Leviticus, Book of

views updated


LEVITICUS, BOOK OF (Heb. וַיִּקְרָא; LXX Λευιτικόν leuitikon), more aptly described by its tannaitic name, Torat Kohanim, "the Priests' Manual," the third book of the Pentateuch. Leviticus is thematically an independent entity. *Exodus contains the story of the construction of the cultic implements – the Tabernacle and the priestly vestments – whereas Leviticus converts this static picture into scenes from the living cult. *Numbers, in contrast, is set chronologically during the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness and therefore concentrates upon the cultic laws of the camp in motion, e.g., the military arrangement and census of the tribes, the transport of the sancta, and their protection against encroachment. Since the latter is the main function of the Levites, it is striking that all the laws pertaining to the Levites are in Numbers and none is in Leviticus.

The "Priests' Manual" of Leviticus indeed focuses on the priests. Few laws, however, apply only to the priests (these are Lev. 8–10; 16:1–28; 21:1–22:16). The role of the priest is defined in pedagogic terms: to teach the distinctions "between the holy and profane between the pure and impure" (10:10; cf. 14:57; 15:31; Ezek. 22:26; 44:23). This the priest must do lest Israel's defilement, brought about by its moral sins and physical impurities, defile the sanctuary and cause its abandonment by God. The underlying postulate is that God will not reside in a defiled sanctuary (see *Day of Atonement). The priests are thus charged with a double task: to instruct Israel not to cause defilement and to purge the sanctuary whenever its defilement occurs. However, Leviticus is not just ritual law. On the contrary, the ethical fuses with the ritual and informs it, so that there is justification to seek a moral basis behind each ritual act.

From the point of view of literary criticism, Leviticus is relatively uncomplicated. Even though another stratum is recognized (see below, Holiness Source), it has been largely assimilated by p (see *Pentateuch). The text has been excellently preserved; the few divergences in the versions are nearly all secondary in relation to the Masoretic Text. The difficulty lies in only one area: the terminology, which deals with the cult, an ancient institution with its peculiar, conservative vocabulary whose meaning was sometimes lost upon subsequent generations.

The impact of Leviticus upon Judaism can be comprehended by realizing that nearly half (247) of the 613 commandments (Gen. R. 3:5) and about the same proportion of the material of the Talmud are based upon Leviticus. Furthermore, Leviticus was traditionally the first book taught to

1:1–7:38The sacrificial system
1:1–2General introduction.
1:3–17The whole offering ('Olah).
2:1–16The tribute (cereal) offering (minḥah).
3:1–17The well-being offering (shelamim).
4:1–35The purification offering (ḥaṭṭa't).
5:1–13Borderline cases requiring the purification offering.
5:14–26The reparation offering ('asham).
6:1–7:38Supplementary instructions on sacrifices.
8:1–10:20The inaugural service at the sanctuary
8:1–36The installation of the priests.
9:1–24The priests assume office.
10:1–11The sin of Nadab and Abihu.
10:2–20The consumption of the initiatory offerings.
11:1–16:34The laws of impurities
11:1–47Animal impurities.
12:1–8The impurity of childbirth.
13:1–14:57The impurity of skin diseases (leprosy).
15:1–33The impurity of genital discharges.
16:1–34The impurities of the sanctuary and the nation.
17:1–26:46The holiness source
17:1–16Killing for food.
18:1–20:27On being holy.
21:1–22:33The disqualifications of priests and sacrifices.
23:1–44The festivals.
25:1–26:46The Sabbatical and Jubilee Years.
27:1–34Commutation of gifts to the sanctuary

school children (Lev. R. 7:3), stemming probably from the historical fact that the priestly school preceded the lay school in origin.


Chapters 1–7: The Sacrificial System

In chapters 1–5, the sacrifices are listed from the point of the donor: chapters 1–3, the spontaneously motivated sacrifices: ʿolah, minḥah, shelamim; chapters 4–5, the sacrifices required for expiation: ḥaṭṭaʾt and ʾasham. Chapters 6–7 regroup these sacrifices in order of their sanctity and priority in the daily ritual, i.e., most sacred: ʿolah, minḥah, ḥaṭṭaʾt, ʾasham; sacred: shelamim. The common denominator of the sacrifices discussed in these chapters is that they arise in answer to an unpredictable religious or emotional need, and are thereby set off from the calendrically fixed sacrifices of the public feasts and fasts (Lev. 9, 16, 23; cf. Num. 28–29). Many prophets sharply criticized the sacrificial system when it failed to lead to a more ethical life, but their lonely isolation in this respect and the positive evidence of the folk literature make it amply clear that the people themselves were convinced that it met their spiritual needs. Chapters 1–7 will be summarized in terms of their literary structure and main ideas (see *Sacrifice, for details).

