Review of “From Prophet to Priest: The Characterization of Aaron in the Pentateuch” by James Findlay

James D. Findlay. From Prophet to Priest: The Characterization of Aaron in the Pentateuch. CBET 77 (Bristol, CT: Peeters). Pp. 423.

The goal of Findlay’s book is straight-forward: he seeks to offer a thorough analysis of Aaron’s characterization in the Pentateuch. In what follows, I offer a summary of his analyses. For each chapter, I raise criticisms regarding his analyses.

Chapter one discusses standard issues for any monograph. First, he reviews the state of scholarship and issues of methodology. He contends that (1) no comprehensive analysis of Aaron’s literary character, (2) with multiple methodological approaches, has been written. So he sets out his literary-critical and form-critical approaches. By using multiple methods for multiple readings, he suggests it is more in line with the Hebrew Bible itself.

While his attempt to utilize multiple methodologies is reasonable, his method is still unclear. For, literary-critical and form-critical approaches are good methods; however, they are only a portion of what should be covered in method. For example, Findlay does not consider the categories “prophet” and “priest” in the HB and ANE. Similarly, he does not engage with the documentary hypothesis. Even if Findlay does not agree with much within the documentary hypothesis, he should at least engage with it, offering a defense and argument as to why it does not play a large role in his methodology.

Additionally, Findlay seemingly offers no reason for texts he chose to examine (Ex. 7-11, 32-34; Lev. 8-10; Num. 12, 16-17; Deut. 9-10). Instead, he briefly comments that “an examination of this set of texts is useful because they represent a range of genres, including narrative, exhortation, and liturgies of priestly ordination, among others” (31). Even if these passages represent a range of genres, there is seemingly no reason or rhyme to what distinguishes these passages from any other appearance of Aaron in the Pentateuch.

Chapter two offers a structural and literary analysis of Exodus 7-11. Notably, Findlay approaches Ex. 7-11 as a united narrative. He justifies this by viewing the phrase wy’mer yhwy mshh as a marker for various sections. So, he reads 12 plagues, not 10. After laying out the structure of these 12 divisions, he highlights various phrases which may demonstrate the unity of Ex. 7-11. Within the text, he characterizes Aaron as acting sporadically. He calls it a ‘sign-cycle’ or ‘narrative’ or ‘prophetic legend’ narrative. He then asserts a cultic setting in the pre-exilic or post-exilic period; however, he offers no arguments or interaction with other scholarship, likewise with his assertion for the texts intention. He concludes that Aaron functions as a “prophet” to Moses, namely as his brother, partner, and associate. So, he is essentially parallel to Moses.

Like any reading, he offers an alternative to something like the documentary hypothesis; however, he does not engage at all with JEDP source. Although he makes reference to the “Priestly writer(s)” (98), he never seems to entirely engage; rather, Findlay only utilizes JEDP divisions when it is helpful to strengthening his own argument. Additionally, and similar to a previous criticism, Findlay does not define or offer sustained discussion about the categories of “priest” and “prophet.” For this reason, it is difficult to fully consider his argument when he offers no framework or discussions of what these roles mean in the HB and ANE. So, although there are some interesting observations tucked within his analyses, the lack of methodological strength severely destabilizes the majority of his conclusions.

Chapter three offers a structural and literary analysis of Ex. 32-34, focusing on Aaron’s role in the narrative. Based on the structure, Findlay argues that Aaron endangered the community through his actions. Although not held responsible for the sin of the people, Aaron does become subordinate to Moses. In other words, he is ‘demoted.’ So, while Aaron is originally ‘almost equal’ to Moses, he now recedes into the text’s background. In his literary-analysis, he reaches a similar conclusion. Whereas in Ex. 32 Aaron is independent, he is absent in 33 and not at the forefront of 34. Because Aaron is not honest about the incident in 33:21 and the narrator notes Aaron’s guilt, the role of Aaron is demoted in the text. For, now he is only referenced with other characters.


Like the other chapters, there are interesting observations tucked away. The negative critiques of his analysis, though, strongly out-weight the positive. First, in all his discussion about Aaron’s role in the calf incident as a priest, he does not consider how Aaron’s actions reflect other broader priestly concerns in the HB and ANE. Put another way, what is a ‘priest’ and what does a ‘priest’ do? How did priests in the HB and ANE relate to the people? Again, his argument regarding the characterization of Aaron is weak because it does not address a basic, yet primary, methodological concern.

