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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Leviticus

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LEVITICUS

1. Scope . The book has received its title from the name ‘the Levitical book,’ which was prefixed to it in the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] . Since, however, the special functions of the Levites are not referred to, the scope of the book is better brought out in the title ‘Law of the Priests,’ which is given to it in the Talmud. As such, Leviticus practically confines itself to legislation, and, except in the section chs. 17 26, to priestly legislation. Even the few passages, such as chs. 8 and 10, which are cast in the form of narrative, do not aim at describing what once happened, but use this form in order to prescribe what is to continue. The JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] narrative, which was a history, does not appear to have been drawn upon; and Leviticus, unlike Exodus and Numbers, offers no exact dates of month and year. The book does not give a history of Israel’s past, but chiefly embodies some of the rules of the one living institution which persisted in Israel from its formation as a nation to the destruction of the Temple. Since, however, this institution was moulded to meet the nation’s changing circumstances, the praxis which regulated its services required and received constant modification. Some of these changes can be traced in Leviticus; but it is impossible to detail them in a brief sketch like the present. Readers who wish more details on the ritual can find them and their justification in the art. in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , or in Driver’s LOT [Note: OT Introd. to the Literature of the Old Testament.] .

2. Sources The general editor is the same as the editor who arranged Exodus in its present form, though a little has been added by later hands. (1) He took from P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] that history of the sacred institutions which appeared in Exodus 25:1-40 ; Exodus 26:1-37 ; Exodus 27:1-21 ; Exodus 28:1-43 ; Exodus 29:1-46 (see Exodus): chs. 8, 9, with Exodus 10:12-15 (which supplements Exodus 9:21 ), Exodus 10:1-7 ( Exodus 10:16-20 ) Exodus 16:2-4 ; Exodus 16:6 ; Exodus 16:12 f., Exodus 24:1-9 , These sections are not all of the same period.

Thus ch. 8, which relates the anointing of the priests, is the fulfilment of Exodus 29:1-46 and Exodus 40:12-15 . It formed part of that expansion of Exodus 25:1-40 ; Exodus 26:1-37 ; Exodus 27:1-21 ; Exodus 28:1-43 ; Exodus 29:1-46 which now occupies Exodus 35:1-35 ; Exodus 36:1-38 ; Exodus 37:1-29 ; Exodus 38:1-31 ; Exodus 39:1-43 ; Exodus 40:1-38 , and to which also belong Exodus 24:1-4 on the Tabernacle lamps, Exodus 24:5-9 on the shewbread sections which in some inexplicable way have strayed into their present incongruous position. Ch. 9 with Exodus 10:12-15 , which recounts the sacrifices at the inauguration of the Tabernacle, originally formed the sequel of Exodus 25:1-40 ; Exodus 26:1-37 ; Exodus 27:1-21 ; Exodus 28:1-43 ; Exodus 29:1-46 , and was followed by Exodus 10:1-7 (the story of Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire), and was closed by Exodus 16:2-4 ; Exodus 16:6 ; Exodus 16:12 f. (the rule as to the time and way for Aaron to approach the Holy Place which had thus vindicated its awful sanctity). Exodus 10:16-20 (on the goat of the sin-offering) is a later addition, and gives an interesting illustration of the way in which it was sought to reconcile differences in the older laws (cf. it with Exodus 9:15 and Exodus 6:24-30 ).

(2) Chs. 1 6. Into this framework the editor has fitted laws from other sources. Thus he seems to have separated ch. 8 from its natural position after Exodus 40:1-38 , because he counted it suitable, after the Tabernacle was set up and before the priests were anointed or the Tabernacle inaugurated, to insert the laws prescribing the sacrifices which the priests when anointed were to offer in the Tabernacle.

This law-book has its own history, and in particular once existed in two sections. Thus Leviticus 6:8 to Leviticus 7:21 , with its subscription Leviticus 7:37 f., was originally a code addressed to the priests, dealing with matters ancillary to the sacrifices, and especially concerned with the priestly dues. Because of this esoteric character of the little code, Leviticus 6:20-23 (on the priests’ meal-offering) was inserted. With the exception of that section, each of the regulations is introduced by the formula ‘this is the law of’; and this formula appears in the subscription. It represents the early rules on this subject.

