Book of Leviticus (/lɪˈvɪtɪkəs/) is the third book of the
Torah and the third book of the
Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). The book
addresses all the people of
Israel (1:2) though some passages
specifically address the priests (6:8). Most of its chapters (1–7,
11–27) consist of God's speeches to
Moses which he is commanded to
repeat to the Israelites. This takes place within the story of the
Israelites' Exodus after they escaped Egypt and reached Mt. Sinai
(Exodus 19:1). The
Book of Exodus
Book of Exodus narrates how
Moses led the
Israelites in building the
Tabernacle (Exodus 35–40) based on God's
instructions (Exodus 25–31). Then in Leviticus, God tells the
Israelites and their priests how to make offerings in the Tabernacle
and how to conduct themselves while camped around the holy tent
sanctuary. Leviticus takes place during the month or month-and-a-half
between the completion of the
Tabernacle (Exodus 40:17) and the
Israelites' departure from Sinai (Numbers 1:1, 10:11).
The instructions of Leviticus emphasize ritual, legal and moral
practices rather than beliefs. Nevertheless, they reflect the world
view of the creation story in Genesis 1 that God wishes to live with
humans. The book teaches that faithful performance of the sanctuary
rituals can make that possible, so long as the people avoid sin and
impurity whenever possible. The rituals, especially the sin and guilt
offerings, provide the means to gain forgiveness for sins (Leviticus
4–5) and purification from impurities (Leviticus 11–16) so that
God can continue to live in the
Tabernacle in the midst of the
6.1 Sacrifice and ritual
6.2 Kehuna (Jewish Priesthood)
6.3 Uncleanliness and purity
7 Subsequent tradition
8 Contents according to Judaism's weekly
9 See also
11.1 Translations of Leviticus
11.2 Commentaries on Leviticus
12 External links
The English name Leviticus comes from the Latin Leviticus, which is in
turn from the Greek Greek Λευιτικόν, Leuitikon, referring the
priestly tribe of the Israelites, “Levi.” The Greek expression is
in turn a variant of the rabbinic
Hebrew torat kohanim, "law of
Hebrew the book is called Vayikra (Hebrew:
וַיִּקְרָא), from the first word of the book, Vayikra,
"He [God] called."
The traditional view is that Leviticus was compiled by Moses, or that
the material in it goes back to his time, but internal clues suggest
that the book developed much later in Israel's history and was
completed either near the end of the
Kingdom of Judah
Kingdom of Judah in the late
seventh century BC or in the exilic and post-exilic period of the
sixth and fifth centuries BC. Scholars debate whether it was written
primarily for Jewish worship in exile that centered on reading or
preaching, or was aimed instead at worshipers at temples in
Jerusalem and Samaria, but they are practically unanimous that the
book had a long period of growth, and that although it includes some
material of considerable antiquity, it reached its present form in the
Persian period (538–332 BC).
(The outlines provided by commentaries are similar, though not
identical; compare those of Wenham, Hartley, Milgrom, and
I. Laws on sacrifice (1:1–7:38)
A. Instructions for the laity on bringing offerings (1:1–6:7)
1–5. The types of offering: burnt, cereal, peace, purification,
reparation (or sin) offerings (ch. 1–5)
B. Instructions for the priests (6:1–7:38)
1–6. The various offerings, with the addition of the priests' cereal
7. Summary (7:37–38)
II. Institution of the priesthood (8:1–10:20)
A. Ordination of
Aaron and his sons (ch. 8)
Aaron makes the first sacrifices (ch. 9)
C. Judgement on
Nadab and Abihu
Nadab and Abihu (ch. 10)
III. Uncleanliness and its treatment (11:1–15:33)
A. Unclean animals (ch. 11)
B. Uncleanliness caused by childbirth (ch. 12)
C. Unclean diseases (ch. 13)
D. Cleansing of diseases (ch. 14)
E. Unclean discharges (ch. 15)
IV. Day of Atonement: purification of the tabernacle from the effects
of uncleanliness and sin (ch. 16)
