Readings On Leviticus

This post contains thoughts, reactions, objections, etc. to my assigned reading. Tomorrow I plan on reading through Leviticus and *offering* my notes. Don’t worry. I won’t offer my notes on an altar.

The Jewish Study Bible: Leviticus (introduction to Leviticus by Baruch J. Schwartz)

  • Leviticus is part of a long narrative, not short, boring book about [imagined] ancient Israelite ritual practice. Too often we read Leviticus as a weird text, or we just skip over it.
  • “In P’s view [P is the Priestly source], only the events recounted by the Tabernacle narrative took place. The centrality of the Tabernacle narrative is therefore far more pronounced in P than in the redacted Torah, since, in P, only in connection with the arrival of the divine Presence to dwell among the Israelites was a code of law given and the social structures established” (Jewish Study Bible, 204).
  • Two narratives interrupt the series of laws
    • Crime of Nadab and Abihu
      • Narrative for proper disposal of sacrificial offering
      • eye-for-eye principle
  • According to the author, Leviticus “came into existence” in the last centuries of the Judean kingdom. “Came into existence” a broad term, for it could refer to composition, creation, redaction, or any other number of things.
  • Because Temple ritual is envisioned in Leviticus, the book remained central to Jewish life after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. In essence, Leviticus offered Jews a way to continue practicing the purity, purity which honored God, through actions which served to sanctify his name.

The Jewish Study Bible: Concepts of Purity in the Bible (by Jonathan Klawans)

  • Important consideration of purity: “What is pure is not necessarily holy, nor is the common necessarily impure” (2041).
  • James Frazer, who wrote The Golden Bough and understood Leviticus ritual “as if [it] were a random collection of primitive taboos” (2041), was a major influence for Joseph Campbell. While the contributions of Frazer cannot be denied, those who are completely okay with Frazer as a major influence of Campbell must willingly critique Frazer. By not doing so, we are unable to realize how outdated Joseph Campbell truly is. Freud, another influence for Campbell, understood “primitive” religion similarly.
  • There is a dissertation completed within the last few years which argues that P is, in fact, not anti-women. This is to support Klawans’ statement that some scholars viewed Leviticus as a way of subordinating Israelites and, in particular, women.
  • It is not a sin to contract ritual impurities, according to Leviticus.
  • “There is… no direct association between health and purity, or between disease and defilement” (2043).
  • “If the rules [of Leviticus] were meant to exclude women, one should wonder why rituals of purification serve to bring women into the sanctuary” (2044).
  • Common denominators of ritual defilement are death and sex.
  • Leviticus is meant to keep God’s santicity: “Because God is eternal, God does not die. because God has no consort, God does not have sex” (2044).
    • There is evidence, though, of a consort of Yahweh in archaeological and textual evidence. How does one deal with the lack therein within the Priestly account? Maybe is says something about the redaction process of the Pentateuch?
  • Two sides of the spectrum:
    • Absence of impurity can be considered pure (tahor)
    • Absence of holiness can be considered common (hol).
  • Moral versus ritual impurity:
    • Ritual impurity is not sinful, moral is considered so.
    • Moral impurity threatens the land, ritual only threatens the Temple.
    • Ritual is considered with physical contact with impurity, moral is no.
    • Ritual is temporary defilement, while moral tends to be long lasting.
    • Ritual can be purified, while moral cannot be purified.
    • Moral impurity does not cause exclusion from temple, while ritual defilement does.
  • Great conclusion: “The purity rules are often disparaged as blunt instruments of social control, put in place by the priestly few to enforce their hegemony over laypersons and women. Alternatively, some still see purity rules as vestiges from primitive times. The challenge is to recognize purity rules… as meaningful and yet nuanced ways of highlighting issues of social and theological significance” (2047).

Jacob Milgrom, “Israel’s Sanctuary: The Priestly ‘Picture of Dorian Gray,’” in Studies in Cultic Theology and Terminology, 75-84.

