Leviticus used to be the first book that Jewish children studied in the synagogue. In the modern church it tends to be the last part of the Bible that anyone looks at seriously. Because Leviticus is largely concerned with subjects that seem incomprehensible and irrelevant today—rituals for sacrifice and regulations concerning uncleanliness—it appears to have nothing to say to twenty-first-century Christians.
In this excellent commentary on Leviticus, Gordon Wenham takes with equal seriousness both the plain original meaning of the text and its abiding theological value. To aid in reconstructing the original meaning of the text, Wenham draws from studies of Old Testament ritual and sacrifice that compare and contrast biblical customs with the practices of other Near Eastern cultures. He also closely examines the work of social anthropologists and expertly uses the methods of literary criticism to bring out the author’s special interests.
In pursuit of his second aim, to illumine the enduring theological value of Leviticus, Wenham discusses at the end of each section how the Old Testament passages relate to the New Testament and to contemporary Christianity. In doing so, he not only shows how pervasive Levitical ideas are in the New Testament but also highlights in very practical ways the enduring claim of God’s call to holiness on the lives of Christians today.
“The cereal offering symbolized the dedication of a man’s life and work to God.” (Page 72)
“Instead of distinguishing between moral and civil laws, it would be better to say that some injunctions are broad and generally applicable to most societies, while others are more specific and directed at the particular social problems of ancient Israel. In this commentary the following position is assumed: the principles underlying the OT are valid and authoritative for the Christian, but the particular applications found in the OT may not be. The moral principles are the same today, but insofar as our situation often differs from the OT setting, the application of the principles in our society may well be different too.” (Page 35)
“‘Holy’ is therefore the opposite of ‘common,’ just as ‘clean’ is the opposite of ‘unclean.’” (Pages 18–19)
“Everything that is not holy is common. Common things divide into two groups, the clean and the unclean. Clean things become holy, when they are sanctified. But unclean objects cannot be sanctified. Clean things can be made unclean, if they are polluted. Finally, holy items may be defiled and become common, even polluted, and therefore unclean.” (Page 19)
A highly informed, refreshing, stimulating, and rich commentary that will make excellent reading for both scholars and laypersons.
Wenham’s work is the finest lay commentary on Leviticus to date; scholars too will find it invaluable.
This is an excellent book written in a very readable style. It is the best book written on Leviticus in many years and is a must for both pastor and scholar.
—Southwestern Journal of Theology
This outstanding commentary . . . is probably the best introduction to the arcane topics of Leviticus now available.
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