Second, although small, one comment may reflect a problem with Findlay’s attentiveness to the text. Speaking of the Levites slaying those who sacrificed to the calf, he notes that the Levites had been blessed “due both to their loyalty to Moses and their willingness to kill man of their Israelite kin” (117). First, they were not “loyal” to Moses; rather, the Levites were dedicated to Yahweh. Similarly, the notion of “willingness to kill many of their Israelite kin” carries an almost moral weight. Yet, again, though, he failed to consider the category of “priest” in the HB and ANE, which would have clarified the actions of slaying the people. This issue of defining priest is further present in his conclusion about the characterization of Aaron: “Whether or not he is a priest is unclear; however, we might conclude that Aaron no longer has the status of prophet, with his unfortunate behavior during the incident with the Golden Calf being the likely reason” (126). If Findlay is unclear whether or not Aaron is a priest at this point, perhaps he should begin by expanding his analysis to consider the conceptual world of the scribe of Exodus. This would include considering what a priest is within the Pentateuch, HB, and ANE. This issue with defining ‘priest’ is a problem through all of this book.

Third, he lacks attention to the nuances of words, which raises concerns for all of his readings. For example, his discussion of Exodus 32:6b suggests that “the description contains no judgmental statement from the narrator that the actions are lurid or abominable… Thus, the object and character of the people’s actions, at this point in the narrative, remain uncertain” (141). A brief look at the BDB entry for the root tsch-k suggests otherwise (books contain typo with h instead of ch). BDB defines the verb as “to laugh.” Each appearance of the root is in a somewhat negative context (i.e. laughing at Yahweh’s promise to Abraham, what the Philistines have Samson do between the pillars, Joseph “making sport” of his master’s wife, etc. In other words, the root is typically used in negative situations. So, use of the root tsch-k does, in fact, indicate that the narrator is commenting on the people’s actions to some degree. Unfortunately, Findlay fails to address this obvious nuance of the root.

Chapter four discusses Aasron’s characterization in Lev. 8-10. Within his structural analysis, Findlay illustrates a shift from chapter 8 to 9. Whereas Aaron is the recipient of Moses’ acts in chapter 8, he shifts into the role of primary ritual actor in chapter 9. Chapter 10, though, shifts Aaron into another role: he now becomes an independent speaker. With these shifts, Aaron’s “role as prophet [has] apparently almost completely receded, but his function as priest is in full view” (195). Consequently, he describes the genre of Lev. 8-10 as a narrative of priestly consecration, ordination, and installation (19) on the basis of structure and comparison with the NIN.DINGIR priestess at Emar. Additionally, on the basis of a post-exilic setting, he suggests that the text’s intention is to characterize Aaron a priest accountable to Moses. Shifting to literary analysis, Findlay highlights Aaron’s role as the primary object in Lev. 8, suggesting his role as an ideal priest: “Aaron is presented to the readers of Lev. 8 as obedient to commands, receptive of enrobement and anointment, and immediately capable of ritual action once he is consecrated… he stands before us as the ideal priest, newly installed in office” (208). 

Findlay’s division of Lev. 9, Aaron is characterized as a priestly hero and flawless liturgical functionary: the perfect priest. As for Lev. 10, Findlay asserts that Aaron, though no longer the perfect priest, is an “effective community leader.” He bases this on an assertion that “we can sense, by the content and tone of his speech which closes the unit, that Aaron is not just a priest, but a responsible, responsive human being, possessed of both eloquence and emotion” (226).

Again, there are some interesting observations tucked away; however, none are necessarily worth noting. Instead, I will focus on a few serious issues. First of all, he does not engage with questions of ritual errors in the HB and Akkadian literature. This is problematic because Leviticus 8-10 revolves around ritual and, eventually, ritual error. If Findlay is considering Aaron’s role as a priest, it must also take into consideration other rituals and ritual errors. This would help to clarify what is happening in Lev. 8-10 and Aaron’s role within it. Yet, he does not do this.

