Old Testament 11
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Leviticus: Whenever she teaches Leviticus, she starts with a sense of excitement and the
question: “Is this right?” because the material is challenging.
She used to say that Lev is one of the most complex books of the Bible. Having worked with it,
now she’s now sure that its difficulty is not its complexity. She thinks the central difficulty is that
Lev thinks differently than most of us think in this culture. That is, for Westerners who are not
fundamentally ritual in our culture and custom, she thinks it’s particularly difficulty.
She’s suggesting to us that theological interpretation is particularly difficult. As Christians, we’re
in a particularly awkward moment because we almost never study it. And it’s generated more
serious controversy than any other book, both between Jews and Christians, and between Jews
and between Christians.
The Jews and Christians broke off from one another over the Rabbinic Judaism of eating
customs, eating with Gentiles and eating “unclean” foods.
Christians don’t often study the book of Leviticus. And when looking at “the family next door”, the
Jews, their customs stem almost entirely from the Book of Leviticus.
This is literally the center of Torah, the 3
of 5 books. But even more, it is the book around
which living the life of Torah revolves. The 6 year old Jewish child begins by studying Leviticus.
By contrast, though not by sheer coincidence, we not only don’t read it, we seem to dismiss it on
principle. One of her colleagues says, “I don’t teach it; it’s about nothing but laws.” Another says,
“I have trouble not taking a serious dislike to the author(s) of Leviticus” Prof. Davis finds these
views not in line with Jesus’ own attitude, e.g., love your neighbor as yourself, and the arguably
most significant human rights passages (Lev 26, Jubilation rules, etc.)
She thinks it may partly stem from Christian anti-semitic feelings. And we continue to argue
about it, even when we don’t read it. Homosexual issues, marriage and divorce, divorce and
remarriage of clergy etc., are all fundamentally grounded in Leviticus.
There are no practioners of ancient Israelite rituals – they are all dead. There are modern Jews,
but none practicing exactly like that.
She is going not going to give us a place to stand on these issues. She doesn’t think that any