THE PENTATEUCH PART III: LEVITICUS
Lesson 6: Chapters 12-14
The Rules Concerning Purification

Holy Lord,
You have purified Your New Covenant people in the blood and water that flowed from the side of Your Son as He hung on the altar of the Cross.  It was an event that signified the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist and Your abundance grace which supernaturally cleanses us, Your New Covenant people, sanctifying us and making us acceptable for sacrifice and worship—“a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”  Send You Holy Spirit to guide us, Lord, in our study of the instructions for ritual purification through water and blood for the Old Covenant Church that we may be made more fully aware of the duty of all Christians to live lives of holiness, consisting in total self-offering and total dependence on You.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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He himself says, “Be holy, for I am holy,” that is to say, choose me and keep away from what displeases me.  Do what I love; love what I do.  If what I order seems difficult, come back to me who ordered it, so that from where the command was given help might be offered.  I who furnished the desire will not refuse support.  Fast from contradiction, abstain from opposition.  Let me be your food and drink.  None desire in vain what is mine, for those who stretch out toward me seek me because I first sought them. 
Pope Leo the Great, Sermon 94.2

At Sinai Yahweh came to dwell in the midst of His people in the Tabernacle of the desert Sanctuary.  For the first time since Eden, man and God had a single meeting place on earth.  In the Sinai Covenant Yahweh’s Divine Presence and the Laws of the covenant by which the Israelites were commanded to live were intended to set them apart from all other peoples on the earth.

Question: In what four ways did the Sinai Covenant make the Israelites different from their neighbors?  See Ex 20:3-11, 8-11; 29:23-24; Lev 6:2-8; chapter 11; chapter 23; Num 15:37-41; 28:1-29:39.
Answer:

  1. They worshipped only one invisible God (Ex 20:1-4).
  2. They rejected foods that their neighbors ate (Lev 11).
  3. They circumcized male infants(Lev 12:3)
  4. They dressed differently (Num 15:37-41).
  5. They observed a different rhythm of life regulated by their liturgy of worship (Ex 20:8-11; 29:38-42; Lev 6:2-8; 23:1-44; Num 28:1-29:39).

In Leviticus chapter 11 we began studying the ritual purity laws observed by the members of the Sinai Covenant.  These laws ensured that the Israelites maintained the spiritual and physical holiness necessary for worship in the Sanctuary.  Both Jewish and Christian Bible scholars have seen a relationship between the events recorded in the first half of the book of Genesis and the list of ritual purity laws in Leviticus (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 73; Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, pages 335-339).

Question: Compare the order in which God made the animals in the Creation event (Gen 1:20-28) to the different classes of species listed in Leviticus chapters 11-12.  Do you see a connection?
Answer: In the Creation event the order God followed for the creation of animals was the creation of the creatures that lived in the waters, followed by the birds, the cattle, the creeping things, wild animals, and finally man.  Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, given the blessings of fertility and dominion over the earth, and were created to inhabit God’s earthly Sanctuary in Eden.  The order of species in Leviticus chapters 11-12 is very similar:

Order of Creation in Genesis Order in Leviticus 11-12
  Land animals (Lev 11:3-7)
Water animals (Gen 1:20-21a) Water animals (Lev 11:9-12)
Birds (Gen 1:21b-23) Birds (Lev 11:13-19)
Cattle (Gen 1:24)  
Creeping things (Gen 1:24) Insects and creeping things (Lev 11:20-23, 29-30)
Wild land animals (Gen 1:24b-25)  
Humans and the blessing of fertility and dominion (Gen 1:26-30) Women in childbirth (Lev 12)
M. Hunt © copyright 2010

Man was created to worship God in the earthly Sanctuary in Eden, just as Israel was created to worship God in the second Eden, the desert Sanctuary. In Genesis man was created after the animals (Gen 1:27); then God blessed man with fertility and dominion over the other living creatures (Gen 1:28-30).  In Leviticus dominion over the earth is defined according to what animals God’s men and woman may and may not eat, followed by the result of the gift of fertility in the ritual instructions for Israelite women who have been blessed with children. 

Please read Leviticus 12:1-8: Purification after Childbirth
12:1Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 2‘Speak to the Israelites and say: “If a woman becomes pregnant [bears seed] and gives birth to a boy, she will be unclean for seven days as when in a state of pollution due to menstruation. 3On the eighth day the child’s foreskin must be circumcised, 4and she will wait another thirty-three days for her blood to be purified.  She will not touch anything consecrated nor go to the sanctuary until the time of her purification is over. 5If she gives birth to a girl, she will be unclean for two weeks, as during her monthly periods; and will wait another sixty-six days for her blood to be purified. 6When the period of her purification is over, for either boy or girl, she will bring the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a lamb one year old for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or turtledove as a sacrifice for sin. 7The priest must offer this before Yahweh, perform the rite of expiation for her, and she will be purified from her discharge of blood.  Such is the law concerning a woman who gives birth to either a boy or a girl. 8If she cannot afford a lamb, she must take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for the burnt offering and the other for the sacrifice for sin.  The priest will perform the rite of expiation for her and she will be purified.”’
(Note: the brackets indicate the literal translation; The Interlineal Bible: Hebrew: English, vol. I, page 287).

This section may seem out of place, as some scholars have suggested, but what at first seems not to fit the flow of the narrative is always placed where it is for a reason.  This short chapter contains only one regulation, but the topic of the text plays a unique role in God’s plan of salvation that relates back to passages in Genesis.  Not only is fertility part of the covenant promise in the first covenant with Adam (Gen 1:28), but childbirth will become the means of the salvation for humanity in the fertility of a certain woman and the birth of a certain child who is “the seed of the Woman” (Gen 3:15; CCC 410-11).  Both the woman and the promised child must be purified from the stain of sin.  The ritual purity of all women of the covenant in childbirth looks forward to the fulfillment of that promise.  The pregnancy of every Israelite woman and the birth of every child brought humanity a little closer to salvation. 

Leviticus 12:1-2: 1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 2 ‘Speak to the Israelites and say: “If a woman becomes pregnant [bears seed] and gives birth to a boy, she will be unclean for seven days as when in a state of pollution due to menstruation (underlining is my emphasis; the brackets = literal translation).

That every pregnancy looked forward to God’s promise of a Redeemer may account for the very strange wording in Leviticus 12:2.  The Hebrew verb translated “becomes pregnant” is unusual; the literal Hebrew is “bearing/to bear seed” (The Interlineal Bible: Hebrew: English, vol. I, page 287;  JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 73).

Question: Where in Genesis chapter one is the phrase “seed-bearing/ bearing seed” found?  Hint: it is found twice within two consecutive verses.
Answer: God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on earth … [..].  The earth produced vegetation: the various kinds of seed-bearing plants and the fruit trees with seed inside, each corresponding to its own species (Gen 1:11-12).

The Hebrew term “seed bearing/bear seed” is only found in Leviticus 12:2 for the pregnancy of covenant women and in Genesis 1:11-12 for plants “bearing seed” (Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 335).  In the birth of Creation this term announced the first time sustainable life reproduced.  Notice that in Genesis chapter one that God continually distinguished the “good” in Creation (seven times in Gen 1:410, 13, 18, 21, 25 and 31).  Now in Leviticus chapter twelve God distinguishes the good, or the “clean,” from the “unclean” in the “seed-bearing” of every daughter of the covenant and the birth of every Israelite child in anticipation of the birth of a particular female child from whose “seed” will be born the promised Redeemer-Messiah.

Question: How will this certain woman who will bear the Redeemer-Messiah be born twice “pure”?  See CCC 491-92.
Answer: The Virgin Mary will be born pure supernaturally (preserved from original sin at conception) and ritually pure according to the laws observed by her people. 

