Leviticus 21
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chs. Leviticus 21:1 to Leviticus 22:33. Regulations concerning Priests and Offerings

The general legislation, addressed to the people as a whole in the preceding part of H, is now followed by directions as to the standard of holiness to be maintained by the priests, and the nature of sacrificial offerings. While the peculiar tone of the Holiness section is maintained throughout, the amount of stress laid upon the hortatory element is not so great as in the earlier chs. of the section. Moreover, the revision of these two chs. by Rp is evident. While the unusual expressions, ‘the seed of Aaron’1[68] (Leviticus 21:21, cp. 17), and ‘he that is the high priest among his brethren’ (Leviticus 21:10), may well belong to the legislation embodied originally by Rp, the stereotyped phraseology of P occurs in superscriptions and subscriptions, such as ‘the sons of Aaron’ (Leviticus 21:1, cp. 24, Leviticus 22:2; Leviticus 22:18). Again, in the superscription to Leviticus 21:1-15, Moses is bidden to address the priests, while in the remainder of that passage (except Leviticus 21:8, where see note) they are spoken of in the 3rd person. On the other hand, the peculiar expression ‘bread of [their] God’ (Leviticus 21:6; Leviticus 21:8; Leviticus 21:17; Leviticus 21:21-22, Leviticus 22:25), and the refrain, ‘I am the Lord which sanctify (hallow)’ (Leviticus 21:8; Leviticus 21:15; Leviticus 21:23, Leviticus 22:9; Leviticus 22:16; Leviticus 22:32) indicate H, as does the conclusion (Leviticus 22:31-33; cp. Leviticus 18:26-30, Leviticus 19:37, Leviticus 20:22-26). Other expressions which are thought to indicate the influence of the Priestly Code, as being favourites with P (though they are by no means wholly confined to that source), are ‘throughout (their) generations’ (Leviticus 21:17, Leviticus 22:3), ‘veil’ (pârôkheth, Leviticus 21:23), ‘stranger’ (zâr, Leviticus 22:10; Leviticus 22:12), ‘purchase’ (ḳinyân, Leviticus 22:11), ‘to accomplish’ (l‘Pallç, Leviticus 22:21), ‘a foreigner’ (ben nçchâr, Leviticus 22:25).

[68] But probably this expression was originally ‘seed of the priests’ (so Wellh. and Dr.), itself an unusual phrase, but one which would not involve the view that Rh considered the priests to be limited to the family of Aaron, as did P.

The two chs. may be sub-divided under the following five heads:

(1) Restrictions of a ceremonial and domestic character, binding upon (a) Leviticus 21:1-9, priests in general; (b) Leviticus 21:10-15, the high priest;

(2) Leviticus 21:16-24, bodily disqualifications for those exercising the priestly office;

-3Leviticus 22:1-16, membership of a priest’s family and ceremonial purity as indispensable for those who share in sacrificial food;

(4) Leviticus 22:17-24, blemishes that are to be avoided in animals offered in sacrifice;

(5) Leviticus 22:26-30, three directions of a special character with regard to sacrifices. To this is added (Leviticus 22:31-33) a concluding exhortation.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron, and say unto them, There shall none be defiled for the dead among his people:
1. Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron] A quite unusual formula, not occurring elsewhere in the Pentateuch.

defile himself for the dead] The defilement caused by touching a dead body lasted for seven days, and required purification by the water in which the ashes of the red heifer have been mixed, Numbers 19:11-20 (P).

The Romans (Serv ad Aen. vi. 176) used to set up a branch of cypress in front of a house containing a dead body, lest one of the pontifices should inadvertently enter and so contract pollution.

But for his kin, that is near unto him, that is, for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother,
2. The defilement prohibited in Leviticus 21:1 is allowed for certain near relations.

And for his sister a virgin, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled.
3. The same six cases are enumerated in Ezekiel 44:25. The non-mention of a wife is not easily accounted for. Was it that this exception would be self-evident? This seems probable from Ezekiel 24:15 ff., which appears from its prohibition to assume that a priest would mourn for his wife.

that is near unto him] that is not yet, as the following words shew, transferred by marriage to another family.

But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself.
4. being a chief man] as a husband (R.V. mg.). This rendering limits the cases in which defilement is permissible to those already mentioned, and forbids mourning for a wife. The A.V. follows the Targum.

The wording of the v. suggests a corruption in the text. The Sept. substitute (see R.V. mg.) for ‘a chief man’ is apparently obtained by a transposition in Heb. consonants, but fails to convey any clear meaning. It has been suggested, by a somewhat greater modification in the Heb., to read in mourning. Baentsch (HG. 111A) considers that the words ‘defile himself’ and ‘among his people’ shew that the v. forms an intimate part of the prohibition contained in the previous vv. Inasmuch, then, as the word rendered ‘chief man’ is regularly used of a husband, and as mention of a wife is strangely absent from the MT., he proposes either of two alternative readings, which assume a copyist’s accidental omission of a word or words, expressing wife; so that the precept originally ran, a husband shall not be defiled for his wife. It is, however, difficult, as Dillm. says, to suppose, in the face of the opening words of Leviticus 21:2, that a priest whose wife died was forbidden to approach the body.

