Study Guide

Leviticus Analysis

  • Genre

    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.

    Badges? Israelites Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges!

    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?

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Plenty of Interweb users out there have mused, "What does the Leviticus spell do in Harry Potter?" Well, musers of the World Wide Web, there is no Leviticus spell in Harry Potter.

    Thinking that there is, though, is a natural mistake. J.K. Rowling takes spells like "Wingardium leviosa" from Latin. Well, maybe not every word is real Latin as used by actual Romans, but close enough. Leviticus is from Latin, too—specifically (specificus?) from the Latin version of the title of the book in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Torah.

    In Greek the title is Leuitikon, which in Latin becomes—ta da!—Leviticus.

    The Big Reveal

    Okay, but why Leviticus? Because if the book were an episode of Friends, it would be translated "The One with the Levites."

    Who are the Levites? They're the tribe of Israel set apart to maintain the Tabernacle. The details will become a lot clearer in the book of Numbers, but the gist of it is that the tribe of Levi is made up of three family clans. The descendants of Aaron are the priests, while members of the other two Levite clans do the Tabernacle's scut work: feed grapes to the priests, sell popcorn to tourists, clean the Portajohns—everything the priests are too stuck up to do.

    The Levites who aren't priests don't show up much in Leviticus, but at least they get a book named after them. Take that, Naphtali and Issachar.

    The Name Game

    But remember, the Septuagint isn't the original version of the Torah. Instead, it could be described as the ancient Greek ancestor of the King James Bible. It's a compilation of Greek translations from the original Hebrew that, according to legend, was produced by 70 scholars in the 3rd century BCE.

    In Hebrew, there are a couple different titles for this book, neither of which is Leviticus. One title for the book in Hebrew is Torat Kohanim, or "Instructions for Priests." This title is especially popular among people named Cohen, since it keeps the rest of the Levite tribe from bogarting their fame.

    But the best known and most commonly used title in Hebrew is taken straight from the first two words of the first verse: Va Yikra, or "And he called." Religious teachers have for centuries read Va Yikra as a sign of God's care for his people. After all, if he had started the book with something like "The liver lobe" or "Unclean semen," the title would have been impossible to say out loud without someone giggling.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    The book of Leviticus ends in chapter 27. And chapter 26. And chapter 23. And a bunch of other chapters going all the way back to chapter 1.

    So what's up with all these false endings? Was Leviticus actually written by Peter Jackson?

    Probably not. But there are a couple more historically grounded theories. Among those who believe that Moses himself wrote the whole book, the theory of unified authorship derives from the well-proven fact that it's impossible to keep anything straight while driving a caravan of bratty kids cross country. So it's a little all over the place, yeah. But we should cut Moses some slack.

    Other scholars see the mix of beginnings, endings, and writing styles as proof of multiple authors writing different at different times. One thing on which the multiple-author scholars tend to agree on is that Leviticus was patched together from a bunch of old instructions for various rituals, mixed in with the priests' old waiting room copies of Sports Illustrated, Redbook and Field and Stream. The priests who put this stuff together then tried to make little fixes to make it sound like everything fit together in a single book.

    What's Your Number?

    As far as the number of authors goes, the exact number depends on whether scholars need something new to argue about at conferences. A particularly popular idea is that there were two main guys (or groups of guys) who did all the putting together.

    The first guy put together chapters 1-16. The guy who did this is called P, from Priestly, because—well, look at it. It's like The Priest's Little Instruction Book. Then, starting in chapter 17, Leviticus starts talking a lot about "you have to do this because God is holy and you have to do that that because God is holy." The guy who cobbled this together and sprinkled in a bunch of holy talk is H, for Harold.

    Just kidding. That's H for Holiness, and his Holiness Code rolls merrily along through chapter 26. That chapter ends after God threatens to take his football and go home if the Israelites keep acting like jerks. And then? Well, there's not really anything left to be said.

    Oh wait. Chapter 27.

    This last chapter (really, this time!) was probably tacked on afterward by priests who wanted to make sure that Leviticus left no wiggle room about how much the people have to give the priests. Or it could have been added in by H when he put everything together in one book. Who knows? (We sure don't.)

  • Setting

    The Tabernacle near Mt. Sinai, circa the 12th-11th centuries BCE

    Genesis takes us from the chaos of nothingness to the Garden of Eden, and from there, all over the map until the twelve tribes of Israel find a nice rental in Egypt. Exodus is a fiery whirlwind of adventure, taking the Israelites from Egypt to their thrilling encounter with God at Mount Sinai.

