Exodus and Leviticus: A Parallel Reading (Part VII)

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.

As mentioned in the previous post, Leviticus 9 and Exodus 29:38-46 are both concerned with consecrating the altar. The consecration is means for the glory of Yahweh to appear. This trajectory also carries a notable difference between the two books. Exodus 29:38-46 focuses on the establishment of God’s consecration of the altar and his appearance to the people. Verses 38, 42, and 45 indicate that the appearance of Yahweh is a continual occurrence in Israel as they perform the sacrifices and offerings in verse 38-41. Verses 38 and 42 use tāmîd, a term for continuance and unceasingness (Holladay). Partnered with the dwelling of Yahweh in verse 45, it is clear that the focus is on the continual presence of him and ritual which purifies the Tent of Meeting to enabling him consecrate and dwell.

Leviticus 9, though, takes place during a narrative sequence and is more focused on the present completion of the consecration of the altar through Yahweh’s appearance. Unlike Exodus 29:38-46, which focuses on the future and continual instructions for a consecrated altar, Leviticus 9 focuses on the initial consecration of the altar. Although the long term rituals of consecration may be in view, they are periphery. Leviticus 9 consistently uses the waw consecutive imperfect, indicating the narrative nature of the passage. And while the glory of Yahweh appears, the moment is in view rather than Yahweh’s continual presence.

As this brief analysis of Leviticus 9 and Exodus 29:38-46 demonstrates, both passages are focuses on Yahweh’s glory appearing and the ritual therein. Exodus focuses more on the future issues with his continual presence while Leviticus focuses on the monumental moment of Yahweh’s appearance.

The next post will discuss Exodus 30:1-10 and Leviticus 10:1-3.

 

 

Advertisement

Exodus and Leviticus: A Parallel Reading (Part IV)

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.

The follow compares Exodus 29:31-37 and Leviticus 8:31-36. All translations are from the NASB.

Exodus 29:31-32 31 “And you shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh in a holy place.

32 “And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, at the doorway of the tent of meeting.

 

Leviticus 8:31 31 Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons, “Boil the flesh at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and eat it there together with the bread which is in the basket of the ordination offering, just as I commanded, saying, ‘Aaron and his sons shall eat it.’

 

Exodus 29:33 33 “Thus they shall eat those things by which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration; but a layman shall not eat them, because they are holy.

 

N/A N/A
Exodus 29:34 34 “And if any of the flesh of ordination or any of the bread remains until morning, then you shall burn the remainder with fire; it shall not be eaten, because it is holy.

 

Leviticus 8:32 32 “And the remainder of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn in the fire.

 

Exodus 29:35 35 “And thus you shall do to Aaron and to his sons, according to all that I have commanded you; you shall ordain them through seven days.

 

Leviticus 8:33 33 “And you shall not go outside the doorway of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the day that the period of your ordination is fulfilled; for he will ordain you through seven days.

 

N/A N/A Leviticus 8:34 34 “The LORD has commanded to do as has been done this day, to make atonement on your behalf.

 

Exodus 29:36 36 “And each day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement, and you shall purify the altar when you make atonement for it; and you shall anoint it to consecrate it.

 

N/A N/A
Exodus 29:37 37 “For seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it; then the altar shall be most holy, and whatever touches the altar shall be holy.

 

 

 

 

Leviticus 8:35 35 “At the doorway of the tent of meeting, moreover, you shall remain day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the LORD, that you may not die, for so I have been commanded.”

 

N/A N/A Leviticus 8:36 36 Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses.

 

 

As this brief chart displays, these two passages are similar, although they do have distinct focuses. Exodus, first of all, is far more focused on issues of holiness. Verses 31, 33, 36, and 37 demonstrate a focus on the holiness, purity, and consecration of the altar. Unlike Leviticus, Exodus explicitly notes that non-Priests, laymen, are not to eat of the sacrifices. Leviticus is seemingly simpler and more focused on ensuring that Aaron and his sons did exactly what the LORD had commanded through Moses. In only 6 verses, there are two references confirming their obedience to commandments of the past, verse 34 and 36.

