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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Leviticus 21

 

 

Introduction

Leviticus 21, 22. Regulations for Priests and for Matters in which Priests are specially Responsible.—The chapters offer distinct points of comparison with P, and also with Ezek., which will be noticed below. All point to the superiority, in point of time, of H to P the relation to Ezekiel is dubious (see Introd.). They are best explained as rising, like Ezekiel's provisions, in a state of transition, when several minds, possessed by the same leading ideas, and probably in oral though not written communication with each other, were working independently towards what later became P.

Leviticus 21. Priests, their Mourning, Marriage, Consecration and Inabilities.—The special holiness of priests follows from the fact that they were in specially close contact with Yahweh. Holiness was at once negative—what was safe elsewhere would be dangerous in such close proximity to Yahweh; and positive—a special state of fitness was something inconvenient for ordinary laymen, though it might be conferred upon them (Ezekiel 44:19). Ritual taboos surround priests and kings (who regularly perform priestly functions) in ethnic religions. For the later law of consecration, see Leviticus 8 f. The distinction between priests and Levites is not here mentioned, nor are Levites referred to in H, save in Leviticus 25:32 ff. Ezekiel also speaks of the priests and Levites as if they were synonymous, while he emphasizes the distinction (absent from H) between the country and the Jerusalem (or Zadokite) priesthood (Ezekiel 44:10; Ezekiel 44:15). In P, the Levites are the subordinate clergy (Numbers 4:2 ff., etc.).


Verses 1-9

Leviticus 21:1-9. Restrictions for the Priests.—To approach a corpse was to suffer defilement (cf. Numbers 5:2* Numbers 19*, Tobit 2:8 ff., Sirach 34:25); this is, therefore, forbidden to the priest, except in the case of the nearest relations; Ezekiel (Ezekiel 44:26) prescribes a period of seven days' cleansing even in this latter case. The mourning is looked upon as something needed by the dead or due to their memory; a married sister would ordinarily be mourned by her husband—this is probably the meaning of the original text of Leviticus 21:4; if his sister were a widow, the priest might act in place of her husband. Similar restrictions are common elsewhere for priests, as also are the prohibitions of the outward signs of mourning. A scandal or profanation in the priest's household defiles the priest himself; hence he must not marry a prostitute or a divorcée. A striking contrast is to be found in the laxness of Hindu law with regard to the morality of priests. If a priest's daughter contaminates her father's household by prostituting herself, she is to be burnt; the most emphatic warning possible against temple harlotry (cf. penalty in CH for votary who keeps or enters a tavern). These taboos are far less embarrassing than those which surrounded the Flamens at Rome, the King Archons in Athens, or Bantu chiefs at the present time.


Verses 10-15

Leviticus 21:10-15. Restrictions for the High Priest.—The title occurs here for the first time in the Law; the phrase used is literally "the priest who is chief among his brothers." It is, however, implied in P in Leviticus 16 (cf. also the references to Aaron (Leviticus 8 f.). Ezekiel does not mention it, but he too seems to imply it in Ezekiel 45:19, as do the earlier narratives of, e.g. Eli, 1 Samuel 1 ff.), Zadok (1 Kings 1:26 ff.), Amaziah (Amos 7:10 ff.), and Hilkiah (2 Kings 22:4 ff.). Before the Exile, the chief priest would naturally be a royal ecclesiastical official; afterwards he tended to take the place of the king in the community (Sirach 50 and 1 Mac). In view of his special functions, which, nowever, are nowhere stated in H, all mourning rites are forbidden him; he is to avoid all risk of pollution by taking up his dwelling in the sacred precincts. The special restriction for his marriage (a widow is not to be married), Ezekiel extends to all priests (Ezekiel 44:22). The mediæval law of priestly celibacy was founded on the quite non-Hebrew idea of the "worldliness" of marriage; here, a pure marriage leaves "holiness" untouched.


Verses 16-24

Leviticus 21:16-24. List of Bodily Defects which prevent a priest from actually joining in the priestly rites, though he is still supported by the dues. The presence of a deformed or mutilated priest at the altar would destroy the holiness with which Yahweh has dowered it. Blemish in a priest, as in a victim, may have been regarded originally as the sign of the presence of a demon; but the sthetic repulsion is very deep-seated. Ritual mutilations were allowed and encouraged in other cults; cf. especially the worship of the Phrygian Cybele (Frazer's Adonis, Attis, Osiris).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Leviticus 21:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/leviticus-21.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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