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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Leviticus 11

Verses 1-23

Leviticus 11:1-23 . First Prohibition.— Animals, etc., not allowed for food. The test is, Is it cloven-footed, and does it chew the cud? For fishes, Has it fins and scales? No test of this nature can be given for birds; leaping insects are clean, insects which only fly, unclean. The tests, especially the first, are clearly artificial and not original; e.g. in the case of swine. Undoubtedly, in primitive thought, each species, allowed or banned, is classed “ on its merits” ; but later legislators would naturally be puzzled by the apparent caprice, and desire to find some principle.

Leviticus 11:5. “ Coney,” as RVm ( Proverbs 30:26 *).

Leviticus 11:13. “ Eagle” denotes the majestic and abundant carrion vulture, though probably it is also a generic word for eagle or vulture.

Verses 1-47

11 15. Ritual Cleanliness and Uncleanliness.

Leviticus 11, Animals; Leviticus 12, Childbirth; Leviticus 13, Skin diseases (including tainted garments); Leviticus 14:1-32, Purgation for skin diseases; Leviticus 14:33-57, “ Leprosy” in houses, and general conclusion to the Law; Leviticus 15, “ Issues.”

Probably to most modern readers, this section is the least intelligible in the book. We must consider it ( a) in its ethnological and ( b) its specifically Hebrew aspect, ( a) These laws are properly “ taboos.” The term is Polynesian, signifying what is in itself, or artificially, forbidden, either for the whole community , or else for common people, or priests, or kings (p. 629). Taboos may relate to places, or to the sexes, or to certain ages. Certain kinds of food may be taboo, universally, or as determined temporarily by a chief; individuals may be taboo to one another— speech with a mother-in-law is very widely forbidden, and also approach to one’ s wife after childbirth; or the wife must not pronounce her husband’ s name. In the Australian initiation ceremonies, speaking is taboo to the initiates for certain periods. The origin of taboo is still obscure. What is not customary comes in time to excite horror ( cf. the varying laws of decency in different primitive tribes). This horror is felt to be religious, and it can be easily used by chiefs or priests, for selfish or for hygienic purposes. ( b) Heb. practice shows a notable restriction in the institution. In early times a chief could temporarily impose a ban ( Joshua 6:18, 1 Samuel 14:24); and taboos are recognised on priests ( Leviticus 10:6, etc.) and in connexion with animals, birth, and certain diseases. Why? From the nature of things, or for moral or hygienic or ritual reasons? The suggestion of Nature is an insecure guide, since taboos on animals ( e.g, swine, holy animals among Greeks and Arabs) and actions ( e.g. sexual rules) vary so widely. Morality will not explain taboos on animal flesh (save that perhaps some kinds of flesh may arouse passion) or the restriction on the young mother. Hygiene may explain some taboos; but why the restriction of food to animals Levitically clean, or why should a mother be unclean for forty days after the birth of a boy, eighty days after the birth of a girl? Ritual may explain some prohibitions, as of animals which were only used in heathen rites; it may be, as Bertholet suggests, that whatever is under the protection or power of an alien god is unclean or taboo (hence perhaps the rejection of horseflesh for food; horses were sacred among the heathen Saxons; camels are forbidden to Thibetan lamas). What, then, of the infected house? Probably all four reasons were operative; given the concept of things not to be associated with ordinary life, the class would grow by the addition of things which, for various reasons, were disliked. Note the traces of systemisation in the code. The connexion of the ideas underlying it with institutions so widespread in primitive thought shows that the law carries us back to a period far anterior to Moses, though the distinction between clean and unclean is not mentioned in Exodus 21-23. “ Clean” must be distinguished from “ holy.” The former is the condition of intercourse with all society; the latter of approach to God. Hence, there are grades of holiness; but uncleanness exhibits only differences of duration (“ until the evening,” etc.). The holy and the unclean, however, are alike in being untouchable by man, though for different reasons; hence the Rabbinic phrase, used of canonical books, “ they defile the hands” (p. 39). [We may infer from Haggai 2:11-13 that the infection of uncleanness was more virulent than the infection of holiness. Holy flesh could convey holiness to the skirt but the skirt could not convey it to the food it touched. The corpse could convey uncleanness to the person who touched it, and he in turn could convey it to the food. The holy communicates its quality only to one remove, the unclean to two. The reason is apparently that the holiness of a holy thing is always derivative, since nothing is holy in itself but becomes holy only through consecration to God, the sole fount of holiness (p. 196). A thing may, however, be unclean in itself. There are therefore really four terms in the holy, only three in the unclean series in this passage; viz. ( a) God, holy flesh, skirt, food; ( b) corpse, man unclean through contact, food. Holiness and uncleanness are thus each infectious at two removes from the source, but no further.— A. S. P.] The section is probably not original in this place; it breaks the connexion between chs. 10 and 16. Some parts are distinct from the rest, e.g. Leviticus 11:24-40, Leviticus 11:43-45; Leviticus 13:1-46 must have been originally distinct from Leviticus 14:3-20. A similar code is found in Deuteronomy 14. Probably Deuteronomy 14 is a copy of an older version of Leviticus 11, e.g. Dt. omits the cormorant (17). In one respect Lev. is milder than Dt. (contrast Leviticus 11:39 f. with Deuteronomy 14:21). Lev. adds the permission of leaping insects, and gives a special direction as to fishes.

Verses 24-42

Leviticus 11:24-42 . Second Prohibition.— The dead bodies of unclean animals are not to be touched; scrupulous dread could hardly go further. The distinction is repeated from Leviticus 11:1-23, but a special list of unclean insects is given, corresponding to the list of clean insects in Leviticus 11:22. If the dead body, or any part of one, is carried or touched, the clothes must be washed, and the person remains unclean himself for the rest of the day. Utensils which touch the dead body are to be washed, and then they remain unclean the rest of the day; earthenware is to be broken. Water which may be used for drinking is not to be regarded as affected, nor seeds, unless the seeds have been moistened, and so spoilt. These regulations are plainly ruled by considerations of convenience, though the existence of the taboo is preserved. The touch of the dead body of a clean animal will cause uncleanness for the rest of the day, as the blood will be in it, and the blood is untouchable. The section closes with a prohibition of insects that creep ( cf. Leviticus 11:29 f.).

Verses 43-45

Leviticus 11:43-45 . Brief Summing up of the general Principle, in the manner of H.

Leviticus 11:46 f. Conclusion of the section.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Leviticus 11". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/leviticus-11.html. 1919.