Leviticus is the third book of Torah and so occupies the center of the five books of Torah. Our name for the book comes from the Latin Vulgate, following the Greek translators Leuitikin “The Levitical book”. It is a reference to the priesthood all of whom were members of the tribe of Levi.
Traditionally the Hebrew text refers to the books by their first words, so “Leviticus” is “and He called”. Early rabinical tradition called this text “Manual of the Priests” or “Instruction of [or by] the Priests”. Even though the name of the book suggests it is only a text for priests, about half of the time it is not the priests who are addressed but the people themselves.
The text itself tells us that this book was written at Sinai when Israel stopped there after leaving Egypt. (27:34). Numbers 36:13 gives a different location. Today most scholars believe that Leviticus comes from the post- exilic period and comes from a Priestly source. Some scholars think Leviticus is after Moses but before the exile.
There are important themes present in Leviticus. Leviticus tells us important things about God’s character. Frank Gorman, Jr. writes “Leviticus, then, has to do with the formation of the Israelite community in relation to the word of Yahweh. Just as the word of Yahweh brought the very good order of creation into being in Gen. 1:1-2:4a, so now the word of Yahweh brings into being the appropriate form of the Israelite community. …Enactment is a central category in the book. The Israelites are directed to enact sacred rituals within the tabernacle cult, and they are directed to enact social justice with the context of the day-to-day life of the community….Far from being a book entirely focused on ritual, Leviticus provides a divine call for the community to enact a life of holiness in the context of Yahweh’s abiding presence, as well as a means by which this may be accomplished.” (Gorman, 145-146)
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. writes, ” The book is given to Israel so that the people might live holy lives in fellowship with a holy God. But that intent does not tell the whole story, for a greater purpose is also served in furnishing Israel with laws that secure their well-being: They are to be a blessing to the nations…Seen in this light, the Levitical laws are intended to train, teach, and prepare the people to be God’s instruments if grace to others. Consequently, one of the key purposes for the law of Leviticus is to prepare Israel for its world mission. What Israel communicates most immediately to the nations is the character of God, especially the deity’s unapproachable holiness. Israel’s disclosure of God’s holiness to the nations is visible primarily through the sacrificial system. All can see that nay sin, no matter what the status or rank of the individual, is an offense against a holy God. ” (Kaiser, 987-988)
God, through Leviticus also provides a way for atonement, a way to be reconciled to God. Leviticus also teaches Israel how to worship.
Modern readers often struggle with Leviticus. It can be difficult or “boring” to modern persons. Some readers are tempted to decide that for Christians, Leviticus is not a necessary text, other than perhaps as a historical document. Others, desiring to honor all of scripture as God’s timeless word, may be tempted to spiritualize or allegorize the text looking for modern meanings. As we read Leviticus, we will consider what the text can mean for us today. What can this ancient book tell modern persons about God? What can it teach us about our relationship with God and with each other? How can this text inform our reading of the New Testament? Does reading Leviticus help us understand Jesus and the early church?
I. Leviticus 1:1-7:38 The Laws of Sacrifice
A. 1:1-6:7 The Laws of the Five Major Offerings
B. 6:8-7:38 Instructions for the Priests
II. Leviticus 8:1-10:20 The Inauguration of Worship at the Tabernacle
A. 8:1-36 The Consecration of Aaron and His Sons
B. 9:1-24 The Inauguration of the Tabernacle Service
C. 10:1-20 The Death of Nadab and Abihu
III. Leviticus 11:1-15:33 The Regulations on Clean and Unclean
A. 11:1-47 The Clean and the Unclean
B. 12:1-8 The Uncleanness of Childbirth
C. 13:1-14:57 The Uncleanness of Skin and Fungus Diseases
D. 15:1-33 The Uncleanness of Genital Discharges
IV. Leviticus 16:1-34 The Great Day of Atonement
V. Leviticus 17:1-26:46 The Holiness Code
VI. Leviticus 27:1-34 Epilogue: Entire Dedication to the Lord.
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W. “Leviticus” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Bamberger, Bernard J. “Leviticus” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Gorman, Frank H. Jr. “Leviticus” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Hallo, William W. “Leviticus and Ancient Near Eastern Literature” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.
Kaiser, Walter C., Jr, “The Book of Leviticus” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.