Master: The Place of Lev. 24

                        BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 159 (October-December 2002): 415-24.

Copyright © 2002 Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

 

 

                                THE PLACE OF

                                   CHAPTER 24

                        IN THE STRUCTURE OF

                     THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS

 

                                                           John R. Master

 

EVEN A CASUAL READING OF THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS reveals

evidence of structure in the book. The sacrifices recorded in

chapters 1:1-6:7, for instance, are arranged from the most

costly to the least costly. Chapters 11-15 deal with the clean and

the unclean; and some have called Leviticus 17-26 the "holiness

code."

 

                        STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK

 

Scholars have proposed a number of possible patterns to explain

the overall structure of the book. Warning has outlined the book

according to "the divine speeches."l Hartley argues that Leviticus

is part of a larger block of material extending from Exodus 25:1 to

Numbers 10:10,2 and he views the divine speeches in Leviticus as

structural indicators. He divides the book into six divisions. "The

divisions are logically ordered. Each one must necessarily follow

the preceding one, for material in the preceding division is critical

for a proper understanding of the section at hand."3

            Douglas argues for a carefully structured literary work as well.

"When the literary conventions of Leviticus are examined, we find

an overarching structure that bears an extremely cerebral, closely

argued theological statement based on a series of expanded analo-

 

John R. Master is Professor of Biblical Education, Philadelphia Biblical University,

Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

1 Wilfried Warning, Literary Artistry in Leviticus (Boston: Brill, 1999), 37-63.

2 John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1992),

xxx.

3 Ibid., xxxiv.

 



416     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2002

 

gies. In this structure impurity ... is clearly subordinate to the

positive view of the theistic universe against which it is balanced.

The central place in the teaching is given to righteousness; impu-

rity is the foil for displaying the meaning of righteousness. More

than a literary foil, it is a statement about the nature of existence

in a sacramental universe, a religious ontology."4

 

                        PROBLEMS WITH LEVITICUS 24

 

Throughout these attempts to account for structure, however,

scholars have struggled to understand how Leviticus 24 relates to

the material before and after it. In the late nineteenth century

Kellogg noted the following:

            It is not easy to determine with confidence the association of thought

            which occasioned the interposition of this chapter, with its somewhat

            disconnected contents, between chap. xxiii, on the set times of holy

            convocation, and chap. xxv, on the sabbatic and jubilee years, which

            latter would seem most naturally to have followed the former imme-

            diately, as related to the same subject of sacred times. Perhaps the

            best explanation of the connection with the previous chapter is that

            which finds it in reference to the olive oil for the lamps and the meal

            for the shew-bread. The feast of tabernacles, directions for which has

            just been given, celebrated ingathering of the harvest of the year,

            both of grain and fruit; and here Israel is told what is to be done with

            a certain portion of each.5

 

            More recent commentators have continued to note the same

problem. Hartley wonders why the topics in chapter 24 have been

placed together. "It is difficult to account for the location of these

instructions and laws within the context of the laws of holy living.

They come between a ritual calendar (chap. 23) and the regulations

for the sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee (chap. 25), but this

chapter has little to do with the calendric concerns save that the

ritualistic practices were done on a regular basis."6

            Calling Leviticus 24 "miscellaneous,"7 Fox makes these obser-

vations:

 

4 Mary Douglas, "Poetic Structure in Leviticus," in Pomegranates and Golden

Bells, ed. David P. Wright, David Noel Freedman, and Avi Hurvitz (Winona Lake,

IN: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 255.

5 S. H. Kellogg, The Book of Leviticus (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1891),

474.

6 Hartley, Leviticus, 396.

7 The Five Books of Moses, trans. Everett Fox (New York: Schocken, 1995), 502 (cf.

602).



The Place of Chapter 24 in the Structure of the Book of Leviticus         417

 

            Two issues, unrelated to what has gone before, are treated here: cer-

            tain ritual objects in the Dwelling (oil lamps and "showbred"), and the

            story of a man who insulted God and therefore had to be executed

            (along with further rules about capital crimes). The function of this

            chapter is not clear; perhaps it serves as a breather between the im-

            portant sections on sacred days (23) and land tenure (25). It is possi-

            ble (as Levine notes) that chapters such as this one and Num. 15

            serve as a repository for various cultic laws that needed a location.

