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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

- Leviticus

by Arthur Peake



1. Structure of Leviticus.— The book falls into two clearly-marked parts: ( a) Leviticus 1-16, 27; and ( b) Leviticus 17-26. The latter, known as the “ Holiness Code,” or H, is itself made up of five main sections: ( a) sacrifices (17), ( b) sexual and social legislation (Leviticus 18-20), ( c) priests and sacrifices (Leviticus 21 f.), ( d) the calendar (Leviticus 23, 25, with 24 inserted), and ( e) epilogue (Leviticus 26). In ( b) Leviticus 20 was originally independent of Leviticus 18, as is also shown by the insertion of Leviticus 19, and in ( d) Leviticus 25 is distinct from Leviticus 23. That H is a compilation, and, as it would seem, a compilation of compilations, is further shown by the numerous repetitions, misplaced sections ( e.g. Leviticus 20:27), and fragments of H found elsewhere ( e.g. Leviticus 11:43-45, and Numbers 15:37-41). Certain later laws are also embedded in the sections (see, e.g., notes on Leviticus 23). But at least three ideas appear in H, with a prominence unknown in the rest of the Law: Holiness (whence the name “ Holiness Code); “ I am Yahweh” ; and the land as itself polluted by sin. The stress on social morality (see especially Leviticus 19) is also foreign to P. All this suggests, as the authors of H, a group of reformers, filled with an enthusiasm at once legislative, moral, and religious. Their action was selective (for much is neglected that a complete code would necessarily have mentioned); conservative ( cf. laws on blood, Leviticus 17:11, slaves, Leviticus 25:39 ff., and feasts, Leviticus 23, and see note on Leviticus 17:4); and innovating ( cf. laws on Levirate, Leviticus 18:16, Jubile, Leviticus 25, and Chief Priest, Leviticus 21:10 ff.). There are certain striking similarities to Dt. (central sanctuary, social duties, and the epilogue). Like Dt., they are in strong sympathy with the prophetic emphasis on morality, and, like Dt., they are convinced that this, by itself, is insufficient. But the language is very different ( cf. on innovations, above). There are also similarities to P (sacrifices, High Priest, and calendar); but again the language is different, and the leading ideas (see above) are not found in P. Far closer is the relation to Ezek. (especially holiness, “ I am Yahweh,” the land, the attitude to social morality). Language and style are also very similar. But we cannot identify the author with Ezek.; for ( a), the author is not a single individual; and ( b), discrepancies between the laws in Lev. and Ezek.’ s sketch of law in Ezekiel 40-48 disprove actual dependence of either one or the other (Leviticus 21 ff.*). H, therefore, must be placed between Dt. and P; and, from its relation to Ezek., probably between 600 and 570 B.C.; i.e. the group of reformers was at work in the last days of the Judæ an kingdom or at the beginning of the Exile, perhaps in Babylon between the two deportations. Later, H was worked over by writers of the school of P, and later still embedded in the final edition of P.

Leviticus 1-16, with Leviticus 27. This also embraces five sections: ( a) sacrifice (Leviticus 1-7); ( b) consecration of priests (Leviticus 8-10), ( c) impurities (Leviticus 11-15), ( d) the “ Day” (Leviticus 16), ( e) vows and tithes (Leviticus 27). Of these ( a) forms an independent whole, breaking the sequence between Ex. and Leviticus 8. Leviticus 2, however, is a later insertion, and Leviticus 6 f. forms an appendix to Leviticus 1-5, ( b) is homogeneous and continues Exodus 40; ( c) contains four independent but allied bodies of law, in which older principles are worked up into harmony with the spirit of P; ( d) is made up of three separate elements, rules for the Holy of Holies, the yearly day of penitence, and the elaborated ritual (see notes for date); ( e) is probably secondary. Thus, like H, these chapters contain a body of tradition developed by a special school of thought; as in the rest of P, the sections, or portions of sections, were apparently at least in part independent, and then placed side by side; properly speaking, P, like H, is not a single code at all but a collection of rules (see Introd. to Pent.). Eerdmans holds that H as a separate code is non-existent, and that the whole of Lev. was the law-book of Hezekiah’ s reformation. That the book contains elements of law far older than Dt. is certain. But the affinities to Ezek and to P make it impossible to suppose that H, in its present form, was written in the eighth century. Both parts of the book breathe a spirit quite different from that of Isaiah and of Hebrew religion in the eighth century, and both imply Dt.

