Law code; Historical narrative; Sacred treaty; Instruction manual for priests; Rabbinical textbook for kids; Gamer Guide
Bringing Order to Chaos
The popular image of Leviticus is that it's a laundry list of laws, but we know better, don't we? There are a couple of stories, multiple styles, stirring declarations of the principle behind the practice—the whole nine yards. For a book that's obsessed with order, it seems like a mess.
That's because Leviticus isn't merely a book for religious instruction or a collection of commands to obey. It's a walkthrough and cheat guide—you know, that thing you use to get you through a video game that seems impossible to beat.
The link between gaming and religion goes way back, long before video games became a thing. And researchers actually see a number of links between religion and gaming, which can be quite similar in how they go about making sense of the world (source). The lots and dice used in Tabernacle rituals is no fluke—Elvis is on to something when he sings about how Las Vegas affects his soul.
The connection goes beyond ritual in a temple or church. It also includes the ways that religious rituals and rules can help people make progress by unlocking achievements in everyday life.
Instead of cute little rewards for unlocking day-to-day achievements, Leviticus creates rule-based scenarios for people to achieve purity, avoid unholiness, and produce life in abundance. It maps out the territory, sets out possible endgames, explains the rules for how things interact, and provides tools to help make progress faster. In short, it's like giving Israelites Sims and the Konami Code.
Other ways Leviticus is like a gamer guide?
- Leviticus maps out the various territories in Israel's day-to-day life and connects them all to the Tabernacle. This includes not merely physical space but also time.
- It also maps out the Tabernacle itself, which like any number of contemporary games is a virtual simulation of processes that can hold things together or break them down.
- The book takes its audience through multiple personal perspectives, such as those of the offerer, the priests, and the congregation, as well as multiple ways of modeling community life.
Throughout the book, Leviticus presents an array of different scenarios designed to illustrate effective ways to achieve the goal of life in abundance through a cohesive community. Key tactics include creating a distinct identity, maintaining order, establishing social institutions, promoting mutual respect, fostering awareness of disintegrative forces, and practicing fair exchange. Only with Leviticus will your player—i.e., the Israelites—make it out alive.
The Proof Is in the Pudding
The usefulness of Leviticus as a walkthrough and cheat guide for life in Israel is illustrated by the fact that for centuries, it was a child's first textbook. As anthropologist Mary Douglas indicates, the scenarios presented in Leviticus work precisely because they resemble gameplay, conveying information through images, metaphors, connections, and differences. It is not the sort of direct explanation found in a cut-and-dry textbook. Dare we say Leviticus was the Shmoop of early Israel?