I recently watched Spielberg’s Lincoln, an outstandingly well-acted movie that I strongly recommend. But I agreed with a lot of other critics that it didn’t end at the right place. Near the final moments of the film, Lincoln walks down a long, long hallway. We know he’s on his way to Ford’s theater, we know he’s on his way to die. The music is swelling, Daniel Day Lewis is in perfect form.
It should have ended as he disappeared from sight, maybe with a small text afterwards about how he died, and how he “belongs to the ages.” Instead they have three more scenes related to his assassination that feel incredibly tacked on.
That’s a bit how I feel about this chapter. Leviticus had reached a beautiful crescendo in chapter 26, with its list of blessings, curses, and a promise of hope for the exiled Jews.
But here in chapter 27, we have a list of rules that would seem better suited to be placed before chapter 26. Since this is another set of statutes that people need to protect rather than reject, the whole theme of chapter 26, it’s more than a little odd that they come after.
Maybe it’s because all of these are basically ways of getting out obligations you may have made following previous rules. Basically, if you promised or dedicated or sacrificed something and you need to take it back, because you changed your mind or because it wound up not being exactly right (in the case of animals), this is the way to do it. Basically, you have to pay a bunch of money (women are worth less than men, of course) or buy it back with interest. There’s some allowance made for people who can’t afford the price, at least in regards to buying back people (reneging on an oath, basically).
What’s interesting here is a translation difference. The NRSV says that people cannot buy back any items that are “devoted to destruction,” including humans who will be put to death (v 28-29). The NCT says “devoted in perpetuity,” though it keeps in the reference to killing people.
Since human sacrifice is generally a big no-no, I guessed that this is our first reference to herem, and sure enough, I looked it up and I was right. Herem in the Pentateuch is the wholesale slaughter of all the current residents of the Holy Land. Before this God has talked about making everyone flee as they arrive, but later passages will outline how the Israelites have to kill every last person and animal they find there, all part of herem, which means both “to devote” and “to destroy.”
It’s genocide as human sacrifice, and it’s one of the most problematic portions of all scripture. I’m not looking forward to reading it.
That said, yay! I am through Leviticus! After two months of sickness and surgery, completing my third book feels like an accomplishment, even if I wanted to be done weeks ago. I start Numbers tomorrow, and ideally I’ll finish it by the end of June, though knowing my rate thus far that’s probably an impossible goal, so let’s make it “before I go home to America.”
The Japanese: shuushin “a whole life,” soutou suru “to befit, to be proportionate” (v 2), shiryoku “means, resources” (v 8), hyouka suru “to value, to assess” (v 12), kaoku “house, building,” kakutei suru “to determine, to decide on” (v 14), kounyuu suru “to buy, to purchase” (v 22), bokusha “herdsman” (v 32).