            There are two other places in the Torah where a brief passage on the

            lights in the sanctuary may originally have served to separate sec-

            tions: the end of Ex. 27 and the beginning of Num. 8. If so, that func-

            tion no longer is as major as it once might have been.8

Gerstenberger highlights the problem this way:

            The diverse materials in Leviticus 24 ostensibly have nothing to do

            with the festival calendar. Some person appended them either be-

            cause the scroll came to an end here, or because for some reason un-

            known to us he found it necessary to mention the "eternal light" in

            the temple and the perpetually fresh divine loaves kept there. The

            regular sacrifices, those not dictated by the festival ritual, are, ac-

            cording to Numbers 28f., not to be forgotten either. The uninterrupted

            light and the perpetually present bread are to be observed in addition

            to the holiday events themselves. This section regarding blasphemers,

            along with the expansion (vv. 10-23), is even further removed from

            the liturgical order. It deviates from its surroundings formally and

            stylistically as well, and might be a fortuitous insertion, prompted

            possibly by associations with the capital combinations of Leviticus 20

            and 23:29f.9

 

            For Gerstenberger the structure of Leviticus 24 is part of a

larger problem relating to the entire book. He says the present text

of Leviticus developed over a period of time. "We must rather rec-

ognize that the many successive tradents and scribes involved with

the sacred texts brought together material from different origins,

and in this process of transmission were no longer able to establish

an exact chronological or logical order. The Pentateuchal material

is often organized without any order at all."10 Therefore, while sug-

gestions for an overall structure for Leviticus may not be uncom-

mon, the structure of Leviticus 24 is problematic.

            Milgrom's recent commentary recognizes the same problem.11

"Lev 24 presents two nettling questions: the placement of this

 

8 Ibid., 622.

9 Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Leviticus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996),

354-55.

10 Ibid., 17-18.

11 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2001).

 


418     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2002

 

anomalous chapter, and the relationship between its two parts, vv.

1-9 and vv. 10-23.”12

            Leviticus 24 presents a problem not only in establishing its

relationship to the preceding and following contexts, but also in

understanding the relationship of the material within the chapter

itself. Internally the chapter seems to address two quite different

situations: the oil for the lampstand (vv. 1-4) and the bread for the

table of showbread (vv. 5-9), both related to the ministry of the

tabernacle (vv. 1-9), and then the necessity of stoning the blas-

phemer (vv. 10-23). "Within chaps. 17-26, chap. 24 has anomalous

features."13 These elements in the chapter do not seem to be closely

related nor do they seem to be related to the larger context of the

so-called "holiness code" of chapters 17-26.

 

SOME SUGGESTED SOLUTIONS

 

Warning has attempted to solve the internal structural problem of

Leviticus 24 by examining word usage.14 He observes a pattern re-

lated. to Leviticus 24 based on his analysis of the author's use of

rbadA. "Lev 24 ... is said to have ‘anomalous features’ with chaps.

17-27. With regard to the clear structuring function of the verb

speak,’ it is no more anomalous than the two preceding chap-

ters."15

            Warning also suggests that the occurrence of the word "Sab-

bath" helps explain why Leviticus 24 occurs where it does. "Once

we have recognized the notion of the ‘Sabbath’ to be an important

thread running through Lev 23-26 one must admit that this key-

word-occurring twice in 24:5-9-may have prompted the ancient

author to place this pericope here. Therefore it seems doubtful to

aver that Lev 24 is ‘arbitrarily dropped in between chaps 23 and

25.’ On the contrary, because of the Sabbath in Lev 23 and 25-26

the present placement turns out to be the most appropriate one."16

            Also, Warning suggests a chiastic structure for the chapter

"based on the alternation of the singular (B) and plural (A) of the

 

12 Ibid., 2081. Milgrom refers to both Warning and Douglas and states his prefer-

ence for Douglas's ring structure (ibid., 2082).

13 Hartley, Leviticus, 396.

14 Warning, Literary Artistry in Leviticus, 92-98.

15 Ibid., 66.

16 Ibid., 94.

 



The Place of Chapter 24 in the Structure of the Book of Leviticus         419

 

common noun Nb ‘son.’"17

            These observations seem to suggest a minute and extensive

artistic structure of the material in Leviticus 24. However, they do

not explain the order of the two sections within the chapter or why

the chapter is placed where it is. In fact Warning himself seems to

recognize that a micro-analysis does not provide a sufficient ra-

tionale for the present structure of the text when he refers to

Gane's observation of "the ascending order of holiness in Lev

19-24."18 To simply say this is the most "appropriate" place for the

material found in this chapter seems to fall short of arguing why

the material is included in the first place.