In Genesis Adam and Eve’s disobedience brought sin into the world, but in fulfillment of the promise in Genesis 3:15 the obedience of a “new Eve” (Mary of Nazareth) will result in God’s remedy for sin in the birth of the Redeemer-Messiah—the “new Adam” whose obedience to God will bring salvation to mankind (CCC 411, 498, 494, 615).

Leviticus 2:b, 5: 2bIshe will be unclean for seven days as when in a state of pollution due to menstruation. [..] . 5IIf she gives birth to a girl, she will be unclean for two weeks, as during her monthly periods...

A woman’s ritual impurity during this time (and during her menstrual cycle) did not require isolation from her family but rather restricted activity.  Women who were bleeding during a menstrual cycle or from childbirth were considered to be ill (Lev 12:2; 15:28; 20:18).  Blood sacrifice for the covenant people was a symbol of purification and expiation, but the presence of blood outside of prescribed ritual was “unclean” and made one “impure” (Lev 12:4; Ez 36:17; Ezra 9:11).  While the activities of Israelite women were restricted during the period of bleeding, they were not ostracized or sent out of the camp as was the practice of some of their neighbors.(1)

Question: Read the regulations concerning women who were menstruating in Leviticus 12:4 and 15:19-30.  In what ways were a woman’s daily activities restricted?
Answer:

While she was “unclean” anything she touched became “unclean,” limiting her household duties like cooking, washing clothes, etc.  For the new mother, the ritually observed period when she was temporarily “unclean” and unable to perform normal duties became what those of us in modern society might call “maternity leave.”

Leviticus 12:3: On the eighth day the child’s foreskin must be circumcised

Normally a woman who was menstruating remained unclean for a period of two weeks (Lev 15:19, 28), as in the case of a woman who bore a girl, but in the case of a woman who bore a boy the period of uncleanness was shortened to seven days, allowing her to take part in her son’s circumcision ceremony (brit in Hebrew).  Circumcision was widely practiced in the ancient Near East, but it was a ritual performed as a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood, or as part of preparation for marriage, or a requirement for certain occupations like the priesthood in other Near Eastern cultures. Infant circumcision was unique to the Israelites (Vasholz, Leviticus, page147; Anchor Bible Dictionary, pages 1025-26).

Question: What was the significance of infant circumcision in the Old Covenant, and what did circumcision prefigure in the New Covenant?  See Gen 17:9-14; 28:1, 6; CCC 349.
Answer: Since the time of Abraham, infant circumcision on the eighth day signified the child’s membership in Yahweh’s covenant.  As a “sign” of the covenant, circumcision made him both fit for worship and fit to serve the God of the Patriarchs, who was Israel’s God.  Circumcision on the eighth day to prepare a boy child for eligibility to worship and serve Yahweh also prefigured New Covenant worship on the eighth day—the day of Jesus’ Resurrection and the day God the Holy Spirit came to fill and indwell the New Covenant people of God.

Circumcision on the eighth day prefigures New Covenant worship on the Lord’s Day—Sunday, the New Covenant Sabbath.  St. Augustine taught that the cutting stone used in the Old Covenant ritual of circumcision was a “type” of Jesus Christ, who circumcised our old hearts of stone to give us circumcised hearts beating to the rhythm of the Holy Spirit: It was certainly not for nothing that the commandment was given for the child “to be circumcised on the eighth day”; it can only have been because the rock, the stone with which we are circumcised, was Christ.  It was “with knives of rock: or stone that the people were circumcised; “now that rock was Christ.”  So why on the eighth day?  Because in seven-day weeks the first is the same as the eighth; once you’ve completed the seven days, you are back at the first;  The seventh is finished, the Lord is buried; we are back at the first, the Lord is raised up.  The Lord’s resurrection, you see, promised us an eternal day and consecrated for us the Lord’s Day.  It is called the Lord’s because it properly belongs to the Lord, because on it the Lord rose again.  The rock has been restored to us; let those be circumcised who wish to say, “For we are the circumcision” (Augustine, Sermon 169.3).

Leviticus 12:4b: She will not touch anything consecrated nor go to the sanctuary until the time of her purification is over. 

Question: How does this statement define the importance of ritual purity?
Answer: This statement reveals the nature of ritual purity/impurity.  Ritual purity defines one as acceptable for worship in the Sanctuary and one’s acceptability within the worshipping community.  If one is in a state of impurity, one is not fit to take part in the liturgy of worship in the sacred assembly.

Question: How is the period of purification different for mothers of boys as opposed to the mothers of girl babies?
Answer:

Ritual for Mothers who Bore Boys Ritual for Mothers who Bore Girls
1. The mother is ritually “unclean” for seven days (Lev 12:2). The mother is ritually “unclean” for fourteen days (Lev 12:5).
2. Circumcision of the boy is performed on the eighth day (Lev 12:3).  
3. The mother continues in the state of “blood purification” for another thirty-three days and may not go to the Sanctuary (Lev 12:4). The mother continues in the state of “blood purification” for another sixty-six days and may not go to the Sanctuary (Lev 12:5).
4. Her purification period is complete on the fortieth day. Her purification period is completed on the eightieth day.
5. At the end of the forty days she will bring the priest a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or dove as a sin offering, and she will be purified (Lev 12:6). At the end of eighty days she will bring the priest a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or dove as a sin offering, and she will be purified (Lev 12:6).
6. If she is too poor to afford a lamb, she will bring the priest two turtle doves or two young pigeons; she will offer one for a whole burnt offering and the other for a sin sacrifice, and she will be purified (Lev 12:8).
7. At the end of the purification and the expiation for sin she is restored to Sanctuary privileges.
M. Hunt © copyright 2010

Leviticus 12:5: When the period of her purification is over, for either boy or girl, she will bring the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a lamb one year old for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or turtledove as a sacrifice for sin.  Israelite women were full members of the covenant community and brought their own sacrifices (also see verse 8 and 1 Sam 1:7, 24-25).

Question: Mary and Joseph observed the ritual purity laws after Jesus’ birth.  What did their sacrifice suggest?  See Lk 2:22-24.
Answer: They were too poor to afford a lamb for a burnt offering.

Concerning St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary’s poverty and the humble station in life in which the Savior grew to manhood, the Bede wrote: The Lord commanded in the law that those who could were to offer a lamb for a son or a daughter, along with a turtledove or a pigeon.  But one who did not have sufficient wealth to offer a lamb should offer two turtledoves or two young pigeons.  Therefore the Lord, mindful in everything of our salvation, not only deigned for our sake to become a human being, though he was God, but also he deigned to become poor for us, though he was rich, so that by his poverty along with his humanity he might grant us to become sharers in his riches and his divinity (the Venerable Bede, Homily 18).

A ritual bath was also part of the woman’s purification preparation to re-enter the Sanctuary.  The Jewish Mishnah records that full immersion for both men and women in the Temple mikvah (pool for ritual purification) was necessary before entering the courtyard to offer sacrifices (Mishnah: Yoma, 3.3).  Below is a picture of the excavated mikvah of the Jerusalem Temple.  This would have been the very pool where the Virgin Mary ritually bathed before presenting her purification sacrifices.

Click for a picture of Mikveh

Also notice that there was no distinction according to wealth or status in the application of the ritual purity laws—women were equals under the Law, as were all men.  The only differences in status according to wealth under the Law occurred in circumstance that took into account what one was economically able to offer in sacrifice, ensuring that participation in the ritual of sacrifice did not become an economic burden.(2) The length of time before a woman was required to appear at the Sanctuary to make her sacrifices (forty days for a son and eighty for a daughter) was especially necessary after the conquest.  This prolonged period allowed for the woman to recover her strength and for the child to be old enough to accompany his parents on the journey to Yahweh’s Sanctuary at a time when the tribes were occupying territory on both sides of the Jordan River.