    In Leviticus, the Israelites stay put.

    Oh, sure, maybe they walk around a little, but just to the Tabernacle for sacrificial offerings and just outside the camp for everybody's favorite team building exercise, stoning a co-worker to death. Only two individuals go on anything close to an adventure: a goat that's sent out into the wilderness as part of the community's first annual atonement ritual and the guy who gets to take the goat out there (16:21-22).

    While it might sound like kind of a let down, the Tabernacle setting is more than just a big tent surrounded by sand. The first verse of Leviticus starts with God speaking from the inside of the Tabernacle (1:1), and with that, the top of Mount Sinai has come down to earth.

    It's a neat little rhetorical trick—from here until the end of end, the sanctuary is the voice of God (source). Instead of roaming around the Near East, the Israelites themselves will be living in one place, and God speaking from the sanctuary through his priests will help them live life there to the fullest.

    The Setting Behind the Setting

    There's more to the setting of Leviticus than meets the eye—at least according to those who don't believe that Moses wrote the book sometime around the 11th century BCE. A number of Leviticus and Torah scholars agree that priests most likely compiled Leviticus after Israelites returned from exile in Babylon during the 6th century BCE.

    For believers dedicated to the worship of God in Jerusalem, the Babylonian exile was about as much fun as it sounds. Beginning in 597 BCE, the Israelites suffered a series of military defeats that led to their population being deported in waves to Babylon, a city-state located about fifty miles south of modern day Baghdad in Iraq (source). This left the exiles without a temple. A number of Jews assimilated to Babylonian life (ack—pagans!), and those who held on to the worship of God did so outside of priestly oversight.

    They were doing their own thing, man, and there's nothing God's priests hate more than a bunch of sun-worshipping hippies dancing to the beat of their own drums.

    This all gives the themes in Leviticus added oomph. The return from exile is a make or break moment for Israel: they either come together as a distinct community or fade away. Leviticus provides a model of how the Israelites can become—wait for it—one nation under God.

  • The Tabernacle

    Blah, blah, Moses and God, blah blah. In Leviticus, these guys are mostly just talking heads. The real star of the book is the Tabernacle.

    The first time the Tabernacle appears in Leviticus, the Hebrew name that's used for it literally means "tent of meeting." And that's not a coincidence, folks, or a cliché. After all, meeting at the Tabernacle is a central theme of the book.

    Getting together at one place is the real point for all the rules about conducting sacrifices at the Tabernacle. Before God starts dishing out these rules, the Israelites were making offerings wherever they wanted, according to their own family customs. Leviticus won't settle for that, and now everyone is told to take their offerings to one place. To paraphrase Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act 2 (as we're wont to do): the point isn't whether they can sacrifice. God knows they can sacrifice. This is about sacrificing together as a group.

    The rules and rituals associated with the Tabernacle orient all aspects of the Israelite's daily lives, from crops, cattle, and commerce to health, sex, home, and even the ordering of time. Here's the thing, though. Working all this out before settling into the Promised Land—you know, while the Tabernacle is in the wilderness—is like using video games and virtual sandboxes to help get through everyday life.

    It may not be easy, but everything connects to the Tabernacle and the Tabernacle connects to everything.

    In the words of St. Keanu of Neo: whoa.

    You've Got to Know the Territory

    The rules for rituals in Leviticus take us on a walking tour of the Tabernacle. Allow us to be your tour guide.

    We start with the sacrificial altar in the courtyard:

    If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. (1:3)

    Next we go through the entrance into the first room, where Aaron's sons Harold and Kumar proceed to fill the tent with incense smoke:

    He shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of crushed sweet incense, and he shall bring it inside the curtain and put the incense on the fire before the Lord (16:12-13)

    Next, we proceed to the innermost room, the Holy of Holies, where we can see the Ark of the Covenant. Since this is Leviticus, no tour would be complete without a pun: the "mercy seat" is literally "cover," or kapporet, which speaks to its role in making kipper, or atonement (16:11). Hey-o!

    […] that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the covenant, or he will die. He shall take some of the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times. (16:13-14)

    On the way back, Leviticus has us take time to linger in the first room, where we get to see the menorah and the twelve pieces of show-bread (24:1-9). And then the tour wraps up back outside, where we hear even more thrilling rules about the offerings that people bring to the Tabernacle (27:9).

