Thursday 19 February 2009

Derek Tidball on Leviticus (1)

Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus: Free to be Holy, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: IVP, 2005).

Derek Tidball, former principal of London School of Theology (and, in the interests of full disclosure, friend and former boss), has written an excellent mid-level commentary on Leviticus for IVP’s Bible Speaks Today series.

The IVP (USA) site makes available as pdf excerpts the Preface, the Introduction, and the comments on 1:1-17.

This is how he starts:

‘Leviticus is good news. It is good news for sinners who seek pardon, for priests who need empowering, for women who are vulnerable, for the unclean who covet cleansing, for the poor who yearn for freedom, for the marginalized who seek dignity, for animals that demand protection, for families that require strengthening, for communities that want fortifying and for creation that stands in need of care. All these issues, and more, are addressed in a positive way in Leviticus’ (17).

The Introduction contains an opening section on authorship and date, in which Derek briefly surveys several views before concluding that ‘there seems to be no weighty evidence proving that the material of the book is later than the time of Moses’ (20).

In a section on the style of language and style of thought, drawing on work by John Sawyer, Mary Douglas, and Gordon Wenham, Derek notes that (contrary to popular conception), Leviticus is marked by an absence of imperatives and by an infrequency of statements of facts.

Leviticus address its readers by encouraging them ‘to use their imagination and conceive of an ideal society where, because it is ideal, certain things are done and certain things are avoided’. In Leviticus, God lives ‘exactly where Exodus (40:34-35) places him – right among his people – and he constantly finds a way of removing all obstacles that might hinder their relationship so that they can enjoy each other’s company’ (21).

In terms of forms of thought, ‘Leviticus works on the basis of analogies, with experience of the daily practice of religious rituals serving as a microcosm for Israel’s understanding of the larger picture of God’s relationship to his creation’, which means we need to look beyond immediate statements ‘for the larger analogy that lies behind them’ (22).

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