Second, Findlay’s characterization of Aaron in Lev. 9 is so elevated that it is almost humorous. Essentially, because Aaron “proceeds without error or uncertainty, and asks no questions of either Moses or YHWH to clarify how he ought to act during the ritual procedures” (215), Findlay determines that Aaron is a “priestly hero”, “perfect priest”, and “flawless liturgical functionary.” In other words, Findlay is so fixated on Aaron’s characterization that he seems to elevate Aaron significantly beyond what the text itself expresses. This points to a consistent problem with this book. Although it is a book about Aaron’s characterization, it is so fixated on Aaron that everything not directly related to Aaron becomes fuzzy, sloppy, and not thorough (see my other critiques throughout this review).

Third, and dovetailing off of the previous critique, many of his arguments lack attention to syntax, simply resorting to a basic, undeveloped reading of a text. For example, the reason he emphasizes the “perfectly obedient character of Aaron” by noting that Yahweh commanded Moses, who subsequently commanded Aaron. Therefore, Aaron is a great priest for listening. Yet, this is not particularly surprising in priestly literature. For, it is normal for any priest to perform the ritual duties correctly. In other words, Findlay unnecessarily over-emphasizes the “obedience,” when Aaron simply functioned ritually how he was supposed to function. A similar problem occurs in his discussion of chapter 5: “though [Aaron] is the object of devine speech, he is also a perfectly obedient servant of that divine power, going forth to the tent, alongside Miriam, just as they are commanded” (288; italic added for emphasis). So, again, he fails to recognize the sematic range of commands and their syntax. After all, in Hebrew Letters, an imperative is sometimes directed towards a person in a higher social standing. Does this mean the person in a higher social standing will be “obedient” to the person sending the letter? No. For, volitives do not always function to express “perfect obedience” in a religious sense, as Findlay seems to suggest.

In chapter five, Findlay analyzes Numbers 12. In his form-critical analysis, he first highlights 5 commonly accepted factors in Numbers 12. He then divides it into four sections, without offering argumentation for the division. Working through the text, he concludes that “Aaron is characterized as a community leader who needs and receives correction, is able to plead effectively for others, and is accountable to appropriate human and divine authority” (255), with ambiguity regarding his role as priest/prophet. In the literary analysis, Findlay illustrates that the grammar points to the important literary and communal role of Miriam. Then, Miriam and Aaron are equated. Both, he argues, are prophets. Aaron’s role shifts in vs. 9 where he becomes an interceding figure between Moses and Miriam. So, he is illustrated to be linked to Miriam and subordinate to Moses, a priest and prophet in relation to others.

Unlike the previous chapters, chapter five does contain some interesting observations with fewer criticism. For, in his linking Miriam and Aaron, he made a convincing argument based primarily in the grammar. Although there are many assertions, none overwhelmingly detracts from his argument, save for the point I previously made about “perfect obedience.” The primary criticism is reflective of problems throughout the book. Regarding Aaron’s intercession for Miriam, he comments that “here, it seems, his compassion and care exceed those of both Israel’s God and Moses” (281). A statement like this, while possibly true within a Western framework of religion and social interactions, does not take seriously the conceptual world of the HB. This is one of the biggest problems of this book. It never really takes seriously the conceptual world of the HB and ANE, unless it conveniently supports his argument.


Chapter six discusses Numbers 16-17. Regarding his form-critical analysis, he concludes that Aaron is presented as a proper priestly practitioner. For, those who oppose Aaron are opposed by Yahweh. The date of the text, he contends, is late in the Persian period, with a setting of the temple circles. As for the intention of the text, he writes that “the depiction of Aaron as the object of Levitical attack, as the liturgical actor who saves the community from plague, and the one chosen by the deity to approach the holy place safely, is central to the text’s intentions. The leadership of his descendants at the Temple and in the community is affirmed” (310). In terms of literary analysis, Aaron functions as a companion to Moses, representative of Yahweh, and opponent of Korah; however, in the midst of Aaron’s silence, Findlay asserts that “he is a power present in the narrative. In Chapter 17:1-5, Aaron is apparently “a triumphant priest, who now has no rivals for any aspect of his activities or community leadership role” (328). In the remained of Chapter 17, Aaron is apparently portrayed as “the sole legitimate priestly actor in Israel… as the best possible priest… [and] as the one who can safely and powerfully represent them [the people]” (338).