            Douglas has developed still another approach to the structure

of Leviticus, which has implications for the role of chapter 24 in the

book.19 "In rereading Leviticus we shall consciously subdue our

3; own interest in strict linear sequence in favor of a cultivated inter-

est in the links of each part with the whole."20 She suggests that

the book has a "ring structure."21 "Ring composition is described for

 

17 Ibid., 97.

18 Ibid., 94.

19 Douglas, "Poetic Structure in Leviticus," 239-56.

20 Ibid., 244.

21 Kathryn Gutzwiller provides an interesting perspective on this question of liter-

ary structure. "Ring composition, on the other hand, is a much earlier phenomenon.

Composing in a ring, or with the introverted structure ABCBA, is simply a way of

organizing a unit of discourse. This unit of discourse may or may not correspond to a

book in either the intellectual or the physical sense; it may be smaller or larger than

a written work occupying a single roll. Ring composition in classical texts was stud-

ied throughout the nineteenth century and has been shown to be characteristic of

much early Greek poetry. In the epic compositions of Homer and Hesiod, relatively

small narrative units are commonly organized in a ring, while larger structures, like

the Iliad as a whole, have also been analyzed on the same pattern. As a basic

method of organizing thought throughout the archaic period (and before as well, one

assumes) ring composition apparently helped the oral composer comprehend [the

units] in a performance setting. This form of compositional structure continues to be

a dominant mode of organizing discourse down through the time of Herodotus, who

often forms his larger narrative units in rings with the moral lesson at the center, or

pivotal point. In narrating the fall of Lydia in Book 1, for instance, he places Croe-

sus' misinterpretation of Apollo's oracles-the king's all too human mistake-at the

turning point of his ring (1.46-56).

            "In the later years of the fifth century, ring composition came to be replaced

with other forms of organization we tend to associate with rational or logical think-

ing, such as linear, chronological narrative of arrangement by type and subtype.

The demise of ring composition was connected with the intellectual paradigm shift

that took place under the influence of sophistic and Socratic thinkers, who replaced

traditional modes of thought with an emphasis on definition and rational argument.

As examples of the changed form of organization brought about by this intellectual

revolution, we may point to the chronological organization of Thucydides' history by



420     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2002

 

the Greek: classics as a primitive device by which the conclusion of

a speech returns to the main flow of the narrative, by giving `some

verbal reminiscence of its beginning.'"22

            In developing the concept of the overall ring structure of Le-

viticus Douglas parallels Leviticus 24 with earlier teaching on the

sin offering and the guilt offering. "Chapter 24 matches with its

essay on sins the chapters on sin in the exposition (4:5, 6:1-7)."23

However, 24:1-9 discusses the oil necessary to keep the lampstand

burning and the bread for the table of showbread. Only the second

half of the chapter deals with sin. Also, while the idea of sin is

found in 24:10-23 and 4:5 and 6:1-7, it is not clear that these pas-

sages are dealing with the same kind of sin. Leviticus 24:10-23

seems to be dealing with willful sin, at least in the case of the blas-

phemer, whereas chapter 4 is dealing with nonwillful sin. Leviticus

6:1-7 may also be focused on nonwillful sin, though not everyone

agrees on this. Milgrom, for instance, suggests this pericope is

dealing with willful sin that is confessed before the guilty party is

discovered, thereby "converting" this willful sin into something

nonwillful.24 The point is simply that the parallel between chapter

24 and 4:5 and 6:1-7 is not strong.25 So, although Douglas's work is

certainly important in dealing with the overall structure of the

book, it does not deal in adequate detail with the relationship of

Leviticus 24 to the rest of the book.

 

                        THE PLACE OF LEVITICUS 24

 

Despite the general pessimism regarding the relationship of this

chapter to its context, some structural considerations may help ex-

 

year or Aristotle's method of breaking down in outline form the subject he is dis-

cussing. Organization by rings does later reappear in artistically contrived poetry

books, such as Vergil's Ecologues" ("Comments on Rolf Rendtorff," in Reading Le-

viticus: A Conversation with Mary Douglas, ed. John F. A. Sawyer [Sheffield: Shef-

field, 1996], 38-39).

22 Douglas, "Poetic Structure in Leviticus," 247.

23 Ibid., 250.

24 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 373.

