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The Book of Leviticus: a Review

Once he has established his reputation, a successful author might take liberties that lesser talents would be well advised to avoid. The established master, however, can count on his audience’s patience, as he has already let them know through his earlier works: thou shalt not be disappointed.

This is clearly the case with Leviticus, which picks up smoothly from where Exodus left off. Many readers were no doubt left puzzled and dismayed by the ending of Exodus, with its focus on the Tabernacle where narrative drama once played such a central role. But God Almighty clearly takes a longer view; he must have at least another book up His sleeve, since Leviticus simply raises the stakes Рit does not address many of the open questions that the developing plot in Exodus left hanging. No, it is clear that the author used Leviticus primarily as a way to enrich the tapestry of the relationship He seems to desire so earnestly from His audience, not to hook the reader with action or romance; the payoff will come in the inevitable sequel.

Indeed, if one ingredient is missing from the series so far, it is romance. The semi-autobiographical account has the deity wooing and establishing emotional intimacy with a series of admirable characters, but only two occurrences of love between a man and a woman are ever mentioned – all the way back in the middle of Genesis, and the first one oh-so-by-the-way. And lest the reader get the idea that the author prefers those who prefer the company of men, Leviticus in no uncertain terms calls homosexuality an abomination. The reader might miss it, wedged as it is in a lengthy passage about the objectionable practices of the soon-to-be-displaced Canaanites, but no less vehement for its obscurity.

Yet somehow even the fiery injunctions against child sacrifice and improper sprinkling of sacrificial blood are so suffused with poetic technique, literary allusion and intertextuality that one wonders why Almighty felt He had to bother with stringing everything together into a single book. Leviticus certainly lacks the narrative continuity and drama of its antecedents – it lacks much narrative at all – but the slower pace gives rise to an appreciation for detail, for an emerging picture of Tabernacle-centered service upon which a people still learning what it means to be free can base the development of their society. Hammurabi had his laws, yes, but here we encounter a holistic, textured framework for the treatment of both body and soul.

What’s more, the pathos and drama that do arise in Leviticus by no means draw their power from their immediate place in any overarching plot. When Aaron loses two sons, we encounter a remarkable stoicism; when the consequences of abandoning the deity are laid out, the details at once horrify and engage the reader with a lyricism unseen since the song at the Sea of Reeds.

Leviticus can certainly try the patience of the first-time reader, but the author must be counting on everyone’s familiarity with the first two books in the series. This reviewer, for one, eagerly anticipates the next offering in the series, and might even camp out near the author and number the days until its release.


Written by Thag

December 23, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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