In the purity rules and prohibitions associated with childbirth, God in His mercy provided protection for women at a time when they were especially vulnerable.  So long as they remained ritually unclean they were not expected to perform tasks like cooking, cleaning, manual labor, or intimate wifely duties—all of which would ritually compromise other members of the household.  During this period of enforced “maternity leave” and during her period of “blood purification” the mother was left to care for her infant and to recover her strength while her family helped to provide for her daily needs.

The period of ritual “uncleanness” was doubled to two weeks for a mother who bore a girl, but it is comparable to the time a woman was “unclean” during her normal menstrual cycle (Lev 15:19, 28).  It is, however, uncertain as to why the period of “blood purification” was doubled for women who bore girls.  Some scholars have suggested that since girl babies will also become ritually impure when they mature and began their menstrual cycles that the period of purification was longer at birth.  Another possibility is that the mother’s household duties were somewhat limited which helped to ensured that a mother and her infant had additional time to form an emotional bond. The birth of a girl was a disappointment for most women.  Boys grew up to contribute to the economic stability of the family, and when a woman became widowed her son/sons became responsible for her care.  A widowed woman without a son often became destitute (Acts 6:1).  Girls, however, were raised with the understanding that a time would come when they would no longer be part of the family and would transfer their loyalty to their future husband’s family.  The prolonged period of purification for mother and daughter may have allowed the new mother to overcome her disappointed and to bond with her daughter.

Ritual purity is not a vague notion of unacceptability within the covenant community.  Uncleanness meant one had been contaminated by sin in the world which made one unsuitable for worship or sacrifice—uncleanness/sin meant separation from the earthly Sanctuary in the same way Adam and Eve’s sin resulted in their separation from the Edenic Sanctuary (Lev 12:4).  But the Law provided the means for restoration to the Sanctuary and to the covenant community through the observance of the ritual of expiation through blood sacrifice and the ritual of the cleansing purity rites.  In the regulations for ritual purity defined in Leviticus, God identifies the “clean” or “good” for His “new creation,” Israel, just as He did in the first Creation event. 

Chapter 13: Instructions for Identifying Skin Conditions/Diseases

Please read Leviticus 13:1-8: Examination of Swellings, Scabs, and Discolorations of the Skin
13:1Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, 2‘If a swelling or scab or spot appears on someone’s skin, which could develop into a contagious skin-disease, that person must them be taken to the priest, either Aaron or one of his sons. 3The priest will examine the disease on the skin.  If the hair on the diseased part has turned white, or if the disease bites into the skin, the skin-disease is contagious, and after examination the priest will declare the person unclean. 4But if there is a white spot on the skin without any visible depression of the skin or whitening of the hair, the priest will isolate the sick person for seven days. 5On the seventh day he will examine the person, and if he observes that the disease persists though without spreading over the skin, he will isolate the person for a further seven days 6and examine him again on the seventh.  If he finds that the disease has faded and has not spread over the skin, the priest will declare the person clean.  This was merely a scab.  Once he has washed his clothing he will be clean. 7But if the scab spreads over the skin after the sick person has been examined by the priest and declared clean, then he will let himself be examined again by the priest. 8After examining him and certifying the spread of the scab over the skin, the priest will declare him unclean: it is a contagious skin-disease.’

Question: The priests’ main duty was to preside over the sacrifices in the liturgical worship services, but they also had other duties to perform for the community which are recorded in this part of Leviticus. What are those addition duties outlined in this chapter?
Answer: The priests have duties associated with the health of the community.  They are to examine and make decisions on health issues that have the potential of becoming hazardous to the entire community.

Question: What is the procedure for dealing with conditions that may be contagious?
Answer: The procedure consists of examination and isolation for seven day periods before the priest reaches a final determination. 

When the priest declared a person ritually “clean” his restoration to the community was accomplished in a ritual similar to that of a hatta’t sin sacrifice (see Lev 14:1-31, 49-53).  Question: Sickness is normally not due to the personal sin of a person, so what is the nature of the sin in the cases of disease?  Is it God’s capricious judgment against a person in inflicting disease?  See Gen 1:4, 10, 13, 18, 21, 25, 31 and Wis 1:13-14.
Answer: No.  Everything God creates is good.  The sin in such cases was the result of the corrupting power of sin in the world that was an affront to the life-giving power of the God of Creation.  Although the person may be an innocent victim, every person’s sin contributes to sin in the world and the consequences of sin in harming all living things: For God did not make Death, he takes no pleasure in destroying the living.  To exist—for this he created all things; the creatures of the world have health in them, in them is no fatal poison … (Wis 1:13-14)

Please read Leviticus 13:9-17: Cases of Dormant Skin Disease
13:9‘Someone who has a contagious skin-disease must be taken to the priest. 10The priest will examine the sick person, and if he finds a whitish swelling with whitening of the hair and an ulcer forming on the skin, 11this is a dormant skin-disease, and the priest will declare the person unclean.  He will not isolate him; he is obviously unclean. 12But if the disease spreads all through the skin, if it covers the person entirely from head to foot so far as the priest can see, 13the priest will then examine the sick person and, if he finds that the skin-disease covers his whole body, declare the sick person clean.  Since it has all become white, he is clean. 14But as soon as an ulcer appears on him, he will be unclean. 15After examining the ulcer, the priest will declare him unclean: the ulcer is unclean, it is contagious. 16But if the ulcer becomes white again, the sick person will go to the priest; 17the priest will examine him and if he finds that the disease has turned white, he will declare the sick person clean: he is clean.

The concern is in determining what is contagious and what is not.  The priest performs the service of a public health inspector and diagnostician. Under the conditions described in verses 9-11, no second examination was necessary because the symptoms indicate contagion.  The conditions described in verses  12-13 indicate that when the symptoms spread over the entire body it is a sign the person is on the way to recovery—the white scabs will soon drop off and the person is not contagious.  However, if ulcers appear it is a sign of contagion until the ulcer turns white.

Please read Leviticus 13:18-23: The Examination of Ulcers of the Skin
13:18‘When an ulcerappears on someone’s skin, and then gets better, 19and if then a white swelling or a reddish-white spot forms on the same place, the sick person will show himself to the priest. 20The priest will examine him, and if he finds a visible depression in the skin and a whitening of the hair, he will declare the person unclean: this is a case of contagious skin-disease breaking out in an ulcer. 21But if on examination the priest finds neither white hair nor depression of the skin, but a fading of the affected part, he will isolate the sick person for seven days. 22If the disease has then spread over the skin, he will declare the person unclean: this is a case of contagious skin-disease. 23But if the spot has stayed where it was and has not spread, it is the scar of the ulcer and the priest will declare the person clean.

The color of body hair associated with the ulcer and a depression of the skin in the effected area or whether or not the spot of inflection was spreading or the spot faded determined if the ulcer was contagious or not.

Please read Leviticus 13:24-28: The Examination of Burns
13:24‘If someone has a burn on the skin and an abscess, a reddish-white or white spot, forms on the burn, 25the priest will then examine it.  If he finds a whitening of the hair or a visible depression of the mark on the skin, a contagious disease has broken out in the burn.  The priest will declare the sick person unclean: this is a contagious skin-disease. 26If on the other hand the priest on examination does not find white hair on the mark or depression of the skin, but a fading of the mark, the priest will isolate the person for seven days. 27He will examine the person on the seventh day and, if the disease has spread over the skin, he will declare the sick person unclean: this is a case of contagious skin-disease. 28If the mark has stayed where it was and has not spread over the skin, but has faded instead, it was only a swelling due to the burn.  The priest will declare the person clean: it is merely a burn scar.’