    If reading about all this seems a bit abstract, no problem. Some fancy people out in the world of the Interweb have recreated what the Tabernacle might have looked like in real life. We're talking everything from drawings to a full-scale replica.

    (Note: The shorts and t-shirts on the American tourists are not in the original Hebrew manuscripts.)

    More Than Meets the Eye

    Biblical Shmoopsters know that the Bible is filled with symbolism, and the Tabernacle is no different. The number seven is hanging around, and the twelve loaves of show-bread are a shout-out to the twelve tribes of Israel.

    But wait, there's more! As anthropologist Mary Douglas observes, the tour through the Tabernacle is a direct riff on Mount Sinai in the book of Exodus (source). The Tabernacle's courtyard is the base camp at the foot of the mountain. The first room is the waiting area partway up the mountain. The Holy of Holies is the mountain top, where Moses speaks directly with God. Oh, and the Tabernacle's set-up also maps to the three levels of Israelites: regular folk; the priests and the Levities; and the high priest, who is the only person allowed to go into the Tabernacle's Holy of Holies.

    How's that for symbolic?

  • Blood, Fat, and Animal Sacrifice

    Leviticus is a book about life. And we're not just talking about survival, but vitality and growth. You know, the good stuff.

    So what does this have to do with animal sacrifice? Well, to us, animal sacrifice may stink of savagery, violence, and death, but that's not the message it conveys in ancient Israel. Back in the day, killing was a necessary evil. A man has to eat and wear clothes, right? And tofu, vitamin supplements, and pleather are centuries in the future.

    Still, God says, the fact that killing animals will be part of day-to-day life doesn't mean that Israelites should take it lightly. Blood and fat are life in abundance, and they belong to God:

    For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off. (17:14)

    Offering up these sacrifices to God is a way for the Israelites to convey their gratitude to the giver, kind of like how a cat will bring a mouse that she's killed to her owner. Not that we worship cats.

    Order in the Courtyard

    Besides acknowledging God as the one with absolute power over life, offerings are designed to keep the Israelites from killing each other. The ritual transforms the necessity of death into a reminder of the need to respect life.

    The whole thing has ripple effects throughout the community. After all, if Israelites aren't supposed to take violence toward animals lightly, how much more should they not abuse their families and neighbors? If we applied this theory to the things accused of causing violence today, the Leviticus approach wouldn't be to ban violent movies and video games, but to make us say a blessing every time we turn on Mortal Kombat or Resident Evil.

    The image of animal sacrifice as a reminder to respect life actually goes all the way back to the book of Genesis. Remember Cain and Abel? The peaceful Abel sacrifices animals, while Cain merely presents offerings from his harvest and… becomes a murderer. The moral: watch out for vegetarians, because who knows what they're cooking up?

    The Snowball Effect

    Sacrifice also keeps the purity whole by reminding people of how even the smallest mistakes can add up to big problems. In the rituals prescribed for atonement, the life blood covers and cleanses the decay resulting from disorder, thus preserving the community from collapse. Sacrificial offerings expel the community's sins and purify through contact with the holy, most notably the priests performing and eating the sacrifices.

    Let's look at it this way (spoiler alert!): The process of atonement in Leviticus is kind of like the image of saving systems from collapse in The Matrix. Although the system normally goes through recurring renewal and collapse due to the cumulative effect of flaws, Neo saves the system from collapse by internalizing the destructive viral code of Agent Smith. If God had given the Israelites CGI instead of a discourse of bodily fluids, Leviticus might be much more popular today.

    In more down to earth terms, like The Matrix movies, Leviticus is full of metaphors referring to feedback loops in a dynamic system. In a weird yet familiar way, the Israelites were trying to do science. They saw that small imperfections could lead to widespread instability and unwanted changes. So the priestly system of repentance, correction, and covering was designed to dampen the rate of system decay.

    It's really not as out there as it may sound. One of the most influential modern applications of this strategy for improving community life is the broken windows theory. According to this popular approach, being mindful of attention to small messes—graffiti, trash, broken windows—can have broader effects throughout the community, including the reduction of violent crime (source). We hate to side with nagging parents here, but a similar principle is at work when adults tell kids to clean their rooms.

