Summary of Leviticus
Located at the center of the Pentateuch, Leviticus is a book of law that demonstrates a concern with many different aspects of daily life. It contains detailed laws regulating the offering of sacrifices, the duties of priests, the liturgical calendar, the sexual, dietary, and economic practices of the Israelites, and many other issues of ritual and moral holiness. Set at Mount Sinai in the time before the wilderness wanderings, Leviticus offers the children of Israel instructions on how to live as a people set apart by God, a people called to “be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (19:2).
Leviticus offers a vision of the holiness of God, a holiness that is wholly “other” and yet seeks to dwell in the midst of God’s people. Leviticus also issues a call to holy living for those who are in covenant with this God. While the shape this holy living takes for Christians will differ significantly from the life envisioned by Leviticus, the call to “be holy” is still one that should be heard today. Leviticus offers a vision of how that holiness might be lived out in relationship with God, with one’s neighbor, and with the larger community.
WHERE DO I FIND IT?
Leviticus is the third book of the Bible. It lies in the center of the PentateuchThe Pentateuch is a Christian term the first five books of the Old Testament. These books contain stories of Israel’s early history, God’s covenants, and many laws such as the Ten Commandments). More, between Exodus and Numbers.
WHO WROTE IT?
Scholars attribute the composition of Leviticus to two primary sources, the Priestly source (P) of chapters 1-16, and the Holiness source (H) of chapters 17-26. There is debate over which of these sources is older, though it is agreed that both P and H are from priestly circles. The P source is also responsible for the material that surrounds Leviticus, that is, Exodus 25-40 and Numbers 1-10, as well as other significant portions of the Pentateuch.
WHEN WAS IT WRITTEN?
As with all the books of the Pentateuch, Leviticus is a product of various sources and redactors. The book reached its final form sometime in exilic or postexilic times (late sixth to early fifth century B.C.E.), though it undoubtedly contains earlier material reflecting ancient traditions. Some scholars date the earliest traditions in Leviticus to the premonarchic period (twelfth to eleventh century B.C.E.).
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Leviticus is a book of laws regulating the offering of sacrifices, the duties of priests, the liturgical calendar, the sexual, dietary, and economic practices of the Israelites, and many other issues of ritual and moral holiness.
HOW DO I READ IT?
Leviticus can be challenging to read, as it is filled with detailed instructions–like how to conduct various kinds of sacrifices, how to recognize various symptoms of skin disease, and other matters of ritual purity that seem to have no relevance to modern Christians. As you read Leviticus, realize that you’re reading not a narrative text, but a ritual text, whose theology is expressed not in stories, but in the details of rituals and in the worldview behind them. Keep in mind that the priestly writers of the book believed certain things about God and the world. They believed God created the world in a very ordered way, with distinct boundaries, and that ritual mirrored and actualized those cosmic boundaries so that the holyHoly is a term that originally meant set apart for the worship or service of God. While the term may refer to people, objects, time, or places, holiness in Judaism and Christianity primarily denotes the realm of the divine More God could dwell in the midst of people prone to sin without destroying them.