Inside the Holy of Holies

Mary Douglas

in Leviticus as Literature

Published in print March 2001 | ISBN: 9780199244195
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600548 | DOI:
 Inside the Holy of Holies

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When the second screen (narrative) in Leviticus has been passed the reader is standing, as it were, inside the holy of holies. This is the apotheosis of the principle of containing forms: Jerusalem is the centre of the world, in the centre of Jerusalem is the tabernacle, and in the centre of the tabernacle is the ark of the covenant. The virtual pilgrim with book in hand knows that he has arrived at this hidden place because in Leviticus 26 the Lord God proclaims his covenant no less than eight times (26: 9, 15, 25, 42 (three times), 44, 66). Another elaborate literary construction makes Leviticus 25 and 27 into a massive frame for honouring Leviticus 26, which provides the terms of the covenant itself: strict reciprocity, honourable dealings and simple fairness. This chapter looks at the great proclamation of liberty, where in the innermost, holiest part of the tabernacle, under the shadowing protective wings, the testament of the covenant lies in the coffer, or ark. It then goes on (briefly) to read Leviticus through Genesis on body covering (and the ark of the covenant as another cover), and to offer a new reading, again through Genesis, of the scapegoat ceremony (Leviticus 16) and the scapebird rites for cleansing from leprosy (Leviticus 14).

Keywords: ark of the covenant; Bible; body covering; cleansing; covenant; fairness; Genesis; honour; Jerusalem; leprosy; Leviticus; literary form; proclamation of liberty; reciprocity; scapebird rites; scapegoat ceremony; structure; tabernacle

Chapter.  4426 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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