Exodus and Leviticus: A Parallel Reading (Part I)

The following is part of series exploring the narrative of P material and its explanation of why Nadab and Abihu are killed in Leviticus 10. Such a study is important because theology often misuses verse like Leviticus 10:1-3 to demonstrate the un-malleability and impossibility of keeping Torah, resulting in antinomianism. In order to demonstrate the true focus of Nadab and Abihu’s death, I will compare two passages of P material, Leviticus 8:1 – 10:3 and Exodus 29 – 30:10. These pericopes, with a close reading, provide a reasonable explanation for the death of Aaron’s son.

Leviticus 8:1 – 10:3 should be read parallel to Exodus 29 – 30:10 because the two pericopes point toward a possible solution, or answer, for explaining Nadab and Abihu’s death. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, popular interpretations of Leviticus 10’s “unholy fire” often carry negative views of the value of cult worship. In response, I hope to demonstrate that the issue of “unholy fire”, or the improper actions of Nadab and Abihu, is not intended to emphasize the un-malleability of P’s law, but rather to draw focus on God’s kabod, his physicalized glory (Sommer 2015, 52).

In order to demonstrate this, two assumptions must be clarified. First, Lev 8:1 – 10:3 and Exodus 28 – 30:10 are both P material (Sommers 2015, 53). Having developed from the same theological traditions, these two pericopes are subject to parallel analysis. Second, the kabod, for P, “describes God’s body (the כָּבוֹד, or kabod) as consisting of a substance that looked like fire” (Sommers 2015, 53). This will be important later in analysis of the actual presence of fire-like kabod that represents God’s body.

Following is presentation of a portion of each pericope. Exodus 29:1-9 describes the necessary materials for sacrifice (vs. 1-2), coming to the doorway of the tent of meeting for washing (vs. 3), dressing Aaron in the High Priest garments (vs. 5-6), anointing Aaron (vs. 7), and dressing Nadab and Abihu in priests tunics (vs. 8), and binding sashes and caps on Aaron and his sons (vs. 9). Likewise, Leviticus 8:1-13 follows a similar narrative: proper sacrifice materials are brought (vs. 2), they meet at the doorway of the tent of meeting for washing (vs. 4, 6), Aaron is dressed in High Priest garments (vs. 7-9), Aaron is anointed (vs. 12), Nadab and Abihu receive priestly tunics (vs. 13), and Aaron and his sons are bound with caps and sashes (vs. 13). In essence, these two pericopes portray the same narrative trajectory with minor differences.

First, Leviticus details that “this is the thing which the LORD has commanded to do” (vs. 5). In essence, Leviticus 8:5 seems to refer back to Exodus 29:1-9 in that it seems to repeat, save for minor embellished details, exactly what God directly commanded Moses. Such repetition within P material is no surprise because other ancient Near Eastern materials operate similarly, employing tools like repetition within literary compositions. Secondly, Leviticus 8:8 specifies the Urim and Thummim on Aaron, while Exodus 29:5 does not discuss the Urim and Thummim. Third, Moses, in Leviticus 8:10-11, anoints the tabernacles, altar, utensils, basin, and stand prior to anointing Aaron in vs. 12. Exodus 29:7 contains solely a command to anoint Aaron. Fourth, Leviticus 8:1-13 notes repeatedly “just as the LORD had commanded Moses” (vs. 4, 5, 9, 13), while Exodus 29:1 abstains from such comment because it is only instruction.

In conclusion, a parallel comparison of Exodus 29:1-9 and Leviticus 8:1-13 demonstrates that both run parallel to each other, one as command and the other as past action. Leviticus 8:1-13 tends to use the waw-consecutive + imperfect to illustrate a continuous narrative of ritual, while Exodus 29:1-9 uses perfect Qal verbs to illustrate it as distant from the actual action. Thus, it is further reasonable to assume that these two passages are intended to be connected, one as the command and the other as action.

Next time, I will present the similarities and difference between Exodus 29:10-30 and Leviticus 8:14-30.

Sommer, Benjamin D. Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Traditions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

All biblical quotation taken from NASB.

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