Notes on Leviticus

This post contains my notes from my reading of Leviticus 1-16. I will post my notes on Leviticus 17-27 tomorrow (i.e. the Holiness School plus Leviticus 27).  I am using the Jewish Study Bible for my translation.

Things I need to pay attention to:

  1. The Holiness School material of Leviticus 17-26
  2. The nature of ritual
  3. The goal of ritual
  4. Magic and ritual (?)
  5. Structure of Leviticus
  • Leviticus 1:5 specified that a bull shall be slaughtered before the lord; 1:11, speaking of a sheep or goat sacrifices, specifies “It shall be slaughters before the LORD on the north side of the Altar“.
  • Leviticus  1 offers a general overview of how to do each animal sacrifice (bull, sheep, or bird) for a burnt offering.
  • For meal offerings in Leviticus 2, there is a certain amount of “meal” from the offering which is expected to be left over. This indicates that there is (was) a prescribed amount to be used for the meal offering. Remainder goes to Aaron and his sons.
  • Every meal offering seems to have (1) oil and (2) frankincense.
  • In Leviticus 1, the burnt offering specifies that “He shalllay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering, that it may be acceptable in his behalf, in expiation for him” (1:4). 3:2, though, simply says that “he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering and slaughter it at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (3:2). There is, thus, a clear difference between one of well-being/peace offering and a burnt offering. The latter expiates something, while the former does something different.
    • Well-being/peace offerings focus more on the fat which is the LORD’s: the tail, fat of the entrails, kidneys, loins, protuberance on the liver, etc. These elements are not emphasizes, or even mentioned, in the burnt offering.
  • Is a priest incurs guilt unwittingly, he specifically must offer a bull. as an offering of purgation. Within this process, it seems to combine elements of the burnt offering (dashing blood on all sides of the altar) with that of the well-being/peace offering (presenting the fat to the LORD). Leviticus 4: 10 acknowledges this: “just as it [the fat] is removed from the ox of the sacrifice of well-being. The remainder of the ox, namely the hide, dung, entrails, heads, legs, are to be carried to a clean place outside the camp. They are to be burnt. (Leviticus 4:1-12)
  • If the community errs unwittingly, a bull is offered on behalf of the community. Unlike the burnt offerings and well-being offerings though, the elders lay there hands on the head of the bull. (Leviticus 4: 13-21
    • This suggests a hierarchy: Priest, elder, People, Individual. The remainder of Leviticus four supports this, as it is divided into these sections.
  • If a Chieftan incurs guilt unwittingly, he brings a male goat. The goat is offered as a burnt offering and is a sin offering. Like the sacrifice of well-being, the fat is for the LORD (Leviticus 4:22-26).
    • The text specifically notes that “the priest shall make expiation on his [the chief’s] behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven” (4:26b).
    • This demonstrates what what Wright and Milgrom argue for: a gradation of holiness. Ultimately, according to Leviticus, the holiness descends from the God, to priest, to chief, to community, to individual.
    • Note, though, that the issue of a Chief erring only occurs after the community erring, suggesting the priority of the communal image over the leader(s) of the community.
  • If a person incurs guilt unwittingly, he brings a female goat, lays his hand on its head, and it is slaughtered where burnt offerings occurs. Likewise, the fat is removed. And like the chief, “the priest shall make expiation for him, and he shall be forgiven” (Leviticus 4:31). (Leviticus 4:27-31).
    • There is a strange relationship between 4:27-31 and 4:32-35. They are parallel, yet the latter includes information not included in the former. The latter also seems to change the interpretation of some ritual actions.
      • 4:31b: “Thus the priest shall make expiation for him, and he shall be forgiven”.
      • 4:36b: “Thus the priest shall make expiation on his behalf for the sin of which he is guilty, and he shall be forgiven”.
      • Why does the latter text emphasize “the sin of which he is guilty, while the latter does not? Is 32-35 perhaps another gradation of holiness, and the social structure (perceived or real) therein?
  • SUMMARY: Up to this point, Levitcus 1-3 specified how to do burnt offerings, meal offerings, and well-being/peace offerings. Chapter 4, which speak of sins unwittingly performed, specifies the ritual involved in purgation of the sins, sin offerings. Rather than using one of the three types of offerings, it seems to combine the burnt offering and well-being/peace offering in order to construct a ritual geared toward purgation of sin.
  • Additionally, Leviticus 4 imagines/reflects some sort of social gradation of holiness: Priest, Community, Chief/Elder(?), Individual (1/2?), Individual (2/2?).
  • Leviticus 5 beings by listing causative laws. 5:1-6 – if somebody realizes they have sinned through incurring ritual impurity, they (1) confess and then (2) offer a sheep of goat as a sin offering.
    • Like a standard sin offering, “the priest shall make expiation on his behalf.
  • 5:7-10 offers an alternative: if the person cannot afford a sheep, he may offer a bird. This inclues a sin offering, again, and burnt offering of the bird. Because the entrails can’t be offered, though, there is no question of the fat for the LORD.
    • 5:10b uses the same languages 4:35b: “The priest shall make expiation on his behalf for the sin of which he is guilty, and he shall be forgiven”.
    • 5:6 does not specificy this. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suggest that the language choice of “sin of which he is guilty” may relate in some way to the perceived or imagined social structure of ancient Israel.
  • If he is unable to offer a bird, he may offer a meal offering, as outlined in Leviticus 3. This meal offering is the sin offering. (Leviticus 5:11-13).
  • The text shifts in 5:14: the LORD speaks to Moses again.
    • First, a person who trespasses against the LORD’s sacred things must offer a ram, or a comparable weight in silver, as a guilt offering, plus adding more to sacred things of the priests. In other words, he must provide more material that can be sacred.