Again, Leviticus 1:1 to Leviticus 6:7 is a book addressed to the people, defining their sacrifices, but it has received large modification. From a comparison of Leviticus 1:2 f. with Leviticus 3:1 it is evident that ch. 3 (the law of the peace-offering) once followed immediately on ch. 1 (the burnt-offering). These are probably very old. The different formulæ used in ch. 2 (3rd person in Leviticus 3:1-3 ; Leviticus 3:2 nd person in Leviticus 3:4 ff.) and its intrusive position prove that the law of the meal-offering has been developed. A comparison between the law of the sin-offering in ch. 4 and similar laws elsewhere proves how largely this part of the ritual has been elaborated. Thus the sin-offering for the congregation is a bullock in Leviticus 3:14 instead of the goat of Leviticus 9:15 and Numbers 15:24 ; and the high priest’s sin-offering ( Numbers 15:3-12 ) is more elaborate than that in Numbers 9:8-11 and Numbers 29:10-14 ; Leviticus 5:1-13 (examples of unintentional sins which require a sin-offering, and mitigations for the case of those who cannot afford a lamb or a goat) has suffered change, since Leviticus 5:2-3 evidently break the connexion between Leviticus 5:1 and Leviticus 5:4 . It is, however, older than ch. 4, though the relation is specially difficult to define. Leviticus 5:15 to Leviticus 6:7 defines the cases which require a guilt-offering, and makes it clear that originally this sacrifice was a composition for fraud practised upon God ( Leviticus 5:15 ff.) or man ( Leviticus 6:1-7 ). When he united these codes on the sacrifices, the editor added a rule ( Leviticus 7:22-25 ) forbidding fat and blood more expressively than Leviticus 3:17 , and a rule ( Leviticus 7:28-34 ) giving heave leg and wave breast to the priest, and a subscription ( Leviticus 7:35 f.).

(3) Chs. 11 15. The priests, however, had other functions in the life of the people besides those immediately connected with the sacrifices. It was their business to determine on all questions connected with uncleanness. As soon, therefore, as the editor had described the inauguration of the Tabernacle and the priesthood, he grouped together a series of regulations bearing on this side of the priestly duties.

Chs. 11 15 deal with this more civil yet priestly function. The rules in ch. 11 on clean and unclean animals (Leviticus 11:2-23 ; Leviticus 11:41-45 , with their subscription Leviticus 11:46 f.) appear in a more primitive form in Deuteronomy 14:4-20 , and have probably been taken from the Law of Holiness (see below). The law of defilement from touching unclean animals and all carcases ( Leviticus 11:24-29 ), which prescribes also the purification required in case of neglect of the regulations, is ignored in the subscription Leviticus 11:46 f. and must be an insertion. Chs. 12, 15 prescribe the forms of purification after childbirth and after certain physical secretions. In their basis these rules are very old, but the careful detail of derivative uncleanness (cf. esp. Leviticus 15:1-12 ; Leviticus 15:19-27 ) shows where a slow elaboration has been at work. Chs. 13, 14 contain a series of directions for the diagnosis of leprosy in human beings, clothing, leather, and houses, and for the method of purification. The primitive character of the prescribed purification ( Leviticus 14:2-8 ), along with the fact that this can be carried out apart from the Temple, proves the early origin of the rules. The gravity of the task thus imposed on the priest and the serious issues involved make it even probable that the directions were not left to the discretion of individuals, but were early committed to writing.

(4) In ch. 16 the sacrificial ritual culminates in the Day of Atonement. This embodies very old elements (see Azazel), but has been so altered that its original character is no longer to be distinguished. The chapter in its present form contains two parts. The historical introduction ( Leviticus 16:1-4 ; Leviticus 16:6 ; Leviticus 16:12 f., once connected with ch. 10) prescribes how and when the high priest may approach the Holy Place. The ritual of the Day of Atonement ( Leviticus 16:5 ; Leviticus 16:7-10 ; Leviticus 16:15-34 ) was united with this, because it defines the purpose for which the high priest made his annual entry. The place given to this ritual after chs. 11 15 is appropriate, because in its sacrifices priest and people united to make atonement for the sanctuary and holy things, and purge them from the pollution contracted through the forms of uncleanness specified in these chapters.