In this case the priest diagnosed the suspected sore as a contagious disease based on the color of the body hair and a depression of the skin in association with the burn.  Absence of these signs required a seven day quarantine period and a second examination before the person was declared “clean.”

Please read Leviticus 13:29-37: Diseases of the Scalp and Head
13:29‘If a man or woman has a sore on the head or chin, 30the priest will examine the sore; and if he finds a depression visible in the skin, with the hair on it yellow and thin, he will declare the sick person unclean: this is tinea, that is to say, a contagious skin-disease of the head or chin. 31If on examining this case of tinea the priest finds no visible depression in the skin and no yellow hair, he will isolate the person so affected for seven days. 32He will examine the inflected part on the seventh day, and if he finds that the tinea has not spread, that the hair on it is not yellow, and that there is no visible depression in the skin, 33the sick person will shave his hair off, all except the part affected with tinea, and the priest will again isolate him for seven days. 34He will examine the infected part on the seventh day, and if he finds that it has not spread over the skin, and that there is no visible depression of the skin, the priest will declare the sick person clean.  After washing his clothes the person will be clean. 35But if after this purification the tinea does spread over the skin, 36the priest will examine the person; if he finds that the tinea has indeed spread over the skin, the sick person is unclean, and there is no need to verify whether the hair is yellow. 37Whereas if, so far as he can see, the tinea is arrested and dark hair is beginning to grow on it, the sick person is cured.  He is clean, and the priest will declare him clean.

Tinea may refer to eczema or psoriases.  The shaving of body hair was to enable the priest to make a more through examination of the person’s body.

 

Please read Leviticus 13:38-44: Examination of Rashes and the Loss of Hair
13:38‘If spots break out on the skin of a man or woman, and if these spots are white, 39the priest will examine them.  If he finds that the spots are of a dull white, this is a rash that has broken out on the skin: the person is clean. 40If someone loses the hair of the scalp, this is baldness of the scalp but the person is clean. 41If he loses hair off the front of the head, this is baldness of the forehead but the person is clean. 42If, however, a reddish-white sore appears on the scalp or forehead, a contagious skin-disease has broken out on the scalp or forehead. 43The priest will examine it, and if he finds a reddish-white swelling on the scalp or forehead, looking like a contagious skin-disease, 44the person has such a disease: he is unclean.  The priest will declare him unclean; he has a contagious skin-disease.

The main concern in these public health examinations was, of course, the very dangerous skin disease, leprosy.  Today there are medications that can contain and control the disease, but in the ancient world this disease condemned a person to a life of miserable isolation and a slow and disfiguring death.

Please read Leviticus 13:45-46: The Law Governing the Behavior of Persons with Contagious Skin Diseases
45‘Anyone with a contagious skin-disease will wear torn clothing and disordered hair; and will cover the upper lip and shout, “Unclean, unclean.” 46As long as the disease lasts, such a person will be unclean and, being unclean, will live alone and live outside the camp.

It was a tragedy for a covenant member to be diagnosed with a contagious skin-disease.  They were expelled from the community and forced to live alone or in groups with others in the same “unclean” state (Lk 17:12). 

Please read Leviticus 13:47-52: Instruction for Identifying the Contamination of Clothing
13:47When a piece of clothing is infected with mould, be it woolen or 48linen clothing, linen or woolen fabric or covering, or leather or anything made of leather, 49if the spot on the clothing, leather, fabric, covering or object made of leather is a greenish or reddish colour, it is a disease to be shown to the priest. 50The priest will examine the infection and isolate the object for seven days. 51If on the seventh day he observes that the infection has spread on the clothing, fabric, covering, leather or object made of leather, whatever it may be, this is a contagious disease and the object is unclean. 52He will burn this clothing, fabric, linen or woolen covering or leather object whatever it may be. On which the infection has appeared: for this is a contagious disease which must be destroyed by fire.

Contaminated articles of clothing and objects were capable of infection people and had to be destroyed.

Please read Leviticus 13:53-59:  Treatment of Infected Clothing
13:53‘But if on examination the priest finds that the infection has not spread on the clothing, fabric, covering, or leather object whatever it may be, 54he will order the infected object to be washed and will isolate it again for a period of seven days. 55After the washing, he will examine the infection and if he finds that there is no change in its appearance, even though it has not spread, the article is unclean.  You will burn it; it is infected through and through. 56But if on examination the priest finds that the infection has diminished after washing, he will tear it out of the clothing, leather, fabric or covering. 57But if infection reappears on the same clothing, fabric, covering or leather object whatever it may be, this means that the infection is active; you will burn whatever is infected. 58The clothing, fabric, covering or leather object whatever it may be, from which the infection disappears after being washed, will be clean after it has been washed a second time. 59Such is the law governing disease in a linen or woolen garment, a fabric or covering or leather object whatever it may be, then it is a question of declaring them clean or unclean.’

Chapter 14: Instruction for the Ritual of Purification for Contagious Diseases

Purify me with hyssop till I am clean, wash me till I am whiter than snow.
Psalm 51:7

‘Come, let us talk this over,’ says Yahweh.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.  If you are willing to obey, you shall eat the good things of the earth.  But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall eat you instead—for Yahweh’s mouth has spoken.’
Isaiah 1:18-20

Please read Leviticus 14:1-9: Parts I and II of the Ritual of Purification
14:1‘Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 2‘This is the law to be applied on the day of the purification of someone who has suffered from a contagious skin-disease.  Such a person will be taken to the priest, 3and the priest will go outside the camp.  If he finds on examination that the person has recovered from the disease, 4he will order the following to be brought for his purification: two live birds that are clean, some cedar wood, scarlet material and hyssop. 5He will then order one of the birds to be slaughtered in an earthenware pot over running water. 6He will then take the live bird, the cedar wood, the scarlet material and the hyssop and dip all this (including the live bird) into the blood of the bird slaughtered over running water.  He will then take the live bird, the cedar wood, the scarlet material and the hyssop and dip all this (including the live bird) into the blood of the bird slaughtered over running water. 7He will then sprinkle the person to be purified of the skin-disease seven times, and having declared the person clean, will set the live bird free to fly off into the countryside. 8The person who is being purified will then wash all clothing, shave off all hair, and wash, and will then be clean.  After this he will return to the camp, although he will remain outside his tent for seven days. 9On the seventh day he will shave off all his hair—head, beard and eyebrows; he will shave off all his hair.  After washing his clothing and his body he will be clean.

2‘This is the law to be applied on the day of the purification of someone who has suffered from a contagious skin-disease.  The Hebrew word for “skin disease” in this passage is tsara’at.  The Tanach (Jewish Bible) translates this verse: This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time that he is to be cleansed (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 85).   The rites ordained for the most serious kind of skin-disease is among the most elaborate in the purification rituals, requiring cultic procedures outside the camp and in the Sanctuary.

Question: Why does the priest go “outside the camp” to examine the person?
Answer: The person has previously been isolated from the community by being sent outside the camp and has to be examined there and declared “clean” before he/she can re-enter the camp.

The first part of the purification rite will take place outside the camp.  There are three stages to the purification ritual.

Question: What seven things are needed to perform the first stage of the purification ritual?
Answer: Two live birds, hyssop, scarlet material, cedar-wood, an earthenware bowl and running water.

