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April 30, 2010

The Book of Leviticus

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The book of Leviticus provides many of the rules by which the Israelites were supposed to live. It covers rituals, sacrifices, the priesthood, and feasts, as well as behaviors. These laws were designed to establish and foster a way of life for the people that was pleasing to God.


Jewish Tradition, supported by Scripture, ascribes the authorhship of the Torah to Moses, though some Jewish and Christian scholars accepted that additions, such as the account of Moses’ death, were added by later authors including his successor, Joshua. Modern scholars believe that the Torah probably evolved through the work of many authors and editors. See the Wikipedia entries for the Torah and the (Wellhausen) Documentary Hypothesis for more details.

This book is from the Priestly source. (NAB Intro to Leviticus)


New American Bible. The NAB divides Exodus into five parts. They are: “Ritual of Sacrifices” (1:1–7:38), “Ceremony of Ordination” (8:1–10:20), “Laws Regarding Ritual Purity” (11:1–16:34), “Holiness Laws” (17:1–26:46), & “Redemption of Offerings” (27:1–34). (NAB Intro to Leviticus)


Summary & Commentary

Sacrifice [Lv 1:1-7:38] The first seven chapters describe the ways in which acceptable sacrifices may be made to God. The text contains a lot of repetition, so it has been distilled significantly here:

  • The types of sacrifice and reasons for making them include:
    • Wholly-burned animal sacrifices (“holocausts”) are complete gifts to the glory of God. (NAB, Lv 1:3 fn.)
    • Partial animal sacrifices are made to fulfill a vow (“peace” offerings). (NAB, Lv 3:1 fn.)
    • Partial animal sacrifices are made to remit sins of ritual uncleanness.
    • Cereal (grain) sacrifices are made as reminders (“token” offerings). (NAB, Lv 2:2 fn.)
  • All animal sacrifices share some common elements:
    • The type (bovine or ovine) and gender of the animal is dictated by the type of sacrifice.
    • The animal must be without blemish.
    • The one offering the sacrifice places his hand on the animal’s head and then slaughters it.
    • The priest performs that sprinkling or splashing of blood on the altar.
    • Only the fatty portions and some organs are burned in partial sacrifices. The meat belongs to the priests for consumption. The only exception is when the priest is offering the sacrifice for himself, in which case the remainder is burnt up in a clean place outside the camp.
  • Bird sacrifices involve preparation by the priest alone. The bird is split but not separated, certain parts are discarded, the blood is squeezed onto the side of the altar, and the remains burned.
  • Cereal sacrifices must conform to the following guidelines:
    • The sacrifice consists of fine flour, oil, and frankincense.
    • All of the frankincense, but only a handful of the flour and oil is burned. The remainder of the flour and oil belongs to the priests for consumption. The only exception is when the priest is offering the sacrifice for himself, in which case the whole offering is burnt up.
    • The flour and oil may be baked, fried, or deep-fried. Grits are used for a first-fruits offering.
    • No other ingredients are permitted. Leaven and honey are forbidden explicitly.
    • All cereal offerings are seasoned with salt. Salt is a symbol of friendship. (NAB, Lv 2:13 fn.)
  • “Sin offerings” are made to atone for ritual uncleanness (NAB, Lv 4:2 fn.), and the particulars depend on the person(s) having committed the sin:
    • Priests: makes the people guilty; bull; blood on temple veil and horns of altar; remains burnt.
    • Community: same details as for priest, but offered by the elders of the community.
    • Prince: male goat; blood on horns of altar.
    • Private Persons: female goat or lamb; blood on horns of altar.
  • The consumption of certain portions of animals and birds was forbidden:
    • The Israelites were forbidden from eating the fat of animals that can be sacrificed, not all fat whatsoever. The fat of other clean animals was not forbidden. (Lv 3:17; Lv 7:22-25)
    • Blood appears to be strictly forbidden. (Lv 7:26-27)
  • More to come…

Ordination [Lv 8:1–10:20]

Purity [Lv 11:1–16:34]

Holiness [Lv 17:1–26:46]

Redemption [Lv 27:1–34]


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