By Robert V. Huber
It’s the Law!
And it comes from God himself, Leviticus reports.
“The LORD talked to Moses in the Meeting Tent” (Leviticus 1:1)
Having built a Meeting Tent (at the end of the Book of Exodus), where he can communicate with God, Moses learns and passes on to the people the ways God wants them to live their lives and worship him.
The LORD does a lot of talking, mainly about rules and regulations. There are actually 36 divine speeches in Leviticus.
The LORD gives detailed instructions for offering sacrifices of different kinds.
The LORD tells Moses what the people can eat and not eat.
Not much happens except that the first priests are ordained, and they start their ministries.
There’s lots of talk about how to lead a holy life.
God passes on to Moses some taboos. These are simply things the people should not do, and they’ll be punished if they do them.
Moses sets rites and regulations for atoning for sins committed, and for getting forgiven.
There are also regulations priests must follow and a list of holy days along with directions on how to celebrate them.
According to ancient Jewish tradition, Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, including Leviticus.
He is certainly center stage for every part of the book of Leviticus, passing along the word of God to his people. However, some Bible scholars question his authorship. They say they believe that the material recorded in Leviticus was first circulated by word of mouth from generation to generation and was only later written down in the form it appears today.
The book’s title, Leviticus, suggests things related to the Levites, the descendants of Jacob’s son Levi from whom Israel’s priests were descended. For that reason, some scholars speculate that priests most likely shaped the actual written texts.
There’s nothing in the Book of Leviticus that sets a time frame, but it is clear that it takes place at the start of the exodus, which many Bible scholars have estimated to have occurred sometime between 1355 and 1275 BC.
The date of the writing of the Book of Leviticus, however, is something else. Scholars say the material found in the book was first handed down by word of mouth—possibly beginning with Moses. They say the text we have today was probably written by priests around the time the Jews were being held captive in Babylon in the 500s BC. But even here, many scholars say there seem to be two traditions behind the writing.
They say older tradition was probably written in about 586 BC. It is found in the “priesthood laws,” or the Priestly Torah, as scholars call it (chapters 1-16).
They say the later Holiness Code (chapters 17–26) seems to have been written about 538 BC. Chapter 27, which ends the book, seems to be a later addition, they say. It is a kind of appendix dealing with the upkeep of the worship center through various means (including tithing).
The setting is the badlands near Mount Sinai, where Moses had recently received the Ten Commandments from God, as reported in the Book of Exodus. More specifically, it takes place around the Tent of Meeting that had recently been constructed.
Leviticus is written to pass on to the Israelites and their descendants how they should live and offer thanks to God for all the great things he has done for them.
At the end of the Book of Exodus, a Tent of Meeting had been constructed, where Moses could communicate with God and then step out of the tent and inform his people of how God wanted them to lead their lives.
This is what Moses does all through the Book of Leviticus. In the Book of Numbers, which follows, more laws and regulations are coming.
Leviticus is at the very center of the five books of Jewish law, known as the Torah. It is preceded by the Book of Genesis, with its stories of the earliest times. Then comes Exodus, which tells how God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and handed down laws, including the Ten Commandments. Leviticus is up next. But the Torah will continue with more laws in the Book of Numbers. Then it will conclude with the Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses summarizes the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers just before he dies.