Question: What is the procedure for the blood ritual in this part of the ceremony?
Answer:

  1. One bird will be sacrificed in the earthenware vessel over running water.
  2. The priest will dip the live bird together with the cedar wood, scarlet cloth and hyssop in the blood of the sacrifice, held over running water.
  3. The priest will sprinkle the person being purified seven times with the blood on the bird, the hyssop, the cloth, and the wood.
  4. The live bird will be set free and the person is declared clean.

The sacrifice took place over running water so any of the blood that was not caught in the vessel was carried away by the water and the live bird was set free to carry away the disease (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 84-85).

Question: What was the second stage of the ritual?
Answer: The person washed his clothing, shaved off all body hair, washed his body and returned to the camp; however, he must remain outside his tent for seven days.  On the seventh day he was to shave all body hair again, wash his clothing and his body a second time, and he then he was permitted to enter his tent and resume a normal life in the community.

Shaving all body hair and remaining outside his tent is probably necessary to let the people see that he is indeed cured of his affliction and it is safe to welcome him back to the community.  It was normally forbidden to shave the beard or the side-locks of the head (Lev 19:27).

Leviticus 14:4: he will order the following to be brought for his purification: two live birds that are clean, some cedar wood, scarlet material and hyssop.  The words “hyssop,” “scarlet cloth/material” and “cedar-wood” are used five times in Leviticus chapter 14 (14:4, 6, 49, 51 and 52).  Hyssop is associated with purification in Leviticus and in other passages in Scripture.  It is interesting that the blood, the scarlet cloth, and the cedar are all red/reddish in color.  The scarlet color of the cloth is probably symbolic of sin: Though your sins are like scarlet … (Is 1:18; it is the same Hebrew word as in Lev 14:4; Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 294; Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. III, page 1615).  The word translated “scarlet,” in Hebrew sani/shani, designates the kind of blood-red dye made from the eggs of insects that live in the leaves of palm trees.  The instructions do not designation what kind of scarlet cloth is to be used, but the tradition is that it was wool (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 86).  The blood of the sacrificed bird symbolizes both death and life—a type of death imposed by ritual uncleanness and the hope of restored life through restored purity, but in this case the blood is not linked to atonement.  Blood atonement takes place at the altar of sacrifice in the Sanctuary in part III of the ritual of purification. 

Hyssop, scarlet cloth and red cedar wood are also used in the purification ritual associated with the theses three items that are burned with the body of a red heifer.  The ashes are then mixed with water and used to remove defilement incurred through contact with a corpse (Num 19:-1-6, 11-16). It is a ritual in which the one being purified is sprinkled with the mixture of ashes on the third and seventh days of the ritual.  The inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote: The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkled on those who have incurred defilement, may restore their bodily purity.  How much more will the blood of Christ, who offered himself, blameless as he was, to God through the eternal Spirit, purify our conscience from dead actions so that we can worship the living God (Heb 9:13-14).

Question: What is the significance of the hyssop plant in Scripture?  Where was hyssop used in an important ritual prior to the tenth plague in Egypt and in the covenant ratification ritual at Mt. Sinai?  Where is hyssop mentioned in the Crucifixion of Christ? See Ex 12:22-23; Lev 14:4-9, 49-53; Num 19:18; Jn 19:29; Heb 9:19.
Answer:

The word “hyssop” is found twelve times in Scripture ( Ex 12:22; Lev 14:4, 6, 49, 51, 52; Num 19:6, 18; 1 Kng 4:33; Ps 51:7; Jn 19:29 and Heb 9:19). 

Question: What did David write about hyssop in Psalm 51 and how is hyssop a “type” of Christ? 
Answer: David wrote: Purify me with hyssop till I am clean, wash me till I am whiter than snow (Ps 51:7).  It is the blood of the crucified Christ that is our “hyssop,” washing us pure in the blood of the Lamb, and it is under this sign that we are saved from the power of eternal death and restored to new life in Christ Jesus. 

It is interesting that not only can the hyssop be linked to Christ’s Passion but the scarlet wool and wood were also used in the Passion of the Christ.

Question: What role did “scarlet” wool play in Jesus’ Passion?  See Mt 27:26-28.
Answer: St. Matthew’s records that it was a scarlet Roman military cloak (made of wool) that the Roman soldiers put on Jesus when they mocked Him after Pontius Pilate sentenced Him to death.

The use of scarlet material/wool in covenant rituals is mentioned seven times in Scripture: six times in the Pentateuch (Lev 14:4, 6, 49, 51, 52; Num 19:6) and the seventh time in Hebrews 9:19, which records that scarlet wool was used in the ritual of covenant formation at Sinai.  It is interesting that the scarlet material, the hyssop and wood used in ritual purification are all part of Christ’s Passion: the scarlet material He wore when the soldiers mocked Him (Mt 27:28), the hyssop used to give Him the wine when He said “I thirst” (Jn 19:29) and the wood of the Cross.  Jesus is our sacrifice of purification and restoration.

Please read Leviticus 14:10-18: Part III of the Ritual of Purification
14:10‘On the eighth day he will take two unblemished [male] lambs, an unblemished ewe one year old, three-tenths of wheaten flour mixed with oil for the cereal offering [minhah], and on log of oil. 11The priest who is performing the purification will place the person who is being purified, with all his offerings, at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, before Yahweh. 12He will then take one of the lambs and offer it as a sacrifice of reparation, as also the log of oil.  With these he will make the gesture of offering before Yahweh. 13He will then slaughter the lamb on that spot inside the holy place where the victims for the sacrifice for sin and for the burnt offering are slaughtered.  This reparatory offering, like the sacrifice for sin, will revert to the priest: it is especially holy. 14The priest will then take some of the blood of this sacrifice and put it on the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot of the person who is being purified. 15He will then take the log of oil and pour a little into the hollow of his left hand. 16He will dip a finger of his right hand into the oil in the hollow of his left hand, and sprinkle the oil with his finger seven times before Yahweh. 17He will then take some of the oil left in the hollow of his hand and put it on the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot of the person being purified, in addition to the blood of the sacrifice of reparation. 18The rest of the oil in the hollow of his hand he will put on the head of the person who is being purified.  This is how the priest will perform the rite of expiation for such a person before Yahweh. 19The priest will then offer the sacrifice for sin, and perform the rite of expiation for uncleanness for the person who is being purified.  After this, he will slaughter the burnt offering 20and offer this and the cereal offering [minhah] on the altar.  So, when the priest has performed the rite of expiation for him the person will be clean.
[..] = literal translation (Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page 295). The measure of flour is understood to be three-tenths of an ephah, about 0.375 bushel/13.5 litres (NJB, note b. page 151).

12On the eighth day

The “eighth day” is mentioned thirteen times in the Pentateuch: Ex 22:29/30; Lev 9:1; 12:3; 14:10, 23; 15:14, 29; 22:27; 23:36, 39; Num 6:10; 7:54; and 29:35.  The eighth year is mentioned in Lev 25:22.  The number eight symbolized re-birth, restoration, and salvation.

The previously contaminated person has been restored to the community in the second part of the purification rite, but he also needed to be restored to the Sanctuary. 

Question: Why is it significant that his restoration occurs on the “eighth day”?
Answer: In Scripture the number eight signifies re-birth, salvation, and restoration.  The person who was “dead” to the community in his exile outside the camp will now be “re-born” back into the faith community through the ritual of sacrifice and consecration on the “eighth day.”

Question: What is the person being purified required to bring to the altar?
Answer: As a sacrifice the person being restored must bring two unblemished male sheep, one unblemished ewe, three-tenths of flour mixed with oil and a log of oil.

One of the male sheep was to be sacrificed as an ‘asham sacrifice of reparation, the ewe was to be a hatta’t sin sacrifice, and the remaining male sheep was a whole burnt offering.  One-tenth of the flour and oil was offered with each animal.  The additional log of oil was used by the priest in the anointing and sprinkling rite, it was a liquid measure that consisted of approximately three-tenths of a liter (JPS Commentary: Leviticus, page 86).