Like previously mentioned, Findlay praises priests too much. The function of a priest in antiquity was similar to how Aaron is represented. Instead, Findlay seems to ignore the widespread phenomena of priests and their cult function, focusing solely on the text. Without discussion of the notion of priesthood, he makes claims which so ever emphasize Aaron’s significance that they seem somewhat silly, such as the claim that “Aaron acts as the best possible priest.” In reality, it seems that Aaron is just doing what any priest is supposed to do, albeit with the nuances of ancient Judean cult practices as represented by literature.

Chapter 7 addresses Aaron’s role in Deuteronomy 9-10:11. Within the form-critical approach, Aaron is addressed thrice. First, Aaron is specifically addressed as one with whom Yahweh was angry, viewed as a distinct character from the community. He determines that it should be deemed as the genre of “Address of Exhortation and Paranesis,” which seems to simply combine older scholarly views. Aaron, though, is understood as a “warning sign” that people may anger the deity, namely how Aaron is represented in the text. Like every other appearance, he claims the ‘setting’ is for public gathers. As for the literary critical analysis, he claims that Aaron is simply referenced to highlight past sins against Yahweh. He also also depicted in 9:20a as without agency. So, Findlay concludes “his characterization her is a decidedly negative one. Aaron is weak, dependent, powerless, and unable to speak or act” (367). Concerning Aaron’s death itinerary, Findlay goes as far as to say that the “entire content of Aaron’s life is unimportant to the author(s) of the biblical book… Aaron is presented, then, as an example of what the people are not… Aaron is an Israelite actor who perishes before receiving the land and other blessings which are promised” (383).

Regarding this Chapter, I have three major criticisms. First, he discusses Deuteronomy 9:20a, even noting that it specifically links with other texts like Exodus 32. Yet, he does not even consider the possibility of utilizing inner-biblical exegesis. For something like this, where Aaron is said to have sinned in one and not in the other, inner-biblical exegesis would potentially help to clarify either Deuteronomy 9:20a and/or Exodus 32. For, tracing how the scribe understood one tradition in light of the other (assuming one could establish the use of one in the other) would be valuable.

Second, his argument that Aaron is powerless and weak is silly. For, he bases this argument upon the extent to which Aaron has agency in the text. Agency, though, does not necessarily express ones power, especially in a narrative, literary text! If he wants to interpret positive or negative characterization of Aaron on the basis of agency, he needs to prove that agency of a character functions as a tool by which the scribe attempts to characterizes characters. This must be demonstrated as a consistent pattern in the Pentateuch, which he does not do.

Third, his argument for setting is extremely problematic. For, it indicates that his methodology is, in fact, not very critical. He suggests the setting is a public gather on the following basis: Nehemiah 8 describes communal worship associated with reading the sepher; the reading lasts several hours, with people weeping after hearing the reading; because Deuteronomy 5-11 has a “sharp and challenging tone” (356), it would be a fitting setting, namely the post-exilic period. In his own words, “reminder of past sins contained in Deut. 9:1-10:11, spoken by a voice with “Mosaic authority,” would serve extremely well to admonish returning exiles regarding past failures and the need to avoid them in the future” (356). Such a claim is baseless. It seemingly ignores any and all scholarship about Nehemiah, makes ridiculous attempts to connect the texts on the basis that “people wept,” and fails to take into account any consideration about historical studies. In short, it is a poor, unfortunate conclusion. In light of the various other issues, though, it is not a surprising conclusion.

In conclusion, this is a poorly argued volume. It utilizes a poor methodology and fails to address many issues critical to the research. While there are a few interesting observations in the book, it is, overall, not worth reading.

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.



Observations Relevant to Interpretation of Leviticus 10

In a previous post, I discussed the nature of the “strange fire” offered by Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, in Leviticus 10 (click here to read). My purpose of doing so was to offer an alternative explanation to the event of the fire consuming Aaron’s sons. My observations within this post are also intended to shed greater light on the issues of the consuming fire and, even more so, overall nature of the entire drama surrounding Aaron and his sons.

