Leviticus is the third book of the Hebrew Bible, also the third book in the Torah (five books of Moses). Christians refer to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament. The English name is derived from the Latin Liber Leviticus which is from the Greek (το) Λενιτικόν (i.e., βιβλίον). In Jewish writings it is customary to cite the book by its first word, Vayikra ויקרא. The main points of the book are concerned with Levitical (priestly) worship.
In the first section of the book (1-17), which exhibits the worship itself, there is:
- A series of laws (1-7) regarding sacrifices, burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, and thank-offerings (1-3), sin-offerings and trespass-offerings (4; 5), followed by the law of the priestly duties in connection with the offering of sacrifices (6; 7).
- An historical section (8-10), giving an account of the consecration of Aaron and his sons (8); Aaron's first offering for himself and the people (9); Nadab and Abihu's presumption in offering "strange fire before Jehovah", and their punishment (10).
- Laws concerning purity, and the sacrifices and ordinances for putting away impurity (11-16).
- Laws marking the separation between Israel and the heathen (17-20).
- Laws about the personal purity of the priests, and their eating of the holy things (20; 21); about the offerings of Israel, that they were to be without blemish (22:17-33); and about the due celebration of the great festivals (23; 25).
- Then follow promises and warnings to the people regarding obedience to these commandments, closing with a section on vows.
The ordinances in this book are said to have been delivered in the space of a month, the first month of the second year after the exodus from Egypt.
Orthodox Jews believe that this entire book is the word of God, dictated by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. In Talmudic literature, there is evidence that this is the first book of the Tanakh taught in the Rabbinic system of education in Talmudic times. A possible reason may be that, of all the books of the Torah, Leviticus is the closest to being purely devoted to mitzvot and its study goes hand-in-hand with their performance.
There are two main Midrashim on Leviticus - the halakhic one (Sifra ) and a more haggadic one (Vayikra Rabbah ).
After the Christian era began, parts of this book began to be seen as prophecy of the coming of the Christian messiah, Jesus. To Christian readers, Leviticus is literally about Jewish law and regulations for worship, but is in fact coded prophecy that is made clear in the Epistle to Hebrews. It is said to contain in its law the gospel of the grace of God, although no one before the time of Jesus was able to notice this.
Modern Scholarship views
Modern bible scholarship considers that it was edited together from a number of earlier sources. See the entry on the documentary hypothesis for more on this topic.
Outline and summary
Chapters 1- 7
The book of Leviticus begins with a collection of laws relating to sacrifices. Herein are laws for burnt offerings, for meal-offerings, peace-offerings, sin-offerings and trespass-offerings. Chapter vi. 8-13 (Hebr. vi. 1-6) defines the duties of the priests. Chapter vii. deals with laws of ritual uncleanness.
The consecration of Aaron and his sons.
One narrative shows that it is unlawful to use strange fire at God's altar; the other requires the priests to eat the sin-offering. Between these narratives two laws are inserted, one prohibiting intoxicating drink to the priests, the other giving directions about offerings.
These chapters deal with: laws in regard to clean and unclean animals; directions for the purification of women after childbirth, and the laws of leprosy. Chapter 15 contains directions for the ritual purifications necessary in connection with natural bodily emissions of men and women.
This chapter contains the law of the great Day of Atonement, which later became the basis of Yom Kippur.
The laws in chapters 17 to 26 have become known as the holiness code. Chapter 17 contains regulations respecting sacrifice; chapter 18 prohibits unlawful marriages and unchastity; chapter 19 defines the religious and moral duties of Israelites; chapter 20 imposes penalties for the violation of the provisions of chapter 18. In chapter 21 regulations concerning priests are found; chapter 22 gives regulations concerning sacrificial food and sacrificial animals; chapter 23 presents a calendar of feasts; chapter 24 contains various regulations concerning the lamps of the Tabernacle and the showbread, and a law of blasphemy and of personal injury. Chapter 25 contains laws for the Sabbatical year and the year of jubilee (these laws provide periodical rests for the land and secure its ultimate reversion, in case it be estranged for debt, to its original owners); chapter 26. is a hortatory conclusion to the Holiness Code.
Chapter 27 consists of a collection of laws concerning the commutation of vows. These laws cover the following cases: where the vowed object is a person; an animal; a house; an inherited field; a purchased field; a firstling. Then follow additional laws concerning persons and things "devoted" and concerning tithes.
See also: Torah
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Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55