  • Milgrom understands biblical impurity as a dynamic and malefic force (75).
  • This article focuses on the nature of biblical impurity in relation to hatta’t, which is a purification offering: whom or what does it purge?
  • The hatta’t blood is applied to the horns of the altar (Lev. 8:15) but never people. Thus, it seems to cleanse the altar.
  • The kipper rite is always used on the floor or room with a prepositions such as ‘al, which means ‘on.’ Whenever kipper is used in relation to a person, it uses prepositions indicating “on behalf of,” meaning the hatta’t is carried out on behalf of the offerer.
  • Priest performs rites for (1) forgiveness of sins) and (2) for cleansing an impure person.
  • This approach to hatta’t as a purgative for the sanctuary, not the individual, echoes ancient Near Eastern cults.
    • “for both Israel and her neighbors impurity was a phsycial substance, an aerial miasma which possessed magnetic attraction for the realm of the sacred” (77).
    • This magnetic attraction was modified for a monotheistic context.
  • Gradation of sins and impurities relates to the physical space of the Temple.
    • “Inadvertencies of the individual” are purified with the hatta’t on the altar, thereby purifying the alter.
    • The next level of holiness in the tabernacle, the shrine, is affected b y communal inadvertencies.
    • Finally, the wanton sins, deliberate and unprovoked, affect the adytum, or holiest place of the tabernacle. This portion of the tabernacle, though, may only be purified on Yom Kippur (Levitucs 16).
  • Milgrom argues against Levine. Milgrom responds to Levine’s argument, that the hatta’t blood is an issue of apotropaic protection, by claiming that the hatta’t blood is not sprinkled at entrances. The entrances is where demons would enter. While I see his reasoning, it raises the question of genre. To what extent does Leviticus represent practice ritual? Perhaps Leviticus is practiced in someways, yet also idealized in others?
  • Milgrom creates too much of a distinction between “judicial” and “magical”: “Its function, moreover, is judicial not magical” (80). We must consider the reality of magic in the ancient Near East, Mediterranean, and Levant.
  • The hatta’t purification as it relates to people, which purifies something on behalf of the people, demonstrates focus of P on Israelit as a holy, sanctified people (Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:26).
  • For Milgrom, the absence of demonas means humans are now the ones who contaminate the sanctuary and force God out.
  • Priests understood God as the one who acted in retribution because the people’s actions sanctified him or defamed him. I should note, though, that Milgrom argues for the omnipotence of God based on this. Would an omnipotent God, in the mind of the Priestly author, be concerned with his fame? I think of Primeval history  (Genesis 1-11) and how the P source represent Yahweh as needing reminders for himself, not for others. With this, Yahweh is more of a human figure than in other sources. Perhaps, then, this need to be considered in tandem with Milgrom’s argument for God’s omnipotence in the mind of the Priestly author.

David P. Wright, “Holiness in Leviticus and Beyond: Differing Perspectives,” Interpretation 53 (1999): 351-364.

  • Holiness School (henceforth, HS; Leviticus 17-26) is similar with the Priestly Source; however, the HS has distinctive concerns.
  • P source focused on cultic manner.
  • HS has a central focus on how holiness relates to God, humans, object, places, and time.
  • HS and Persons
    • God
      • Certain behaviour desecrates his name
      • Divine name is crucial, as his reputation can be besmirched.
      • God is the model for Israel’s holiness
      • In both P source and HS, God is the ultimate source of purification and holiness
    • Israel
      • In contrast to P source, HS demands holiness through behaviour, not ritual.
      • People obtain and maintain holiness by observing commandments.
        • Perhaps the question of the HS helps explainthe JPS comments about Leviticus as the fundamental text in Jewish education, for it enables actions which sanctify God, not necessarily rituals.
      • HS has to a primary command with two major focuses: (1) Sabbath as sign to signal (2) holiness.
      • Wrights discussion of diet is, again, somewhat problematic. As I mentioned regarding Milgrom, we have to consider whether or not Leviticus was actually practiced or if it is merely an imagined cult. Perhaps it is both. That said, if Wright is going to claim that “diet thus encodes the social and political situation of Israel among the nations” (354), he should entertain the question as to whether or not this was historically a practice. If it was historically a practice, how long was it a practice?
    • Priests
      • HS and P source see holiness as bestowed externally.
      • HS focuses on the behaviours for priestly holiness.
      • Honor shown to the Priesthood, according to the HS, reflects the honor Israel showed to God because the Priesthood has external holiness, not just internal.
      • Stricter dietary restrictions for the HS.
    • Firstborn and Levites
      • God sanctified firstborns.
      • P source lacks discussion of the Levites.
      • HS never calls Levites holy.
  • Holiness of Places
    • Sanctuary in the Camp
      • P source and HS consider this holy; in P source it is in gradations of holiness.
      • HS systematizes and rationalizes P source holiness
        • HS claims that presence of deity has healing affect; yet, it makes sure not to take this idea too far.
    • The Land
      • For HS, sin infects the land.
      • HS claims that Day of Atonement is for pollutants like offering children to Molech or delaying purification for contamination
      • For HS, land becomes the locus for pollution, meaning that Yahweh will leave the land if he needs to.
  • Holiness of Objects
    • Sanctuary furniture
      • HS expands on Priestly source by offering more regulations surrounding interactions with furniture.
    • Offerings
      • HS expands on the gradation of holiness as it relates to offerings and eating.
      • By detialing the first and second Passovers, we see inner-biblical interpretation.
  • Holiness is Time
    • HS focuses on the holiness of Sabbath.
      • HS places sabbath on the same level as the sanctuary, as per Knohl.
    • HS seems to turn day of atonement into a yearly ritual.
    • HS also expands and restrictions for Sabbath.

7 thoughts on “Readings On Leviticus

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