Study Guide

Leviticus Rules and Order

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Rules and Order

No grain offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to the Lord. You may bring them to the Lord as an offering of choice products, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing odor. (NRSV 2:11-12)

No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto the Lord, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the Lord made by fire. As for the oblation of the firstfruits, ye shall offer them unto the Lord: but they shall not be burnt on the altar for a sweet savour. (KJV 2:11-12)

Some scholars think that Israel can't burn leaven or honey on the altar because they symbolize death and decay. Others say that Israel can't burn leaven or honey on the altar because they symbolize life and growth. Whatever the symbolism for the altar, Leviticus wants you to know that your generous donations of leaven and honey are totally unwanted.

When you have sinned and realize your guilt, and would restore what you took by robbery or by fraud or the deposit that was committed to you, or the lost thing that you found, or anything else about which you have sworn falsely, you shall repay the principal amount and shall add one-fifth to it. You shall pay it to its owner when you realize your guilt. (NRSV 6:4-5)

Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering. (KJV 6:4-5)

Much like Superman is Jewish, Leviticus is the Superman of law codes, standing for truth, justice, and the covenant way. Unlike Superman, though, God doesn't send crooks to jail. Instead, they have to pay back what they stole by trickery or force, along with a 20% penalty.

And the Lord spoke to Aaron: Drink no wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons, when you enter the tent of meeting, that you may not die; it is a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean. (NRSV 10:8-10)

And the Lord spake unto Aaron, saying, Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean. (KJV 10:8-10)

The God of the Torah is the founding deity of Gods Against Drunk Offering. Other ancient religions allow priests to have beer in the Tabernacle, but Israelite priests aren't so lucky. Or is the drink offering in Numbers 28:7-10 a thirst-quenching loophole?

More generally, the last part of this selection just so happens to provide the key to how God divides things in Leviticus.

This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten. (NRSV 11:46-47)

This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth: To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten. (KJV 11:46-47)

Here's a key verse about kosher law to whet your appetite, hungry Shmoopers. While the technicalities can sometimes be hard to swallow, God sums it all up with a reminding that the drawing lines is what his laws are all about.

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, "Unclean, unclean." He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (NRSV 13:45-46)

And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be. (KJV 13:45-46)

Living in time before medicated skin crèmes, Leviticus offers no relief from the itching and scaling that cause the heartbreak of psoriasis. Instead, the priests turn you into a version of Pigpen without self-esteem.

When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. (NRSV 15:19-20)

And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. (KJV 15:19-20)

Just like Mr. Garrison, many religions don't trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn't die (source).

You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion. (NRSV 18:23)

Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion. (KJV 18: 23)

As noted theologian Peter Venkman reminds us, cats and dogs living together is a telltale sign of a biblical disaster.

You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials. (NRSV 19:19)

Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee. (KJV 19:19)

When someone quotes Leviticus to argue against gay marriage, you can be sure that this verse against animal mash-ups will be quoted in response. Ligers and turfgrass and blends, oh my!

If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or slaughters it outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, he shall be held guilty of bloodshed; he has shed blood, and he shall be cut off from the people. (NRSV 17:3-4)

What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it out of the camp, And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer an offering unto the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord; blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people. (KJV 17:3-4)

When it comes to ritual sacrifice, God wants you to play by his rules. If you want to make your own sustainable hamburgers, you have to take your offering to the Tabernacle first.

Why is God such a stickler for sacred slaughter? Believe it or not, it's a way of preventing violence by teaching people to respect all forms of life. You might feel like God's cool with wearing leather and eating meat, but that doesn't mean you can take killing lightly.

Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. (NRSV 24:19-21)

And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again. And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death. (KJV 24:20-21)

Instant karma's gonna get you if you hurt someone in ancient Israel. The fancy word for this is the Lex Talionis, or the law of retaliation. Shakespeare describes this as "measure for measure," but the best summary can be found in Shmooperonomy 19:7: "Yowza." 

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