In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Priestly/Holiness Codes

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History of Israelite Religion
  • Dating

Biblical Studies Priestly/Holiness Codes
Jeffrey Stackert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0182


The pentateuchal Priestly source comprises portions of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and a small portion of the end of Deuteronomy. The Priestly source seems also to continue beyond the Pentateuch, at least in Joshua. Within the Priestly source, two main strata can be identified: P, “Priestly”; and H, “Holiness.” P provides the narrative backbone of the source and includes within its narrative the revelation of laws in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. H includes small portions in Exodus, brief interpolations in Leviticus, chapters 1–16, the “Holiness Code” in Leviticus 17–26 (so named because of its repeated exhortation to the Israelites to be holy), the addendum on vows, dedications, and tithes in Leviticus 27, and significant portions of the Priestly laws in Numbers. P and H are distinguishable on the basis of ideological and stylistic differences. Recent scholarship suggests that H was composed to revise, supplement, and complete P’s laws, even as H agrees with P’s basic historical myth and religious ideology. Many of the innovations of H over P are mediating positions between P and non-Priestly pentateuchal legislation.

General Overviews

Historically oriented commentaries of Leviticus tend to treat the issue of strata in the Priestly source. Elliger 1966 is especially noteworthy because it is the first major critical assessment of Leviticus that dates H as subsequent to P. Milgrom 2000 provides an extensive characterization of H as a supplement to P. Among the shorter treatments, see older views of P and H in Elliot-Binns 1955. For more recent views (post-Elliger), see Hurowitz 1996, Milgrom 1992, Sun 1992, and Haran 2007. Schwartz 2004 is the best brief commentary on the Priestly and Holiness strata in Leviticus.

  • Elliger, K. Leviticus. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1966.

    Contains helpful text critical notes. Approaches the text of Leviticus as divided into several layers. Divides the Grundschrift of P into two parts, labeled Pg1 and Pg2. Divides the offering legislation into two parts, Po1 and Po2. Divides the Holiness Code into four layers, labeled Ph1 through Ph4.

  • Elliot-Binns, L. E. “Some Problems of the Holiness Code.” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 67 (1955): 26–40.

    Surveys the critical issues relating to the Holiness Code and summarizes tentative conclusions. Argues that H preceded both P and Ezekiel, is pre-Josianic though concerned with the possibility of exile, and did not contemplate a single sanctuary.

  • Haran, Menahem. “The Holiness Code.” In Encyclopedia Judaica. Vol. 9. Edited by Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 318–321. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan, 2007.

    Surveys the content of the Holiness Code, its relationship to the P source, and the possible date of its composition. Argues that, although Israel Knohl dates the origins of H too early, some of the material in H preceded Josiah. Includes a bibliography that spans from 19th century works until recent times.

  • Hurowitz, Victor. “P-Understanding the Priestly Source.” Bible Review 12 (1996).

    Provides a basic orientation to P, considering its contents, its history of scholarship, and the possible date of its composition and redaction. Claims that P continues well into Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel, and 1–2 Kings, and although it is a narrative, the narrative does not always unfold smoothly from one context to another.

  • Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17–22. Anchor Bible 3a. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

    Milgrom’s second volume includes an extensive introduction to the Holiness Code, which he views as postdating P (following Elliger and Knohl). Milgrom suggests that the final layer of H serves as the pentateuchal redactor.

  • Milgrom, Jacob. “Priestly (“P”) Source.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 5:454–461. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    Lays out the basic distinctions between P and H on the basis both of ideology and style. Provides an overview of the major theological concern of the P source. Summarizes the arguments for the dating and provenance of P. Includes a significant bibliography.

  • Schwartz, Baruch J. “Leviticus.” In The Jewish Study Bible. Edited by A. Berlin and M. Z. Brettler, 203–280. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Schwartz offers the best available brief introduction and notes on the book of Leviticus. The notes are keyed to the New Jewish Publication Society translation and are an excellent source for both critical inquiry and rabbinic and early Jewish interpretation.

  • Sun, Henry T. C. “Holiness Code.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 3. 6 vols. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 3:254–257. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    Discusses the contents and genres of the Holiness Code. A history on the scholarship of H is also presented, from the recognition of H as a separate unit within Leviticus, to the term “Holiness Code,” to the arguments concerning the relative dating of P and H. Also briefly rehearses critical interpretive issues.

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