1:1–2: general introduction

The Hebrew particles for introducing general and particular statements in legal formulation indicate that chapters 1 and 3 were originally a single unit which was later split by the insertion of chapter 2. The conditional construction of 1:2a underscores the voluntary basis of the sacrifices.

1:3–17: the whole offering (ʿolah)

This is the only sacrifice which is entirely consumed on the altar (favoring the translation "whole," cf. Deut. 33:10; i Sam. 7:9; Ps. 55:21). Verses 1:3–4 encapsulate the major concepts of the sacrificial system: laying on of hands, acceptance, expiation, slaughter, blood manipulation, and entrance to the Tent of Meeting (see *Sacrifice). The donor is an active participant in the ritual; he is responsible for the presentation, hand-laying, slaughter, skinning, quartering, and washing of the animal. The priest executes the blood rite and the burning of the animal, i.e., everything which relates to the altar. The whole offering must be chosen from male, unblemished, and eligible species of the herd, flock, and birds. The ʿolah is probably the oldest and most popular sacrifice (Tosef., Zev. 13:1). Its function here is expiatory (1:4; cf. 9:7; 14:20; i Sam. 13:12; Job 1:5; 42:8); but in P, whenever it is offered by an individual, the motivation is joyful (e.g., Lev. 22:17ff.; Num. 15:1–11).

chapter 2: the tribute (cereal) offering (minḤah)

In the nonpriestly texts, it connotes both "a present made to secure or retain goodwill" (S.R. Driver; e.g., Gen. 32:20) and a tribute brought by subjects to their overlords, both human (Judg. 3:15–18) and divine, and could be either animal or vegetable (Gen. 4:3–4; i Sam. 2:17). In p, however, it is exclusively cereal, either choice flour (Lev. 2:1–3), cakes of choice flour (2:4–10), or wasted grain (2:14–16). Because leaven and honey (fruit syrup) ferment, whereas salt preserves, they were respectively proscribed and prescribed on the altar (2:11–13). The former, however, were permitted as a first fruit offering to the priest (23:17; ii Chron. 31:5). The restriction to cereal emphasizes that humans' tribute to God should be from the fruit of their labors on the soil. In daily life, however, the aspect of "appeasement" may also have been present (I Sam. 26:19). Because cereal was abundant and cheap, it became the poor man's ʿolah (Philo, Spec. 1–271; Lev. R. 8:4) and probably replaced it in popularity and function.

chapter 3: the well-being offering (shelamim)

This offering never serves as expiation. Its basic function is simply to permit the consumption of flesh. It was usually prompted by a joyous occasion, specified in 7:11ff. as: spontaneous (al-ways in a happy context, e.g., Num. 15:3; Deut. 16:10–11), votive, and thanksgiving (motivated by elation, e.g., Ps. 116:17–19). The rules are similar to those of the whole offering, except that the victims may be female but not birds. Also, being of lesser sanctity, they were not slaughtered at the altar, and portions were assigned to the priests and the donor as well as to God. The choicest internal fats (suet) were turned to smoke.

chapter 4: the purification offering (Ḥattat)

