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LEVITICUS 17:10-16—PRESUPPOSITIONS AND PRELIMINARY LITERARY MATTERS
SUBMITTED TO DR. JOHN WALTON IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF BITH 562-INTRODUCTION TO OLD TESTAMENT EXEGESIS
BY JUSTIN LANGLEY FEBRUARY 4, 2010 CPO: 4224
INTRODUCTION AND PRESUPPOSITIONS
The creator of the universe has graciously revealed himself to humanity in the form of human language. He has chosen to preserve this revelation in the form of a book, or, more precisely, a collection of documents written by many different people over the course of many centuries. Beyond this, he culminated his self-revelation in the form of a person, Jesus the Messiah, in whom the fullness of deity and complete humanity came together (see, e.g., Col 2:9; Heb 2:14, 17; John 1:14, 18). The documents recognized by Christians through the centuries since the death and resurrection of Jesus as “holy Scripture” serve as the written testimony of God’s identity and work in the world through Jesus. These Scriptures, while written by individual human beings in various literary forms, have their ultimate source in God himself (see, e.g., 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21). Thus, the collection of documents known now as the Bible bears a fundamental uniqueness among all the literature of the world: an asymmetrical dual authorship by which God communicated his intended message to all of humanity in and through the writing of human authors who also communicated their intended messages to particular audiences of human readers/hearers. In interpreting any work of literature, a reader must grapple with the methods he or she will use to draw meaning from the text. Truly, whether or not the reader consciously comes to certain conclusions with regard to hermeneutical methodology, he will undeniably approach a given text in certain ways, asking certain questions to determine meaning from the text. For example, one must decide where to seek meaning from the text (i.e., in the text itself, in the
2 reader, or in the author’s intention). If the reader defines the meaning of a text, the reader must then figure out how to validate the meaning he has defined against other readers’ determination of different meanings. On the other hand, if the reader decides that the author has a particular meaning she desires to communicate in and through the words and forms she has written down, then the reader has to figure out how to access the author’s intention. In addition, if the reader grants that the author intended to communicate a particular message through the words she wrote down, the reader must decide whether or not he will assume that she has the capacity to communicate clearly and consistently. With regard to the biblical text, since God stands behind the text as its primary source, Christian readers approach the text expecting to find that he has communicated clearly, consistently, and authoritatively. Christians may refer to the authority of the biblical text, but authority does not reside in texts; rather, authority characterizes persons who may exercise their authority in certain ways or communicate their authority by means of texts or other media. Therefore, when Christians speak of the authority of the Bible they actually refer to the authority of God himself who has communicated in and through the Bible. Thus, as Christian readers approach the Scriptures they recognize the importance of diligently seeking the divine author’s intended message because he not only spoke with the desire that the original readers of each individual document should respond in certain ways, but he also spoke with the desire that readers of every nation and generation should respond in certain ways. Furthermore, when discussing authority more generally with regard to any text, readers ought to recognize the authority of the author. The reader should acknowledge that the author intended to communicate certain things when he wrote down words on a page. He had in mind an audience, even if that audience lacked specificity (e.g., all adult women, all Christians, etc.).
3 Thus, the author alone has authority to use words in whatever ways he sees fit to communicate a certain message to his intended audience. This poses a problem when considering the Scriptures because they claim asymmetrical dual authorship which also potentially implies multiple audiences. Readers today must ask the question, “How does God’s authority as author relate to each human author’s authority?” Or, “How does asymmetrical dual authorship work out?” One could interpret the asymmetry to mean that God’s intended meaning overrides any meaning the human author desired to communicate, for God may exercise his authority in such a way that the human writer merely writes down words without having any awareness of the meaning of the words. It seems more likely, however, that the human authors composed these documents with their own communicative intentions, even as they recognized that their messages in some way reflected God’s intended authoritative message to their audiences.1 This suggests an organic connection between the divine author’s intention and each human author’s intention. Therefore, as later readers seek the meaning of a document like Isaiah, for example, they recognize the potential layers of meaning as a nexus formed between the divine authorial intention and the human authorial intention. This allows for the possibility that a later reader of Isaiah may perceive a meaning in the text that the original human author did not intend to communicate. The original hearers/readers understood and responded to Isaiah’s message that he intended to communicate, attributing divine authority also to this message. Hundreds of years later, after the coming of Jesus the Messiah, authors of New Testament documents like Matthew read the text of Isa 7:14, for example, and understood the event of Jesus’ birth to the virgin Mary as a fulfillment of this text, even though Isaiah probably did not intend to communicate the specific idea that a
This is most clear when the prophets claim to be communicating “the word of Yahweh.” In the New Testament, Paul also identifies a connection between his writing and God’s authoritative message for his audience (e.g., 1 Cor 14:37).
