Leviticus means “of the Levites” in Latin, and in Japanese, the title is “The Book of Levi.” Skimming through, a lot of this is about priests and their requirements, and priests were from the tribe of Levi, and in modern Orthodox and Conservative Judaism Levites (about 8%) are still set apart as a special class of Jews – though without a temple, their duties have very much decreased.
Leviticus has a reputation for being a very boring book because of its emphasis on law and ritual over narrative, but I admit I’m looking forward to it. Leviticus obviously has a lot of controversial commandments in it, providing a look back at what life was like 25 centuries ago. It’ll definitely give me stuff to right about, hopefully more than those last chapters of Exodus did…
But I don’t want to go into it with the attitude I encountered with my students in that awful online class I taught. I’m not going to smugly say I’m so grateful that Jesus means I don’t have to follow this anymore. I’m a gentile, most of this was never meant to apply to me. Besides, all of this has been interpreted through a large lens of Talmudic interpretation that provides clarification and loopholes for the laws that now seem abhorrent or irrelevant. I’m not verses enough on my Halakhah to declare whether any of these are unfair as applied in contemporary Judaism.
No, instead I want to think, “What does this say about how the original creators saw their relationship with God?” That kind of thing.
The first nine chapters of Leviticus don’t have anything to do with laws as we think of them. They’re descriptions of sacrifices and other rituals. This chapter is about burnt offerings of livestock.
There’s three levels of giving. You can give something “from the herd” (v 3), “from the flock” (v 10), or “of birds” (v 14). In other words, a cow, a sheep or goat, or a pigeon; the Japanese dispenses with the distinction of “herd” and “flock,” since they’re the same word in Japanese (mure) and just gives the animal names. What it’s describing is three levels of giving. Cows are worth more than sheep or goats, who are worth more than pigeons, which you can even catch wild. Presumably this allows anyone to be able to offer a burnt sacrifice, rather than just those with large number of livestock who are able to spare a calf on a regular basis.
Also, God doesn’t seem to like entrails or limbs much. The entrails and limbs have to be washed first (v 9, 13), and the crop of the bird isn’t offered at all (v 16). Is it because they don’t smell good when burned? Has anyone ever smelled the difference between burning entrails and burning meat or fat? I should have paid more attention at the last yakiniku I attended where they had motsu…
The Japanese: hagi “to peel off, to skin” (v 6), takigi “firewood, kindling” (v 7), yamabato “turtledove,” iebato “domestic pigeon” (v 14, literally “mountain dove” and “house dove” respectively), ebukuro “gizzard, crop” (v 16), dou “trunk, torso, body” (v 17).