V. Prescriptions for practical holiness (the Holiness Code, chs.
A. Sacrifice and food (ch. 17)
B. Sexual behaviour (ch. 18)
C. Neighbourliness (ch.19)
D. Grave crimes (ch. 20)
E. Rules for priests (ch. 21)
F. Rules for eating sacrifices (ch. 22)
G. Festivals (ch.23)
H. Rules for the tabernacle (ch. 24:1–9)
I. Blasphemy (ch. 24:10–23)
J. Sabbatical and Jubilee years (ch. 25)
K. Exhortation to obey the law: blessing and curse (ch. 26)
VI. Redemption of votive gifts (ch. 27)
Book of Leviticus, Warsaw edition, 1860, page 1
Chapters 1–5 describe the various sacrifices from the sacrificers'
point of view, although the priests are essential for handling the
blood. Chapters 6–7 go over much the same ground, but from the point
of view of the priest, who, as the one actually carrying out the
sacrifice and dividing the "portions", needs to know how this is to be
done. Sacrifices are to be divided between God, the priest, and the
offerers, although in some cases the entire sacrifice is a single
portion consigned to God—i.e., burnt to ashes.
Chapters 8–10 describe the consecration by
Aaron and his
sons as the first priests, the first sacrifices, and God's destruction
of two of Aaron's sons for ritual offenses. The purpose is to
underline the character of altar priesthood (i.e., those priests
empowered to offer sacrifices to God) as an Aaronite privilege, and
the responsibilities and dangers of their position.
With sacrifice and priesthood established, chapters 11–15 instruct
the lay people on purity (or cleanliness). Eating certain animals
produces uncleanliness, as does giving birth; certain skin diseases
(but not all) are unclean, as are certain conditions affecting walls
and clothing (mildew and similar conditions); and genital discharges,
including female menses and male gonorrhea, are unclean. The reasoning
behind the food rules are obscure; for the rest the guiding principle
seems to be that all these conditions involve a loss of "life force",
usually but not always blood.
Leviticus 16 concerns the Day of Atonement. This is the only day on
which the High Priest is to enter the holiest part of the sanctuary,
the holy of holies. He is to sacrifice a bull for the sins of the
priests, and a goat for the sins of the laypeople. A second goat is to
be sent into the desert to "Azazel", bearing the sins of the whole
Azazel may be a wilderness-demon, but its identity is
Chapters 17–26 are the Holiness code. It begins with a prohibition
on all slaughter of animals outside the Temple, even for food, and
then prohibits a long list of sexual contacts and also child
sacrifice. The "holiness" injunctions which give the code its name
begin with the next section: penalties are imposed for the worship of
Molech, consulting mediums and wizards, cursing one's parents and
engaging in unlawful sex. Priests are instructed on mourning rituals
and acceptable bodily defects. Blasphemy is to be punished with death,
and rules for the eating of sacrifices are set out; the calendar is
explained, and rules for sabbatical and Jubilee years set out; and
rules are made for oil lamps and bread in the sanctuary; and rules are
made for slavery. The code ends by telling the Israelites they
must choose between the law and prosperity on the one hand, or, on the
other, horrible punishments, the worst of which will be expulsion from
Chapter 27 is a disparate and probably late addition telling about
persons and things dedicated to the Lord and how vows can be redeemed
instead of fulfilled.
Tabernacle and the Camp (19th Century drawing)
The majority of scholars have concluded that the Pentateuch received
its final form during the Persian period (538–332 BC).
Nevertheless, Leviticus had a long period of growth before reaching
The entire book of Leviticus is composed of Priestly literature.
Most scholars see chapters 1–16 (the Priestly code) and chapters
17–26 (the Holiness code) as the work of two related schools, but
while the Holiness material employs the same technical terms as the
Priestly code, it broadens their meaning from pure ritual to the
theological and moral, turning the ritual of the
Priestly code into a
model for the relationship of
Israel to God: as the tabernacle is made
holy by the presence of the Lord and kept apart from uncleanliness, so
He will dwell among
Israel is purified (made holy) and
separated from other peoples. The ritual instructions in the
Priestly code apparently grew from priests giving instruction and
answering questions about ritual matters; the
Holiness code (or H)
used to be regarded as a separate document later incorporated into
Leviticus, but it seems better to think of the Holiness authors as
editors who worked with the
Priestly code and actually produced
Leviticus as we now have it.