4 virgin woman would conceive and give birth to the Messiah. In this situation, since Matthew’s Gospel also exhibits asymmetrical dual authorship, God has peeled back a layer of meaning which he intended to communicate through Isaiah and has now made clear for the readers of Matthew’s Gospel, whom God (and Matthew) assumes also read Isaiah. How, then, can later readers access the author’s intention in biblical books? At a fundamental level, interpreters can only directly access the human author’s intention. To draw out the author’s intended meaning from a text, a reader must utilize the so-called historicalcritical method(s), paying close attention to the situation of the author and audience, the cultural milieu in which he wrote, the literary forms used by the author, and of course the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary choices the author made. Understanding as much as possible about the background of the author then becomes an important part of the process of reading an ancient document. This includes performing comparative studies between ancient Israel and the surrounding nations during the time periods described in the biblical books as well as the time periods of the composition of the biblical books. Comparative studies yields enormous linguistic, cultural, sociological, and religious payoff and enables readers to have greater degrees of access to the ancient author’s intentions. Since an organic connection exists between the human author’s intention and the divine author’s intention, this methodology should enable modern readers to have some confidence that they can truly understand God’s message for them. Moreover, Christians can have confidence that the same Holy Spirit who “carried along” the writers of Scripture, ensuring that they communicated in their own respective ways God’s intended message for the world, now helps them come to faithful interpretations of his divine discourse. Bringing these principles to bear on the text of Lev 17:10-16, we seek to utilize the historical-critical method to analyze the final canonical form of these verses in the context of the
5 book of Leviticus, recognizing this pericope as part of a divine discourse originally communicated orally to Moses and later recorded and included in the larger narrative of the Pentateuch.2 We assume, therefore, that God has effectively communicated and preserved an authoritative message to which this paragraph contributes significant meaning that we can access. We will pay careful attention to the literary choices the author made in shaping the text as it stands in order to draw out the meaning the author intended to convey.
LEVITICUS 17:10-16: PRELIMINARY MATTERS
The documents preserved and compiled as sacred Scripture display remarkable literary diversity. God chose to reveal himself by means of various literary forms with a dynamic richness,3 rather than a static list of divine attributes and demands for human response. Largely, the Scriptures come together to form a grand narrative (or meta-narrative) in which God introduces himself as a personal character interacting with other characters, while at the same time, displaying a sovereign control over the movement of the plot. However, readers find a wondrous variety of literary genres comprising the meta-narrative. Nevertheless, the canon begins with a lengthy section of “instructional history” traditionally connected with Moses and providing the framework for the Mosaic Covenant often referred to as the Pentateuch.4 But, of course, the Pentateuch does not consist only of narrative literature. It contains poetry (e.g., Ex 15:1-18),
The frequency of reference to Yahweh speaking to Moses in Leviticus serves as a clear claim that the book intends to record the authoritative words of Yahweh, warranting the probably exaggerated claim: “No other book in the Bible affirms divine inspiration so frequently as Leviticus.” Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (3d ed.; Chicago: Moody, 1998), 258. Perhaps this is part of what the author of Hebrews is communicating when he says that God spoke “at many times in many ways” (Heb 1:1). 4 Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 83.
6 legal material (e.g., Ex 20), speeches of various kinds (e.g., Gen 41:25-36), and genealogies (e.g., Gen 11:10-32). The book called Leviticus finds its place in the center of this narrative. The author has set the entirety of the material in Leviticus with the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai, where they have remained since Ex 19 and where they will remain until Num 10:10. Though clearly intended as part of the larger Pentateuchal narrative, Leviticus stands on its own as a literary unit. It manifests a broad two-part structure, with chapter 16 functioning as a fulcrum between chapters 1-15, which deal largely with how the people may deal with their own defilement that separates them from their holy God, and chapters 17-27, which comprise the socalled “Holiness Code” that explains the various ways the people may maintain the restoration of their fellowship with their holy God.5 Chapter 16 recounts Yahweh’s specifications for what Israel would celebrate annually as the Day of Atonement, the only day a man (specifically, the high priest alone) could enter the Holy of Holies in order to perform a particular sacrificial ritual which would enable the people to receive forgiveness from Yahweh so that he could remain present with them. This gracious provision from Yahweh permits ongoing positive communion between a holy God and sinful people.6 Because of the emphasis on priestly concerns, particularly in the Holiness Code, some have proposed that the author of Leviticus intended his work to serve later generations as a manual for priests.7 However, this seems unlikely since the author has not included many specific instructions for how the priests should carry out their duties with regard to the sacrifices or the feasts. Moreover, it seems clear that Yahweh communicated these laws to Moses on behalf
R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 590.
Cf. Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 68-9.
