BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 159 (October-December 2002): 415-24.
Copyright © 2002 Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
THE PLACE OF
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
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
"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,
1 Wilfried Warning, Literary Artistry in Leviticus (Boston: Brill, 1999), 37-63.
2 John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word, 1992),
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,
grain and fruit; and here
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-
4 Mary Douglas, "Poetic Structure in Leviticus," in Pomegranates and Golden
Bells, ed. David P. Wright,
David Noel Freedman, and Avi Hurvitz
IN: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 255.
5 S. H. Kellogg, The Book of Leviticus (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1891),
6 Hartley, Leviticus, 396.
7 The Five Books of Moses, trans.
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
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),
10 Ibid., 17-18.
11 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus
23-27, Anchor Bible (
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-
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
2081. Milgrom refers to both Warning and
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.
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.
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
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-
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
and 4:5 and 6:1-7 is not strong.25 So, although
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 [
field, 1996], 38-39).
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 : 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
First, it appears helpful to recognize chapters 25 and 26 as an
independent structural unit. The expression "
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
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.
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
cus signals its turning point by packing it on either side with two
parallel chapters, so that the turning has a
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-
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-
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
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.
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