    That said, there are also some serious bugs in this law code. One of the biggest bugs of all is the idea that Israel can make a sacred vow to dedicate the lives of conquered foreigners to God. Leviticus 27 makes it a sin not to follow through with such a vow:

    Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the Lord, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death. (27:28-29)

    This law will play a major role in the Book of Joshua, where the Israelites wipe out whole populations as they conquer their enemies in the Promised Land.

    No mistake about it—this is a real puzzler. How could this be consistent with the ethic of respect for life in chapters 1-25? Is it merely a literary symbol of God's absolute justice and not something that the Israelites actually did? Or is this a win for Team Richard Dawkins?

  • Covenant

    The covenant is no small potatoes in Leviticus. It's the salt in the sacrifice. It's the source of everything good. And it's the reason things go way bad.

    But what in the world is it?

    A covenant is an agreement. In Leviticus, the agreement in question is a suzerain-vassal treaty, normally an alliance entered into by dominant and dependent nations. The use of formal treaty language in Leviticus is one of the ways in which the book tries to move past the magical and supernatural. No ghosts here—this is all about cutting along the dotted line.

    As contracts go, this one's a doozy. The covenant defines the relation among God, the Israelites, and the Promised Land. Act consistent with the covenant and the result will be life in abundance: crops, herds, flocks, children, and victory over the community's enemies. But imperfections and mistakes in the agreement can muck up the Tabernacle, the community, and the land itself. The result? Crop failures, thinning herds, and ultimately ejection from the land by the community's enemies or bad directions from Apple Maps.

    God is in the Details

    The contractual relationship also affects all aspects of social life, from family to commerce. In particular, Leviticus regularly describes justice in terms of fair exchange and compensation. Long before the word "redemption" becomes an abstract theological concept, here it refers to buying something back at a fair price. The same goes for atonement, which covers and purifies sin through a ritual form of proportional payment. In Leviticus, payback is not only sweet—it's holy.

    This is a big reason why ethical rules can blend into the rituals. For example, the sin and reparation counteract harm to the community from wrongdoing, but they don't rely solely on animal sacrifice. The rules also provide for the offender to compensate injured parties. All in all, this is probably a good thing, because when someone has crashed into your car, you're probably more concerned with the repair bill than whether the person who did it has sacrificed a goat.

    Other Covenants

    While the suzerain-vassal treaty is the big one in Leviticus, it's not the only covenant at play. The burnt offering goes back to the more fundamental covenant between God and humanity through Adam and Noah.

    Leviticus makes the link to Adam clear from the outset with the clumsy phrasing in its first rule for a sacrifice, which in Hebrew literally refers to "when a human being brings an offering" (1:2). The word for human being here is adam, and the burnt offering is a direct callback to when God kills an animal to provide Adam and Eve with its pelt as a covering.

    The distinctions between clean and unclean animals link to the animals saved by Noah and his covenant with God, which makes the rainbow a sign of God's pledge not to send another flood wipe out humanity. As for asteroids eventually blowing up Russia—well, every contract has a loophole.

    A Cut Above

    God's covenants with Adam, Noah, Israel, and Abraham all come together here: in the rules for ritual purity and holiness.

    The ritual purity laws hinge upon such things as covenantal circumcision, the integrity of the covering of the skin, and the leakage of fluids associated with fertility. Gross? Maybe. But it all connects to the covering provided by a house and the physical expression of God's covenantal presence, the Tabernacle.

    In chapter 19, the pinnacle of the holiness code, God includes an odd set of commandments pertaining to what Israelites can and cannot eat from a new tree. Now why would a chapter dedicated to God's absolute holiness include a law requiring Israelites not to touch the fruit of a tree? The big hint comes in verse 23, which the King James Version captures in all its literal glorious weirdness:

    And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of. (19:23)

    Yep, that's right—the law specifically provides that when an Israelite plants a tree, it is to grow freely for three years "uncircumcised," a rather colorful way of saying untrimmed and unharvested. On a practical level, circumcision means that fruit from year four goes to God (that is, his trusty representatives) and in year five, you get finally get to chow down. (Like this rule? Check out the Tu b'Shevat, the Jewish Arbor Day.)

    More generally, this command connects the symbol of God's covenant with Israel through Abraham to the Tree of Life that tempted adam and Eve, the mother of all living. The reference to uncircumcised trees helps explain the connection between male infant circumcision and God's covenantal provision of life in abundance. As it says in the Jewish Mishnah,

    Just as the foreskin of trees refers to the place where it yields fruit, the foreskin of man must refer to the place where he yields fruit. (Source.)