The parallels between the narrative and commands are intriguing for a variety of reasons. For the sake of this post’s length, I will focus on one, namely the rearrangement of Leviticus by the redactor. The difference between Leviticus and Exodus 29:36, especially with regard to the issue of holiness and consecration, may be due, in part, to the final editors movement of sacrificial terminology and practice to one which fit his own socio-historical context. Regardless of that, Yitzhaq Feder suggests that consecration of the altar in Leviticus 8:15 may have been originally more in line with Exodus 29:36 (See Yitzhaq Feder, 2011, pg. 50-51). With this is mind, these two portions of Leviticus and Exodus are even more similar than they seem to be within the redactors rearrangement.

The next post will take into consideration Yitzhaq Feder’s argument regarding the strata of Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8.

 

 

The Privileged Tradition: An Approach to Comparative Studies

Emerging from an academic environment in which the Hebrew Bible was extremely privileged and West Semitic culture “Canaanized” (Ballentine 2015, 17), much 20th and 21st century biblical scholarship has sought an equilibrium to allow for comparative studies without presupposed significance of one text over the other. By “Canaanized”, I mean the gross misrepresentation of West Semitic cultures primarily via the polemical lens of the Hebrew Bible and cherry picked texts. More recently, from an evangelical perspective, John Walton has championed the importance of comparative studies for the Hebrew Bible, drawing emphasis to the challenges of comparative studies for confessional scholars in Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Walton 2006, 29-40). Debra Ballentine succinctly notes in her discussion of “the comparative enterprise” that “Israelite and Judean traditions should be included among Canaanite traditions, not portrayed as being opposed to, completely other than, or superior to Canaanite traditions” (2015, 16).

But how does one avoid privileging the Israelite Judean traditions without abandoning recognition of the role of the Hebrew Bible in the daily lives of the religious? I believe the answer to this question does not rest upon increasing ones faith in the Bible, for doing so would move back towards the “Canaanization” of West Semitic culture and myth. Nor does it require movement towards complete agreement on the authoritative nature of ancient literature. Positive development of supporting the authoritative status for the religious, and avoidance of diminishment of it to one insignificant piece of literature among many, may be found by moving toward questions of the universality of story, myth, and ritual. As Catherine Bell (1952-2008) notes at the end of her introduction to ritual, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions, “the form and scope of interpretation differ, and that should not be lightly dismissed, but it cannot be amiss to see in all of these instances practices that illuminate our shared humanity” (1997, 267). In other words, regardless of religious affiliation, or lack thereof, the ritual nature of life itself should be drawn out to find common humanity.

By elevating the status of other ancient literature to demonstrate the commonalities of humanity, comparative study may more successfully flourish amongst those who do privilege the Hebrew Bible. The notion of privilege then becomes an issue of praxis rather than glorified literature. So even if one firmly believes in the importance of the Hebrew Bible over other ancient literature, the common ritual, and hence uniting humanity, permits a more balanced equilibrium. Furthermore, this approach would allow confessional and non-confessional scholars alike to be heard better by those outside of the academy. Instead of hearing a person say that the Hebrew Bible is not significant, drawing out the common human elements of other literature allows people to hold to their beliefs while still recognizing the intrinsic value of other ancient literature.

Such an approach accomplishes two important missions for all people. First, this approach unites people in finding common humanity. No evidence need be shown to reveal the disconnected and opposing behavior of many people due to the sense of one’s traditions over another. But by elevating the intrinsic value of ancient literature for human commonalities, an environment is cultured in which conducive discussion may occur and unite, rather than splinter people. Secondly, people are permitted to believe freely in what they understand to be Truth, or truth. Culture of scholarship would permit confessional and non-confessional alike to unite and hold to their own tenants. Hence the validity of scholars are upheld and the community becomes more inclusive, accepting the full spectrum of traditions and scholastic approaches.

Finding the intrinsic value of ancient literature has the potential to improve the quality of biblical scholarship. How do certain texts discuss the nature of humanity? Does the text do so in a ritual manner that compares equally to the Hebrew Bible? Too what extent does ritual illustrate the common humanity between ancient Israel and Canaan? These are the sort of questions that may be explored more thoroughly only when one is willing to note the intrinsic value of all ancient literature for demonstrating common humanity.


Cited Works

Ballentine, Debra Scoggins. The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Bell, Catherine. Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

Musings on Critical Approaches to Leviticus

Historically the food laws of Leviticus 11 have no parallels in the Ancient Near East. And while there are proposted explanations for the theological intentions of the Kashruth in Leviticus 11, external evidence for the division of clean/unclean animals during the historical context of the book of Leviticus lacks.

