Study Guide

Moses in Leviticus

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Moses, Moses, Moses. You used to be so much more interesting.

After a book chock full of exciting adventures, the Moses of Leviticus is little more than God's sockpuppet. God tells him what to say and he says it, from the first chapter to the last.

When Moses does manage to show a little initiative, he only makes himself look even more irrelevant. Example? Of course. The first time Moses does anything on his own is in the story of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron who get struck dead in the Tabernacle by a seriously ticked off God. Moses scolds Aaron for not finishing the sacrificial ritual, but Aaron shuts up his blustering brother by being more conscientious about the Tabernacle's purity than Moses himself.

And when Moses heard that, he agreed. (10:20)

Ouch. That explains Aaron's sassy pronouncement, "Moses, thou hast gotten served."

Moses comes off a little better in the way he handles the blasphemous son of Shelomith, but that, too, ends up with Moses on the sidelines. God wants the assembly of the people to take care of passing judgment, and Moses merely passes the baton:

The Lord said to Moses, saying: Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands on his head, and let the whole congregation stone him. (24:13-14)

It's a knockoff of the Azazel goat ceremony in chapter 16, and Moses is just the guy who takes the goat into the wilderness.

American Moses

If this were a TV show, we might suspect that the writer of Genesis and Exodus left after God decided to go for more corporate control—kind of like how The Walking Dead gets a new show-runner every season. And in a way, that's actually not too far off the mark.

In Leviticus, Moses is no longer a superhero. He's a plot device.

The laws and stories in Leviticus establish a new social order, run by priests and a decision-making assembly instead of an all-powerful king. The priests could have simply said that God told them to do x ,y , and z, but why should anyone believe that? Instead, they retcon a bunch of old scrolls to make it look like everything came straight from God to Israel's very own Founding Father.

A similar thing happens today when people quote from George Washington as proof that America is supposed to be a Christian nation or Jefferson to show that it's not. It's often an effective strategy, but it can make things a bit tricky when trying to figure out what people actually said. God included.

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