(5) Law of Holiness or H. Chs. 17 26 form an independent body of laws, which have had their own history, and which, after receiving something of their peculiar form from an earlier collector, have been incorporated, after considerable modifications by the general editor, into the greater law-book. That these were once independent is proved by: ( a ) the long hortatory conclusion in ch. 26 and the opening instructions as to the place of sacrifice; ( b ) the presence in them of matters which have already been dealt with (cf., e.g ., Leviticus 17:10-14 with Leviticus 7:26 f., Leviticus 19:6-8 with Leviticus 7:15-18 , Leviticus 20:25 with ch. 11); ( c ) the fact that the laws have a much wider scope than those of chs. 1 16. But this early code has not survived in its integrity, for (i.) certain subjects are broken off before completion ( Leviticus 19:5-8 , Leviticus 20:25 ); and (ii.) the arrangement of subjects shows a considerable confusion (cf. Leviticus 19:5-8 ; Leviticus 19:20-22 , Leviticus 20:27 ).

Ch. 17 prescribes that all animals suitable for sacrifice must be slain at the sanctuary, that such animals, when sacrificed, must be offered to Jahweh alone, that blood and the flesh of carcases must not be eaten. If Leviticus 17:1-6 were ever in force while the Israelites inhabited Palestine, the order requiring every goat, sheep, or ox which was slaughtered to be brought to the Jerusalem Temple practically made it illegal to kill these animals. P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , which required all sacrifices to be brought to the Jerusalem Temple as the only sanctuary, permitted all animals to be freely slaughtered, but forbade the eating of fat and blood. Probably the code, in its early form, recognized the local sanctuaries, and required the slaughter of animals suitable for sacrifice to take place before the Lord, i.e . at ooe of these accessible shrines. The change is due to the desire to discredit these shrines.

Ch. 18 is a series of laws on incest (and Molech-worship), with admonitory introduction and conclusion. Ch. 19 contains a group of miscellaneous laws, with introduction and conclusion. These laws, which are curt and direct, give an interesting view of the morals of early Israel, and should be compared and contrasted with the relative sections in Exodus 20:1-26 ; Exodus 21:1-36 ; Exodus 22:1-31 ; Exodus 23:1-33 , Deuteronomy 22:1-30 ; Deuteronomy 23:1-25 ; Deuteronomy 24:1-22 ; Deuteronomy 25:1-19 . Ch. 20, which is different in character from the preceding chapters, prescribes in general penalties for certain offences already specified. In it Leviticus 20:10-21 (with the penalties for incest) may be the conclusion of ch. 18. The fact, however, that it is followed by a conclusion ( Leviticus 18:22-24 ), while ch. 18 is provided with its own, has led some to count the two sections independent. Again, Leviticus 18:25 f. show where laws corresponding with ch. 11, if not that collection itself, originally stood in H [Note: Law of Holiness.] ; Leviticus 18:2-6 (against Molech-worship), Leviticus 18:6 ; Leviticus 18:2 (against traffic with familiar spirits), Leviticus 18:9 (against cursing father or mother) may have been brought together here, because, like most of the laws in Leviticus 18:10-21 , they prescribe the death-penalty.

Chs. 21, 22 deal with priests and offerings. They state the ceremonial restraints required of the priests in their domestic life (Leviticus 21:1-15 ), demand bodily perfection in every officiating priest ( Leviticus 21:16-24 ), ordain that sacrificial food may be eaten only by those who are ceremonially clean and who can claim membership in a priestly family ( Leviticus 22:1-16 ), and require the sacrificial animals to be perfect ( Leviticus 22:17-25 ). Three minor regulations as to the sacrifices ( Leviticus 22:26-30 ) are followed by an exhortation ( Leviticus 22:31-33 ). Not only the recurrent formula, ‘I am the Lord,’ but the insistence on a ceremonial holiness, which characterizes the early code, proves that the basis of these chapters is old. The material has been largely revised by P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , but the elaborate analysis cannot be entered into here.