They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.
5. See on Leviticus 19:27-28.

They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the name of their God: for the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and the bread of their God, they do offer: therefore they shall be holy.
6. The reason is given for the restriction in Leviticus 21:1, viz. that the name of God, whose ministers they are, may not be polluted by ceremonial uncleanness.

the offerings of the Lord made by fire] This expression, or its equivalent, is very frequent in P.The words are probably an insertion from that source here, and so in Leviticus 21:21, Leviticus 22:22; Leviticus 22:27, Leviticus 23:13; Leviticus 23:18.

the bread of their God] See Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 3:16.

They shall not take a wife that is a whore, or profane; neither shall they take a woman put away from her husband: for he is holy unto his God.
7. profane] guilty of immorality.

Thou shalt sanctify him therefore; for he offereth the bread of thy God: he shall be holy unto thee: for I the LORD, which sanctify you, am holy.
8. This v. has all the air of an insertion. It interrupts the transition from the character of the priest’s wife to that of his daughter; and ‘thou’ is harsh. Who is addressed? It may be an insertion (so Oxf. Hex.) by the compiler from an older code to enforce the sanctity of the priesthood.

the bread of thy God] See on Leviticus 21:6.

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.
9. For the form of punishment, cp. Leviticus 20:14.

And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes;
10. The reference to the anointing and vesting may be taken from Pin which source it now appears in Exodus 29:5 ff.

that is consecrated] See R.V. mg. and note on Leviticus 8:33.

shall not let the hair of his head go loose] so as to preserve a seemly appearance in contrast to that of the leper. See on Leviticus 10:6. A.V. wrongly, ‘shall not uncover his head.’

nor rend his clothes] as was the custom in sign of mourning (2 Samuel 1:11; 2 Samuel 3:31, etc.).

10–15. Corresponding regulations, but of a somewhat stricter character, for the high priest

Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother;
11. for his father, or for his mother] i.e. not even in such cases, where filial affection would otherwise prescribe it.

Neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the LORD.
12. go out, etc.] lest, on returning to the sanctuary, he should pollute it. The words seem to imply that the sanctuary was his usual abode. Cp. 1 Samuel 1:9; 1 Samuel 3:2. But they may only mean that he was not to go out during the ceremonial.

crown] R.V. mg. consecration. The former is the literal rendering, but the mg. gives the sense here. The oil was the symbol of his office, marking him out as a crowned one among his brethren. The original word is used elsewhere in the special sense of the consecration of a Nazirite (Numbers 6:7, etc.).

And he shall take a wife in her virginity.
A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife.
14. A widow] The rule for the high priest was thus stricter than that for an ordinary priest. The Jewish writer Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmudic treatise Chagigah (13a, Tal. Bab.), mentions this as one of the instances of apparent discrepancies between Ezekiel (Ezekiel 44:22) and the Law (see Ryle, Canon, 203). Ezekiel (loc. cit.) allowed a priest, to marry a widow, provided she was the widow of a priest, whereas, according to the Law here, a high priest might not marry a widow. Ezekiel’s rule is, however, for priests. He does not say anything about the high priest. According to the law here, he must marry a virgin. As regards the rule for the ordinary priest, while Leviticus 21:7 does not say that he may marry a priest’s widow, Leviticus 21:14 may perhaps be taken to imply this.

of his own people] of the people of Israel, according to Ezekiel (loc. cit.), but the traditional practice was to marry a priest’s daughter, cp. Luke 1:5.

Neither shall he profane his seed among his people: for I the LORD do sanctify him.
15. His posterity would become unholy, if they were not sprung from a mother who was worthy of marriage union with the high priest. The later Jews were very scrupulous as to the descent of those whom it was lawful for a priest to marry.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
16–24. Physical disqualifications for a priest

Speak unto Aaron, saying, Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.
17. throughout their generations] See end of introd. note to ch. the bread of his God] See on Leviticus 21:6.

For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous,
18. a flat nose] slit, as R.V. mg., rather than ‘flat.’ The Heb. word does not occur elsewhere in O.T. But the cognate root in Arabic, having the sense perforate, pierce, admits of the sense of perforation of the lip, or the lobe of the ear, as well as a slit in the partition between the nostrils.

any thing superfluous] The rendering of the EVV is too vague. The Heb. root denotes extension, and is applied to an extended (i.e. abnormally long) limb or other member, in this case of a man, in its only other occurrence (Leviticus 22:23) of a beast. The LXX. ὠτότμητος, having the ear split, following the Aram. rendering mutilated, is wrong.

Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,
Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;
20. a dwarf] lit. thin, hence shrunk, withered.

a blemish] lit. a confusion, obscurity.

No man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God.
21. the bread of his God] And so in Leviticus 21:22. on Leviticus 21:6.

He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy, and of the holy.
22. both of the most holy, and of the holy] This distinction is not recognised elsewhere. In Leviticus 22:1-16, where there is ample opportunity for the distinction, the offerings are spoken of in general terms as holy things. It is therefore probably the insertion of a later reviser.

Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the LORD do sanctify them.
23. my sanctuaries] The plural may have reference to the sacred building and its surroundings, as in Jeremiah 51:51.

And Moses told it unto Aaron, and to his sons, and unto all the children of Israel.
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