In a lecture regarding the Philistines at Tell Gath, Aren Maeir notes the following:

For many years it was thought that if you have a site with pig bones, it’s Philistine. If you have a site without, it’s Israelite. Seemingly very nice, but it’s much more complicated. And one of the things that we’ve started noticing in Philistia, is that in Urban sites you have pig bones, in rural sites you don’t have pig bones. And when you go to the Israelites, in Judah you don’t have pig bones, in Israel you do have pig bones. So things are a little more complicated than we assume. And like always things are not black and white. They’re grey.

What may something like this indicate about Leviticus? From his statement, there are three indications.

  1. Leviticus contains several strata of text.
  2. Leviticus is political on some level.
  3. Leviticus must be read diachronically

1. Leviticus Contains Several Strata of Text

While this is commonly accepted in various forms after the ground-breaking work of Julius Wellhausen, the excavations at Tell Gath indicate even more so that the strata of the bible should be recognized. The excavations demonstrate this in that there are pig bones in Judah and not in Israel in the 8th-6th centuries B.C. There are, of course, older layers of text which clearly demonstrate the ancient context of Leviticus. A simplistic explanation simply explains it away as being due to the sins of the North. In contrast, an explanation honest to the text, history, and archaeology must recognize that the food laws may have been a late development in Israelite religion that were edited into older texts.

2. Leviticus is Political on some Level

In continuity with my previous point, the excavations have sociological and, more important, political indications. After all, within the presentation of the Bible, the Southern Kingdom was generally more faithful to God than the Northern Kingdom. It also, in contrast to the North, stayed united. Either way, it is clear that the South, if in control of the redaction of biblical texts, may likely have been willing to establish certain restrictions that may have helped them to become more powerful than the North. They would do so by centering holiness and purity upon their own diet and geographic region. Thus, it is possible that the food laws of Leviticus were redacted to set themselves apart from the North as “superior” in some way. Hence, it Leviticus may be political.

3. Leviticus must be read diachronically

Again similar to point 1, due to the nature of Leviticus, it should be read diachronically. While there are clearly and most definitely benefits to a synchronic reading, a diachronic reading practically takes into account the various strata of the text. The nature of pig bones in Israel demonstrates just this point. Perhaps the food laws were a later development within ancient Israelite religion. Perhaps they were politically driven. No matter the case, the strata of Leviticus must be recognizes and taken into account as one reads Leviticus by reading it diachronically.

Conclusion

These three points provide reasonable basic guidelines by which I may read Leviticus critically. More than reading it critically, a proper reading will assist in understanding the various intertextual connections within the Pentateuch and entire Bible.

 

 

The Role of Ruth

Note: Ruth in italics represents the title of the Book of Ruth, while Ruth is regular caps is for the character.

Within the Hebrew Bible and biblical studies, one of the most overlooked portions is the Megilloth (Ruth, Lamentations, Song of Solomon, Esther, and Ecclesiastes). Although people like Dr. Brad Embry (Regent University) have started a Program Unit at SBL for the Megilloth, it remains overlooked. This is unfortunate because the Megilloth act in a unique manner. One major factor so unique about the Megilloth is their sense of being in the genre of “indie films”, or independent films. In essence, an independent film escapes the typical boundary markers set by the film industry. They need not appeal to the mass audience by creating a simple story with everything cut and dry (Note: Don’t think I am saying the whole Bible is cut and dry. I am speaking very broadly). Indie films, rather, demonstrate real life while still raising issues and making points. They don’t attempt to make everything neat and tidy. Within them, certain tensions exist as part of the drive and soul of the film.

In my view, Ruth is quite similar to an indie film. Contrary to the belief that Ruth was solely written as a polemic to Hezekiah and Josiah’s reforms, Ruth seems to be more of a down to earth view of Israelite society which recognizes that society is not nearly as black and white as is oft-portrayed. Ruth see’s no need to cover up the nature of Ruth as a Moabite. It even portrays her as the ideal Israelite and part of the assembly of God. Such actions directly contradict Deuteronomy 23:3-6, God’s command not to allow Moabites into the assembly or provide them with support. Clearly this independent “film” escapes the typical boundary markers set by ancient Israel. By escaping the boundary markers, Ruth occurs in tension with the rest of the Hebrew Canon, tensions utilized to progress the didactic goal of Ruth.

