Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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Leviticus, the third ‘book of Moses’, continues the lengthy instructions for the organization of the tabernacle, focusing on the animal sacrifices for it (1–16). We have no evidence as to whether these belong to the first temple period, Assyrian–Babylonian, or the second, Persian–Hellenistic period. The important point is the role of animal sacrifice in the worship of YHWH at this time. Sacred shrines are holy places and sin represents a pollution of such places or an invasion of the holy by the unholy, and the controlled slaughter of animals was seen as the most effective means of purifying or protecting such places from the effects of human sins, collective or individual. The pouring out of the blood of the permitted sacrificial animals (i.e. ‘clean’ rather than ‘unclean’) was part of a set of apotropaic21 rituals in the legitimate cult. This involved proper priests performing rituals in strict accordance with the regulations set out in the text. It was a world of priests mediating between YHWH and the people and purifying the people whenever purification became necessary. The ritual of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16) was to become one of the defining rituals of Jewish existence long after the Bible was produced—and remains so to this day. In that ritual, the use of a goat to convey the sins of the people away from the community and into the wilderness (16: 20–2) has given rise to the notion of ‘the scapegoat’—something which functions as the object of blame for other people's activities. The word was introduced into English by Tyndale as a direct translation of the Hebrew. Holman Hunt's famous Pre-Raphaelite picture gave the word a new vividness in the nineteenth century. The other English coinage associated with the Day of Atonement, the word ‘atonement’ itself, does not reflect the sense of the Hebrew word for ‘expiation’, or ‘expunging’, and carries too many subsequent Christian associations. These collections of laws and stories continue the organization of the community by Moses (17–27). Though Christian readers, perhaps aided by Peter's vision in Acts 10: 9–18, dispensed with the dietary laws, many of those concerned with sexual regulation were to prove irresistible to medieval Christian legislators (especially those of Lev. 18, 20).

Chapter.  455 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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