Primarily the presence of Aaron’s sons must be observed. As far as I am aware, and please correct me if I am wrong, the placement of Aaron’s sons has not been observed within scholarship. The phrase “Sons of Aaron” occurs 20 times within Leviticus. Sixteen occurrences reference all of Aaron’s sons (1:5, 7, 8, and 11, 2:2, 3:2, 5, 8, and 13, 6:7, 7:10, 8:13, 24, 9:9, 12, and 18). At the turning point of chapter 10, two occurrences solely reference Nadab and Abihu (10:1, 16:1). Eleazer and Ithamar as a pair of Aaron’s sons are referenced twice, once in the same narrative as Nadab and Abihu and once in the Holiness Code (Lev 17-26).

While these observation may carry implications for the overall structure and composition of Leviticus, they also carry implications as to what exactly Nadab and Abihu did incorrectly to be consumed by God’s fire. The text itself explains that “He had not commanded them”, a strong statement especially because the term for “command” is directly negated rather than the phrase as a whole. And when the actions of Aaron’s four sons are noted throughout the 1st part of Leviticus, a pattern becomes evidence: they are only to do as the cultic structure permits them.

Prior to the consuming fire, Aaron’s sons are commanded within the cultic system to act in three roles: to purify the altar by pouring the blood, to receive offerings as their livelihood, and to be consecrated. At the turn of events in chapter 10, the fire consumed the offerings and “the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people”. Based on roles of Aaron’s sons, the error of Nadab and Abihu becomes more clear with respect to each role.

First, they were responsible for handling the blood at the altar. Unclear to most readers from the 21st century, blood with ancient near eastern ritual systems played an essential role for the purification and expiatory natures of rituals. Yitzhaq Feder explores this extensively in his monograph “Blood Expiation in Hittite and Biblical Ritual” (2011). For Nadab and Abihu to step outside of their roles as priests who handled the blood at the altar, they potentially polluted themselves or simply disobeyed the order which God had established within the cultic system.

Second, they were responsible for receiving offerings as their livelihood. This command is clearly spoken towards Aaron and his sons. Because Aaron and his sons received the leftover grain offerings (Lev 2:3), it is possible that Nadab and Abihu were “recycling” the holy bread. Thus the offering was insincere and “strange”. This is supported by Leviticus 10:12, within the same narrative, in which Moses commands Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar, to “eat [the grain offering] unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy”. Clearly there is an dimension of Leviticus 10:1 in which the issue with Nadab and Abihu was the selected food which they offered.

Third, Aaron’s sons, just as Aaron were responsible for becoming consecrated. Loosely connected to the first point, Nadab and Abihu’s actions following the presence of God in Leviticus 9:23-24 reflects that Nadab and Abihu may have approached God in a manner contrary to their previous consecration rituals. Though this point is quite shaky, it is a possibility that should be seriously considered.

As one observes the role of Aaron’s sons within the Leviticus narrative, the error of Nadab and Abihu may become more apparent. Exploration of the roles of Aaron’s sons may also contribute to a fuller understanding of the historical composition, theology or theologies, and “strange fire” occurrence of Leviticus.

The Strange Fire of Leviticus 10

Following the appearance of the presence of God to assembly of Israel (Lev. 9), God appears more intimately to Nadab and Abihu. Unfortunately, this appearance of the presence of Yahweh resulted in their deaths. Their deaths were a result of offering incense and strange fire which Yahweh had not commanded. But what was the nature of the incense and strange fire? Mark Rooker offers four common possibilities:

(1) penetrating too far into the sanctuary
(2) offering unauthorized coals from outside the temple area
(3) offering incense that did not contain the proper ingredients
(4) offering incense at the wrong time of the day” (Rooker 2000, 157).

While each of option can be supported, I propose a more contextualized interpretation of what “strange fire” represents. Although there are clearly connections to Leviticus 16:1-2, option 1, and disobedience to the cult regulations, option 3, Leviticus 10 suggests another possibility. I suggest that strange fire, rather than being disobedience to cult regulations, is an issue of foreign worship.

1. Altars in the Ancient World

The first piece of evidence is the nature of altars in the ancient world. Unlike Yahweh’s altars, ancient Near Eastern texts hold evidence that single altars could be used for multiple gods. In The Zurku Festival, repeated ritual upon one altar is used for many gods such as Ea, the Moon and Sun, and Nergal. Within it, one altar and sacrifice are utilized as “sacrificial homage for all the gods with a ewe” (William W. Hallo 1997, 433).