Its purpose is to remove the impurity inflicted upon the sanctuary by the inadvertent violation of prohibitive laws (but not laws against man, i.e., ethical violations). The deliberate violation of these laws is punishable by karet (Num. 15:27–31), death through divine agency. The loci of karet – all in P – specify the nature of the violations: holidays (e.g., Passover, Day of Atonement), contamination of sancta (e.g., Lev. 7:20–21), prohibited cultic acts (e.g., 17:4, 9), and illicit sex (18:29). The last mentioned is also a ritual sin: it leads to the pollution of the land (18:27–28). The procedure for the purification offering falls into two categories: 4:3–21 where the blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest, but the flesh of the victim is burned outside the camp, and 4:22–35, sins requiring cheaper animals, scaled to the social and financial status of the offender, where the blood is not brought into the sanctuary, and the flesh is not burned but must be eaten by the officiating priest (6:19; 10:17). Verses 4:3–21 comprise two cases that are really one. The first instance (4:3–12) presumes that the high priest's inadvertent error has caused harm to his people (e.g., through his negligence, Num. 18:4b–5) or has caused them to expropriate sancta (e.g., Lev. 5:14–16; 22:14–16). In the second instance (4:13–21), the community as a whole has erred – probably by blindly following the high priest's instruction – and must bring its own purification offering when the error is discovered (4:14). The individuals liable to the purification offering are the tribal chieftain (4:22–26) and the commoner (4:27–35). Whereas the ruler brings a he-goat, the commoner offers a she-goat or a she-lamb.

chapter 5:1–13: borderline cases requiring the purification offering

Rabbinic tradition distinguishes between the purification offering of chapter 4 and 5:1–13, calling the latter ʿoleh we-yored, "the scaled offering," geared to the means of the offender (not his status, as in chapter 4). This ḥaṭṭaʾt probably arises from the failure or inability to cleanse impurity immediately upon its incurrence. "The sin of which he is guilty" (5:6, 10, 13), in distinction to chapter 4, is not the contraction of impurity but its prolongation. In three out of the four given cases (5:2, 3, 4), the offender has knowingly contracted impurity or uttered an oath – acts in themselves guiltless – but a lapse of memory has caused the offender unknowingly to contaminate sancta or violate an oath. The case of 5:1, where the offender withheld testimony, may be explained by assuming either that he never entered into oath but only heard its public proclamation, thereby putting him out of the jurisdiction of the court (but not of God for having defied the imprecation) or that his reluctance to be an "informer" is considered to be inadvertent, precisely like the amnesia cases which follow (for details see *Sacrifice).

5:14–26: the reparation offering (ʾasham)

It is enjoined for trespassing (maʿal) upon the property of God or man, the latter through the use of a false oath. The sin is *desecration (Ḥillul): the sancta or the name of God have become desanctified (as opposed to the purification offering, chapter 4, where the sin is the contamination of sancta). Three cases are given: 1) 5:14–16: For inadvertent trespass of sancta, the offender pays the sanctuary an amount equal to the value of the desecrated sanctum plus a 20% fine and brings a ram, commutable into currency, for expiation. 2) 5:17–19: This case complements the preceding. Both deal with unintentional poaching upon sancta; the first real, the other suspected (so R. Akiva in Ker. 5:2). The general wording of Leviticus 5:17 makes it clear that every suspected violation is liable to the ʾasham. 3) 5:20–26: The reparation offering, which in 5:15–19 was imposed for inflicting real or suspected damage to sacred property, is now transferred to the human sphere where the Lord, through an oath, has been made a party to the defrauding of a human. Fraud, being a deliberate sin, would ordinarily be unexpiable by sacrifice. However, the offender has voluntarily confessed wrongdoing and relinquished the illicit gain. The usual penalties (e.g., Ex. 21:37; 22:6) are mitigated; and the treatment is that of an inadvertent offender: full restitution plus 20% for the material loss and a reparation offering to the Lord for desecrating His name in a lying oath are required.

chapters 6–7: supplementary instructions on sacrifices

Since the well-being offering is chiefly consumed by the donor, the rules pertain mainly to him (7:11–34; esp. 7:23, 29). Otherwise they are the concerns of the officiating priest. The subjects are: the altar fire (6:1–6); the manner and place for eating the tribute offering (6:7–11); the daily tribute offering of the high priest and the voluntary one of the ordinary priest (6:12–16); safeguards in sacrificing the purification offering (6:17–23); the ritual for the reparation offering (7:1–7, missing in chapter 5); the priestly share in the whole and tribute offerings (7:8–10); the types of well-being offering (see chapter 3, above) and their taboos (7:11–21); the prohibition against consuming suet and blood (7:22–27); the priestly share of the well-being offering, set aside by the donor (7:28–36); the summation (7:36–38). The inclusion of the consecration offering before the well-being offering suggests that a section based on Exodus 29 originally preceded 7:11.

