Other Living Beings

Mary Douglas

in Leviticus as Literature

Published in print March 2001 | ISBN: 9780199244195
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600548 | DOI:
 Other Living Beings

Show Summary Details


The Leviticus writer finds the world divided into two kinds of humans, those under the covenant, and the rest, and two kinds of land animals, those under the covenant and the rest; but the rest are not evil, the picture is not painted in black and white – it was the work of the later commentators to read good and bad into the divisions between pure and impure. In the book of Leviticus only land animals (but most land animals) are unclean or defiling. For covenant some territorial principle, or at least ownership, is necessary; creatures of the air and water are not named as specifically unclean, although a separate set of rules forbids touching their dead carcasses, backed by the word translated as ‘abominable’. Taking this difference seriously has produced a completely new reading of Leviticus: Jacob Milgrom has argued from close perusal of the text that ‘impurity’ and ‘abomination’ in the book cannot be equivalent terms as they trigger different sequences of action, and this puts a very different complexion on previous commentaries that have tried to combine Deuteronomy 14 and Leviticus 11. This topic is explored further in this chapter, in which the different sections discuss: God’s care for his creation; the translation of ‘swarming’ as ‘teeming’ (in the sense of the positivity of fertility); leaven and honey as teeming life; the translation of abomination; creatures that swarm in the air; and competition in holiness in confrontation with other religions – in which the place of animals might become a sellingpoint for Judaism.

Keywords: abominable; abomination; Bible; competition with other religions; covenant; creatures of the air; creatures of the water; Deuteronomy; fertility; forbidden food; honey; humans; impurity; land animals; leaven; Leviticus; purity; swarming; teeming; translation; uncleanliness

Chapter.  8960 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Biblical Studies

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.