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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 14

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary


Leviticus 14. consists of two distinct sections, the cleansing of the leper ( Leviticus 14:1-32) and the leprosy of a house ( Leviticus 14:33-53). Probably Leviticus 13 was the original document on leprosy, or Leviticus 14:1-32 would have preceded Leviticus 13:47 ff., while Leviticus 13:47 ff. and Leviticus 14:33 ff. would naturally have come together (as their subject-matter is placed in Leviticus 14:55). On the other hand, the law of ceremonial cleansing may be as old as Leviticus 13. Leviticus 13 deals with the tests whether leprosy is present or not ( Leviticus 13:34 deals only with the object of a mistaken suspicion); Leviticus 14 deals only with what has to be done after leprosy has gone. Leviticus 14 shows into what a distant period the whole law must be pushed back. The articles to be dipped, the Jetting loose of the bird ( cf. the goat for Azazel, Leviticus 16, and the red heifer, Numbers 19*), the shaving of the hair, all suggest ideas which had very possibly an original connexion with what would now be called magic— getting rid of the spirit or demon of disease. With P, the remains of magical have not begun to yield to the beginnings of medical treatment. The interval of seven days ( Leviticus 14:9) and the partial repetition of the ceremony may be the addition of later lawyers. The threefold sacrifice (guilt, with meal, sin, and burnt) recalls the general sacrificial law; but why guilt? There is no suggestion of the extra ⅕? th, as in Leviticus 5 f. and there are ritual differences, e.g. oil is used, and the whole offering is waved. The double sprinkling of the extremities (with blood and oil) reminds us of the consecration of priests (Leviticus 8), but ethnic parallels show that an older rite is here taken over; it is called a guilt offering, because, as additional to the sin and burnt offerings, it could be called nothing else. The whole rite had to be brought under the familiar categories. Even “ atonement” ( Leviticus 14:19), though there is of course no actual “ sin,” is necessary, because rites like these alone can secure power to join again in the “ communio sacrorum.” A modification for poverty is prescribed, as in Leviticus 5:11, Leviticus 12:8. If true leprosy alone had been intended, apart from eczema or skin-disease, the rite could hardly ever have been needed. But we cannot consider such a rite as this invented, or “ in the air.” This chapter, as Leviticus 12, may have originally referred to local sanctuaries; but there would be even less difficulty about the journey to Jerusalem than in Leviticus 12.

Verses 1-20

Leviticus 14:1-20 . Normal Law of Cleansing after the disease has disappeared.— The patient brings to the priest two birds, and he is sprinkled with the blood of one of them, killed in an earthenware (and therefore cheap) bowl, for mixing the blood, over running (and therefore pure) water, along with cedar wood (perhaps because of its supposed healing properties), scarlet wool, and hyssop ( cf. Numbers 19:6 *). The other bird carries away the pollution. He then removes his hair and washes himself and his clothes ( cf. Deuteronomy 21:12, Numbers 6:18 *). In the second part of the rite, next day, the semi-magical elements (except perhaps in Leviticus 14:14; Leviticus 14:17) are not found. The guilt offering, a he-lamb, along with meal and oil, is presented, and with the blood and the oil the extremities of the offerer are touched; then follow the sin offering and the burnt offering, with the meal offering. In Numbers 15:4, only ⅟? 10 of an ephah is mentioned as a meal offering. ⅟? 10 of an ephah is equivalent to some 20 pints, and a lô g (of oil) to one pint. The reference to the left hand ( Leviticus 14:15) and “ upon the blood” ( Leviticus 14:17) show how carefully the ritual is thought out, in order that the whole may be done neatly.

Verses 1-57

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 21-32

Leviticus 14:21-32 . Modification of the Offering for Poverty.— Less flour is required, and doves instead of animals are allowed for sin and burnt offerings ( cf. Leviticus 5:7). The first part of the rite and the “ guilt offering” are unmodified.

Verses 33-53

Leviticus 14:33-53 . Ceremonies for a Leprous House.— Doubtless the result of the working of analogy; a secondary section, like Leviticus 13:47 ff. When Yahweh puts the plague of leprosy” upon a house ( cf. Amos 3:6), the house is to be emptied, for ritual purposes, and if suspicion is aroused by the priest’ s inspection, the house is sealed up for a week. If on a further inspection the infection is still there, the mortar is to be scraped off, and the stones of the infected place removed. The house is then repaired, but if the “ plague” appear again, the house is torn down and its materials carted away. Palestinian houses, as is shown by the debris on excavated sites, were built of stones loosely put together with mortar (not always properly tempered; cf. Ezekiel 13:10). It was not, therefore, difficult to dig through and remove ( cf. Ezekiel 12:5, Matthew 6:19) part of the wall; though when a house was destroyed, the debris was generally left on the spot, to serve for a fresh building. Entering the house involves uncleanness, and when the house is pronounced clean, the older rite is prescribed for the ratification of its habitability (birds, cedar, running water, etc.), and by it is made the atonement which for a human being is made by the three kinds of offerings.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Leviticus 14". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/leviticus-14.html. 1919.
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