The sacrifice of the male sheep for the ‘asham sacrifice of reparation was followed by a rather bizarre blood ritual and anointing.

Question: The application of the blood and oil on the person and the sprinkling ritual in the purification rite recalls what similar blood and anointing ritual?  See Ex 29:20-21; Lev 8:11, 22-24.
Answer: It recalls the blood and oil ritual for the ordination and consecration of a priest with the application of the blood and oil on the right ear, right thumb and big toe of the right foot, and the seven times sprinkling rite with the oil.

Like the priests, the person in need of ritual purification is re-consecrated to Yahweh from head to foot.  It is uncertain why the first sacrifice for sin is designated a sacrifice of reparation, unless the person’s absence from liturgical worship on the Sabbath, because of his seven-day state of uncleanness, was considered an unintentional sin against God’s “sacred rights” (Lev 5:15-16).  The ritual sacrifice of the animals followed the instructions for an individual covenant member’s ‘asham sin of reparation (Lev 5:15-20), an individual covenant member’s whole burnt offering (Lev 1:11-13), and an individual covenant members hatta’t sin offering (Lev 4:32-35), including the laying-on-of-hands, confession of sin for the sin sacrifices and a confession of praise for the whole burnt offering.  The sin offerings served to return the individual to good standing with God, and the burnt offering symbolized his renewed obedience to the covenant.  God’s acceptance of the burnt offering symbolized the individual was fully restored to Sanctuary worship on the eighth day of his purification ritual.

Please read Leviticus 14:21-32: The Sacrificial Rite of Purification for the Poor
14:21‘If he is poor and cannot afford all this, he need take only one lamb, the one for the sacrifice of reparation, and this will be presented with the gesture of offering to perform the rite of expiation for him.  And for the cereal offering he will take only one-tenth of wheaten flour mixed with oil, and the log of oil, 22and two turtledoves or two young pigeons, whichever he can afford, one for a sacrifice for sin and the other for the burnt offering. 23He will bring these on the eighth day to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting before Yahweh, for his purification. 24The priest will take the lamb for the sacrifice of reparation and the log of oil, and present them before Yahweh with the gesture of offering. 25He will then slaughter the lamb for the sacrifice of reparation, take some of its blood and put it on the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand and the big toe of the right foot of the person who is being purified. 26He will pour the oil into the hollow of his left hand, 27and with his finger sprinkle the oil in the hollow of his left hand seven times before Yahweh. 28He will then put some of the oil on the lobe of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand and the big toe of the right foot of the person who is being purified, as he did with the blood of the sacrifice of reparation. 29The reminder of the oil in the hollow of his hand he will put on the head of the person who is being purified, thus performing the rite of expiation for him before Yahweh. 30Of the two turtledoves or two young pigeons—whatever he has been able to afford—he will offer 31a sacrifice for sin with one, and with the other a burnt offering with a cereal offering [minhah]—whatever he has been able to afford.  This is how the priest will perform before Yahweh the rite of expiation for the person who is being purified. 32Such is the law concerning someone with a contagious skin-disease who cannot afford the means of purification.’

Question: How is the purification ritual for the poor different from the instructions given in verses 10-20?
Answer: The only difference is in what is offered for sacrifice. Instead of three animals from the flock there is one unblemished male sheep for the ‘asham sin of reparation sacrifice and two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one for a hatta’t sin sacrifice and the other for an ‘olah whole burnt offering.  The cereal offering for the ‘asham is one-tenth of an ephah, reduced by two-tenths from the previous instructions.   

Please read Leviticus 14:33-42: Determining the Infections of Houses
14:33Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron and said: 34‘When you reach Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, if I infect a house with a disease in the country which you are to possess, 35the owner will come and inform the priest and say, “I have seen something like a skin-disease in the house.” 36The priest will order the house to be emptied before he goes to examine the infection, or everything in the house will become unclean; after which, the priest will go inside and examine the house; 37and if on examination he finds the walls of the house pitted with reddish or greenish depressions which appear to be eating away the wall, 38the priest will then go out of the house, to  the door, and shut it up for seven days. 39On the seventh day, the priest will come back and if on examination he finds that the infection has spread over the walls of the house, 40he will order the infected stones to be removed and thrown into some unclean place outside the town. 41He will then have all the inside of the house scraped, and the plaster that comes off will be emptied in an unclean place outside the town. 42The stones will be replaced with new ones and the house given a new coat of plaster.

Thus far the only time Yahweh has addressed Aaron direction was in Leviticus 10:3 concerning the prohibition against priests drinking fermented liquor when serving Yahweh in the Sanctuary or when performing any other of their duties.  The usually practice has been for Moses to communicate Yahweh’s commands to Aaron.  In this passage, Yahweh addressed Moses and Aaron together, as He has at other times in Exodus and as He will continue to do in Leviticus for a total of ten times ( Ex 6:13; 7:19; 8:5; 9:8; 12:43, 50; Lev 11:1; 13:1; 14:33; 15:1). 

These instructions deal with molds, rot, or funguses that might contaminate a house causing the discoloration or bubbles in the plaster covering the inside walls, or infecting cloth or leather objects.

34‘When you reach Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, if I infect a house with a disease… It was understood that since God controlled the universe, illnesses or inflections could occur not so much because God willed it but because He elected not to stop it.

Please read Leviticus 14:43-48: The Procedure for Dealing with House Infections
14:43‘If the infection spreads again after the stones have been removed and the house scraped and replastered, 44the priest will come an examine it.  If he finds that the infection has spread, this means that there is a contagious disease in the house: it is unclean. 45It must be pulled down and the stones, woodwork and all the plaster be taken to an unclean place outside the town. 46Anyone who enters the house while it is closed will be unclean until evening. 47Anyone who sleeps there will wash his clothes.  Anyone who eats there will wash his clothes. 48But if the priest finds, when he comes to examine the infection, that it has not spread in the house since it was plastered, he will declare the house clean, for the infection is cured.

Question: Why did dwellings have to be inspected?
Answer: An infected house will make those living in it unclean and unfit for sacrifice and worship at the Sanctuary.

Exposure to most conditions of the “unclean” rendered the exposed person “unclean” until just before sundown; at sundown, the start of the next day, the person was “clean” again (Lev 11:24, 25, 27, 28, 31, 32, 39, 40 [twice]; 14:46; 15:5, 6, 7, 8, 10 [twice], 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23, and 27).

Please read Leviticus 14:49-57: The Sacrificial Ritual for Defilement of a House
14:49‘As a sacrifice for the defilement of the house, he will take two birds, some cedar wood, scarlet material and hyssop. 50He will slaughter one of the birds in an earthenware pot over running water. 51He will then take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet material and the live bird, dip them into the blood of the slaughtered bird and into the running water and sprinkle the house seven times; 52and after offering the sacrifice for the defilement of the house with the blood of the bird, the running water, the live bird, the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet material, 53he will set the live bird free to fly out of the town into the countryside [land].  Once the rite of expiation has been performed for the house in this way it will be clean. 54Such is the law governing all kinds of skin-diseases and tinea, 55diseases of clothing and houses, 56swellings, scabs and spots.  It defines the occasions when things are unclean and when clean. 57Such is the law on skin-diseases.

