Many good intentions to read the entire Bible have foundered on the rocks of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Do these books have literary qualities? How does the storyteller tell the story? In Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy Stephen Sherwood applies the tools of narrative criticism to look for the literary qualities of these three biblical books.
Sherwood identifies the narrative art of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy not only in such colorful stories as the Sabbath breaker, the threat from Sihon and Og, the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the story of Balaam, the bronze serpent, Aaron’s rod, Miriam’s leprosy, and the water from the rock, but also through the extended discourses made by characters in the story. Sherwood studies the voices of several of these characters: the narrator, the Lord, Moses, Aaron, the Israelites, Balaam and Barak, and others, to see how each is "characterized" by their words and actions.
In Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Sherwood also shows how each of the three books has its own characteristics as part of a larger story. Leviticus deals mainly with divine speech. Numbers also contains divine speech but the voices of Moses and the narrator are more recurrent. Deuteronomy is presented in the form of a farewell speech of Moses before his death. The story is then retold from Moses’ point of view, with different emphases and even some changes.
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Stephen K. Sherwood embarked on probably the most difficult assignment in the Berit Olam series: presenting Leviticus as narration. His discoveries while analyzing the text, although probably unsuccessful in the broad picture of changing entrenched ideas about Leviticus as a holiness code and priestly instruction book, nonetheless shed keen insights and needed light on its narrative elements. He argues that Leviticus cannot be anything but narrative because ‘it is part of a larger story.’ . . . Sherwood argues convincingly how important—nay, how essential—Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were to the writers of the New Testament; he cites the many times Jesus and the New Testament writers referred to Leviticus, for instance. . . . His careful, literary, word-by-word, painstaking analysis (which he acknowledges was helped by modern computer programs) contributes to an appreciation of three books largely overlooked by Christendom yet essential to both Jewish and Christian faiths.
—Robin Gallaher Branch, Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, South Africa
Stephen K. Sherwood teaches at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.