Holiness, Law of
HOLINESS, LAW OF
The body of legislation comprising ch. 17 to 26 of the Book of leviticus was named the Law of Holiness (Heiligkeitsgesetz ) by A. Klostermann in 1877. Though it is rooted in Israelite priestly circles and manifests many traits of the Priestercodex (see priestly writers, pen tateuchal), the Law of Holiness has its own distinctive features setting it off from the rest of the Book of Leviticus. The division, the characteristic, and the laws of the Holiness Code are considered in this article.
Division. Like the Covenant (Ex 20.22–23.19) and Deuteronomic (Dt 12–26) Codes, the Code of Holiness has an initial section on sacrifice (Lv 17) and an exhortatory conclusion (26). Regulations regarding moral (18–20) and ritual (21) sanctity, especially as related to sacrifice (22) and festival observance (23), are followed by additional rubrical and moral considerations (24) and by a treatment of the holy years and their social ramifications (25).
Characteristic of the Law of Holiness. The code's most singular characteristic is its stress on holiness. In its original sense of separation or detachment, holiness is proper first to Yahweh, the One utterly transcendent or "wholly other," set apart from the world of men [see holi ness (in the bible)]. His sacred character is to be respected (22.32) and imitated (20.7, 26; 21.6) by His chosen people. In the exodus from Egypt, Yahweh has separated (sanctified) the Israelites and He always remains the cause of whatever holiness they possess (20.8;21.15; 22.33). Their election requires that they be completely divorced from the profane or unseemly by the preservation of ritual cleanness and moral rectitude. In this way Israel is to mirror the "otherness" of the Lord.
Laws. Many of the laws in the Holiness Code are of ancient vintage, existing originally in separate form or in small collections as decisions of priests who were attached to one or more sanctuaries. These were preserved and eventually edited by members of the Jerusalem clergy at a date best identified with the final years of the monarchy.
Because of the variety of its laws, the contents of the code do not lend themselves to summarization. The laws in ch. 17, motivated by respect for blood and the desire to eliminate or forestall idolatrous practice, require that all animal slaughter, properly sacrificial or not, be done in the temple area.
The moral laws and sanctions of ch. 18–20 protect the sacredness of the lifegiving act by forbidding sexual commerce within determined degrees of consanguinity and affinity, as well as other forms of promiscuity. The miscellaneous laws in ch. 19 concern worship, justice, chastity, and charity. The mainly ritual content of ch. 21–22 prohibits uncleanness among the priests, lists the norms by which their wives are chosen, excludes from priestly functions those with physical defects, restricts participation in the sacrificial meal, and specifies unacceptable animal offerings.
In its original pre-Exilic form, the liturgical calendar of ch. 23 lists only the three great pilgrimage feasts: the Feast of the passover, which was held in connection with the Feast of the Unleavened Bread; the Feast of Weeks; and the Feast of booths (Tabernacles). The later additions, which perhaps contain some ancient elements, concern: the sabbath, The Feast of the First Sheaf, the Feast of the New Year, the Day of atonement (Yom Kippur), and a different ritual for the Feast of Booths.
Ritual and moral directives are found in ch. 24: care of the sanctuary light and showbread, blasphemy and its punishment, and the law of retaliation. The Holy Years are treated in ch. 25 (the sabbath year occurred every 7th year during which the land lay fallow). The jubilee year, which occurred every 50th year, was marked by the repossession of ancestral property, remission of debts, and liberation of slaves, in addition to the regular Sabbatical observance.
The curses and blessings concluding the Code in ch. 26 are strikingly similar to those that terminate the Law of Deuteronomy (Dt 28).
Bibliography: s. r. driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (11th ed. rev. and enl. New York 1905; Meridian Book, 1956) 47–59. w. kornfeld, Studien zum Heiligkeitsgesetz (Vienna 1952).
[r. j. faley]