How It All Goes Down
It only takes a spark to get Leviticus going. The book opens with an overview of five types of sacrifices that had been going on in Israel for years:
- the burnt offering (a.k.a. the sacrifice-an-animal-to-respect-life offering)
- the grain offering (a.k.a. the dry pancake offering)
- the peace offering (a.k.a. the I-can-haz-burger offering)
- the sin offering (a.k.a. the oops-my-bad offering)
While it may be tempting to skip over this stuff, don't—instead, try to imagine you're there, as if you were immersing yourself into a game of Halo II or an all-day Lord of the Rings marathon. When the ancient Israelites are hearing about these rituals, they are also living them—and as they experience them, they sense how the images, motions, and—ugh—smell connect to daily life.
Next comes the first of our two stories, as Aaron and his sons create the priesthood in order to manage the Tabernacle and keep Israel going through its shared rituals. However, disaster soon strikes when two of Aaron's sons get careless about their work.
Then we get a series of rules about ritual cleanness and uncleanness—food laws (the kashrut, or kosher laws), rules about skin diseases, and rules about leaking bodily fluids. Um, what?
That lovely interlude takes us to some of the most well-known and least understood parts of the book: the ritual for community atonement (including the scapegoat) and the rules for personal conduct and what some call the holiness code, which includes the notorious rules against same-sex intercourse and the mixing of fibers.
From there the book moves to
- what it means for a priest to be holy
- Sabbaths and festivals
- Tabernacle design, the meaning of justice, and a story about the importance of respecting how the different groups of Israel come together as one
- practical laws for economic justice, including the 50-year Jubilee.
It's all very thrilling.
The book finally closes with a summary of Israel's sacred covenant and some practical rules for people dedicated to God, such as the need to wipe out every foreigner you've vowed to kill in God's name.