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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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—Biblical Data:

The English name is derived from the Latin "Liber Leviticus," which is from the Greek (το) Λενιτικόν (e., βιβλίον). In Jewish writings it is customary to cite the book by its first word," Wa-yiḳra." The book is, composed of laws which treat of the functions of the priests, or the Levites in the larger sense. It is in reality a body of sacerdotal law. The various laws comprising this collection are represented as spoken by Yhwh to Moses between the first day of the first month of the second year after the Exodus and the first day of the second month of the same year (comp. Ex. 17 and Numbers 1:1). There is no note of a definite time in Leviticus itself, but from the references cited it is clear that in the continuous narrative of the Pentateuch this is the chronological position of the book.


Ch. -: A collection of laws relating to sacrifices. It falls into two portions: (1) ch. -6:7 (Hebr. -) and 7:22-34 are laws addressed to the people; (2) ch. 6:8-7:21 (Hebr. 6:1-7:21) are addressed to the priests. Ch. contains laws for burnt offerings; ch. , for meal-offerings; ch. , peace-offerings; ch. , sin-offerings; ch. 5:1-6:7 (Hebr. ch. ), trespass-offerings; ch. 6:8-13 (Hebr. 6:1-6) defines the duties of the priest with reference to the fire on the altar; ch. 6:14-18 (Hebr. 6:7-11), the meal-offering of the priests; ch. 6:19-23 (Hebr. 6:12-16), the priests' oblation; ch. 6:24-30 (Hebr. 6:17-23), the trespass-offering; ch. 7:1-7, trespass-offerings; ch. 7:8-10, the portions of the sacrifices which go to the priests; ch. 7:11-18, peace-offerings; ch. 7:19-21, certain laws of uncleanness; ch. 7:22-27 prohibits eating fat or blood; ch. 7:28-34 defines the priests' share of the peace-offering. Ch. 7:35-38 consists of a subscription to the preceding laws.

Ch. -: The consecration of Aaron and his sons; though narrative in form, they contain the precedent to which subsequent ritual was expected to conform.

Ch. contains two narratives: one shows that it is unlawful to use strange fire at Yhwh's altar; the other requires the priests to eat the sin-offering. Between these narratives two laws are inserted, one prohibiting intoxicating drink to the priests, the other giving sundry directions about offerings (8-15).

Ch. contains laws in regard to clean and unclean animals, and separates those which may from those which may not be used for food.

Ch. contains directions for the purification of women after childbirth. A distinction is made between male and female children, the latter entailing upon the mother a longer period of uncleanness.

Ch. and contain the laws of leprosy, giving the signs by which the priest may distinguish between clean and unclean eruptions.

Ch. contains directions for the purifications necessary in connection with certain natural secretions of men (2-18) and women (19-30).

Ch. contains the law of the great Day of Atonement. The chief features of this ritual are the entrance of the high priest into the Holy of Holies and the sending of the goat into the wilderness (see AZAZEL).

Holiness Code.

Ch. - contain laws which differ in many respects from the preceding and which have many features in common. They are less ritualistic than the laws of ch. - and lay greater stress on individual holiness; hence the name "Holiness Code," proposed by Klostermann in 1877 for these chapters, has been generally adopted. Ch. contains general regulations respecting sacrifice; ch. prohibits unlawful marriages and unchastity; ch. defines the religious and moral duties of Israelites; ch. imposes penalties for the violation of the provisions of ch. In ch. regulations concerning priests are found (these regulations touch the domestic life of the priest and require that he shall have no bodily defects); ch. gives regulations concerning sacrificial food and sacrificial animals; ch. presents a calendar of feasts; ch. contains various regulations concerning the lamps of the Tabernacle (1-4) and the showbread (5-9), and a law of blasphemy and of personal injury (10-23); ch. is made up of laws for the Sabbatical year and the year of jubilee (these laws provide periodical rests for the land and secure its ultimate reversion, in case it be estranged for debt, to its original owners); ch. is a hortatory conclusion to the Holiness Code.

Ch. consists of a collection of laws concerning the commutation of vows. These laws cover the following cases: where the vowed object is a person (1-8); an animal (9-15); a house (14-15); an inherited field (16-21); a purchased field (22-25); a firstling (26-27). Then follow additional laws concerning persons and things "devoted" (28-29) and concerning tithes (30-33). Verse 34 is the colophon to the Book of Leviticus, stating that these laws were given by Yhwh as commands to Moses at Mount Sinai.

E. G. H.
G. A. B.

Latest Stratum of Pentateuch.