Ch. 23 is a calendar of the sacred seasons, which has necessarily received much change. In general, it may be said that Leviticus 23:8-20 ; Leviticus 23:22 ; Leviticus 23:39 b, Leviticus 23:40-43 , though not left without minor modifications, belong to the early code. Here the festivals still represent the religious life of a people which is settled on the land and engaged in agriculture. No more precise date than, e.g ., “when ye reap the harvest of your land,’ is laid down for a festival, because no other was practicable. The people celebrated the harvest when the harvest was gathered. The other sections ( Leviticus 23:1-8 ; Leviticus 23:21 ; Leviticus 23:23-39 ac, Leviticus 23:44 ) give rigid dates and betray the change which became necessary, as soon as many of the worshippers were no longer agriculturists and were scattered beyond the limits of Palestine. The definite dates prescribed by a centralized priesthood became a necessity of the national and religious life. These later sections come from P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] .

Ch. 24 (on Leviticus 24:1-9 see above) deals with blasphemy ( Leviticus 24:15 f.) and injuries to men and cattle ( Leviticus 24:17-22 ). These early sections closely resemble ch. 20, and may once have stood in closer connexion with it. The penalty pronounced on blasphemy was specially interesting to P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , and was illustrated by an incident taken from the desert-wanderings ( Leviticus 24:10-14 ; Leviticus 24:23 ; cf. Numbers 15:32-35 ).

Ch. 25 contains the rules for the Sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:1-7 ; Leviticus 25:20-22 ) and those for the year of Jubilee ( Leviticus 25:8-19 ; Leviticus 25:23-55 ). The section, Leviticus 25:20-22 , has been separated from its original context in order to make the regulations contained in it apply to the Jubilee as well as the Sabbatical year. The analysis of the chapter is very uncertain. H [Note: Law of Holiness.] seems to have contained the rule as to the Sabbatical year (cf. Leviticus 25:1-7 with Exodus 23:10 f. and note the prominent interest in agriculture). In connexion with the Jubilee, it ordered that land must not be alienated absolutely, but must revert to its original owners at the Jubilee ( Leviticus 25:13-15 ). It also provided for the relief of an impoverished Israelite by ordering: ( a ) that his land might be redeemed by a kinsman ( Leviticus 25:25 ); ( b ) that usury was not to be exacted from him ( Leviticus 25:35-38 ); ( c ) that, when he was in bondage, he must be treated humanely ( Leviticus 25:39-40 a, Leviticus 25:43 ; Leviticus 25:47 ; Leviticus 25:53 ; Leviticus 25:55 ). P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] took over this early law with a number of modifications, added fresh regulations as to the redemption of land ( Leviticus 25:9 b, Leviticus 25:10-12 ; Leviticus 25:23 ; Leviticus 25:25-34 ), and especially extended the benefits of the Jubilee from land to persons ( Leviticus 25:40-42 ; Leviticus 25:44-45 ; Leviticus 25:48-52 ; Leviticus 25:54 ). A comparison of Leviticus 25:40-42 with Deuteronomy 15:12-18 suggests that in the course of time the latter rule had proved impracticable, and that this relaxation was designed to take its place.

Ch. 26, after two fragments, of which Leviticus 26:1 is parallel to Leviticus 19:4 ; Leviticus 26:2 identical with Leviticus 19:30 , contains the hortatory conclusion ( Leviticus 26:3-45 ), which the collector of H [Note: Law of Holiness.] appended to his law-book. It closes with the subscription ( Leviticus 26:46 ), which the editor of Leviticus added when he inserted the collection in is present position. The resemblances between Leviticus 26:3-45 and the Book of Ezekiel are too numerous to be catalogued here, but they deserve special attention.

As H [Note: Law of Holiness.] is evidently incomplete and its character is strongly marked, efforts have been made to detect fragments of its legislation in other parts of the Pentateuch. In particular, Exodus 31:13-14 a, Leviticus 11:1-23 ; Leviticus 11:41-47 , Numbers 15:37-41 have been asigned to it. It is necessary, however, to remember that undue stress should not be laid on the appearance of such characteristic formulæ as ‘I am the Lord,’ ‘I am the Lord which sanctify you,’ since, when once some laws had been countersigned by these formulæ, it was natural to introduce them into others. Even in the case of Leviticus 11:1-23 , all that can be said is that similar legislation must have been in H [Note: Law of Holiness.] ; it is unwise to suppose that this section belonged to H [Note: Law of Holiness.] , for laws of this type must have appeared in several of the codes, and in the nature of the case the language used could not greatly vary.