Question: What is similar and what is different in the ritual for a person as opposed for a house being purified from defilement?
Answer:

Priestly Ritual of Expiation for Cleansing from Defilement in Leviticus Chapter 14
(underlining is my emphasis)
Cleansing of a Person healed of a Contagious Skin Disease
Leviticus 14:4-7
Cleansing of a Contaminated House
Leviticus 14:49-53
1. Two clean live birds, cedar wood, scarlet cloth, hyssop and running water* (vs. 4). Two live birds, cedar wood, scarlet cloth, hyssop and running water (vs. 49).
2. The priest will kill one bird over the water in an earthenware vessel (vs. 5). The priest will kill one bird over the water in an earthenware vessel (vs. 50)
3. The live bird, cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop dipped in blood of slain bird over the water (vs. 6). The live bird, cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop dipped in blood of slain bird and into the water (vs. 51).
4. The priest will sprinkle the person seven times with the blood (vs. 7). The priest will sprinkle the house seven times with the blood and water (vs. 51-52).
5. The priest declares the person purified seven times and will set the live bird free (vs. 7). The priest will set the live bird free (vs. 53).
6. The person will wash all clothing, shave off all body hair, bathe, and will then be clean.  He will return to camp but remain outside his tent for seven days (vs. 8)  
7. On the seventh day he will shave off all body hair and after washing his body and his clothes he will be clean (vs. 9). After the rite of expiation has been performed for the house, it shall be declared clean (vs. 53).
8. On the eighth day the person will offer sacrifices at the Sanctuary based on his wealth and submit to a blood and oil ritual of purification (Lev14:10-32).  
M. Hunt © copyright 2010

* the Hebrew word is “living” water, meaning flowing water, like a stream or bubbling artesian well—not stagnant water. 

Question: While the two rituals are quite similar, there are also major differences.  What two major differences do you see between the ritual of purification for a person and a house?
Answer:

  1. There is no provision for healing the infected skin of the victim, but there is a provision for ridding and cleaning a house of infection.
  2. After the priest pronounces the person “clean” there are offerings and sacrifices for the person healed of the skin disease at the Sanctuary but not for the house that had been cleansed. 
  3. The ritual for a person uses blood and oil while the ritual for a house used blood and water.

Question: Why are there no separate sacrifices just for dwelling as in pagan societies?
Answer: Sacrifices at the Sanctuary are only offered for human beings in a liturgical context.

Did you notice the significance of seven day periods or seven times sprinkling rituals in the different purity rites?  The sequence of sevens reminds us of the seven day Creation narrative in Genesis.  The seven-day sequences recall that in Creation God made everything “good,” but through the corruption of sin the seven day examination period is a hopeful attempt to restore a person to the community rather than to condemn a person to exile, as Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden for their sin.  

Question: How many times is “seven” mentioned in Leviticus chapters 12-14 in association will isolation for uncleanness or in purity rites?
Answer:

  1. Seven days of initial impurity for the mother of a boy (Lev 12:2).
  2. Two times seven days of initial impurity for the mother of a girl (Lev 12:5).
  3. Isolation of a person suffering from swellings, scabs, and discolorations of the sin over a seven day period (Lev 13:4-5).
  4. Isolation of a person suffering from ulcers of the skin for seven days (Lev 13:21).
  5. Isolation of persons with burns or abscesses for seven days (Lev 13:26-27).
  6. Isolation of a person suffering from diseases of the scalp for seven days (Lev 13:31).
  7. After the person shaves all body hair the priest will isolate him for seven days (Lev 13:33).
  8. Isolation of an infected object for seven days (Lev 13:50).
  9. Isolation of an infected object for an additional seven days after washing if there is no evidence of spreading after the first examination (Lev 13:54).
  10. A person is sprinkled seven times in purification from contagious skin diseases (Lev 14:7).
  11. A person readmitted to the camp will remain outside his tent for seven days (Lev 14:8).
  12. The priest sprinkles the oil seven times before Yahweh in the person’s Sanctuary purification (14:16, 27).
  13. An infection house is shut up for seven days (Lev 14:38).
  14. The house is sprinkled seven times in the purification ritual (Lev 14:51).

The story of Noah and the Great Flood is a good example of the parallels between Genesis and the ritual purity laws in Leviticus. According to Scripture the Great Flood was the result of divine judgment for the wickedness of humanity that corrupted God’s Creation: Yahweh saw that human wickedness was great on earth and that his heart contrived nothing but wicked schemes all day long.  [..]  God looked at the earth: it was corrupt, for corrupt were the ways of all living things on earth (Gen 6:5, 12).  The purpose of the purity laws of the Sinai Covenant was to promote holiness among the people created by God to be His holy nation and to keep them from corruption.  In the Great Flood judgment God used water as His agent of cleansing, just as water became the primary means for ritual purification in the Laws of the Sinai Covenant:

  

Parallels between the Narrative of Noah and the Flood in the Book of Genesisand the Purification Rites in the Book of Leviticus
1. God cleansed the earth with the waters of the flood: …it was corrupt, for corrupt were the ways of all living things [flesh] on earth (Gen 6:12).  []= literal translation Water was the primary means for ritual cleansing of corruption of the flesh and objects ( Lev 14:5, 6, 8, 9, 50, 51, 52; 15:5-8, 10-13, 16-18, 21-22, 27; 16:4, 24, 26, 28; 17:15; 22:6).
2. The Ark was plastered with pitch inside and outside (Gen 6:14). In purification of a house it is plastered with clay after the defiled material inside the house is taken outside, at which time the house cleansed (Lev 14:41-42, 53).
3. For in seven days’ time I shall make it rain on the earth… Noah waited on the Ark for seven days before the Flood began ( Gen 7:4, 7, 10). The priest waited at the door of the house for seven days (Lev 14:38).
4. Noah waited in the Ark for the dove in two series of sevens (Gen 8:10, 12). The person needing cleansing waited for two series of sevens (Lev 14:7-8).
5. Noah sent two birds out of the Ark: one flew over the water and the dove (a clean bird) flew over the water the first flight and then flew over the land (Gen 8:7-8). Two “clean birds” were used.  One was killed “over water” and the other was released to fly over the land (Lev 14:52).
6. Sacrifice of clean animals was offered at the conclusion of the Flood purification (Gen 8:20). The person offered sacrifices at the conclusion of the purification ritual (Lev 14:10, 21-22).
7. Noah was given dietary regulations and the blood prohibition (Gen 9:4). Dietary regulations (Lev 11) and the blood prohibition were given (Lev 17:13-16).
8. God maintained a covenant with Noah that was a continuation of the Adamic covenant (Gen 6:18, 9:9). God’s covenant with Israel is restated (Lev 26:44).
9. The rainbow in the clouds was the covenant sign (Gen 9:12-16). A sign of the covenant was God’s Glory Cloud over the Mercy-seat (Lev 16:2).
10. Noah drank wine and became drunk in his tent (Gen 9:21). Priests were forbidden to drink wine when serving in the Tent of Meeting (Lev 10:9).
11. Two of Noah’s offspring were cursed: Ham and Canaan (Gen 9:24-25). Aaron’s two elder sons were cursed (Lev 10:1).
12. Ham (father of Canaan) saw his father’s nakedness (Gen 9:22). Prohibition against uncovering the nakedness of a father (Lev 18:24-30).
13. Noah’s son Shem was blessed by God to govern a covenant righteous people (Gen 9:26-27). The Aaronic priesthood was anointed by God to maintain ritual purity among the covenant people through laws that are intended to promote holiness (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2, 24; 20:7, 26; 21:6-8).
14. The people of Babel rebelled against Shem’s authority; their wicked rebellion resulting in judgment that disbursed the people and confused the languages (Gen 11:4, 7-9). The purity laws are intended to unify the people, to ensure that they are not subject to God’s judgment and that there is no rebellious wickedness or confusion (Lev 18:1-5, 24-25; 19:30; 20:8, 22-24).
Adapted from Sailhamer: The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 338-9; M. Hunt © copyright 2010

St. John of Damascus, like many of the Church Fathers, saw the purity rites in Leviticus as a prefigurement of Christian Baptism: A first baptism was that of the flood that cut away of sin.  A second was that by the Sea and the cloud, for the cloud is a symbol of the Spirit while the sea is a symbol of the water.  A third that of the Law, for every unclean person washed himself with water and also washed his garments and thus entered into the camp.  A fourth is that of John, which was an introductory baptism leading those thus baptized to penance, so that they might believe in Christ (Orthodox Faith, 4.9).