—Critical View:

In the critical analysis of the Pentateuch it is held that Leviticus belongs to the priestly stratum, designated by the symbol P. To this stratum the laws of Leviticus are attached by their nature and also by linguistic affinities (comp. PENTATEUCH, and J. Estlin Carpenter and G. Harford Battersby, "Hexateuch" [cited hereafter as "Hex."], 1:208-221). This priestly stratum was formerly regarded as the "Grundschrift," or oldest stratum of the Pentateuch, but by Graf and Wellhausen, whose views now receive the adherence of the great majority of scholars, it has been shown to be on the whole the latest. Leviticus as it stands is not, however, a consistent code of laws formulated at one time, but is the result of a considerable process of compilation. It has already been noted that chapters to have a distinct character of their own and a distinct hortatory conclusion, which point to an independent codification of this group of laws. Within this same group many indications that it is a compilation from earlier priestly sources may also be found. Ch. 18:26, 19:37, 22:31-33, 24:22, 25:55, 26:46, and 27:34 are all passages which once stood at the end of independent laws or collections of laws. Similar titles and colophons, which are best explained as survivals from previous collections, are found also in other parts of the book, as in 6:7 (A. V. 14); 7:1,2,37,38; 11:46,47; 13:59; 14:54,55; 15:32,33. It is necessary, therefore, to analyze these laws more closely.

Chapters -: Narratives.

It will be convenient to begin this analysis with ch. -, which are, as previously noted, narratives rather than laws. Ch. relates the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. That consecration is commanded in Ex. 12-15, just as the erection of the Tabernacle is commanded in Ex. 1-11. As the erection of the Tabernacleis described in Ex. 17-38, it is probable that Leviticus 8, recounting the consecration of Aaron and his sons, immediately followed Ex. Ch. - have by editorial changes been made to separate this narrative from its context. Leviticus 8 is based on Exodus 29, relating its fulfilment, just as Exodus 35- is based on Exodus 25- and , It has been shown (comp. Exodus, Book of, Critical View I.) that Exodus 35- is a later expansion of a briefer account of the fulfilment of the commands of -; it follows accordingly that Leviticus 8 probably belongs to a similar late expansion of a shorter account of the fulfilment of the commands of ch. Leviticus 8 is not so late as Exodus 35-, since it knows but one altar.

Ch. resumes the main thread of the original priestly law-book. It relates to the inaugural sacrifice of the Tabernacle—the real sequel to Exodus 25- Probably it was originally separated from those chapters by some brief account of the construction and erection of the sanctuary and the consecration of the priesthood. The editor's hand may be detected in verses 1 and 23.

Ch. 10:1-5 is the continuation of ch. and is from the same source. The regulations in verses 6-20 are loosely thrown together, though verses 6, 12-15, and 16-20, are, as they stand, attached to the main incident in verses 1-5. Verses 10, 11 are allied to ch. -, the Holiness Code (comp. Driver in "S. B. O. T." ad loc.). Verses 16-20 are a late supplement, suggested by the conflict between the procedure of 9:15 and the rule of 6:24-30.

Ch. -: Laws of Offerings.

Ch. -, as already noted, consist of two parts: - (A. V. 6:7), addressed to the people, and - (A. V. 6:8-7:36), addressed to the priests. It is not a unitary, harmonious code: the two parts have a different order, the peace-offering occurring in a different position in the two parts.

Ch. - were compiled from at least two sources, and have been touched by different hands. Ch. should follow immediately after ch.

Ch. , which graduates a scale of victims for the sin-offering according to the guilt of the sinner, is later than - It is regarded by all critics as a late addition to the ritual. The altar of incense, 5:7, is unknown to the older ritual (comp. Exodus 29:10-14); and the ritual of the high priest's sin-offering is much more elaborate than in Exodus 29:10-14 or Leviticus 9:8-11. The sin-offering, which in other laws is a goat (Leviticus 9:15, 16:8, and Numbers 15:24), is here a bullock. The ritual is throughout heightened, perhaps beyond all actual practise.

Ch. -6:7 (A. V. ) afford no indications of so late a date as ch. , although it is clearly a combination of laws from various sources (comp. verse 14 and 5:20 (A. V. 6:1). The oldest nucleus seems to be 5:1-6, in which there are no ritual directions. Verses 7-10 and 11-13 are later and perhaps successive additions. Though united later, they are probably genuine laws.

The rules for the guidance of the priests ( [A. V. 6:8-]) are also compiled from previous collections, as is shown by the different headings (comp. 6:1,13,18 [A. V. 6:8,19,24]). They also are genuine laws from an older time.

Ch. : Clean and Unclean Animals.