    • Second, if a person sins regarding the lords command, he must do the same thing: bring a ram without blemish or comparable weight of silver.
      • This law is very vague and ambiguous, at least in the JPS translation: “sins in regard to any of the LORD’s commandments about things not to be done” (5:17).
  • Again, the text shifts and the LORD speaks to Moses: (Leviticus 5:20-26)
    • If a person sins against the LORD by dealing deceitfully with neighbors, and he realizes the guilt, he must restore the fraud or robber in the principle amount plus a fifth extra.
    • THEN he goes to make a guilt offering.
    • One of the most interesting things about this is how actions against humans are actions against God.
      • It echoes the theological concept within the P material of imago Dei.
  • Chapter 6 shifts to commanding Aaron and his sons. In other words, it is now the turn of the priesthood.
    • 6:1-11 detail what the priests are to do with the burnt offering(s), well-being offering(s), and meal offering(s).
      • The text distinguishes between the burnt offerings/well-being offerings and the meal offerings.
    • 6:12-16 speaks what the priests are to do when they are annointed as priests. Unlike the other meal offerings, which they offer, the priests do not keep the remnants of their offering to the LORD.
      • Perhaps this is because, while the Priests, who serve as the conduits for sanctifying the community, are able to eat the remnants of those offerings, their offering for anointment is different. Now, God is the one who serves as the conduit for sanctifying them; therefore, God alone is permitted to eat the remnants of the offering.
    • 6:17-23 shifts back to what the priests are to do with offerings, as in 6:1-11. 12-16 seems to interrupt the flow of the text. I wonder if this is a later addition or part of the Holiness School.
  • Leviticus 7:1-6 explicates the guilt offering discussed originally in Leviticus 4.
  • 7:7-10 ties together the roles of the priests in the guilt offering and sin offering.
  • 7:11-21 details the ritual of sacrifice for well-being:
    • It distinguishes between two types:
      • 1) Offering for thanksgiving with a meal offering.
      • 2) Votive or freewill offering
  • 7:19-21 is odd.
  • 7: 22-27 explains the importance of not eating the fat of ox or sheep. And, in particular, not eating the blood.
  • 7:28 begins details the role of Israelites in all of these rituals:
    • 7:28-34 details this.
  • SUMMARYish: 7:37-38 wraps up the whole previous section which detailed the rituals of offerings. It includes the offering of oridination (6:12-16). Even so, this still seems somewhat out of place.
  • Chapter 8 shifts to the anointing of the priesthood, which directly involves the community.
    • This entire ritual seems to use elements from all of what is detailed in 6:1-7:38. It is as if the author is writing a ritual narrative, not just rules for doing rituals.
  • Chapter 9 has a similar thing: each offering type is done in order to prepare for the presence of the LORD. In Leviticus 9:8, Aaron finally becomes the agent in acting as the high priest. Previously, it was Moses.
  • Only after the major acts of sanctification in Chapter 9, which include the purification of the Tabernacle, Priesthood, and Community, does the presence of God appear in 9:23. This seems to be the climax of the ritual narrative. Again, it points to the fact that ritual is more than mere “ritual”: ritual is a rich narrative which serves some end.
    • In my reading of the book of Leviticus, the most intriguing observation is that the ritual within the book is not a list of laws. It is enumeration of actions which lead up to an experience or an event.
  • SO, Leviticus 10:2 occurs because Nadab and Abihu break the commanded cycle/narrative of ritual offerings and actions.
    • Naturally, this causes an issue of impurity within the precincts of the Tabernacle.
  • Leviticus 10:20 offers a sort of flexibility to the ritual narrative.
  • GENERAL NOTE: My notes are not nearly as detailed at this point because I need to (1) move onto other work and (2) get home.
  • Leviticus 11 shifts from the ritual narrative to law code (I used the term “law” very generically). Below is an outline with notes.
    • Leviticus 11:1-47 discursively addresses the issue of diet, physical contact with impure animals, and material contact with impure animals.
      • Dietary restriction is justified by God: the LORD brought people out of Egypt to be their God, and they should be holy as he is holy.
    • Leviticus 12:1-8 covers issues of female purity in light of childbirth and menstruation.
      • This is typically deemed anti-women. In an conceptual environment where blood is of the utmost significance, though, it makes sense.
      • There is also nothing in the text which suggests that the author actually believes women are “gross” or that the author is attempting to restrict women from worship. As noted by JPS, it is contrary to that: the rituals serve to enable women to join in cult worship at the tabernacle.
    • Leviticus 13: 1-59 covers issues of rashes, inflammation, “leprosy”, cloth growth, etc.
    • Leviticus 14:1-33 issues the ritual for combating leprosy. Like the ordination of priests, the priest puts oil on the right ear of the one being cleanses, as well as the thumb and big toe for his right hand and foot. Echoes in specific applications oil suggest a similar approach/efficacy/goal/etc.
      • Going into greater detail, Leviticus 14:33-53 speaks of what may be mold.
    • Leviticus 15:1-32 focuses on discharges for men and women. It offers both the problems and the ritual solutions.
    • Leviticus 16 continues the ritual narrative which originally ended at the end of Leviticus 10.
      • It concerns purging the Shrine, more popularly known as the Holy of Holies, from impurities.
      • In 16:29, the ritual narrative for the purgation of the Shrine is turned into a holy day: “In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall 0practice self-denial…”. The text continues with more details about how it is a day for atonement of all sins and is a sabbath of rest.
      • In this day, the Day of Purgation, 16:32-33 emphasizes the priests role in the purgation for the people of the congregation.





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