By approaching Ruth as an indie film, there no longer needs to be an attempt to synchronize everything theologically. As is often recognized, the Hebrew Bible displays many theologies, and these should be embraced equally. So, rather than “passing over” (It is Passover right now…) Ruth because it seems insignificant, it should be approached directly with respect for the indie like nature of the narrative. After all, if one fails to recognize that a film is indie and views it through the same lens as a mainstream Hollywood film, the life is suffocated from the film. In the same way, to place such stringent restrictions on how to read Ruth will result in the suffocation of a literary masterpiece.

Leviticus as a Window to Ancient Israel

Too often Leviticus is overlooked because 21st century interpreters are generally unable to connect with the cognitive environment of Leviticus. Unfortunately, this results in a skewed and simplistic view of Leviticus and the entire sacrificial system. In reality, the sacrificial system offers insight to the societal organization and cognitive environment. While the ethical standards of Leviticus are most clear in displaying ancient Israel to the modern reader (cf. Lev 18-19), the environment can also be grasped through the sacrificial system.

Take, for example, the arrangement of sin offerings (Lev 4). In it, the sin offerings are grouped in two categories, communal and individual. Each of these categories break into two more sub-categories, for a total of four sub-categories.

  • Communal – Anointed Priest
  • Communal – Community as a whole
  • Individual – Ruler
  • Individual – Common Israelite

In Leviticus 4:3-12, the sin of an anointed priest is described as “bringing guilt on the people” (Lev 4:3, NRSV), hence its categorization as communal. Also communal, Leviticus 4:13-21 discusses the process of a sin offering “if the whole congregation of Israel errs unintentionally” (Lev 4:13, NRSV). Both communal sacrifices require a bull to be brought before the Lord and involve the sprinkling of blood seven times before the curtain.

The second category, individual, involves the actions for a ruler, or judge, who sins or the ordinary person. The individual category simply requires a male goat for the judge and female goat, or sheep, for the ordinary person. Additionally, the blood is not sprinkled seven times before the curtain. The individual category does not imply any need for communal cleansing in response to the actions of an individual, whether ruler or ordinary person.

Distinction by the text of the communal and individual illustrates the cognitive environment and  society of ancient Israel. Additionally, it provides an essential key to interpreting biblical texts, especially texts of more Priestly oriented tradition. Leviticus 4 demonstrates that ancient Israel, while fully aware of the individual, placed much more significance upon the community. First, the communal sin offerings required far greater sacrifice, a bull. In contrast, the individual sin offerings only requires a goat or sheep. Secondly, unlike the individual sin offerings, the communal sin offerings required the priest to spring blood seven times before the curtain. The curtain was the closest that one could move towards the center of the sanctified space because it was the Holy of Holies. So, by the priest sprinkling blood for atonement before the curtain in order to attain atonement for communal sin offerings, Leviticus suggests that sanctification of the entire community is more important than the individual sanctification. While the text clearly suggests that the individual is important, the community take precedence.

In conclusion, this brief examination of Leviticus 4 and ancient Israel’s sin offerings exemplifies how Leviticus holds essential keys to understanding the world and mind of ancient Israel. While such observations in Leviticus are not always immediately noticed by the modern reader, they are present if one is willing to set aside his/her presupposed ideas about Leviticus. By doing so, they will avoid abrogating the meaning and intention of the text and provide it autonomy from the 21st century cognitive environment (cf. John Walton 2015, 15-23). After all, a proper reading of Leviticus results in far richer results of the Bible than are generally expected.

Walton, John H. The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2015. Print.

The Essence of Exegesis: A Review and Response To Gordon Fee’s Hermeneutic

In his articles To What End Exegesis (1988) and Exegesis and Spirituality (2000), Gordon Fee explores how spirituality is an important aspect of exegesis. His article To What End Exegesis sets the framework for Exegesis and Spirituality. The 1988 article is essentially arguing for a hermeneutic that embraces the spiritual aim of Scripture, while the 2000 article explore the intermingling between spirituality and exegesis amidst the interpretative process.