The law-book which is obtained after the excision of the later elements is a valuable survival of one of the codes which represented and guided the life of early Israel under the monarchy. To estimate it, both in its uniqueness and in its common characteristics, it is useful briefly to compare H [Note: Law of Holiness.] with the other codes which have come down. Thus it agrees with Deut. and the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:1-26 ; Exodus 21:1-36 ; Exodus 22:1-31 ; Exodus 23:1-33 ) in the prominence given to the social as well as to the ceremonial life of the people, and in the recognition that this life is still largely an agricultural life. Its closer affinity to the Book of the Covenant is found in the concise formulæ into which its laws are cast, as though they were meant for direct popular use, and in the fact that these laws are addressed to the people, not to the priest. It resembles Deut. very closely in forbidding certain forms of idolatry and semi-heathen practices which were common in Palestine. The two codes are penetrated throughout by the sense that what gives Israel its distinctive character is its religion, though they express this in different ways H [Note: Law of Holiness.] dogmatically forbidding (‘for I am the Lord’), Deut. developing the reason why some things are forbidden. On the other hand, Dent. betrays the existence of a more complex and developed social life than H [Note: Law of Holiness.] , though the basis for both is still the land. Thus H [Note: Law of Holiness.] leaves the great festivals connected with the agricultural life, while Deut. seeks to add historical motives to them, and thus prepares for the time when the people, even though torn from the land, can find a bond of national and religious life in these festivals. Again, to H [Note: Law of Holiness.] the centralized priesthood and developed ritual of Deut. are unknown: it ignores the central sanctuary and the Levites. The chief distinction between H [Note: Law of Holiness.] and the Book of the Covenant is that H [Note: Law of Holiness.] is more detailed and shows a larger interest in the ceremonial side of Israel’s life. The latter point must not, however, be pressed too far, since H [Note: Law of Holiness.] has not survived in its entirety, and, having passed through the hands of a Priestly editor, may have retained more particularly those sections which interested him, and which therefore may have been made to appear relatively more conspicuous.

Further, when compared with P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , H [Note: Law of Holiness.] does not conceive of Israel as grouped round the sanctuary, but regards the local sanctuaries as forming an element in the popular life. It knows nothing of the centralized and hierarchical priesthood, and the priesthood it knows is one side of a larger life, not its controlling factor. Its sacrifices are the older and simpler burnt-offering and thank-offering, without the development of guilt- and sin-offerings. Though Leviticus 6:2-7 be taken to represent the early sin-offering required by this code, its place is very secondary compared with P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] . The laws of H [Note: Law of Holiness.] are generally cast into concise formulæ to meet practical needs. They are backed continually by religion, but the religion supplies a sanction and a command rather than a reason and a motive. The book is specially conscious of Israel’s religion as one which requires separation from all heathen pollution. Holiness is separateness, ‘for I Jahweh sanctify you.’ The period at which the laws were compiled is still debated, but the affinity between H [Note: Law of Holiness.] and Ezekiel is so close that a direct connexion must be presumed. This affinity does not consist in common phrases, nor can it be measured by identity of language; it shows itself in the common point of view which justified Ezekiel in borrowing phrases, because no others could be found which were so adequate to embody his meaning. To both holiness is the stamp of Israel’s religion, and this holiness is largely construed as absence of ceremonial pollution a pollution which includes more than ethical elements. The law-book probably arose at some sanctuary other than Jerusalem, and expressed and determined the religious life which centred there. As such, it offers a welcome and pleasant sketch of pre-exilic Israelitish life. It probably owed its survival through the Exile, in spite of the superior influence of Deut., to the fact that it deeply influenced the thought of Ezekiel. The priest-prophet preserved a book to which he owed so much; and it is not impossible that certain features in the conclusion ( Ezekiel 26:4-21 ) which have seemed to several to point to the Exile, may be due to Ezekiel himself or to a member of his school.

Ch. 27 contains rules on the commutation of vows and tithes. It belongs to P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , and owes its present position to the fact that it presupposes the year of Jubilee (ch. 25).

A. C. Welch.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Leviticus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/l/leviticus.html. 1909.

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