Especially in consideration that the Priesthood took part in the worship of the golden calf, it is not unlikely that within the Priesthood were still people dedicated to worship for “strange” gods. The term “strange” is significant and will be explored more thoroughly in section four.

2. “Breaking the Regulations” in Leviticus 10

Leviticus 10 is written so that Nadab and Abihu’s sin regarding ritual is reflected by their father Aaron in Leviticus 10:19-20. In Leviticus 10:17, Moses critiques Aaron for not eating the sin offering in the holy place. Yet, Aaron’s reason for doing so is good to Moses. Regardless of Aaron’s reason, Aaron broke the cultic regulations. To do so did not result in his death. Why would it result in the death of his sons? If his sons were merely offering incense to Yahweh out of regulation, would not have Yahweh accepted the offering graciously?

3. Command in Leviticus 10

Leviticus 10:1 uniquely uses God’s command. As far as I am aware, it is the only place where a term of negation (לֹא) is directly paired with God’s command (צוה). The nearness of these terms indicates more than going against a command of ritual. Put plain and simple, God in no manner ordered the incense and strange fire because it was completely foreign and apart from God. Unlike Aaron, who erred in the ritual process, Nadab and Abihu opposed the ritual process by doing what God did not command. It was not of God. Thus, incorrect ritual is an unreasonable conclusion for their death and interpretation of what is strange fire.

4. Semantic Range of “Strange” (זָר)

In the Torah, זָר is used in contexts to describe laypersons (Exod 29:33, Lev 22:10, etc.), strange fire as related to Aaron’s sons (Num 3:4, Lev 10:1), and command not to offer strange incense (Exod 30:9). Deuteronomy 32:16 once uses “strange” to describe other gods. Throughout the remainder of the Hebrew Bible, “stranger” references an adulteress (Prov 22:14) and foreigners (consistent throughout prophetic literature).

If “strange” is understood directly in the context of the Torah, it should be understood as a “layperson” fire. Within a cultic context, the laypersons fire would have perhaps been unsuitable and unholy for offering. While the assembly centered around holiness, the flowing out of holiness implies that laypersons were less holy than the priests. With this interpretation, the “strange fire” was an unholy offering. This is supportable outside of the Torah because the remainder of the Hebrew Bible uses “strange” is some sense of lack of holiness, whether it be an adulteress or foreigner.


As noted in section one, altars could be utilized for various purposes and gods. A holy place did not necessarily house only one deity or act as a gateway to a single deity. Thus, it is likely that some within the Priesthood had no issue with offering to another deity within Yahweh’s cult center. Consequently the strange fire would be an issue of worshiping a foreign deity. If the issue were primarily of ritual regulations, Nadab and Abihu would have been fine, just as their father was fine after breaking ritual regulation. Yet they were not.

The nearness of the term of negation and command in Leviticus 10:1 solves this issue. Nadab and Abihu were doing something not just outside of regulation, erring in their operation, but completely outside the holiness of God. This is why the negation is so strongly tied to God’s command. The best explanation is that the strange fire was an unholy offering in the sense that it totally outside of the will of God: God did not command it. Semantic range of זָר (strange) lends greater support to this conclusion. Every use of “strange” carries an implied sense of distance from the holiness of God. Thus, the sin of Nadab and Abihu rests not in crossing cultic regulations but in offering an altogether foreign substance to God that was not likely even directed towards him. Hence, it was unholy.

Importantly the text is ambiguous about details of the foreign substance. The emphasis, overall, is on maintaining the holiness of God. So the editor of Leviticus saw no reason to describe in details the nature of their sin. In short, through the nature of altars in the ancient Near East, it is possible that one altars could serve for many gods. Contextually, Aaron’s err regarding God’s ritual indicates that Nadab and Abihu did more than incorrect ritual. Rather, they performed a sacrifice that was unholy because it was foreign, not even within the scope of God’s will. At the end of the day, Nadab and Abihu crossed boundaries of holiness as they offered unholy offerings possibly to other gods, not boundaries of how the ritual should be done.





Works Cited

Hallo, William W., and K. Lawson Younger. The Context of Scripture. Leiden;  New York: Brill, 1997–.

Rooker, Mark F. Leviticus. Vol. 3A. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.