    Oh, and one last thing. The removal of the foreskin also ties into another theme in Leviticus: imperfection as uncleanness that must be purged. Unlike other covering, the foreskin appears to impede fertility. Once again from the Mishnah:

    Just as a bodily orla (foreskin) represents an imperfect situation, and its removal is the correction—i.e., man is created incomplete, and he must perform a certain action in order to bring his body to completion and perfection, so the first fruits are imperfect; they are orla. (Source.)

    All of which is to say, the big band song "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anybody Else But Me" is a part of a long tradition of old-fashioned tree talk that's a lot naughtier than you might think.

  • Wordplay

    Leviticus loves language. It can be hard to see in English, but in the original Hebrew the text is full of puns, links, and callbacks to other biblical texts. Leviticus also moves forward with a series of loops (or "rings") back to the beginning of the book and its various subsections, as if the reader is experiencing the eternal loop of seasons in the circle of life.

    As with virtually everything in the book, this all makes a deeper point. The connections and loops in Leviticus point to the connections and cycles in life at large, with the Tabernacle at the center of it all.

    Yes, it's truly profound. But it's also a lot more fun to talk about with jokes.

    • Sex Drugs And Violence Rating


      The MPAA (Mishnah Policing Association of America) has given Leviticus a PG-13 rating, which means that parts of it are Pretty Gross in ways that kids may find hilarious once they hit puberty. Leviticus includes scenes of pus-leaking penises, menstrual flow that doesn't stop, and weird laws and descriptions of sex that you're not supposed to be doing (but c'mon, no one would bother to try to stop it if people weren't doing it every chance they got).

    • Allusions

      Literary and Philosophical References

      The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 
      Children being sacrificed to preserve social order? The Hunger Games is the Azazel goat meets Molech, though that probably isn't the pitch that got Collins her book contract.

      Dracula by Bram Stoker 
      Stoker's Dracula transforms the vampire legend into a profound meditation on life, death, difference, and contamination. In chapter 21, Mina Harker cries out that she's "Unclean! Unclean!"—and the genius of Stoker's re-imagining of these themes from Leviticus shines through (see Leviticus 13:45).

      The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson 
      Murders based on the book of Leviticus are just the tip of the literary iceberg. Larsson draws from themes and imagery from Leviticus throughout the book. Sacrifice, punishment by fire, family corruption, sexual exploitation by those in power—even Lis Salander's tattoo is a shout-out. Now go out and make your millions with a novel based on kosher law of shellfish!

      Much Ado about Incest in the Works of William Shakespeare
      Leviticus 18 and 20 were required reading back in 16th-century England, when The Table of Kindred and Affinity banned marriages "within the Levitical degrees." This application of the Leviticus rules on sex within the family could determine who was able to inherit property or even become king. With so much at stake, the rules soon became a popular theme in literature and popular theater. Perhaps the most famous: shout outs in Shakespeare's Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing, Troilus and Cressida, and Love's Lannisters Lost.

      Blow Ye the Trumpet by Charles Wesley This Methodist celebration of the Jubilee and atonement as symbols of spiritual deliverance became an anthem for American abolitionists fighting to atone for America's sins by liberating actual slaves. So in a roundabout way, without this hymn, we might have never had the dulcet tones of Louis Armstrong.

      The Scapegoat by Rene Girard 
      Think that Leviticus, religion, and philosophy are irrelevant to modern life? Well, Silicon Valley powerhouse Peter Thiel applied Rene Girard's meditations on the scapegoat (Leviticus 16) to make PayPal and Facebook into multi-billion companies. This helpful post on Quora explains how.

      The Book of Enoch
      Not every book that claimed to be part of the Bible made the cut. One influential example is The Book of Enoch, an ancient Jewish mystical work that actually gets a shout out in the first chapter of the New Testament's Epistle of Jude. One of the characters in The Book of Enoch is the fallen angel Azazel, who teaches people how to make weapons, jewelry, bracelets, and cosmetics. This Azazel is a cross between the exiled Greek god Prometheus, who suffers for giving men fire, and Wal-Mart, which gets a lot of flack for selling toys in the same store with guns.

      For more on The Book of Enoch and our pal Azazel, check out Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology.

