“Canon Support for Douglas: Reassessing Mary Douglas’s Structural Organization of Leviticus

Many scholars (Nihan, From Priestly Torah to Pentateuch, Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?) eschew Mary Douglas’s (Leviticus as Literature) pedimental approach to Leviticus for at least two reasons. First, they understand Leviticus as a chiasmus, both as an individual book and in its immediate context between Exodus and Numbers. Second, they note that Douglas has positioned the Day of Atonement, Leviticus 16, into her organization’s “courtyard” section; this decision decenters the highest and holiest cultic day on Israel’s calendar.

In addressing these objections, First, I compare Douglas and Nihan’s theories of Leviticus’ structure, commenting on their strengths and weaknesses. Second, I determine Douglas’s structure incorporates the Day of Atonement at its center alongside the Year of Jubilee by including Leviticus 25 in her literary “Holy of Holies,” thereby connecting the highest cultic day with the highest expression of Israel’s social ethics. Third, I will overview the prophets’ assessment of Israel’s worship, explicitly focusing on echoes of Leviticus. I will demonstrate that the prophets, among the earliest readers of the Torah, perceived the binding unity of atonement and ethics integral to Douglas’s theory. A more scripturally congruent reading of Leviticus is the fruit of employing this canonical perspective.

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