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

Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002).

In his introduction Balentine states that Leviticus presents a vision of worship more from a religious perspective than from a social or historical one. He points to structuring elements such as recurrent patterns of seven and he discusses Leviticus within the context of the Torah.

Balentine divides Leviticus into five parts. In part one (Leviticus 1-7) Balentine covers the laws concerning sacrifices. Balentine occasionally injects theological reflections, such as the one at the end of the laws on animal sacrifices (p. 27). But not every section has a theological reflection (there is none for Leviticus 2).

When he comes to 6:8-7:38, Balentine compares the repetition of the laws of sacrifice (this time addressed to the priests) to the parallelism of biblical poetry in which the repetition adds new details that move the ideas forward.

Part Two covers Leviticus 8-10. Balentine sees the ordination as taking place in seven steps, each marked by the statement that Moses acted as the Lord had commanded. The sin of Nadab and Abihu follows the pattern of creation-corruption-re-creation observable in Genesis 1-9. Hence, there is a parallel between the creation in seven days followed by the fall and the seven-day ordination ceremony followed by the sin of Nadab and Abihu.

Part Three covers instructions on purity and impurity (Leviticus 11-15). The focus now shifts from the sanctuary to real life. Balentine's discussion of the rationale for the dietary laws summarizes J. Milgrom and M. Douglas. Balentine has a rather lengthy discussion of the ritual of purification after childbirth in which he argues that the longer purification period for females is not a sign of lesser social worth. The fact that seven diseases are listed in 13:2-44 indicates that the list is meant to be representative rather than comprehensive (p. 106). Restoration to normal life is the ultimate end of the laws on "leprosy." The eight-day restoration ritual echoes the patterns of the creation (p. 109).

Part Four deals with the day of purification (16:1-34). Balentine uses Leviticus 16 as the occasion in which to dialog with the Letter to the Hebrews. The Christian community should not "neglect Leviticus as a necessary theological primer for understanding the sacrifice of Christ."

Part Five covers Leviticus 17-27. Balentine adopts the view of I. Knohl and J. Milgrom that the Holiness Code is an eighth-century response to the prophetic call for social justice by the Israelite priesthood, and not a non-priestly addition, as classic source criticism had claimed. The summons to ethical conduct is not separable from the summons to ritual purity. The shape of Leviticus shows that the ritual laws are "generative of the community's motivation to obedience" (p. 142).

Balentine has made a fair effort at making his material more readable than the original. In fact, Balentine's commentary is smooth and easy to read. Balentine has avoided much of the repetition of Leviticus by his useful summaries of the various laws (e.g., p. 46). This helps greatly in moving the commentary along at a good pace.

Although I would recommend this book, I have a few critical observations: 1) On p. 48 Balentine speaks of guilt being experienced psychologically. This does not fit a culture in which collateral (dyadic) relationships determine moral values (con-scientia, i.e., what is known together with others).

2) Similarly, on p. 55 talk of "guilty conscience" projects modern Western psychological guilt on a culture that probably had no such experience.

3) Balentine claims that the ordination ceremony takes place in seven steps, each punctuated by the notice that Moses did what the Lord had commanded. It is true that this formula occurs seven times, but it is not clear that this divides the ceremony into seven steps. Can it really be said that anointing the sanctuary and Aaron and clothing his sons (vv. 10-13) is a single step in the ceremony?

4) On p. 81 the words of Aaron's blessing are supplied from Num 6:24-26. Is this necessary? If the narrator has chosen not to give the words of the blessing why speculate on what they might have been?

5) It seems to me anachronistic to say that the priests knew that "leprosy" was sometimes due to the "breakdown of the body's defense mechanisms" (p. 105).

Stephen K. Sherwood
Oblate School Of Theology