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Leviticus as Literature$
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Mary Douglas

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780199244195

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0199244197.001.0001

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The Ancient Religion

The Ancient Religion

(p.1) (1) The Ancient Religion
Leviticus as Literature

Mary Douglas

Oxford University Press

Leviticus is traditionally regarded as a set of instructions for the cult; the real heart of the religion is presumed to be found in other books, especially Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy, and the writings of the psalmists and prophets. The aim of this study is to reintegrate the book with the rest of the Pentateuch. Read in the perspective of anthropology the food laws of Moses are not expressions of squeamishness about dirty animals and invasive insects, the purity laws for sex and leprosy are not examples of priestly prurience, and the religion of Leviticus turns out to be not very different from that of the prophets and psalmists. The main new feature of this interpretation is the attitude to animals, which are protected as God’s creation, but Leviticus also reveals itself as modern religion, legislating for justice between people, God and animals. This first chapter lays the foundation for the study by looking at the ancient religion of Israel as revealed by the Pentateuch, and pointing out the differences between this and earlier religions and it also looks at the chronology of the Pentateuch.

Keywords:   ancient religion, animals, anthropology, Bible, Israel, justice, laws of Moses, Leviticus, Pentateuch, purity laws, reinterpretation

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