7 of the people of Israel, not only the priests; thus, the written record of these laws would provide the people with a constant reminder of how Yahweh had revealed himself in the first place after he brought them out of slavery in Egypt.8 Yahweh’s holiness, and his own explication of how his people must reflect that holiness, permeates the Pentateuch in general, and Leviticus in particular. Many scholars believe that the Holiness Code existed as a separate tradition composed after the exile that the author/redactor of Leviticus/the Pentateuch inserted into the text at this point.9 However, chapter 17 in particular, displays obvious literary connections with earlier material in Leviticus (and Exodus).10 Nevertheless, scholars continue to postulate concerning the sources of the Pentateuch, and they typically attribute most of the material in Leviticus to a Priestly, postexilic source.11 The validity of these proposed sources and the stratification of the text that results from such proposals remains questionable.12 While acknowledging the probability of some kind of redaction, it still seems best to recognize a tight connection between the form of the text in existence today and the divine communication mediated through Moses to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai.13
William Sanford LaSor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 81-2. E.g., Baruch A. Levine, “Leviticus, Book Of,” ABD 4:315-16, and Henry T.C. Sun, “Holiness Code,” ABD 3:254. Cf. Harrison, 597-8.
Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 78. Levine, 4:319-20.
12 See the thorough discussion of the problems of the Graf-Wellhausen school of thought, particularly with regard to Leviticus, in Harrison, 590-8.
Longman and Dillard, 83. Cf. John H. Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition, and Interpretation (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2009), 48-56.
8 Leviticus 17 begins the Holiness Code which reveals what the people of Israel must do to maintain holiness, “the wholeness and completeness that characterizes God.”14 The chapter seems to serve as a kind of prologue to what follows, while linking tightly with what has just passed in the narration of the specifications for the Day of Atonement ritual.15 The author of Leviticus has set out to outline for the people appropriate worship practices, primarily with a view to the sacrificial system, to define the Aaronic priesthood, to explain the necessity of avoiding impurity and explaining Yahweh’s provision for atonement when they fail, and, most importantly, to call the people to holiness.16 Lev 17:10-16 provides some rationale for Yahweh’s provision of animal blood to make atonement for the sins and impurities of the people so that they may continue to fellowship with a holy God. Thus, this pericope provides some stipulations for the way the people may and may not handle animal blood. Readers must also recall the covenantal context within which the Holiness Code, as well as the book of Leviticus more broadly, functions to provide its original audience with gracious guidance for how the people may preserve and uphold the Mosaic Covenant.17 Yahweh has chosen to communicate clear expectations of how the citizens of his holy nation must live with him in their midst as their king. He has also made clear to them how they may maintain good relations with him in spite of their inevitable sinning and uncleanness. However, the people of Israel should never have gotten the impression from Leviticus that they could manipulate Yahweh into forgiving sins by their performance of certain specific rituals; rather, they should
William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 47.
Levine, 4:316. Paul L. Redditt, “Leviticus, Book Of,” DTIB 448-9. Dumbrell, 42.
9 have responded with awe and gratitude that the Holy One would provide a system making available the forgiveness of sins.18
Imagining if Yahweh had never revealed the contents of the book of Leviticus makes one realize its importance within the canon of Scripture. Perhaps slightly overstating, one author says, “[Leviticus] provides us with a background to all the other books of the Bible.”19 Yet, Christians rarely even flip through the pages of this essential treatise on holiness. Certainly, the book offers the modern (or postmodern) reader intellectual challenges; perhaps more than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures, Leviticus demands that its readers gain some knowledge of the cultural milieu in which Israel lived. Attempting to comprehend an ancient sacrificial system, the distinction between clean animals and unclean animals, laws governing sexual behavior, and prescriptions for rituals intended to cleanse people from impurity contracted from uncontrollable bodily secretions intimidates (and even terrifies) many readers because of the foreignness of the ancient Israelite culture. However, perhaps our initial recoiling at these ideas serves the purposes of the author of Leviticus. Perhaps our negative response to the contents of the Holiness Code actually demonstrates his main point. While all these cultural elements truly seem foreign to us, the holiness of Yahweh seems all the more foreign in light of our utter sinfulness. At the same time, however, Yahweh himself invites us to fellowship with him in the book of Leviticus, and he
Ibid., 43. W.H. Gispen, “Leviticus, Book Of,” NBD 684.
10 outlines what he expects of us, and he emphasizes what he has done to provide for us a means for atonement and reconciliation so that we may dwell in his presence.
Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. 3d ed. Chicago: Moody, 1998. Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003. Dumbrell, William J. The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002. Gispen, W.H. “Leviticus, Book Of.” Pages 683-4 in New Bible Dictionary. Edited by I. Howard Marshall, A.R. Millard, J.I. Packer, and D.J. Wiseman. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1996. Harrison, R.K. Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969. LaSor, William Sanford, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. Levine, Baruch A. “Leviticus, Book Of.” Pages 312-21 in vol. 4 of The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Longman, Tremper III and Raymond B. Dillard. An Introduction to the Old Testament 2d ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006. Redditt, Paul L. “Leviticus, Book Of.” Pages 447-50 in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005. Sailhamer, John H. The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition, and Interpretation. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2009. Sun, Henry T.C. “Holiness Code.” Pages 254-7 in vol. 3 of The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Young, Edward J. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.
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