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The first sixteen chapters of Leviticus fit together in a neat little package.
(1) Rules for offerings
(2) A story about how not following the rules leads to impurity
(3) Purity rules
(4) A sequel to the story describing the most effective way to get rid of the Israelites' impurity
Many scholars think the book originally ended there. Many students wish it still did.
Nonetheless, the book goes on for eleven more chapters. The writer/editor who put these chapters together is often cited as "H." The H stands for the Holiness source, referring to the section's number one topic.
By way of contrast, the editor of the first sixteen chapters is usually cited as "P." The P stands for Priestly, in honor of the actor who played Brandon Walsh in the original Beverly Hills 90210.
Chapter 17 starts with some more déjà vu. God speaks to Moses and tells him to give orders to Aaron, his sons, and the children of Israel.
The topic? Sacrifices, of course!
As a friendly nudge to any readers who think that Azazel is not a goat-demon but just a clever word for the escaping scapegoat, God tells the Israelites not to make sacrifices to goat-demons. There, that's covered.
God states that no Israelite can eat meat from cattle, goats, or sheep unless it has been sacrificed at the Tabernacle. Unless at the time Israel has officially franchised sanctuaries all over the country, this would be the equivalent of requiring every American to get their burgers from the flagship McDonald's in Chicago.
Also, no consuming blood. No exception, and putting fake blood on the corners of your mouth when offering a sacrifice is not funny, buster.
Blood is life and life is God's. This rule also applies to everyone living in Israel even if they are not Israelites. Want to know the real reason the Cullens moved to Forks? There it is.
Furthermore, sacrificing anywhere else besides the tent of meeting is a definite no-no for both Israelites and people from other backgrounds who live in Israel. You want to worship in your own way at your own family altar? Tough.
If you hunt wild animals for food, you have to pour out the blood and cover it with dirt. In the words of High Priest Jesse Pinkman, these blood rules are serious, yo.
A person who has eaten meat from an animal that died naturally or was torn apart by other animals must wash his clothes and take a bath. Technically this doesn't cover roadkill, but ack.
Taken together, these rules tell Israel that killing animals for food is not something for the community to take lightly. Killing is serious business, even if the victim is an animal and not a human being.
If the Israelites are going to use animals for food and clothes, the life of every animal they kill must first be offered back to God, the source of all life.
Even a natural death undedicated to God is a source of ritual contagion.
The sacrifice rules also serve to unify Israel by making everyone worship the same way under the priests' oversight.
Which is mighty convenient, because it means whenever Leviticus gets too weird, it's always possible to save the day by tossing in a reference to Foucault and the institutionalization of power. Hey, if it works for Gossip Girl…