Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27 (Anchor Bible Series 3B, New York: Doubleday, 2001), Pp. xxi 1895-2714. ISBN: 0-385-50035-1. $ 50.00.

This is the third volume of Milgrom's compendious commentary on Leviticus, treating the last five chapters of that book. Volume 3B forms a unit with volume 3A, which contains the Introduction for both volumes. Volume 3B contains the bibliography and indices. They are thorough, ensuring easy access to the varied aspects of Milgrom's discussion. This last volume also contains an appendix of responses to seven colleagues, as well as the addenda and corrigenda for all three volumes, 3, 3A and 3B.

Milgrom's exegesis in this final volume is indefatigable and meticulous, as it is in the preceding volumes. All three volumes example his power of synthesis from exegetical detail to general theory. This is one of the special gifts of his three-volume work. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the analytic and synthetic moves which propel his exegesis, his understanding of biblical theology, and his larger theories concerning subjects like the construction of the Pentateuch, the sacrificial system, the Israelite calendar, and observance of the jubilee; one cannot help but be compelled to listen to his discourse and learn from it.

His discussion of Leviticus 23 is a concrete example of his powers of synthesis. It provides insight on the text itself, at the same time serving a larger enterprise: his theory of pentateuchal construction. His discussion of this chapter, which begins in the Introduction to volumes 3 and 3A,(1) is given solid grounding in the exegesis of this final volume, providing influential support for his sequence P, H, D and HR, by establishing levels of H and pre-H and their temporal relationship to P. In the course of his exegesis of Leviticus 23, substantial and innovative "sub-discussions" arise which serve his exegesis as well as his larger theories. These include, among others, discussion of the nature of the Sabbath, the development of the first-fruits offering of barley and wheat, and the provenance of the addendum (vv. 39-43) on the festival of booths. Milgrom insists on full-fledged treatment of texts outside of Leviticus when such discussion is necessary either for explication of a text in Leviticus, or for use of that text in the construction of his larger theories. His discussions of Nehemiah 8(2) and Exodus 23:18-19 and 34:25-26,(3) as well as his discussions of the first-fruits festivals of Qumran(4) and the Hittite festival calendar,(5) are such forays, carried out in the context of Leviticus 23.

His treatment of Leviticus 27, which concerns gifts to the sanctuary, is another example of his powers of synthesis, based on the particulars of his exegesis. He discovers "a consistent criterion" for all consecrations. After demonstrating that this criterion underlies all redemption rules of Leviticus 27 he proceeds to argue that it is also the organizing principle of that chapter. This single discussion is exemplary of his intent in his approach to the text. Whether one agrees with him or not, that intent must be admired. He makes an untiring trek from exegesis, through discernable pattern, to significance of the pattern, to comprehensive theory.

His synopsis of lex talionis, under his discussion of Leviticus 24, examples the kind of edifying background material he offers, serving both beginner and expert, especially those unfamiliar with rabbinic sources. His exegesis of Leviticus 24 showcases another satisfying feature of his commentary. Milgrom pays attention to structural issues. His exegesis of each text begins with a structure of the pericope. In the course of his discussions he often finds other significant structural patterns, especially chiasms, for which he has a particular fondness.(6) His use of the structures he discovers are, again, a demonstration of his powers of synthesis, as his analysis of Leviticus 24:13-23 demonstrates. There he uses chiasm to establish the "ideological thrust" of the author.(7)  

Milgrom utilizes a broad range of supporting sources throughout his study and addresses a wide range of problems for each text. For example, in the context of his discussion of the jubilee, in Leviticus 25, he makes substantive use of Exodus 23; Nuzi texts; Akkadian, Sumerian and Hittite cognates; and Egyptian tradition. His comments include discussion of the date and background of the jubilee; observance of the sabbatical and jubilee and their relationship to one another with respect to time; a comparison of the slave laws of Exodus 21, Deuteronomy 15 and Leviticus 25; the possibility of the jubilee's observance in pre-exilic Judah; and finally the hermeneutical appropriation of the jubilee for causes of justice today.

A salient feature of Milgrom's discussion of Leviticus 26 is his handling of correspondences between Ezekiel and that chapter. This discussion is instructive with respect to method and content, illustrating his modus operandi in discerning temporal, infra-textual relationships, (8) a problem he engages throughout the three volumes.

In short, Milgrom's commentary, including this volume, contributes significantly to the study of Leviticus. Its usefulness, however, goes beyond the book, encompassing theories of construction of the Pentateuch and exegesis of many relevant texts outside Leviticus.

Deborah Ellens
Claremont, CA


1. Volume 3, 19 ff; Volume 3A, 1375 ff. Back

2. Volume 3B, 2063 ff. Back

3. Volume 3B, 2067 ff. Back

4. Volume 3B, 2071 ff. Back

5. Volume 3B, 2076 ff. Back

6. For example, see Volume 3B, 1952 ff. And 2128 ff. In his discussions of Lev 23:1-2 and Lev 24:13-23. Back

7. Volume 3B, 2348 ff. Back

8. Volume 3B, 2348 ff. Back