2. Holiness is a term characteristic of both parts of Lev. and of all the ritual law. Properly, what is holy possesses a quality which demands caution and restriction in its use (if an object), in approach to it (if a place), or in intercourse with it (if a person). If these are not observed, there is danger, and the quality itself is communicable and infectious ( Ezekiel 46:20, Isaiah 65:5). This conception is possible for animistic or pre-animistic stages of religion, but as religion comes to centre round a god or gods, these restrictions will be regarded as imposed by the god for his own often inscrutable purposes. They will have no necessary connexion with morality ( cf. primitive “ taboos,” and see on Leviticus 11-15); but as the desires and demands of the god are brought more and more within the sphere of what is moral, the restrictions demanded by holiness will assume an increasingly moral character. Every advance in culture and knowledge of hygiene will also tend to react on the list of these restrictions; the list thus becomes an index of the social and moral condition of the people, ancient survivals occurring beside new developments. To the Hebrew, and specially in H, the conception of holiness is inseparable from that of Yahweh. Yahweh is the fount of holiness. It is because the holiness of Yahweh is fenced round by restrictions, that persons, places, and objects brought into close “ touch” with Him are holy, i.e. dangerous or taboo for common intercourse. Hebrew ritual law is simply a body of instruction how to act in face of these restrictions. The prophets of the eighth century were the first to realise that the only distinctions of value in the eyes of Yahweh are moral (in P this is unmentioned); but in H, honesty and kindliness are included in what is necessitated by Yahweh’ s holiness; and H goes beyond the rest of the Law (Dt. and P) in asserting that from Yahwen’ s holiness follows the holiness of the whole people and of the land. (On the distinction between holiness and cleanness, see on Leviticus 11-15.) However imperfect such a conception of holiness may appear, the emphasis laid in H en the moral by the side of the ritual prepares the way for such passages as Psalms 15, Isaiah 57:15 and Colossians 1:22.

3. Sacrifice and Atonement in Lev.— The impulses which first led to sacrifice (social feeling, gratitude, fear, etc.) and the primitive conceptions of sacrifice (gift, meal, payment, bribe, etc.) are mostly unnoticed in H and P, which content themselves with laying down the details for the various sacrificial rites. In this connexion, the early ideas of “ memorial” ( Leviticus 21:6 *), “ food of Yahweh,” and “ sweet savour” are preserved; but the important elements are the presentation, slaughter and disposition of the victim, and the manipulation of the blood; these are common to all the four types of sacrifice, though they vary in each. All centre round the actual application of the blood to some holy thing or place, or to the person of the worshipper. The most characteristic phrase used in connexion with sacrifice is “ to make atonement.” Usually the priest is said to make atonement for the worshipper; often, “ concerning his sin.” Whether atonement means “ covering” or “ wiping” is immaterial for Lev.; but all atonement is for sin. Sin, however ( Leviticus 4:1 *) is not deliberate disobedience. Generally, it is unwitting infraction of the laws of holiness or cleanness; also certain diseases or morbid states. (Note also Leviticus 5:14 on the guilt offering, when restitution is necessary as well.) In the latter cases, sacrifice only takes place after the disease is gone; in the former, after the error is discovered, or, for “ sins” known and unknown, on the Day of Atonement. Thus, the distinctive sacrifices of P (sin and guilt) mark the resumption of relations interfered with, or made dangerous, by “ sin” ; and the older sacrifices (peace and burnt) are regarded in a similar light in P ( cf. Leviticus 1:4). There is no idea of appeasement. Yahweh is regarded by H as graciously providing means for this resumption ( Leviticus 17:11). To “ make atonement” is nothing but to recover for a person this free access to Yahweh. There is no theorising, save that (in a different connexion, Leviticus 17:11) the blood is said to be the vehicle of the life; but underlying the whole is a deep-seated dread of the semi-physical pollution which bars safe access to Yahweh and even prevents unfettered intercourse with the community, and which can only be removed by certain fixed traditional rites. For the bulk of deliberate sins, there is no sacrifice; only an entire breaking off of relations, in excommunication, or death ( cf. Leviticus 17:9, Leviticus 20:18 f.) (See article on Religious Institutions.)

Literature. Commentaries: ( a) Kennedy (Cent.B), Chapman and Streane (CB), Driver and White (SBOT Eng.); ( c) Dillmann (KEH), Baentsch (HK), Bertholet KHC). Other Literature: Driver and White (SBOT) Heb.), Eerdmans, Alttestamentliche Studien, IV. See further, bibliographies to articles “ Pentateuch,” and “ Religious Institutions of Israel.”

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