Ch. defines the clean and unclean animals. Because several of these laws are similar to the Holiness legislation (comp. verses 2-8, 9-11, 20, 21, and 41, 42), it has been inferred by many critics that ch. is a part of that legislation, that it is in reality the law which 20:25 implies. Others, as Carpenter and Harford Battersby, regard it as an excerpt from a body of priestly teaching which once had an existence independent of the Holiness Code. The chapter is not a unit. Verses 24-31 seem to be an expansion of 5:8, while verses 32-38 appear to be a still more recent addition.

Ch. contains directions for the purification of women after childbirth. In 5:2 reference is made to ch. 15:19. As the rules in are cast in the same general form as those of , the two chapters are of the same date. It is probable that once followed 15:30. Why it was removed to its present position can not now be ascertained. For date see below on ch.

Ch. and : Laws of Leprosy.

The extreme elaboration of the rules for LEPROSY has led some scholars to regard the compilation of ch. and as late, especially as it has been inferred from Deuteronomy 24:8 that when Deuteronomy was compiled the rules concerning leprosy were all still oral (comp. "Hex." 2:158, note). Moore, on the other hand (in Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl."), points out that the ritual of 14:2-8 is very primitive (comp. Smith, "Rel. of Sem." pp. 422, 428 [note], 447), and that there is no reason to doubt the early formulation of such laws. These chapters are not, however, all of one date. The original draft of the law included only 13:2-46a, 14:2-8a, and the subscription in 57b; 13:47-59, which treats of leprosy in garments, was codified separately, for in verse 59 it has a colophon of its own. Ch. 14:10-20 is clearly a later substitute for 2-8a. Ch. 14:33-53, which treats of fungous growths on the walls of houses, is often classed with the rules for leprosy in garments; but since it has a new introductory formula (33) it is probably independent of that section. Since it adopts (49) the mode of cleansing of 14:2-8a, it is also independent of 14:9-32. As it makes mention of atonement while 14:2-8a does not, it is also later than that. Thus three hands at least worked on these chapters.

The rules for purification after the discharge of secretions of various kinds (ch. ) are often regarded as late. The language is tediously repetitious. The sacrificial ritual (verses 14, 29) is parallel to that of the sin-offering in ch. It is probable that a shorter earlier law on the subject has been expanded by a later hand; but it seems impossible now to separate the original from the later material.

Ch. : The Day of Atonement.

Much discussion has been expended upon the account of the great Day of Atonement (ch. ). Its opening words connect it with the incident of Nadab and Abihu (10:1-5). These words are regarded as editorial by some, but the subsequent material,which denies the priests free approach to the sanctuary, makes such a connection fitting. Not all of the chapter, however, treats of this subject. With various prohibitions against entering the holy place, there is combined a curious ritual concerning the sending of a goat into the wilderness to AZAZEL. As this ritual is given before the directions for the observance of the day, Benzinger (in Stade's "Zeitschrift," 9:65-89) has argued that in verses 4-28 two accounts have been combined, one of which dealt with entrance into the sanctuary, and the other with the Azazel ritual. The former of these consisted of verses 1-4, 6 (or 11), 12, 13, and 34b, which were perhaps followed by 29-34a. This original law prescribed a comparatively simple ritual for an annual day of atonement. With this verses 5, 7-10, 14-28 were afterward combined. This view has not escaped challenge (comp. "Hex." 2:164, note); but on the whole it seems probable.

The Day of Atonement appears, however, not to have been provided for by the priestly law-book in the time of Nehemiah; for, whereas the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, beginning with the fifteenth of the seventh month (Nehemiah 8:14 et seq.), which was followed on the twenty-fourth by a confession of sin (ib. 9:1 et seq.), is described, no mention is made of a day of atonement on the tenth. Probably, therefore, ch. and other passages dependent upon it (e.g., Leviticus 23:26-32 and Exodus 30:1-10) are of later date (comp. "Hex." 1:156 et seq.). Even if this ritual be a late addition to the Book of Leviticus, however, there is good reason to believe that it represents a primitive rite (comp. Smith, "Rel. of Sem." 2d ed., pp. 411 et seq., especially p. 414, and Barton, "Semitic Origins," pp. 114, 289).

Ch. -: The Holiness Code.

