: Ezekiel, the Exile and the Torah (2002).

[Menahem Haran /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Holiness Code." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Holiness Code." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/holiness-code

"Holiness Code." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved November 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/holiness-code

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.