In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Leviticus

  • Introduction
  • Language and Dating

Biblical Studies Leviticus
Jeffrey Stackert, Samuel L. Boyd
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 February 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0039


The book of Leviticus is part of the priestly source of the Pentateuch and not in itself a discrete literary unit. Set at Mt. Sinai during the thirteenth month of the Israelites’ wilderness journey, it is dominated by divine laws delivered to Moses for the Israelite community. The primary concern of these laws is to establish the requisite circumstances for the deity’s habitation among the Israelite people. The priestly authors claim that following the commandments in Leviticus will ensure the tangible benefits and protection of the divine presence in the Israelites’ midst. Failure to adhere to these laws will result in the deity’s departure from the Tabernacle and the loss of divine benefaction. Leviticus consists of two main compositional strata: P (“Priestly”), which comprises most of chapters 1–16; and H (“Holiness”), which includes the “Holiness Code” (chapters 17–26; so named because of its repeated exhortation to the Israelites to be holy); the addendum on vows, dedications, and tithes in chapter 27; and brief interpolations in chapters 1–16. These two strata are distinguishable on the basis of ideological and stylistic differences. Recent scholarship suggests that H was composed to revise, supplement, and complete the P, even as H agrees with P’s basic historical myth and religious ideology. Many of H’s innovations over P are mediating positions between P and nonpriestly Pentateuchal legislation.

Commentaries and Short Introductions

Modern, critical commentary treatments of the book of Leviticus, including book-length studies as well as short commentaries and introductory essays, normally focus on the compositional strata of the book; the social, anthropological, and historical background of the various religious ideas and practices described therein; and the theological perspectives of its authors.

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