Ch. -, as already pointed out, form a group of laws by themselves. Ch. 26:3-45 contains an address of Yhwh to the Israelites, setting forth the blessings which will follow if these laws are observed, and the disasters which will ensue if they are violated. The character of the discourse and its resemblance to Deuteronomy 28 prove that Leviticus 26 once formed the conclusion of a body of laws. The peculiar phraseology and point of view of this chapter recur a number of times in earlier chapters (comp. 18:1-5,24-30; 19:2,36b, 37; 20:7,8,22-26; 22:31-33). Ch. - are therefore bound together as one code. Recent criticism regards ch. as originally a part of the same legislation. As the "Book of the Covenant," Exodus 20:24-23:19, and the Deuteronomic Code, Deuteronomy 20-, each opened with a law regulating the altar ceremonies, it is probable that the Holiness Code (H) began in the same way, and that that beginning now underlies Leviticus 17 The regulations of this code sometimes resemble those of Deuteronomy, sometimes those of P; and as it traverses at times the legislation of both, there can be no doubt that it once formed a separate body of laws.

This code was compiled from various sources by a writer whose vocabulary possessed such striking characteristics that it can be easily traced. Some of his favorite phrases are, "I Yhwh am holy"; "I am Yhwh"; "my statutes and ordinances"; "who sanctifies you [them]"; "I will set my face against them"; etc. (comp. Driver, "Leviticus," in "S. B. O. T." p. 83, and "Hex." 1:220 et seq.). As the work now stands the laws have been somewhat interpolated by P; but these interpolations can for the most part be easily separated.


In ch. P has added verses 1, 2, 15, and 16, and all references to "the tent of meeting" and "the camp" in verses 3, 4, 5, and 6; probably, also, the last clause of verse 7. The original law required every one who slaughtered an animal to bring the blood to the sanctuary (comp. 1 Samuel 14:33-35), a thing perfectly possible before the Deuteronomic reform had banished all local sanctuaries. This law is, therefore, older than the centralization of the worship in 621 B.C. (comp. 2 Kings 23). As P by his additions has left the law in Leviticus 17, it could have been observed by only a small community dwelling near Jerusalem.

In ch. P has transmitted H's law of prohibited marriages and unchastity, prefixing only his own title.

Ch. contains laws which are, broadly speaking, parallel to the Decalogue, though the latter portion, like the Decalogue of J in Exodus 34, treats of various ritualistic matters. P's hand is seen here only in verses 1, 2a, 8b, 21, and 22.

Ch. opens with a law against Moloch-worship. Verse 3 is contradictory to verse 2. Probably the latter is the old law and the former is from the pen of the compiler of H (comp. Baentsch in Nowack's "Hand-Kommentar," 1903). In verses 11-21 laws against incest, sodomy, approach to a menstruous woman, etc., are found. They are parallel to ch. and from a different source. H embodied both chapters in his work. P prefixed verse 1 to the chapter.

Ch. contains regulations for priests. Originally it referred to all priests; but P has interpolated it in verses 1, 10, 12b, 16a, 21, 22, and 24, so as to make it refer to Aaron and his sons.

The laws of sacrificial food and sacrificial animals have been modified by many glosses. Some of these are anterior to H. P has added the references to Aaron and his sons in verses 1, 2, 3, 4, and 18. In this chapter two originally independent calendars of feasts have been united. From P came verses 1-9, 21, 23-38, 39a, 39c, and 44; from H, verses 10-20, 39b, and 40-43. A later hand added verse 22, and perhaps other glosses (for details comp. "Hex." and Baentsch ad loc.).

Ch. 24:1-9, which treats of the lamps and the showbread, belongs to the P stratum, but is out of place here. Verses 10-13, 23 deal with blasphemy. They are quite unrelated to verses 15-22 except as a partial doublet, and belong, perhaps, to a secondary stratum of P. Verses 15-22 are a part of the Holiness Code.

The law of the Sabbatical year and of jubilee in ch. is now composite. The earlier portion was a part of the Holiness Code. Driver sees this portion in verses 2b-9a, 10a, 13-15, 17-22, 24, 25, 35-39, 43,47, 53, 55. P has added the portions which introduce a complicated reckoning, viz.: verses 1, 9b, 10b-12, 16, 23, 26-34, 40, 42, 44-46, 48-52, 54 (for other analyses comp. Baentsch and "Hex." ad loc.).

Ch. , as already noted, is the hortatory conclusion of the Holiness Code. It has escaped serious interpolation from later hands, except perhaps in verses 34 et seq., where references to the Exile may have been inserted.

Leviticus now concludes with a chapter on vows, which belongs to a late stratum of P. It is later than the institution of the year of jubilee, and introduces a law, not mentioned elsewhere, concerning the tithe of cattle.

Date and Place of Composition of P.

