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Altes Testament


Marx, Alfred


Lévitique 17–27.


Genève: Labor et Fides 2011. 227 S. 23,8 x 17,4 cm = Commentaire de l’Ancien Testament, IIIb. Kart. EUR 30,00. ISBN 978-2-8309-1412-2.


James W. Watts

Alfred Marx, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament in the Protestant Faculty of Theology at the University of Strasbourg, is well known for his studies of Israel’s offerings. He has written monographs on the grain offering (1994) and on the whole »sacrificial system« in the Old Testament (2005), as well as important studies of the theology of sacrifice. In these works, he argued that Israel’s sacrifices are best understood as a form of feudal tribute to the sovereign, God, who owns the land that is lent to Israel. In this commentary, M. brings his characteristic concerns and methods to bear on the so-called Holiness Code (H) at the end of Leviticus.
The widely-accepted arguments for the separate authorship of H have not convinced M. He thinks chapters 17–27’s distinctive vocabulary could equally well be due to the fact that it provides a supplement that expands the books topics and themes (15). M. distinguishes this portion of Leviticus by its thematic focus on morality and society in contrast to the emphasis on ritual sacrifice and purity in Leviticus 1–16 (10.22).
M. pays close attention to the rhetorical form and function of Leviticus 17–27 (15). He observes the unifying function of refrains across disparate material (20) and the emphasis conveyed by organizing chapters in chiastic structures. Thus two chapters of sex regulations (chapters 18; 20) surround and highlight chapter 19’s emphasis on morality. They are in turn surrounded by ritual regulations (chapters 17; 21–22). Similarly, calendar regulations (chapters 23; 25) surround and emphasize the focus on YHWH’s presence in chapter 24 and, by reproducing the chiastic pattern, again calling attention to chapter 19 at the center of the first chiasm (19–21).
M. observes that Leviticus 17–27 addresses male heads of households who occupy the pivotal position in Leviticus’s feudal conception of Israel (18). It presupposes a society in which these householders are the landowners who owe fealty and support to the divine overlord, who are responsible for the women, servants and slaves in their households, and who have responsibilities to courts of law and for the care of impoverished members of society.
M. argues that Leviticus 17–26 presents a social ideal focused on community in deliberate contrast to kings, who go unmentioned in the book (22–23). The priests who are mentioned do not form a hierarchy in Israel but instead serve God and act as intermediaries between the people and YHWH. These chapters vest authority only in parents, the heads of households. They are individually responsible for obeying these instructions and thereby protecting the community against repercussions. M. thinks that Leviticus 17–26 attempts to recreate the ideal world of creation in postdiluvian circumstances. It envisions one human nature without social distinctions on the basis of sex, race, nationality or religion. In the institution of the Sabbath, it even preaches solidarity between humans and animals while requiring that Israel acknowledge God’s universal sovereignty.
Others have made similar claims for the theological significance of these chapters, though M. has asserted them more succinctly and systematically than most. Nevertheless, the ethical and theological tendenz of Leviticus 17–26 is not so clear. Its draconian penalties for sexual and religious offenses, its emphasis on the respons­ibility of the male householder, and its legislation permitting the permanent enslavement of non-Israelite people do not point obviously towards an egalitarian community serving God. Its careful delineation of priestly purity indicates not only the priests’ responsibilities but also their distinctive privileges. Even the famous Jubilee legislation of chapter 25 that requires Israelite slaves to be freed and land returned every fiftieth year may represent a weakening of legislation in Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15 that requires this every seventh year. M. does not discuss the history of these texts relative to each other nor their destructive influence of societies either in the past or present.
Despite this, the commentary rewards close study both for its careful analysis of each chapter’s literary structure and themes as well as for its theological claims for the book as a whole. M.’s clear and concise exposition should be considered carefully by anyone studying the book of Leviticus.