Chapters 8–10: The Inaugural Service at the Sanctuary

This section follows logically and chronologically upon Exodus 35–40: the priests are inducted into service after the priestly vestments and the Tabernacle are completed. Not Aaron, however, but Moses dominates the scene. It is he who conducts the inaugural service, consecrates the priests, and apportions all tasks. Aaron is clearly answerable to him, as seen from their confrontation in Leviticus 10:16–20. Strikingly, the superiority of prophet over priest is insisted upon by the priestly document.

chapter 8: the installation of the priests

"To ordain you" (8:33) is literally "to fill your hands." In Scripture, this phrase is used exclusively for the ordination of priests (Ex. 32:29; Judg. 17:5, 12; i Kings 13:33), but in the archives of Mari dating from the time of Hammurapi it refers to the distribution of booty. Thus, the Hebrew idiom indicates that installation rites officially entitle the priests to their share of the revenues and sacrifices brought to the sanctuary. "As the Lord commanded Moses" concludes each phase of the ordination ceremony, a reminder that this chapter is a repetition of the instruction in Exodus 29.

chapter 9: the priests assume office

On the eighth day following the week of consecration, the priests begin their official duties. They offer up special sacrifices for the people, "that the presence of the Lord may appear" (9:6; also verses 4, 23). Indeed, the whole purpose of the sacrificial system is revelation, the assurance that God is with His people.

chapter 10:1–11: the sin of nadab and abihu

That the fire was "alien" could be debited either to the offering or the offerer. Most likely, the fire was taken from elsewhere than the altar (16:12; Num. 17:11).

chapter 10:12–20: the consumption of the initia-tory offerings

This is the continuation of chapter 9. The tribute and well-being offerings are eaten by the priests in accordance with 6:9 and 7:28–34. But the procedure for the purification offering is switched from the individual to the communal form: the disposal of blood (9:9, 15; 10:18) has been executed according to 4:30 but not the disposal of flesh which follows 4:12, rather than 6:19, and despite 6:23. The death of Nadab and Abihu has intervened. Aaron follows the more stringent procedure of destroying, rather than eating, the sacrificial meat because it has been doubly contaminated by the death and by the sin of his sons; its consumption will not be "acceptable in the sight of the Lord" and must be burned outside.

Chapters 11–16: The Laws of Impurities

An empiric knowledge of contagion must be credited to the ancient Hebrews as demonstrated in the example of washing: (1) Lustration is limited to impurities arising from animal cadavers and certain human skin diseases and fluxes, all prime sources of putrefaction and infection. (2) One who contracts the impurity from a human washes at once (antisepsis through washing is effective only the first few hours) even though the ritual impurity lasts till nightfall; the one who is afflicted is removed from camp (Num. 5:2–5) and washes only after being healed. (Lustration serves no medical purpose once infection sets in.) (3) In regard to animals, the living never transfer impurity (not so the swine in Egypt, Herodotus, 2:47). The carcass, however, must be disposed of; hence its handling is never prohibited, but one contaminated thereby must be purified with water. For details see *Purifications.

chapter 11: animal impurities

The food prohibitions are certainly older than the rationale given them. Regardless of their origin – as yet undetermined – the fact remains that no punishment befalls anyone who violates them. The laws themselves offer but one reason: holiness (Lev. 11:44–47; 20:22–26; cf. Ex. 22:30; Deut. 14:21), a word which bears the dual connotation of "sanctification" (by emulating God's nature, Lev. 11:44a) and "separation" (from the impurities of the gentiles, 20:23–26).

11:1–8: Land Animals

Compare Leviticus 11:3–4 with Deuteronomy 14:4–7, where the permitted quadrupeds are named and classified.

11:9–12: Fish

Neither the prohibited nor permitted fish are enumerated (nor in Deut. 14:9–10). Instead, they are permitted if they have both fins and scales and prohibited if they lack either.

11:13–23: Birds and Winged Insects

No classification is given for birds because none was probably known. A number of identifications are conjectural.

11:24–40: Impurity by Contact with Carcasses

This section could be an insertion from another source as it interrupts the fourfold classification (11:46) of creatures that may not be eaten. Nonporous articles are defiled by cadavers of the eight species listed in verses 29–30 and must be washed, but contaminated earthenware (porous and absorbent, 6:21) may never be refused. Food and seed grain are immune to impurity except when moist, since water is an impurity carrier.

