Study Guide

Leviticus Allusions

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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.

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