      The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov 
      The devil comes to Moscow in this wacky takeoff on Goethe's Faust. In his band of demonic misfits is none other than Azazello, who takes the form of a mysterious man with one fang and a bowler hat.

      Powers of Horror by Julia Kristeva 
      Menstrual flow as a transgressive force. Sacrificing a baby goat as a metaphor of incest. Funky sentences about ob-jest(i)fi-c/ation and diachronic synchronicity. Whatever you think about her writing style, Kristeva's take on Leviticus is one of the most influential of the last thirty years, at least among lit crit grad students.

      Leprosy and Empire: A Medical and Cultural History 
      Skin disease, lust, politics, and boundaries—if you want the perfect gift for the one you love, your search has just begun because this book is not it.

      Azazel by Isaac Asimov 
      Whatever the biblical Azazel might be, it probably wasn't a two-centimeter high demon who lives a man's shirt pocket and grants wishes—badly.

      Writing a report on the scapegoat (or Azazel goat) motif in literature and film? Hmmm, where might be a good place to start looking for ideas. Oh yeah, right here.

      Pop Culture References

      Glee isn't just a place to go for catchy songs and fun dance numbers. It's also America's contribution to teaching Leviticus. In the Whitney Houston episode "Dance with Somebody," Sam Evans cites the ban on tattoos in Leviticus as the basis for spiritual ethics that adapt to the times: "Let's be a new kind of Christian, one that prays and does right by people but understands that some of those rules are kind of old school." A couple episodes later, Brittany riffs on Leviticus 21 and 22 when she wonders whether God lets the disabled into heaven.

      Saturday Night Live
      Back when Saturday Night Live was still hilarious, it loved to use characters again and again—but the street preacher named Leviticus didn't make the cut.

      Strange Fire by the Indigo Girls 
      When the author of Leviticus wrote the story of Nadab and Abihu, he probably didn't imagine it inspiring this path-breaking ode to personal freedom.

      The First X-Man 
      Bible scholars may be unsure who or what Azazel is in Leviticus chapter 16, but longtime comics fans know the score. In the Marvel universe, Azazel is the ancient evil mutant who just happens to be the fashion of the X-Men's Nightcrawler. Not that this helps Azazel, who gets cast out of Earth to live in the wilderness dimension known as Brimstone. X-Men is not exactly known for being subtle.

      The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs 
      A male writer decides to follow the laws in Leviticus for 365 days. The Hasidic Guy Book Review raves, "What's the big deal? We do this every day of our whole lives!"

      A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans A female writer decides to follow the laws in Leviticus for 365 days. The Hasidic Woman Book Review raves, "What's the big deal? We do this every day of our whole lives!"

      Reading Ritual: Leviticus in Postmodern Culture by Wesley Bergen 
      Is McDonald's just Leviticus in disguise? That's just one of the questions explored in this examination of ritual and today's pop life.

      Commentaries on Leviticus

      Leviticus as Literature by Mary Douglas 
      Anthropologist Mary Douglas had written a little about Leviticus in her classic Purity and Danger, but in this book, she decided to tackle the whole thing. Along the way, she concluded that her previous analysis was wrong. How about that for academic integrity?

      Reading Leviticus: Responses to Mary Douglas by John F.A. Sawyer 
      Douglas herself contributes to the unofficial sequel, which adds new people and fresh revelations. Spoiler alert: In a previously unpublished version of Chapter 24 from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Moses cuts off the son of Shelomith's hand and admits to being his father.

      Leviticus: A Continental by Jacob Milgrom 
      An easy-to-read, low-cost guide to Leviticus by a true master. In addition, his three-volume Anchor Bible commentary is great if you simply have to know the names of Sumerian demons who have a questionable obsession with leaking bodily fluids.

      Leviticus: The Jewish Publication Society Commentary by Baruch A. Levine 
      Levine is bringin' it all back home. He brings together research from everywhere—within and outside Judaism—and uses it to bring fresh light on the text.

      Leviticus: A Study of its Laws and Institutions in the Light of Biblical Narratives by Calum Carmichael
      Carmichael writes about how the laws in Leviticus respond to Israel's wilder and crazier past by telling people not to do the same thing. It's like how when parents are extra strict, it's usually because they remember something totally epic they did in high school or college.

      Leviticus: An Economic Commentary by Gary North
      North is a conservative Christian who argues that the laws of Leviticus should govern America today. Now that would be a tough one to execute.