11:41–47: Swarming Things and Summation. Continues 11:23.

chapter 12: the impurity of childbirth

Parturition marks the onset of impurity: seven days following the birth of a male and 14 days for a female during which no conjugal relations are allowed. For an additional period of 33 and 66 days, respectively, contact with sancta is proscribed. The sacrifices are brought after the defilement has passed. Ritual impurity adheres which time alone removes and whose removal is certified by rite. The latter is scaled to economic circumstances (cf. 5:7–13; 14:21–32).

chapters 13–14: the impurity of skin diseases (leprosy)

The word translated as "leprosy" actually refers to a variety of skin diseases. The noncontagious kind, described as an outbreak of dull white spots, is most likely, psoriasis. This, rather than true leprosy – Hansen's disease – is what afflicted Naaman (ii Kings 5) for he mingled freely in society. Verses 13:1–44 diagnose the various symptoms of the affliction and 13:45–46 require the incurable to put on the habiliment of a mourner and be removed outside the city (cf. Num. 5:2–5). Verses 13:47–59 describe the deterioration of garments caused probably by mildew or fungus and 14:33–53 describe the infection of houses caused by the spread of saltpeter or moss, in which quarantine procedures are also enforced. Unusual considerations for property are reflected in 14:36: the priest clears the house prior to his inspection lest the house be condemned with its contents. The ritual is described in verses 14:1–32. Three separate ceremonies are prescribed: the first day (14:2–8), the seventh (14:9), and the eighth (14:10–32). The ritual of the first day is also applied to "leprosy" of houses (14:48–53). Details are given in *Leprosy.

chapter 15: the impurity of genital discharges

This chapter is divided logically into two sections: natural discharge of men and women (15:16–18, 19–24, respectively) whose impurity is simply removed by bathing, and pathological discharges (15:2–15, 25–30, respectively), which require sacrificial expiation.

chapter 16: the impurities of the sanctuary and the nation

According to 16:1, chapter 16 follows upon the narrative of chapter 10. Thus chapters 11–15 are an insert listing the specific impurities that will contaminate the sanctuary (15:31) for which the purification ritual of chapter 16 is mandated. Verses 16:1–28 represent a fusion of two rites: the first to purge the sanctuary according to procedures administrated in 4:3–21, and the second to expiate the people for the defilement they have caused the sanctuary through the confession and transference of their sins onto a live purification offering, a goat banished to the demon *Azazel. For the ritual, see *Day of Atonement; for the process see *Atonement.

Chapters 17–26: The Holiness Source

The remainder of the Book of Leviticus consists largely of an independent code in which moral and ritual laws alternate and whose motivation is holiness (e.g., 19:2; 20:7–8, 26; 21:8, 23; 22:16, 32; 23:3, 4, 7, 21, 24, 35, 37; 25:10, 12). The beginning of the code, chapter 17, is connected thematically and verbally with preceding chapters. Chapter 26, the only composition in the book that is neither legal nor ritual in character, serves as an epilogue to the Holiness Code (Levine). Much of the language and some of the ideas in chapters 17–26 differ from the first part of Leviticus. Scholars differ about the relative dates of the P(riestly) and H(oliness) codes. (For a summary of the contents of these chapters, whose main themes follow in brief outline, see *Holiness Code.)

chapter 17: killing for food

The entire chapter (except the last two verses) is of one piece. It declares that, whosoever kills a domestic animal outside the sanctuary is guilty of murder (17:3–4). Two ends are thus achieved: sacrifice to "satyrs" is abolished (17:5–9), and expiation is assured through a ritual by which the lifeblood of animals may be returned to its creator either upon the altar (17:10–12), in the case of sacrificial animals, or by being drained and covered by earth, in the case of animals that are hunted (17:13–14; cf. Deut. 12:16). The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the context of the blood prohibition is that 17:11 has nothing to do with the expiation of general sin. The only time one runs the risk of eating blood is while consuming the shelamim (see above on ch. 3). That is why the blood prohibition occurs solely in shelamim passages (3:17; 7:26–27). However, it is the only sacrifice which plays no expiatory role (see *Atonement). The only "sin" (the word does not even occur here) is the charge of murder (17:4) levied against him who kills for food outside the Sanctuary, i.e., without properly restricting the lifeblood to God: "and I have assigned it [the shelamim blood] to you upon the altar to expiate [i.e. ransom] for your lives" when you take the animal's life for its flesh (see *Blood).

