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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 11

 

 


Verses 1-34


(Leviticus 11-16) The Law of Clean and Unclean

This section deals with the subject of ceremonial uncleanness and the method of its purification. Four main types of uncleanness are referred to, viz. that of meats (Leviticus 11:1-23), of carcases (Leviticus 11:24), of leprosy (Leviticus 13, 14), and of certain bodily functions and conditions (Leviticus 12, 15). The effect of ceremonial uncleanness is that it disqualifies a person for the worship of God. Its duration varies according to the cause, from a few hours, as in the case of touching the carcase of a clean beast (Leviticus 11:39), to eighty days, as in the case of a woman who has given birth to a girl (Leviticus 12:5). The ritual of purification consists of washing the body, sometimes also the clothes, and in the case of greater defilement, the offering of sacrifice.

The distinction of clean and unclean did not originate at the time of Moses, nor is it confined to the Hebrews. It is to be found in all religions, particularly in their earlier stages. It is not easy to account for it. The restrictions may be due to a natural instinct of aversion from disgusting objects and conditions. Or they may rest upon reasons of health; for undoubtedly many of them possess sanitary advantages. Or, as many believe, a religious idea may lie at the root of them, certain objects being regarded as the seat of evil spirits. Whatever be the origin of these regulations, they were adopted by Moses and made to subserve a sacred purpose. Things ceremonially unclean were used as types of moral defilement. The outward purifications served to impress upon the hearts of the people the need of absolute purity in the service of Jehovah. They were a constant reminder of the precept, 'Ye shall be holy; for I am holy' (see e.g. Leviticus 11:44-45). And if it be the fact that at least some of the 'unclean' animals were worshipped by the Canaanitish tribes, then these regulations served still further to guard the people of Jehovah from the contaminating influences of their surroundings: see Leviticus 20:25, Leviticus 20:26.


Verses 1-47


Law of Clean and Unclean Meats

The animals whose flesh may or may not be eaten are treated in four classes, viz. large land animals (Leviticus 11:3-8), water animals (Leviticus 11:9-12), birds (Leviticus 11:13-19), winged creeping things (Leviticus 11:20-23).

3. Of the large land animals, those are clean which both chew the cud and divide the hoof. Unless they satisfy both these conditions they are unclean and cannot be eaten. The practical effect of this is to exclude all of prey. The flesh of animals that chew the cud is undoubtedly more wholesome than that of those which live on prey. With this list of animals should be compared that in Deuteronomy 14, where a list of clean animals is given.

4. The camel's foot, though divided above, is united beneath into a broad sole.

5. Coney] The word means a rabbit. But the animal meant here is the rock-badger, which somewhat resembles a guinea-pig, and is common in Palestine.

6. The hare does not really chew the cud, but the action of its jaws resembles that of ruminants.

7. Swine are uncleanly in their habits and food, and the use of their flesh is believed to be the cause of certain diseases in man. The Jews still abstain from eating it.

8. All dead bodies defile. But it should be observed that contact with a living unclean animal did not defile. The ass e.g. was unclean for food, but was the common beast of burden among the Israelites.

9-12. Water animals. The condition of cleanness here is the possession of fins and scales. It follows that shellfish and eels are forbidden as food.

13-19. Birds. No signs are given to distinguish clean from unclean birds. The latter are specified, being mostly birds of prey and feeders on carrion.

13. Ossifrage] RV 'the gier eagle,' the largest of the vulture tribe. The name 'Ossifrage,' which means the 'bone-breaker,' is derived from the practice of the bird in dropping the bones of its prey from a height on to a rock so as to break them and get at the marrow. The ospray is the 'shorttoed eagle,' the commonest of the eagle tribe in Palestine.

14-19. Vulture] RV 'kite.' Kite] RV 'falcon.' After his kind] i.e. including others of the same species. Owl] RV 'ostrich.' Cuckow] RV 'seamew.' Swan] doubtful; RV has 'horned owl.' Lapwing] RY 'hoopoe,' a bird of foul habit.

20-23. Fowls that creep] Read with RV, 'All winged creeping things.' What are meant are insects and small reptiles that move horizontally, go upon all four. Four kinds of locusts are exempted and may be eaten. The locust resembles a large grasshopper, and is still eaten in the East. It is usually prepared by being thrown into boiling water, after which the head and wings are removed and the body dried in the sun.

24-40. Uncleanness contracted by contact with dead bodies.

28. Until the even] till the close of the day. The Hebrews reckon the day from sunset to sunset.

29. Tortoise] Jewish authorities regarded the tortoise as a clean animal. What is meant here is probably a kind of lizard. So RV.

30. The names here are uncertain. RV renders, 'the gecko, and the land-crocodile, and the lizard, and the sand-lizard, and the chameleon.'

33. An earthen vessel, being porous, is supposed to absorb the uncleanness so that it cannot be removed with washing.

35. Oven] an earthenware jar or pot: see on Exodus 8:3.

36. Pit] RM 'cistern.' The water in wells and reservoirs, being frequently changed, is not polluted. That which toucheth] or, 'he that toucheth.'

37, 38. The seed in growing undergoes many changes, which are supposed to throw off the uncleanness. But if the seed is wet it may be penetrated by the defiling fluid.

42. Whatsoever hath more feet] rather, 'hath many feet.' Insects like caterpillars and centipedes are intended.

44. Sanctify] the root meaning of the Heb. words for 'sanctify,' 'hallow,' 'holy,' is that of separation: cp. Leviticus 11:47. The holiness spoken of here is rather physical than moral; but in keeping themselves free from ceremonial defilement, the people learned to avoid what is morally impure, in accordance with the principle implied in the words, 'first that which is natural, afterward that which is spiritual.' The composite nature of this chapter appears from the position of Leviticus 11:29-30, Leviticus 11:41-45, which belong to Leviticus 11:20-23. Leviticus 11:46-47 form the conclusion to the whole.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Leviticus 11:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/leviticus-11.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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