Leviticus (The Peoples Bible)


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The Message of God’s “Otherness”

Chapters 1—5 describe the various sacrifices from the sacrificers' point of view, although the priests are essential for handling the blood. Chapters 6—7 go over much the same ground, but from the point of view of the priest, who, as the one actually carrying out the sacrifice and dividing the "portions", needs to know how to do this. Sacrifices are between God, the priest, and the offerers, although in some cases the entire sacrifice is a single portion to God—i. Chapters 8—10 describe how Moses consecrates Aaron and his sons as the first priests, the first sacrifices, and God's destruction of two of Aaron's sons for ritual offenses.

The purpose is to underline the character of altar priesthood i. With sacrifice and priesthood established, chapters 11—15 instruct the lay people on purity or cleanliness.


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Eating certain animals produces uncleanliness, as does giving birth; certain skin diseases but not all are unclean, as are certain conditions affecting walls and clothing mildew and similar conditions ; and genital discharges, including female menses and male gonorrhea, are unclean. The reasoning behind the food rules are obscure; for the rest the guiding principle seems to be that all these conditions involve a loss of "life force", usually but not always blood.

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Leviticus 16 concerns the Day of Atonement. This is the only day on which the High Priest is to enter the holiest part of the sanctuary, the holy of holies. He is to sacrifice a bull for the sins of the priests, and a goat for the sins of the laypeople. The priest is to send a second goat into the desert to " Azazel ", bearing the sins of the whole people.

Azazel may be a wilderness-demon, but its identity is mysterious. Chapters 17—26 are the Holiness code. It begins with a prohibition on all slaughter of animals outside the Temple, even for food, and then prohibits a long list of sexual contacts and also child sacrifice. The "holiness" injunctions which give the code its name begin with the next section: there are penalties for the worship of Molech , consulting mediums and wizards, cursing one's parents and engaging in unlawful sex.

Priests receive instruction on mourning rituals and acceptable bodily defects. The punishment for blasphemy is death, and there is the setting of rules for eating sacrifices; there is an explanation of the calendar, and there are rules for sabbatical and Jubilee years; there are rules for oil lamps and bread in the sanctuary; and there are rules for slavery.

Chapter 27 is a disparate and probably late addition telling about persons and things serving as dedication to the Lord and how one can redeem, instead of fulfill, vows.


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The entire composition of the book of Leviticus is Priestly literature. Many scholars argue that the rituals of Leviticus have a theological meaning concerning Israel's relationship with its God. Jacob Milgrom was especially influential in spreading this view. He maintained that the priestly regulations in Leviticus expressed a rational system of theological thought. The writers expected them to be put into practice in Israel's temple, so the rituals would express this theology as well, as well as ethical concern for the poor.

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Marx, Balentine , though some have questioned how systematic they really are. The main function of the priests is service at the altar, and only the sons of Aaron are priests in the full sense. In chapter 10, God kills Nadab and Abihu , the oldest sons of Aaron, for offering "strange incense".

Aaron has two sons left. Commentators have read various messages in the incident: a reflection of struggles between priestly factions in the post—Exilic period Gerstenberger ; or a warning against offering incense outside the Temple, where there might be the risk of invoking strange gods Milgrom. In any case, there has been a pollution of the sanctuary by the bodies of the two dead priests, leading into the next theme, holiness. Ritual purity is essential for an Israelite to be able to approach Yahweh and remain part of the community.

Yahweh dwells with Israel in the holy of holies. All of the priestly ritual focuses on Yahweh and the construction and maintenance of a holy space, but sin generates impurity, as do everyday events such as childbirth and menstruation ; impurity pollutes the holy dwelling place. Failure to ritually purify the sacred space could result in God leaving, which would be disastrous. Through sacrifice, the priest "makes atonement" for sin and the offerer receives forgiveness but only if God accepts the sacrifice—forgiveness comes only from God.

The consistent theme of chapters 17—26 is in the repetition of the phrase, "Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. The need for holiness is for the possession of the Promised Land Canaan , where the Jews will become a holy people: "You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you dwelt, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan to which I am bringing you You shall do my ordinances and keep my statutes I am the Lord, your God" ch.

​Leviticus Study Guide

Leviticus, as part of the Torah, became the law book of Jerusalem's Second Temple as well as of the Samaritan temple. Evidence of its influence is evident among the Dead Sea Scrolls , which included fragments of seventeen manuscripts of Leviticus dating from the third to the first centuries BC. Jews and Christians have not observed Leviticus's instructions for animal offerings since the first century AD. Because of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, Jewish worship has focused on prayer and the study of Torah.

Leviticus Study Guide

Nevertheless, Leviticus constitutes a major source of Jewish law and is traditionally the first book children learn in the Rabbinic system of education. There are two main Midrashim on Leviticus—the halakhic one Sifra and a more aggadic one Vayikra Rabbah. Before Leviticus was composed, outright prohibitions against homosexual sex — whether between men or women — were practically unheard-of in the ancient world. Chapter 18 of Leviticus contains a list of forbidden incestuous acts, followed by prohibitions against sex with a menstruating woman, bestiality and various other sexual acts.

Bible Discovery, Leviticus 25-27 - 7s and the Year of Jubilee - February 4, 2019

Like many ancient texts, Leviticus was created gradually over a long period and includes the words of more than one writer. Many scholars believe that the section in which Leviticus 18 appears was added by a comparatively late editor, perhaps one who worked more than a century after the oldest material in the book was composed.

An earlier edition of Leviticus, then, may have been silent on the matter of sex between men. But I think a stronger claim is warranted. As I argue in an article published in the latest issue of the journal Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, there is good evidence that an earlier version of the laws in Leviticus 18 permitted sex between men.

In addition to having the prohibition against same-sex relations added to it, the earlier text, I believe, was revised in an attempt to obscure any implication that same-sex relations had once been permissible. Most of the incest laws are presented in a straightforward manner, but two are not. At first, this verse appears to outlaw sex between a man and either of his parents.

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