chapters 18–20: on being holy

Though these three chapters were originally independent scrolls they are thematically united: chapter 20 prescribes the penalties for the illicit relations and homicidal cult practices of chapter 18 (see 20:1–5) and the practice of divination prohibited in 19:31 (see 20:6). Moreover, this unit is framed by the identical reasoning: separation from the Canaanites, whose idolatrous and immoral practices contaminate the divinely-chosen land (18:3, 24–30; 20:22–24). The arraignment of Ezekiel 22 contains a mixture of ethical and ritual sins closely related to these chapters. The concept of negative holiness – separation from heathens – figures in these chapters. The key word in this section is kadosh (qadosh, "holy"). "Holy" (kadosh) like its polar opposite "abomination" (toʿevah) is an emotive term whose content is supplied by the particular author. Thus, Baal is kadosh to a Phoenician and toʿevah to a biblical writer. It is noteworthy that only in the Bible is holiness enjoined upon a whole people: Israel is commanded to separate itself from all defilement.

A qadosh-cluster is found in but one other context – the rules concerning the priesthood, 21:6–8. This fact is significant. This biblical ideal is that all Israel shall be "a kingdom of priests and a holy [qadosh] nation" (Ex. 19:6). If Israel is to move up to a higher sphere of holiness, it is enjoined to observe a more rigid code of behavior than that allegedly practiced by the nations, just as the priest lives by more stringent standards than his fellow Israelites. Holiness, then, implies separation and is so defined in Leviticus 20:26. The positive aspect of holiness is discussed in chapter 19.

Chapter 18: Illicit Sexual Relations

This chapter is encased by an introduction and peroration (18:1–5, 24–30) which castigate the Egyptians and the Canaanites for the depravity of their sexual mores. Contemporary readers should not take the chapter as an objective description of Canaanite and Egyptian practices, though no doubt any number of Egyptians and Canaanites (and Israelites) practiced adultery, incest, bestiality, and homosexuality. Instead, it is a caricature accusing the gentiles of legislating ḥukkot ha-toʿevot (18:30; "the abominable laws"). The message of the caricature is to motivate Israelites to abstain from such behavior, which is punishable in Israel by death (cf. 20:11–16), as was similar behavior in the greater ancient Near Eastern world. H (the Holiness Code) is the only source which proclaims the sanctity of the land of Canaan, a doctrine that explains the equal responsibility of both resident Israelites and strangers to maintain its sanctity (18:27; 20:2; and comment on 24:15–22) as well as the moral justification for its conquest (18:27–28; 20:22–23). But Israel's ideological sword is two-edged: if guilty of the same infractions, it, too, will be "vomited out."

Another presupposition of the chapter – one shared by the entire Torah literature – is that all peoples are held accountable for gross immorality (Gen. 6:11; 9:5–6; 15:16; 18:1–19:38, etc.). Moreover, though astral worship is allowed them (e.g., Deut. 4:19), *Moloch worship is emphatically proscribed (Lev. 18:21; 20:1–5). It is the only idolatrous practice explicitly listed. Leviticus 18:6–18 is concerned with incest. In the cases cited, affinity has the same force as consanguinity. In marriage, each partner transfers his set of incest taboos to the other. Verses 19–23 enumerate sexual aberrations; they transmit "impurity" to the offender and to the land (18:24–30), and must be excised.

Chapter 19: Imitatio Dei – Positive Holiness

For Israel, holy is that which is "unapproachable" and "withdrawn." It is also a positive concept, an inspiration and a goal associated with God's nature and his desire for humans: "You shall be holy, for I… am holy" (19:2). Holiness means imitatio dei – the life of godliness.