25 Christopher R. Smith argues that a major structural break occurs between

verses 9 and 10 of this chapter. Leviticus 24:1-9 concludes the preceding material

and 24:11-23 introduces the next section of the book. While his view is admittedly

unique, it does point to the lack of apparent unity in the material in this chapter

("The Literary Structure of Leviticus," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

'70 [1996]: 26).

 



The Place of Chapter 24 in the Structure of the Book of Leviticus         421

 

plain why this particular material is placed in this location.26 Ac-

tually Leviticus 24 fits well in the overall pattern of the book, and

the internal structure of the chapter reinforces the argument of the

entire book.

            First, it appears helpful to recognize chapters 25 and 26 as an

independent structural unit. The expression "Mount Sinai" and the

reference to revelation given to Moses are found in both Leviticus

25:1 and 26:46,27 suggesting that these two verses may form an

inclusio. In other words this inclusio may suggest that these two

chapters are a unit independent of the preceding material. Warn-

ing argues for the unity of these two chapters based on the term

"the land of Egypt."28 This is not to say there is no thematic con-

nection between chapters 25 and 26 and the surrounding material,

but it does suggest that a thematic connection of chapter 24 may be

found in relationship to its preceding context.

            Chapters 18-23 are united in that they deal with the kind of

people Yahweh wants to worship Him and the actual process of

worshiping Him through celebrating the annual feasts. Chapters

18-20 deal with the people, and chapters 21-22 deal with the

priests. The regulations mentioned in these chapters stipulate how

the people and the priests were to conduct themselves as examples

of holiness. Leviticus 23 discusses how the people and priests were

to worship the Lord in the annual feasts. These feasts are related

to the sabbath, as indicated in 23:3. The relationship of Leviticus

24 to this material is the point at issue.

            As Douglas's approach has shown, a ring structure might

somehow explain, when viewed from a linear perspective, what at

first appears to be an anomalous situation in the text. She argues

for the integrity of chapters 18-20 with an ABA' structure. "Leviti-

cus signals its turning point by packing it on either side with two

parallel chapters, so that the turning has a structure of ABA'.

Chapter 18 is very similar to chap. 20; the main difference is that

 

26 Smith has suggested this is the third narrative section of the book (24:10-23).

"The narratives indicate or illustrate the organizing concerns of the major divisions

they demarcate" (ibid., 24). "This desire to account for the exile actually motivates

the selection of the short narrative (24:10-23) that introduces this last group of law

chapters" (ibid., 25). Smith does not directly connect the two sections of Leviticus 24.

Furthermore he acknowledges his unique approach to the structure of the text. "It is

necessary to acknowledge that my analysis here is apparently unique in proposing a

thematic break distinguishing the materials on either side of Lev. 24:10--23 and

especially in uniting those that follow it" (ibid., 26).

27 This expression also occurs in 7:38 and 27:34.

28 Warning, Literary Artistry in Leviticus, 98-99.

 



422     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2002

 

the order is reversed. Chapter 18 plunges straight into the topic of

sexual regulation and goes on to Molech, while chap. 20 starts with

warnings against Molech worship and goes on to sexual regulation.

In between the pair of paralleled chapters stands a major state-

ment about the meaning of righteousness."29

            It seems even more obvious that chapters 21-22 are a unit

since they deal with the holiness of the priesthood and of the high

priest in particular. These five chapters (18-22) together, then, dis-

cuss the holiness of the people and the priests, thus covering the

holiness of all those encompassed within the nation as God consti-

tuted it.

            A key to unlocking the structure of this section may lie in ob-

serving how Leviticus 24 relates to the pattern seen in chapters

18-22.30 Leviticus 24:1-9 discusses two separate but related topics.

While verse 1 mentions the necessity for the people to provide the

appropriate oil, the emphasis is on the priests who were responsi-

ble to keep the lamps burning continually before the Lord. Keeping

the lamps burning is mentioned three times in these verses. This

function is an integral part of the priestly ministry, setting them

apart from the common people.

            The second section (vv. 5-9) discusses the priests' responsibil-

ity to place the showbread before the Lord each week and mentions

that, when the bread was replaced by the priests, the week-old

bread was to be eaten only by the priests and in a holy place.

Again, this privilege was not available to the common people, thus

marking off the special role given to the priests by the Lord. There-

fore the regulations for the lamps and the showbread are related to

the priestly ministry and not to the common people. Leviticus

24:1-9 thus parallels chapters 21-22 in the suggested ring struc-

ture of Leviticus 18-2431 since both these sections deal directly

with priestly responsibility.

