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Showing posts from January, 2014

Numbers 4-7

Lawrence Boadt has this interesting comment on the book of Numbers:Like the laws of Leviticus, the materials gathered in Numbers come from many different ages. The oracles of Balaam with their archaic poetic lines and frozen expressions originated in the time of the judges, and the poems in Numbers 21:17-18, the “Song of the Well,” and in Numbers 21:27-30, the “Lament over Heshbon,” may also be quite ancient fragments. These, together with the story narrative, are from the J [Jahwist] and E [Elohist] sources, while most of the laws are later and belong to the P [Priestly] source. P also tied the events in Numbers to the Book of Exodus by listing all of the desert stopping places of Israel in chapter 33. Altogether, there are twelve major stages in their journey up to the arrival at the promised land. Six of these lead up to Mount Sinai, and six lead away from it. P took the first six from Exodus 12-19, and the last six from Numbers 20-22, creating a single narrative out of everything …

Leviticus 27-Numbers 3

Leviticus ends with a chapter on the repayment of vows. Lawrence Boadt explains that this chapter was added later to update older laws that demanded fulfillment of vows no matter what (as in Numbers 30 and Deuteronomy 23). Eventually, Israel had to provide for monetary substitutions instead of handing over property where that might prove difficult or impossible. Leviticus 27 sets a monetary value on different objects.[1]The book of Numbers gets its name from the Greek word arithmoi that is used to describe the census in chapter one of the Septuagint version of this book. The Hebrew title of this book is: “In the Wilderness”. Friedman writes,The book of Numbers is the story of a journey…. Numbers is entirely about movement. The journey as a literary theme has been a recurring component of world literature from the epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known book, and the Odyssey to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz…. The journey in literature can be the experience…

Leviticus 23-26

In Leviticus 23, we have the laws related to various religious festivals. Friedman comments:The laws of the holidays as expressed in Leviticus reflect a concern with order and arrangement as well. YHWH tells Moses to tell the people what the nation’s holidays are to be, specifically: Sabbath, the holiday of unleavened bread (massot), an unnamed holiday related to firstfruits, an unnamed holiday involving horn blowing (known subsequently in Judaism, but not biblically, as the New Year [Rosh Hashanah]), the Day of Atonement, and the holiday of booths (sukkot).[1]In Leviticus 24:10-23, we once again have a narrative in the midst of the giving of the law. As Friedman says, the story is “interesting in parallel with the only other narrative in Leviticus, the story of the consecration of the priesthood. Like that other story, which culminates in the deaths of Aaron’s sons, the account of the blasphemy expresses what is at stake in the people’s young relationship with their God. Further, in …

Leviticus 19-22

When I started blogging through the Bible on January 1, 2014, I did not anticipate I would be including so many quotes from my former teacher, Richard Elliott Friedman. However, I find so much in his Commentary on the Torah, worth sharing. His comment on Leviticus 19:3 is no exception….Why are parents and Sabbaths put together here? (They come next to each other in the Ten Commandments as well, in reverse order.) It reminds us of the enormous power of the Sabbath to bind a family together. My first Jewish memory in my life is the image of my mother lighting the Sabbath candles and giving my sister and me a kiss. Then my father would say the Kiddush over the wine and give us each a sip. In many families the parents say a blessing over each child: “May you be like Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel”; “May you be like Ephraim and Manasseh.” In many, the husband recites “A Woman of Valor” from the book of Proverbs to his wife. The potential for making something beautiful that will last thro…

Leviticus 15-18

Leviticus 12 dealt with specifically female issues of purity, now Leviticus 15 deals primarily with male issues of purity after a “discharge”.Two thoughts come to mind after reading this chapter:I am glad we do not have to follow all of these laws anymore.Whoever wrote some of these laws must have had obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Lawrence Boadt offers a helpful summary of Leviticus 16….The taboos in chapters 11-15 are followed by the liturgy for the day of atonement in chapter 16. This rite is the climax of the first part of Leviticus. It is reserved to the high priest to place all the sins of Israel on the head of a goat once a year and drive the goat into the desert to die. It symbolizes God’s forgiving nature which always wipes the slate clean for his people. This is the origin of the idea of a “scapegoat.”[1]Boadt also gives a helpful summary of the section of Leviticus that begins with chapter 17….The last part of Leviticus consists of a special body of laws that are called toge…

Leviticus 11-14

In Leviticus 11, we come to the laws forbidding and permitting the eating of certain animals. Why certain animals made the cut (forgive the pun) and were considered clean, and other animals did not make the grade and were considered unclean, remains a bit of a mystery. Friedman says,The reasons for these particular inclusions and exclusions have never been worked out persuasively. Explanations based on health and hygiene are difficult to defend, both because the text never states this and because such explanations cannot be consistently applied to the cases…. Ultimately, since no single underlying principle has been discovered that accounts for all the distinctions, it appears likely that there is a convergence of two or probably more factors. It could be a combination of a principle (such as likeness to humans) and completely idiosyncratic factors (a distaste, phobia, or even allergy on the part of some individual in an authoritative position).For the larger purpose of coming to an u…

Leviticus 7-10

Leviticus 7 concludes seven chapters of laws about sacrifices. I have often wondered, and perhaps you have too, how Jewish people today make sense of their religion without sacrifice. Richard Elliott Friedman answers that question in this way:Because it has been nearly two millennia since the Temple sacrifices ended, what can substitute for sacrifice as something that can give people some of the things that sacrifices provided: a feeling of fulfillment, closeness to God, sacredness of life, a link to Israel’s history? My friend Rabbi Lawson says: charity…. Many would say that we have prayer as well as charity to compensate for the lack of sacrifice. And we have other acts of atonement, such as fasting. All of this may be true, but I note that people had prayer and charity and fasting in biblical times, too. So these are not replacements for sacrifice. They existed beside sacrifice all along. My question is: what do we have now that they did not have? Answer: study. What we have that n…