How can humans imitate God? The answer of Leviticus 19 is given in a series of ethical and ritual commands; no distinction is made between them. Similarly, in the entire ancient Near East, morality is inseparable from religion (for Egypt, Pritchard, Texts, 34–35; for Babylonia, Šurpu, 2). The Holiness Code encompasses the Decalogue (1–5 in 19:3–8; 6–10 in 19:9–22; cf. Lev. R. 24:5) and commands all Israelites to love citizens (19:18) and aliens (19:34) alike. This leveling of society stems partly from the sanctity which, for p, God's land imposes upon all its inhabitants (comment, above, on ch. 18). But, there is more. The law of love is no verbal ideal. It must be expressed in deeds; equality in justice, civil (20:12; 24:16, 22; Num. 35:15) and religious (Lev. 16:29; 17:15; Ex. 12:19; 49; Num. 9:14 – all p); and equality in mercy, e.g., free loans (Lev. 25:35–58; cf. Deut. 10:18) and free gleanings (Lev. 19:9–10; cf. Deut. 24:19–22). Moreover, that the law of love may be implemented, the vitiating components in the nature of man, callousness (Lev. 19:14, 33) and hatred (19:16–18), are also proscribed.

Chapter 20: Penalties for Certain Infractions in Chapters 18–19

Illicit sex relations are graded according to the severity of the punishment: verses 9–16 death by human agency, verses 17–19 death by God (karet), verses 20–21 childlessness. Missing are marriages with a stepsister, grandchildren, and two sisters (18:9, 10, 18), but these are marginal cases. Of the varieties of practices associated with other divinities, only Moloch worship and oracles through mediums are singled out, the former because of its monstrousness (see *Moloch) and the latter because of its prevalence (Deut. 18:9–12; i Sam. 28:9; Isa. 8:19).

chapters 21–22: the disqualifications of priests and sacrifices

The priest, ranking highest in human holiness, could enter the sanctuary to handle its objects and eat of its gifts. These privileges had commensurate restrictions, especially for the high priest. They were intended as safeguards against moral and ritual defilement which might inflict dire consequences on him and his people (22:9, 15–16; cf. 4:3; 15:31). These restrictions pertain to death and marriage (21:1–15), to physical blemishes of officiants and sacrifices (21:16–24; 22:17–33), and to the eating of the sacred food (22:1–9, 10–16).

chapter 23: the festivals

p's listing of the festivals is distinguished from that of je (Ex. 23:14–17; 34:21–23) and D (Deut. 16) in its emphasis on natural and agricultural data: the Feast of Unleavened Bread starts and the Feast of Weeks closes the grain harvest, and the Feast of Booths follows the "ingathering" and is celebrated by the use of branches.

chapter 24: miscellanea

24:1–4: The Lamp Oil

A repetition of Exodus 27:20–21, except that the latter command is set in the future. Since the lampstand stood inside the Sanctuary building, its greater sanctity required pure oil and that it be lighted by the high priest (Ex. 30:7–8; Num 8:1–4; "sons" in Ex. 27:21 is a probable error). The lampstand is described in Exodus 25:31–40 and Numbers 8:1–4.

24:5–9: The Shewbread

Twelve wheat loaves, symbols of God's covenant with the twelve tribes, were set in two rows of six on the table which stood before the Holy of Holies. Being of the inner sancta, like the lampstand above, it was tended only by the high priest. Each Sabbath he renewed the loaves and offered up the incense placed at their side (24:7) together with the daily incense (Ex. 30:7–8) upon the golden *altar. Both incense offerings, like the oil above, called for pure *frankincense (Lev. 24:7; Ex. 30:34), again for the same reason (Lev. 2:2, 15). The shewbread is called a fire offering (24:9) because originally, as ancient Near Eastern parallels indicate, it was entirely consumed by fire.

24:10–14, 23: The Law of Blasphemy

The law is introduced by a case. Blasphemy means more than speaking contemptuously of God, for which there is no stated penalty (Ex. 22:27). It must involve the additional offense of uttering the Tetragrammaton (because of the derogatory context it is called "the Name," cf. ii Sam. 12:14; Job 2:9 for other euphemisms), and it is the combination of the two (24:15–16) that warrants the death penalty. The Tetragrammaton's power affects not only the speaker but his hearers; their contamination is literally transferred back to the blasphemer by the ritual of the laying on of hands.