The En-Gedi Scroll, a burnt text that was excavated from an ancient
Ein Gedi in 1970, and has been carbon dated to the 3rd
century AD, was recently discovered to contain verses from the second
chapter of Leviticus, making it the oldest piece of the
discovered after the Dead Sea Scrolls. The text was unreadable until
analyzed with a micro CT scanner that was then used to recreate a 3D
image of the scroll. It is the first
Torah scroll to be found in an
The Scapegoat (1854 painting by William Holman Hunt)
Sacrifice and ritual
Many scholars argue that the rituals of Leviticus have a theological
meaning concerning Israel's relationship with its God. Jacob Milgrom
was especially influential in spreading this view. He maintained that
the priestly regulations in Leviticus expressed a rational system of
theological thought. The writers expected them to be put into practice
in Israel’s temple, so the rituals would express this theology as
well, as well as ethical concern for the poor. Milgrom also argued
that the book’s purity regulations (chaps. 11–15) are based in
ethical thinking. Many other interpreters have followed Milgrom in
exploring the theological and ethical implications of Leviticus’s
regulations (e.g. Marx, Balentine), though some have questioned how
systematic they really are. Ritual, therefore, is not a series of
actions undertaken for their own sake, but a means of maintaining the
relationship between God, the world, and humankind.
Kehuna (Jewish Priesthood)
Main article: kohen
The main function of the priests is service at the altar, and only the
Aaron are priests in the full sense. (Ezekiel also
distinguishes between altar-priests and lower Levites, but in Ezekiel
the altar-priests are called sons of Zadok instead of sons of Aaron;
many scholars see this as a remnant of struggles between different
priestly factions in First Temple times, resolved by the Second Temple
into a hierarchy of Aaronite altar-priests and lower-level Levites,
including singers, gatekeepers and the like).
In chapter 10, God kills Nadab and Abihu, the oldest sons of Aaron,
for offering "strange incense". Fortunately,
Aaron has two sons left.
Commentators have read various messages in the incident: a reflection
of struggles between priestly factions in the post–Exilic period
(Gerstenberger); or a warning against offering incense outside the
Temple, where there might be the risk of invoking strange gods
(Milgrom). In any case, the sanctuary has been polluted by the bodies
of the two dead priests, leading into the next theme, holiness.
Uncleanliness and purity
Ritual purity is essential for an Israelite to be able to approach
Yahweh and remain part of the community. Uncleanliness threatens
holiness; Chapters 11–15 review the various causes of
uncleanliness and describe the rituals which will restore
cleanliness; cleanliness is to be maintained through observation
of the rules on sexual behaviour, family relations, land ownership,
worship, sacrifice, and observance of holy days.
Yahweh dwells with
Israel in the holy of holies. All of the priestly
ritual is focused on
Yahweh and the construction and maintenance of a
holy space, but sin generates impurity, as do everyday events such as
childbirth and menstruation; impurity pollutes the holy dwelling
place. Failure to ritually purify the sacred space could result in God
leaving, which would be disastrous.
Through sacrifice the priest "makes atonement" for sin and the offerer
is forgiven (but only if God accepts the sacrifice—forgiveness comes
only from God). Atonement rituals involve blood, poured or
sprinkled, as the symbol of the life of the victim: the blood has the
power to wipe out or absorb the sin. The role of atonement is
reflected structurally in two-part division of the book: chapters
1–16 call for the establishment of the institution for atonement,
and chapters 17–27 call for the life of the atoned community in
The consistent theme of chapters 17–26 is the repeated phrase, "Be
holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." Holiness in ancient Israel
had a different meaning than in contemporary usage: it might have been
regarded as the "god-ness" of God, an invisible but physical and
potentially dangerous force. Specific objects, or even days, can
be holy, but they derive holiness from being connected with God—the
seventh day, the tabernacle, and the priests all derive their holiness
from God. As a result,
Israel had to maintain its own holiness in
order to live safely alongside God.
The need for holiness is directed to the possession of the Promised
Land (Canaan), where the Jews will become a holy people: "You shall
not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you dwelt, and you shall
not do as they do in the land of
Canaan to which I am bringing
you...You shall do my ordinances and keep my statutes...I am the Lord,
your God" (ch. 18:3).
The Blasphemer (ink and watercolor, circa 1800, by William Blake)
Leviticus, as part of the Torah, became the law book of Jerusalem's
Second Temple as well as of the Samaritan temple. Evidence of its
influence was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which included
fragments of seventeen manuscripts of Leviticus dating from the third
to the first centuries BC. Many other Qumran scrolls cite the
book, especially the
Temple Scroll and 4QMMT.
