Land Animals, Pure and Impure

Mary Douglas

in Leviticus as Literature

Published in print March 2001 | ISBN: 9780199244195
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600548 | DOI:
 Land Animals, Pure and Impure

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Leviticus 1–7 presents the laws on sacrifices, and in sacrifice the body of the sacrificial animal becomes another microcosm in its own right, corresponding to the tabernacle and the holy mountain (Mount Sinai). Then the sequence of cultic laws is interrupted by the narrative in Leviticus 8–10, and when the lawgiving is resumed it develops a different bodily microcosm. This time the body of the worshipper is made analogous to the sanctuary and the altar: whatever will render the altar impure will do the same for the Israelite’s body. The laws of impurity sketch out the parallel in meticulous detail over Leviticus 11–15: the animal taken into the body by eating corresponds to that which is offered on the altar by fire; what is disallowed for the one is disallowed for the other; what harms the one harms the other. One thing that Leviticus never says, however, is that it is bad for the health of the body to eat any of the forbidden animals. The topic, the purity/impurity of land animals, is addressed by looking at land animals under the covenant (Leviticus 11), the similarities and differences between Leviticus and Deuteronomy as regards the definition of clean/unclean or pure/impure animals, interpretations of uncleanness/impurity, and sacred contagion.

Keywords: altar; animals; Bible; cleanliness; covenant; Deuteronomy; forbidden food; impurity; land animals; laws of impurity; Leviticus; Mount Sinai; purity; sacred contagion; sacrifice; sanctuary; tabernacle; uncleanliness

Chapter.  6941 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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