24:15–22: An Appendage of Civil Damage Laws

It begins with the law of blasphemy and culminates in the equalization of the resident alien and citizen before the law – an unmistakable hallmark of P (Ex. 12:49; Num. 15:15–16, 29). In this pericope, the inclusion of the stranger is even more significant: his equality applies to civil as well as religious law (see comment on chapter 18 for P's motivation). That lex talionis (Ex. 21:23–25; Deut. 19:21) was extended to the stranger is one of the great moral achievements of P's legislation. Not only is every distinction eradicated between the powerful and the helpless but even between the Israelite and the non-Israelite. The interpolation of these civil statutes with their emphasis upon the resident alien is due to the legal status of the half-Israelite offender.

chapter 25: the sabbatical and jubilee years

25:1–7: The Sabbatical Year

Each seventh year is a Sabbath of liberating rest for Israelite slaves (Ex. 21:2–6; Deut. 15:12–18), debtors (Deut. 15:1–11), and the land (Ex. 23:10–11). In p, this "full" Sabbatical is reserved for the Jubilee, whereas the seventh year Sabbatical applies only to the land. For details consult *Sabbatical Year.

25:8–34: The Jubilee Year

At the sound of the shofar – Jubilee means (horn of a) ram (25:10; Josh. 6:4) – a year of emancipation is proclaimed. Land must lie fallow, landed property (except for town houses) is restored to its original owner, and all Israelite slaves are set free. The basis for the Jubilee is clearly stated: Israel and the land belong solely to God (comment on ch. 18); neither can be owned in perpetuity. Thus, absolute ownership of property is abolished: humans and land may be leased, not sold.

25:35–55: Indebtedness and the Jubilee

A defaulting Israelite debtor distrained by an Israelite creditor (perhaps with his family, 25:41, 54) is neither charged interest for his room and board, verses 35–38; nor treated as a slave if forced to enslave himself (until the Jubilee), verses 39–46; and should be redeemed if enslaved to an alien creditor, verses 47–55. The language and terminology of this pericope are paralleled in Old and Middle Babylonian laws (18th–17th century Alalakh and 15th–14th century Nuzi, respectively).

chapter 26: the concluding exhortation

In form and function, the Epilogue to the Holiness Code finds its counterpart in Deuteronomy 28–30. It may be divided in three sections: (1) the Blessing (vss. 3–13); (2); the threats and penalties for violation (vss. 14–45); (3); the Postscript (vs. 46), which serves as a conclusion to the entire Holiness Code.

Chapter 27: Commutation of Gifts to the Sanctuary

The following gifts are discussed: persons (27:1–8), animals (27:9–13), houses (27:14–15), land (27:16–25), firstlings (27:26–27), "devoted" things (27:28–29), and tithes (27:30–33). The commutability of sacred gifts is an ancient practice (comment on the ʾasham, 5:15) underscored throughout this chapter by technical language (e.g., 27:2, 3, 12). The commutation of vows of persons is taken for granted as an established practice in ii Kings 12:5. Certainly, the *Ḥerem, in its meaning of death to persons (Lev. 27:29), bespeaks an early provenance. Indeed, although Leviticus in its present form is a product of the post-exilic period, in keeping with the conservative nature of cultic activity in general, the book preserves much ancient material.


COMMENTARIES: S.R. Driver (Eng., 1898); D. Hoffmann (Ger., 1905–06; Heb., 1953); M. Noth (Eng., 1965); K. Elliger (Ger., 1966); N. Snaith (Eng., 1967). date: Y. Kaufmann, in: zaw, 48 (1930), 23–43; 51 (1933), 35–47; idem, in: vt, 4 (1954), 307–13; H.L. Ginsberg, in: Commentary, 10 (1950), 282ff.; M. Greenberg, in: jaos, 70 (1950), 41–47; E.A. Speiser, in: Y. Kaufmann Jubilee Volume (1960), 29–45 (Eng. sect.); D. Lieber, in: Jewish Education, 34 (1963), 254–61; J.G. Vink, The Date of the Priestly Code in the Old Testament (1969), includes comprehensive bibliography. add. bibliography: B. Levine, in: J. Neusner et al. (eds.), Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel (1987), 9–34; The jps Torah Commentary Leviticus (1989); idem, abd, 4:311–21; J. Milgrom, Leviticus 116 (ab; 1991); idem, Leviticus 1722 (2000); idem, Leviticus 2327 (2001); idem, J. Hartley, Word Biblical Commentary Leviticus (1992), extensive bibliography; R. Gane, dbi, 2:54–59.

[Jacob Milgrom /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]