Leviticus's instructions for animal offerings have not been observed
by Jews or Christians since the first century AD. Because of the
destruction of the temple in
Jerusalem in 70 AD, Jewish worship has
focused on prayer and the study of Torah. Nevertheless, Leviticus
constitutes a major source of
Jewish law and is traditionally the
first book taught to children in the Rabbinic system of education.
There are two main Midrashim on Leviticus—the halakhic one (Sifra)
and a more aggadic one (Vayikra Rabbah).
The New Testament, particularly the
Epistle to the Hebrews, uses ideas
and images from Leviticus to describe Christ as the high priest who
offers his own blood as a sin offering. Therefore, Christians do
not make animal offerings either, as Gordon Wenham summarized: "With
the death of Christ the only sufficient "burnt offering" was offered
once and for all, and therefore the animal sacrifices which
foreshadowed Christ's sacrifice were made obsolete."
Christians generally have the view that the
New Covenant supersedes
(i.e., replaces) the Old Testament's ritual laws, which includes many
of the rules in Leviticus. Christians therefore have usually not
observed Leviticus' rules regarding diet, purity, and agriculture.
Christian teachings have differed, however, as to where to draw the
line between ritual and moral regulations.
Contents according to Judaism's weekly
The Sacrifice of the
Old Covenant (painting by Peter Paul Rubens)
Main article: Weekly
For detailed contents see:
Vayikra, on Leviticus 1–5: Laws of the sacrifices
Tzav, on Leviticus 6–8: Sacrifices, ordination of the priests
Shemini, on Leviticus 9–11:
Tabernacle consecrated, alien fire,
Tazria, on Leviticus 12–13: Childbirth, skin disease, clothing
Metzora, on Leviticus 14–15: Skin disease, infected houses, genital
Acharei Mot, on Leviticus 16–18: Yom Kippur, centralized offerings,
Kedoshim, on Leviticus 19–20: Holiness, penalties for transgressions
Emor, on Leviticus 21–24: Rules for priests, holy days, lights and
bread, a blasphemer
Behar, on Leviticus 25–25: Sabbatical year, debt servitude limited
Bechukotai, on Leviticus 26–27: Blessings and curses, payment of
^ Gorman, pp. 4–5, 14–16
^ a b Berlin, Adele; Brettler, Marc Zvi (2014). Jewish Study
Rev ed. (November 2014) ed.). [S.l.]: Oxford University Press.
p. 193. ISBN 978-0199978465. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
^ Wenham, p. 8 ff.
^ Gerstenberger, p. 4
^ Watts (2013), pp. 104–07
^ a b Grabbe (1998), p. 92
^ Wenham, pp. 3–4
^ Hartley, pp. vii–viii
^ Milgrom (1991), pp. v–x
^ Watts (2013), pp. 12–20
^ Grabbe (2006), p. 208
^ a b Kugler, Hartin, p. 82
^ Kugler, Hartin, pp. 82–83
^ Kugler, Hartin, p. 83
Leviticus 25 NIV". niv.scripturetext.com. Retrieved
^ Kugler, Hartin, pp. 83–84
^ Kugler, Hartin, p. 84
^ Newsom, p.26
^ Levine (2006), p. 11
^ Houston, p. 102
^ Houston, pp. 102–03
^ "The Most Ancient
Hebrew Scroll since the
Dead Sea Scrolls
Dead Sea Scrolls has been
Israel Antiquities Authority.
^ Milgrom (2004), pp. 8–16.
^ Milgrom (1991), pp. 704–41.
^ Watts (2013), pp. 40–54.
^ Balentine (1999) p. 150
^ Grabbe (2006), p. 211
^ Grabbe (2006), p. 211 (fn. 11)
^ Houston, p. 110
^ Davies, Rogerson, p. 101
^ Marx, p. 104
^ a b Balentine (2002), p. 8
^ Gorman, pp. 10–11
^ Houston, p. 106
^ a b Houston, p. 107
^ Knierim, p. 114
^ Rodd, p. 7
^ Brueggemann, p. 99
^ Rodd, p. 8
^ Clines, p.56
^ Watts (2013), p. 10
^ Wenham, p. 65
^ Watts (2013), pp. 77–86
Translations of Leviticus
Commentaries on Leviticus
Balentine, Samuel E (2002). Leviticus. Westminster John Knox Press.