In To What End Exegesis, Fee begins by pointing out that the academy psyche of a neutral approach is not viable because it is not how the texts themselves were written; thus, Scripture should be read as Spiritual from beginning to end, as that is the intention of the text . He demonstrates this through brief exegesis of Philippians 4:10-20, drawing out the importance of the doxology and response expected by the Philippians. The audience was the Church, and therefore the ones who interpret Scripture should be the Church. Published in 2000, Fee continues this exegetical tradition by examining the subject more closely: what “is the interface between exegesis and spirituality, between the historical exercise of digging out the original intent of the text and the experience of hearing the text in the present in terms of both its presupposed and intentional spirituality” (4, Exegesis and Spirituality). As in the 1988 article, spirituality is the ultimate goal of Scripture. So, he begins by reviewing the concepts from his 1988 article; however, his review is more geared towards explaining the worldview of Christianity in order to validate the interface between spirituality and exegesis. His interface takes place in that the exegetical goal is to understand the authorial intent, spirituality. Yet, as a traditional believing scholar, he holds Scripture in high regard, reflected in his statement that exegesis of Scripture is for believers and should be read as a means to spirituality. Through a brief case study, he exemplifies how Paul’s intention for the Philippians was that his spirituality would result in producing greater spirituality in Philippi. Thus, spirituality and history is one discipline that requires us to be good students of the Word and pray-ers (15, Exegesis and Spirituality).

Between the 1988 and 2000, there are 2 major developments: audience and spirituality. Both of these developments are connected because the audience changes how spirituality is represented. In To What End Exegesis, Fee does not explain the a priori of Scripture as God’s word. It is assumed. Additionally, the 1988 article is more focused on the spiritual aspects of exegesis than the interface between exegesis and spirituality, an interface which ultimately unites the two. Thus, rather than simply explaining how the aim of exegesis is spirituality, Fee more aggressively ties the two together inseparably in order to explain it to a broader audience. The development of the united spirituality and exegesis is also clear through how he even uses the term “spirituality”. In To What End Exegesis, “spirituality” is capitalized, giving it a sense of holiness. This is made clear by his statement that “Spirituality is defined altogether in terms of the Spirit of God” (80, To What End Exegesis). In Exegesis and Spirituality, Fee reviews his view of spirituality in more historical terms. That is not to say they are not theological; rather, they communicate the theological through historical scholarly language, not the theological through theological language. Through both 1988 and 2000, Fee maintains a relatively consistent view of spirituality and exegesis. However, his purpose and audience force him to adjust his language in order to present more effectively.

While it is respectable that he observes the goal of the text and the role of the Church, it is unfortunate that he does not address the issue of worldviews. From a Christian worldview, one with much diversity, his explanation is profound and effective for interpreting within the Church context. Yet, criticism from the secular world often stems from criticism of the spirituality, or hopes to understand a more universal spirituality not limited to the Church. By missing this goal of some scholars, Fee is too narrow in his hermeneutic and fails to acknowledge the vastness of worldviews from scholars and lay people. While his regard for the relationship between spirituality and exegesis is respectable, and often times agreeable, a Christian worldview should be willing and able to face the secular approach to Scripture. Christian scholars should know how to dialogue with secular scholars, meaning that they speak the language and traditions of the secular rather than the sacred. In arguing for biblical studies as a secular discipline, protestant scholar Ron Simkins notes that “faith may shape the kind of questions the scholar brings to his subject matter; it may even shape the manner in which the subject matter is treated, but it should not determine the results of the scholarship” (11, Biblical Studies as a Secular Discipline). While a completely inclusive biblical hermeneutic is out of question, the exclusive hermeneutic of Fee, which limits interpretation to the Church, creates a system in which there is no question or critique of Scripture. To begin and end with spirituality as the primary goal comes dangerously close to what Simkins opposes. “Faith that demands certain results or is expressed through inviolable propositions is both a distortion of faith and contrary to scholarship” (11, Biblical Studies as a Secular Discipline).

As a method, Fee’s approach is viable. But it is viable as one amidst a plethora of hermeneutics, which should be recognized. Biblical interpretation should critique the text, not solely seek spirituality. After all, if God’s word is truly inspired, it should stand up to secular criticism and approach. While faith demands an a priori of trust, there should be a willingness to address the faults of the text. Christian faith is not in the Bible, but God. Because Christianity is, in some sense, a human movement encompassing Christian traditions over 2000 years, that movement should not have absolute and unquestioning loyalty, as it easily pre-determines the exegetical results.

Works Cited

Simkins, Ron. “Biblical Studies as a Secular Discipline: The Role of Faith and Theology.” Journal of Religion & Society 13 (2011): pg. 1-17. Journal of Religions and Society. Creighton University, 2011. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.