From what has been said concerning the absence of ch. from the Pentateuch of Nehemiah it is clear that some of the material of Leviticus was added to it later than Nehemiah's time. It is probable that P in its main features was in the hands of Ezra and Nehemiah. Leviticus is, however, not the work of the P who wrote the account of the sacred institutions, but of an editor who dislocated that work at many points, and who combined with it the Holiness Code and other elements.

It is commonly supposed that the priestly laws were collected in Babylonia and were brought back to Palestine by Ezra. Haupt goes so far as to claim that the Levitical ritual is influenced by Babylonian institutions (comp. Haupt, "Babylonian Elements in the Levitical Ritual," in "Jour. Bib. Lit." 19:55-81), and that a number of the words are Babylonian loan-words. Any deep Babylonian influence may well be doubted, however. It has been seen that the laws of Leviticus were collected little by little in small codes, and that they were united into their present form after the time of Nehemiah. If any of these collections were made during the Exile, it must have been the desire of the priests who collected them to preserve the sacred ritual of the Temple at Jerusalem. Like Ezekiel, they may have proposed reforms, but it is hardly likely that they would deliberately copy heathen practises. The Levitical terms which are identical with Babylonian no more prove borrowing from Babylonia than the similarities between the code of Hammurabi and the Hebrew codes prove a similar borrowing there. All that is proved in either case, when radical differences are given proper weight, is that in both countries the laws and the ritual were developed from a common basis of Semitic custom.

Date and Place of Composition of the Holiness Code.

It is generally held that the Holiness Code is younger than Ezekiel, though this is opposed by Dillmann ("Exodus und Leviticus") and Moore (in "Encyc. Bibl." s.). That there are many resemblances between H and Ezekiel all agree. Ezekiel dwells again and again upon offenses which are prohibited in the code of H. Compare, e.g., the laws of incest, adultery, and of commerce with a woman in her uncleanness (Leviticus 18:8, 20:10-17, and Ezekiel 22:10,11). A list of such parallels will be found in "Hex." 1:147 et seq. The same writers point out (ib. pp. 149 et seq.) that there is a similarity between Ezekiel and the hortatory portions of H so striking as to lead Colenso to regard the former as the author of those exhortations. Equally striking differences make Colenso's theory untenable; and it remains an open question whether Ezekiel influenced H, or H influenced Ezekiel. Those who regard H as the later (Wellhausen, Kuenen, Baentsch, and Addis) lay stress on the references to exile in 26:34-44, while Dillmann and Moore regard such phenomena as the work of later hands. When one remembers how many hands have worked on Leviticus it must be admitted that the references to exile may well be additions; and if the antiquity of the law of the altar in ch. be recalled—a law which is clearly pre-Deuteronomic—the probability that H is really earlier than Ezekiel becomes great.

Comparisons of the laws of H with those of Deuteronomy have often been instituted, but without definite results. Leviticus 19:35,36 is, it may be urged, more developed than Deuteronomy 25:13-15, since the measures and weights are more definitely specified; but the point is not of sufficient significance to be decisive. On the other hand, the implication of many sanctuaries in ch. points to H's priority to Deuteronomy. At any rate it seems probable that H and Deuteronomy were collected quite independently of each other. The hortatory form of each is similar. This, together with resemblances to the language and thought of Jeremiah, points to the same general period as the date of their composition. Whether H is not the older of the two must be left an open question, with a slight balance of argument in favor of its greater antiquity. This view makes it probable that the Holiness Code was compiled in Palestine.

  • Dillmann, Exodus und Leviticus, 3d ed., 1897;
  • Graf, Die Geschichtlichen Bücher des Alten Testaments, 1866;
  • Nöldeke, Untersuchungen zur Kritik des Alten Testaments, 1869;
  • Colenso, The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, 1872,;
  • Kuenen, Hexateuch, 1886;
  • Wellhausen, Die Composition des Hexateuchs, 3d ed., 1899;
  • Driver, Introduction, 6th ed., 1897;
  • idem, Leviticus, in Haupt, S. B. O. T. 1898;
  • Bacon, Triple Tradition of the Exodus, 1894;
  • Addis, Documents of the Hexateuch, 1898;
  • Carpenter and Harford Battersby, Hexateuch, 1900;
  • Baentsch, Exodus-Leviticus-Numeri, in Nowack's Hand-Kommentar, 1903;
  • Paton, The Original Form of Leviticus 17- in Jour. Bib. Lit. 16:31 et seq.;
  • idem, The Original Form of Leviticus 21- ib. 17:149 et seq.;
  • Haupt, Babylonian Elements in the Levitical Ritual, ib. 19:55 et seq.
E. G. H.
G. A. B.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Leviticus'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​l/leviticus.html. 1901.
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