Bamberger, Bernard Jacob The Torah: A Modern Commentary (1981),
Gerstenberger, Erhard S (1996). Leviticus: A Commentary. Westminster
John Knox Press. ISBN 9780664226732.
Gorman, Frank H (1997). Divine presence and community: a commentary on
Book of Leviticus. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802801104.
Grabbe, Lester (1998). "Leviticus". In John Barton. Oxford Bible
Commentary. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198755005.
Hartley, John E. (1992). Leviticus. Word. ISBN 0849902037.
Houston, Walter J (2003). "Leviticus". In James D. G. Dunn, John
William Rogerson. Eerdmans
Bible Commentary. Eerdmans.
Kleinig, John W (2004). Leviticus. Concordia Publishing House.
Levine, Baruch A. (1989). JPS
Torah Commentary: Leviticus. Jewish
Milgrom, Jacob (1998–2001). Leviticus 1–16, Leviticus 17–22,
Leviticus 23–27. New Haven: Yale.
Milgrom, Jacob (2004). Leviticus: A
Book of Ritual and Ethics.
Minneapolis: Fortress. ISBN 9781451410150.
Watts, James W. (2013). Leviticus 1–10. Leuven: Peeters.
Wenham, Gordon (1979). The book of Leviticus. Eerdmans.
Balentine, Samuel E (1999). The Torah's Vision of Worship. Fortress
Press. ISBN 9781451418088.
Bandstra, Barry L (2004). Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction
Hebrew Bible. Wadsworth. ISBN 9780495391050.
Brueggemann, Walter (2002). Reverberations of Faith: A Theological
Old Testament themes. Westminster John Knox.
Campbell, Antony F; O'Brien, Mark A (1993). Sources of the Pentateuch:
Texts, Introductions, Annotations. Fortress Press.
Clines, David A (1997). The Theme of the Pentateuch. Sheffield
Academic Press. ISBN 9780567431967.
Davies, Philip R; Rogerson, John W (2005). The
Old Testament World.
Liturgical Press. ISBN 9780664230258.
Dawes, Gregory W (2005). Introduction to the Bible. Liturgical Press.
Gilbert, Christopher (2009). A Complete Introduction to the Bible.
Paulist Press. ISBN 9780809145522.
Grabbe, Lester (2006). "The priests in Leviticus". In Rolf Rendtorff,
Robert A. Kugler. The
Book of Leviticus: Composition and Reception.
Brill. ISBN 9789004126343.
Knierim, Rolf P (1995). The Task of
Old Testament Theology: Substance,
Method, and Cases. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802807151.
Kugler, Robert; Hartin, Patrick (2009). An Introduction to the Bible.
Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802846365.
Levine, Baruch (2006). "Leviticus: Its Literary History and Location
in Biblical Literature". In Rolf Rendtorff, Robert A. Kugler. The Book
of Leviticus: Composition and Reception. Brill.
Marx, Alfred (2006). "The Theology of the Sacrifice according to
Leviticus 1–7". In Rolf Rendtorff, Robert A. Kugler. The
Leviticus: Composition and Reception. Brill.
McDermott, John J (2002). Reading the Pentateuch: A Historical
Introduction. Pauline Press. ISBN 9780809140824.
Newsom, Carol Ann (2004). The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing
Identity and Community at Qumran. BRILL.
Nihan, Christophe (2007). From Priestly
Torah to Pentateuch: A Study
in the Composition of the
Book of Leviticus. Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck.
Rodd, Cyril S (2001). Glimpses of a Strange Land: Studies in Old
Testament Ethics. T&T Clark. ISBN 9780567087539.
Rogerson, J.W (1991). Genesis 1–11. T&T Clark.
Van Seters, John (1998). "The Pentateuch". In Steven L. McKenzie, Matt
Patrick Graham. The
Hebrew Bible Today: An Introduction to Critical
Issues. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 9780664256524.
Ska, Jean-Louis (2006). Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch.
Eisenbrauns. ISBN 9781575061221.
Watts, James W. (2007). Ritual and Rhetoric in Leviticus: From
Sacrifice to Scripture. New York: Cambridge.
Wenham, Gordon (2003). Exploring the Old Testament: The Pentateuch.
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