Study Guide

Leviticus The Supernatural

The Supernatural

But its entrails and its legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. (NRSV 1:9)

But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord. (KJV 1:9)

By this point, the image of God as an ethereal aroma sniffer is little more than a metaphor for "Hey Israel, he likes it!" 

Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (NRSV 9:23-24)

And Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle of the congregation, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people. And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces. (KJV 9:23-24)

The fire of God might not be in the Tabernacle today, but wow, Israelites, you should have been there when it happened. At least there's still the eternal flame left behind by God's awesome fire from above. Honest.

And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord meant when he said, 'Through those who are near me I will show myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.' " And Aaron was silent. (NRSV 10:2-3)

And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. (KJV 10:2-3)

This passage is best summarized by the following excerpt from the script for the upcoming Steven Spielberg movie on the life of Moses:

God: Yo, Aaron, remember when you did that whole golden calf thing despite my clear commands against idolatry? Well, it's payback time.

Aaron: :-(

If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; her time of blood purification shall be sixty-six days. (NRSV 12:5)

But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days. (KJV 12:5)

Setting aside the longer time of uncleanness for giving birth to a girl, the spiritual significance of this chapter lies in what doesn't appear: demons.

In the ancient world, childbirth had long been an occasion for supernatural attacks on babies by demons such as Adam's first wife, Lilith. Leviticus, however, has little patience for such mystical woo-woo. Instead, it simply requires the mother to be sheltered throughout the vulnerable weeks immediately following delivery.

It might be a fusion of maternity leave with house arrest, but at least she no longer has to weary gaudy protective amulets.

Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. (NRSV 16:9-10)

And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness. (KJV 16:9-10)

The sacrifice of the scapegoat is one of the most influential passages from Leviticus. Its coolness as a metaphor is undisputed, but that doesn't mean we understand it.

What exactly is an "azazel"? Is it or is it not a demon? Only its hairdresser knows for sure.

The priest shall dash the blood against the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and turn the fat into smoke as a pleasing odor to the Lord, so that they may no longer offer their sacrifices for goat-demons, to whom they prostitute themselves. This shall be a statute forever to them throughout their generations. (NRSV 17:6-7)

And the priest shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar of the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and burn the fat for a sweet savour unto the Lord. And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. (KJV 17:6-7)

Whoring after goat-demons is not the goofy non-sequitur it might seem. The mythological satyr is just one example of a beastly being with a strong sex drive. As the old saying goes, one writer's good guy is another's reason for sprinkling blood on an altar.

You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. (NRSV 18:21)

And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord. (KJV 18:21)

The seed mentioned here is not plant seed. Molech seed is people! 

A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them. (NRSV 20:27)

A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. (KJV 20:27)

Helping family members communicate with their dead relatives may get decent ratings on TV, but in Leviticus, it's an invitation to get stoned. It's a way of maintaining the community by limiting its interaction with the divine to the Tabernacle and its priests.

I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars; I will heap your carcasses on the carcasses of your idols. I will abhor you. I will lay your cities waste, will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing odors. (NRSV 26:30-31)

And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you. And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours. (KJV 26:30-31)

Destroying family altars and laying waste to cities is one thing, but passing up the savory aroma of the Tabernacle barbecue? Whoa, that's serious.

If a person consecrates a house to the Lord, the priest shall assess it: whether good or bad, as the priest assesses it, so it shall stand. And if the one who consecrates the house wishes to redeem it, one-fifth shall be added to its assessed value, and it shall revert to the original owner. (NRSV 27:14-15)

And when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto the Lord, then the priest shall estimate it, whether it be good or bad: as the priest shall estimate it, so shall it stand. And if he that sanctified it will redeem his house, then he shall add the fifth part of the money of thy estimation unto it, and it shall be his. (KJV 27:14-15)

Leviticus can be pretty down-to-earth when it comes to talking about objects dedicated to God. After summing up the rules for his covenantal contract, God finishes the book with commands for buying back belongings that you've dedicated to God. As with chapter 5's rules for paying back stuff that you stole, the price is book value plus 20%. And who determines the book value? None other than the priests.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...