In the New Testament Jesus healed many people who suffered from skin diseases ( Mt 8:2-3; 26:6; Mk 1:40-42; 14:3; Lk 5:12-13; 17:12-19). He commanded His disciples to heal such people (Mt 10:8), and He told John the Baptist’s disciples that such healing miracles were a sign of His power and authority (Mt 11:5; Lk 7:22). 

Question: After Jesus healed people who suffered from skin diseases, what did He always tell them to do?  See (Mk 1:42-44; Lk 5:14; 17:14). 
Answer: Always obedient to the Law of the covenant, He instructed them to go to the priests to be examined and to make the proper offering for their purification prescribed by the Law so they could be restored to the community, to worship and to fellowship with God.

Question: According to the Law, contact with the ritually unclean rendered a covenant member unclean.  What happened when Jesus came into contact with these people?
Answer: Jesus, who is God, had power over nature; He cured their diseases and instead of becoming contaminated by them, His contact purified them, restored them to health and restored them to the covenant community.

Question: What is God’s plan in the New Covenant to address sin defilement of His covenant people?   See CCC 1114-1116, 1120, 1123.
Answer: The seven Sacraments Jesus instituted for the New Covenant Church dispense grace and provide not only the remedy for the forgiveness of sin (Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist), but the seven Sacraments also serve to strengthen the covenant believer against the corrupting power of sin.

God’s purpose in giving His covenant people the commands and prohibitions in Leviticus in the washing, sprinkling, and blood sacrifice rites for spiritual and physical cleansing was His way of affecting the life of His people by providing the same goals for holiness and protection from sin that that He intended for humanity as a whole.  Sin makes man unfit for worship and fellowship with God; therefore, sin must be avoided and if one becomes contaminated by sin, the sin must be addressed.  Just as the waters of the Great Flood was the necessary agent to cleanse and purify God’s good Creation from the contamination of the sin in the world that was multiplied by man’s continuing sinful actions, so too the ritual washings of the purification rituals were a necessary part of God’s plan to limit the spread of sin and its consequences among His covenant people.  The Levitical laws of purification were the means God gave His priests for dealing with the sin in the world that contaminated His people and separated them from fellowship with Him.  While the Aaronic priests could not heal people contaminated with disease, it was necessary for the priest, as God’s representative, to fulfill the requirements that assured the cured person that he had been restored to a condition of purity that allowed him to be readmitted to the Sanctuary and the community.  However, it was the application of the blood of the sacrifice that ultimately opened the way to re-admittance to the Sanctuary and to the presence of God (Heb 9:22). 

The healing of leapers in the Gospel’s typifies Jesus’ continuing work of salvation in healing us of the sin in the world that contaminants us.  Like us, the lepers Jesus healed in the Gospels could do nothing to heal themselves or to restore themselves to the Sanctuary and to the covenant community.  The sacrificial blood of the animals in the old cleansing rites pointed the way to the cleansing blood Jesus Christ shed on the Cross.  His resurrection following His sacrifice is the proof that God accepted His sacrifice and that all the obstacles that sin placed in the way of man’s union with God had been removed (Heb 4:14-16; Rom 4:25). 

The ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant, as the representatives of Christ, our High Priest, administers His Sacraments to us (CCC 1120), His New Covenant people, to cleanse, consecrate and restore us to fellowship with God in the same way the imperfect work of the Aaronic priestly representative prefigured that healing and restoration to the Sanctuary in the Old Covenant Church: We have then, brothers, complete confidence through the blood of Jesus in entering the sanctuary, by a new way which he has opened for us, a living opening through the curtain, that is to say, his flesh.  And we have the high priest over all the sanctuary of God.  So as we go in, let us be sincere in heart and filled with faith, our hearts sprinkled and free from any trance of bad conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us keep firm in the hope we profess, because the one who made the promise is trustworthy.  Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.  Do not absence yourself from your own assemblies, as some do, but encourage each other; the more so as you see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:19-25; the underlining is my emphasis).

Questions for group discussion:

Ritual impurity in the Sinai Covenant is not defined as religious “taboo” as in other cultures, which for the most part determined social acceptability within the community.  Instead, purity spiritually and physically is defined in terms of preparation for worship in the Sanctuary and fellowship with God.

Question: Why was ritual purity or impurity important in the Sinai Covenant and how is this obligation the same or different under New Covenant obligations?  Use the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the first earthly Sanctuary as part of your answer.  Where in the Gospel of Matthew did Jesus define spiritual holiness for the New Covenant people of God?
Answer: Purity or impurity was defined in respect to the covenant obligations of worshiping a holy God, in being obedient to His commands, and in being holy as He is holy.  In the Old Covenant the sign of holiness was for the most part an outward sign, but in the New Covenant it became an internally required holiness of a transformed life as defined by Jesus in the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12).  The outward sign of the Old Covenant looked forward to the circumcised heart and radically transformed spirit Yahweh desires.  Just as an unclean Adam and Eve were cast out of God’s presence in the Edenic Sanctuary, so too the one who is unclean cannot enter into God’s presence in the earthly Sanctuary that is a copy of God’s heavenly reality.

Question: See the chart on the Beatitudes in handout #3 to this lesson for a summary of Jesus’ plan for the path to salvation through a radically transformed life.  How does Jesus direct the New Covenant believer to live a step by step plan that sets the believer on a spiritual pathway to be holy as God is holy and to be prepared to enter the gates of heaven to worship in the heavenly Sanctuary?  How does your faith journey compare to Jesus’ plan for your salvation?  Every one of the beatitudes in Matthew 1:1-12 are to be lived as completely as every one of the Ten Commandments.  For more information see the Beatitudes study on the website Bible studies list.

Endnotes:

1. Despite the information presented in the novel The Red Tent, there is no evidence in Scripture or in the treatises of the rabbis that menstruating women belonging to the tribes of Israel were restricted to a tent outside of the camp.  There are no regulations contained in the Law of the covenant other than those that stipulate women remained ritually unclean during the bleeding period, anything she touched became ritually unclean, and she could not attend worship services until her purification period was complete (Lev 15:19-30).  These regulations were not limited to women; any bodily discharge also made men ritually unclean (Lev 15:1-18).  An example of the absence of regulation concerning enforced segregation of menstruating women is found in the encounter between Rachel and her father Laban in Gen 31:30-35.  When Jacob and his family left Laban’s home, Rachel took her father’s household gods.  When Laban caught up with their caravan he searched all the tents for his property, including the tent Rachel was occupying.  He was not directed to stay away from a “special tent” and He searched through everything except the saddle bag she was sitting on, her excuse being that she could not stand because she was menstruating.  She was not segregated from the camp and her father did not hesitate to search her tent.

2. That is not to say women were equal to men under the Law. Women were not eligible for the priesthood, but neither were most men who were Israelites.  An unmarried woman was subject to her father and a married woman was subject to her husband.  

M. Hunt © copyright 2010

Catechism references for this lesson:

Lev 12

410-11, 491-92, 489, 494, 615

Lev 12:3

349

Lev 14

1114-1116, 1120, 1123

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.