            The fact that 24:10-23 deals with how the people were to re-

 

29 Douglas, "Poetic Structure in Leviticus," 250-51.

30 In dealing with macro chiasms Wayne Brouwer's discussion (based on Blom-

berg) is helpful (The Literary Development of John 13-17: A Chiastic Reading [At-

lanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000], 38 45). The nine criteria for establishing

the existence of a macro chiasm appear to be met.

31 If this suggested ring structure for these chapters is valid, then a good argument

can be made for the central importance of the annual cycle of feasts dealt with in

Leviticus 23. This annual cycle of feasts would remind Israel of the Lord's past,

present, and future provisions for His people. This theological perspective would

provide the theological "motivation" for a desire for holiness on the part of the entire

nation, including both people and priests.

 



The Place of Chapter 24 in the Structure of the Book of Leviticus         423

 

spond to sin (the opposite of holiness) is supported by the absence

of any mention of priestly involvement in discerning the Lord's will

in dealing with blasphemers. It is difficult to determine how sig-

nificant this might be, since Deuteronomy 17:8-13 points to the

important role of the priests in judicial proceeding. Perhaps the

priests are not mentioned in Leviticus 24:10-23 because of the ref-

erence to Moses. Only after his death would the priests function in

adjudicating particularly difficult cases. Nevertheless this portion

of Scripture does not mention priestly involvement, even though

priests figure prominently in the opening verses of the chapter.

Verses 10-23, dealing with sin related to the people and the neces-

sity for an appropriate response, parallel chapters 18-20, which

also deal with the people.

            Based on this analysis and the concept of a ring structure,

chapter 24 is an essential part of Leviticus 18-24. The two major

sections of chapter 24, dealing first with the priests (vv. 1-9) and

then with the people (vv. 10-23), provide the textual material to

form a ring structure with chapters 17-23. This material is textu-

ally necessary in order to create the intended structure. Further-

more this deliberate structure is theologically significant.

            These observations lead to the suggestion that chapters 18-24

follow an ABCB'A' pattern. Both A sections (chaps. 18-20 and

24:10-23) focus on the people; both B sections (chaps. 21-22 and

24:1-9) focus on the priests, and section C (Lev. 23) discusses the

annual feasts celebrated by both the people and the priests.

            As is often the case, a ring structure may be found within

other ring structures, pointing to the carefully crafted literary

structure of a book. Such structure gives special significance to Le-

viticus 23. If that chapter is the focus of this ring, what is its role in

the argument and how does it point to the overall argument of the

book? In a section of the book dealing with holiness for the entire

nation (chaps. 18-24), the teaching of Leviticus 23 has great sig-

nificance. An understanding of the message of Leviticus 23 in the

larger chiastic structure suggested above does provide a reason this

material was included in the book and at this particular location.

 

SOME IMPLICATIONS AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STRUCTURE

 

This article has sought to show how Leviticus 24, often viewed as

unrelated to its context, is actually directly related to its context

and provides essential data through the structure it supports. If

the central section of a chiastic or ring structure is the author's in-

tended point of emphasis, it is important to note the theological

significance of Leviticus 23 for the theme of holiness which is being

 



424     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / October-December 2002

 

developed in these chapters. A clear understanding of Yahweh's

provision for His people (chap. 23) becomes the theological founda-

tion and motivation for holiness.

            Identifying this ring structure therefore has significant theo-

logical implications. Seeing Leviticus 23 at the center of this "holi-

ness" ring structure provides the theological focus for the exhorta-

tion to holiness on the part of the people and the priests. The pil-

grimage feasts celebrated what the Lord had done in the past

(Passover and Unleavened Bread), what He was doing for the na-

tion in the present (First Fruits and Pentecost), and what He

would do in the future (Trumpets, Atonement, and Feast of

Booths). They reminded the people of God's provisions for them,

thus encouraging them to be obedient and thankful to Him. The

blessings of God as a motivation for obeying His commands follow

the pattern begun in Genesis, where God's loving acts preceded His

divine commands. This same pattern finds expression in the struc-

ture of suzerainty treaties, in which the reiteration of kingly

blessings precedes kingly commands.

            Viewed in the light of these structural considerations, Leviti-

cus 24 is not anomalous or anachronistic. Its presence gives a

theological focus to the holiness code, indicating that Yahweh's

care for His covenant people provides the appropriate teaching and

motivation for godly living. God's calls to holiness come from a

loving Lord who in every circumstance has sought, is seeking, and

will always seek what is best for His people.

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu