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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Leviticus, the third book of Moses.

Contents.—Leviticus contains the further statement and development of the Sinaitic legislation, the beginnings of which are described in Exodus. It exhibits the historical progress of this legislation; consequently we must not expect to find the laws detailed in it in a systematic form. There is, nevertheless, a certain order observed, which arose from the nature of the subject, and of which the plan may easily be perceived. The whole is intimately connected with the contents of Exodus, at the conclusion of which book that sanctuary is described with which all external worship was connected (Exodus 35-40).

Some critics have strenuously endeavored to prove that the laws contained in Leviticus originated in a period much later than is usually supposed. But the following observations sufficiently support their Mosaical origin, and show that the whole of Leviticus is historically genuine. The laws in Leviticus 1-7 contain manifest vestiges of the Mosaical period. Here, as well as in Exodus, when the priests are mentioned, Aaron and his sons are named; as, for instance, in;; , etc. The tabernacle is the sanctuary, and no other place of worship is mentioned anywhere. Expressions like the following constantly occur, before the tabernacle of the congregation, or the door of the tabernacle of the congregation (;; , etc.). The Israelites are always described as a congregation (, sq.), under the command of the elders of the congregation (), or of a ruler (). Everything has a reference to life in a camp, and that camp commanded by Moses (;;;;; ). A later writer could scarcely have placed himself so entirely in the times, and so completely adopted the modes of thinking of the age, of Moses: especially if, as has been asserted, these laws gradually sprung from the usages of the people, and were written down at a later period with the object of sanctioning them by the authority of Moses. They so entirely befit the Mosaical age, that, in order to adapt them to the requirements of any later period, they must have undergone some modification, accommodation, and a peculiar mode of interpretation. This inconvenience would have been avoided by a person who intended to forge laws in favor of the later modes of Levitical worship. A forger would have endeavored to identify the past as much as possible with the present.

In Leviticus 17 occurs the law which forbids the slaughter of any beast except at the sanctuary. This law could not be strictly kept in Palestine, and had therefore to undergo some modification (Deuteronomy 12). Our opponents cannot show any rational inducement for contriving such a fiction. The law () is adapted to the nation only while emigrating from Egypt. It was the object of this law to guard the Israelites from falling into the temptation to imitate the Egyptian rites and sacrifices offered to he-goats; which word signifies also demons represented under the form of he goats, and which were supposed to inhabit the desert.

The laws concerning food and purifications appear especially important if we remember that the people emigrated from Egypt. The fundamental principle of these laws is undoubtedly Mosaical, but in the individual application of them there is much which strongly reminds us of Egypt. This is also the case in Leviticus 18, sq., where the lawgiver has manifestly in view the two opposites, Canaan and Egypt. That the lawgiver was intimately acquainted with Egypt, is proved by such remarks as those about the Egyptian marriages with sisters (); a custom which stands as an exception among the prevailing habits of antiquity.

The book of Leviticus has a prophetical character. The lawgiver represents to himself the future history of his people. This prophetical character is especially manifest in Leviticus 25, 26, where the law appears in a truly sublime and divine attitude, and when its predictions refer to the whole futurity of the nation. It is impossible to say that these were prophecies delivered after the event, unless we would assert that this book was written at the close of Israelitish history. We must rather grant that passages like this are the real basis on which the authority of later prophets is chiefly built. Such passages prove also, in a striking manner, that the lawgiver had not merely an external aim, but that his law had a deeper purpose, which was clearly understood by Moses himself. That purpose was to regulate the national life in all its bearings, and to consecrate the whole nation to God. See especially , sq.

But this ideal tendency of the law does not preclude its applicability to matters of fact. The law had not merely an ideal, but also a real character, evidenced by its relation to the faithlessness and disobedience of the nation. The whole future history of the covenant people was regulated by the law, which has manifested its eternal power and truth in the history of the people of Israel. Although this section has a general bearing, it is nevertheless manifest that it originated in the times of Moses. At a later period, for instance, it would have been impracticable to promulgate the law concerning the Sabbath and the year of Jubilee: for it was soon sufficiently proved how far the nation in reality remained behind the ideal Israel of the law. The sabbatical law bears the impress of a time when the whole legislation, in its fullness and glory, was directly communicated to the people, in such a manner as to attract, penetrate, and command.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Leviticus'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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