What Gives? Considering the Placement and Purpose of Lev. 27 in Literary and Canonical Contexts

The ending of Leviticus has long stymied Christians and commentators. After the grand narratives of Genesis and Exodus, the sudden shift in style and substance has tested the resolve of many a Bible-in-a-year plan. Even among scholars, the structure of the book is generally regarded as more difficult than other Old Testament texts. Attempts to outline the book particularly stumble over the final chapter. Following the sweeping survey of covenantal blessings and curses, the appearance of this pedantic portion of legal code seems a bit anti-climatic to what could have been a perfectly satisfactory (and positively stirring) ending to the book. Indeed, some critical scholars see the sharpness of the break combined with the financial details as clear evidence of its identity as a late editorial addendum centuries later. However, this paper argues that a careful examination of the literary and canonical contexts of the book indicate the very intentional placement and purpose of Leviticus 27 to the original composition of the book itself and of the Book of the Law as a whole.

After a brief summary of the contents of the chapter, the paper will consider the literary structure of the book of Leviticus. There will be a brief survey of selected commentaries to see what differences and what patterns emerge. Particular consideration will be given to the appearance of the two short but significant narrative portions of Leviticus that seem to provide the crucial clue to the structure of the book–namely, three cycles of covenantal stipulations followed by covenantal shortfalls, the last cycle of which seems to be incomplete.

The paper will continue to consider the canonical context of Leviticus. Through engagement with observations from introductory surveys of the Pentateuch and an assessment of various passages linking several Old Testament books (particularly within the Pentateuch), it will consider how the ending of the Leviticus performs a similar function for the transition to Numbers, especially regarding the census taken at the start of that book.

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