The Book of Leviticus
The name Leviticus comes from the opening word in the Greek translation Levitikon, which means ’of the Levites’. The Levites were the Israelite tribe from whom all the priests and servants of the tabernacle, and later the temple, would be drawn.
The book of Exodus concluded with the Tabernacle of God being constructed at the centre of the Israelite camp and much of what Leviticus is about is what must take place within the Tabernacle in order to worship and serve a holy God, and what should go on in the lives of those who would serve him.
More specifically, the book is concerned with the Levitical priesthood and its ministry of sanctification and instruction on behalf of the people of Israel. Leviticus instructs both people and priesthood with regard to sacrifice, priestly duties, purification rites, atonement and holiness, and these concepts could almost provide a keyword outline of the book. Because of the intense importance of these vital concerns to the spiritual welfare of the Israelites, the rabbis called their early expansive commentary ‘the Midrash of Leviticus’ and it was once the first book Jewish children studied.
Leviticus is a unified composition with a distinctive organisational plan. Beginning with a logically arranged sacrifice manual (1:1-7:38), the text moves to the initial installation of the Levitical priesthood (8:1-10:20). With this foundation set, the text treats various ceremonial impurities which call for sacrifices (11:1-15:33), and climaxes with the instructions for the great annual cleansing ceremony, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement (16:1-34). This chapter could be considered to be the keystone of the structure of the book.
The last half of the book, sometimes referred to as ‘the holiness code’, emphasises holiness for a people and priesthood called into covenant with a Holy God at Mount Sinai (17:1-26:46). An appendix then considers the important subject of vows (27:1-34).
For more information refer to the Introduction to the Pentateuch.