Name of Book: Leviticus
Number of Book: OT 3
Chapters in Book: 27
Themes & Imagery: Direct discourse with the divine; the Israelites as a distinct peoples with special access to God, who must be distinguished from the less holy. Blood sacrifice as atonement for sin. Clean / holy against unclean / unholy; contagion. The importance of obedience to God alone, and the potentially deadly punishments for disobedience, blasphemy or rejection of God. Following customs and traditions exactly in everyday life as well as in worship. Notion (also found in “Exodus“) of naturalised foreigners being treated the same and held to the same standards as those born into the tribes of Israel.
Synopsis: God appears to Moses in the Tabernacle and teaches him laws to pass on to the Israelites, about sacrifice and being clean and holy. The killing of two sons of the priest Aaron shows the price of erroneous worship, and this recurs in the form of threats near the end of the book. Starts by describing proper offerings and sacrifice, particularly as atonement for sin, with specific regard to the portion owed to the priest. Then treats the particular animals which can and cannot be eaten or touched (i.e. clean or unclean), and how people can be unclean and can make themselves clean. Moves on to sexual and social crimes or prohibitions and the punishments for transgression. Finishes with description of the Jubilee year, which involves manumission of slaves and the forgiving of debts.
Personal Response: I confess that I don’t have very much to say about “Leviticus”, although I gather I’m not the first to have such a problem. A lot of the book seems to be intended just for the clergy, although enough of the laws are generic that priests cannot be the only intended audience; this makes it difficult to understand the exact purpose of the book. Moreover, from a point of view of Christianity (i.e. considering “Leviticus” as part of the “Old Testament” rather than the Hebrew “Torah”), as I understand it, there is no obligation to follow all the laws in these early books; there is something of an archaic and almost cultic feel, due to the emphasis on different types of sacrifice. Yet, even if the exact details are no longer wholly relevant, the underlying themes remain pertinent to later Christianity, and I expect them to influence many of the other books.
Favourite Part: Violent threats against those who break the covenant (chapter 26).
My Top Five Lines and Passages:
Notes on baldness, chapter 13 verses 40-41:
40 And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald; yet is he clean.
41 And he that hath his hair fallen off from the part of his head toward his face, he is forehead bald: yet is he clean.
Aaron’s ritual of the scapegoat, chapter 16 verses 20-22:
20 And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat:
21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:
22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.
On the importance of blood, chapter 17 verses 10-12:
10 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.
11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
12 Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.
Holiness of the people of Israel, chapter 19 verses 1-2:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.
Importance of being different from other peoples, chapter 20 verses 23-24:
23 And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things and therefore I abhorred them.
24 But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people.