Light on Leviticus -- By: David W. Baker

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 36:0 (NA 2004)
Article: Light on Leviticus
Author: David W. Baker


Light on Leviticus

David W. Baker

David W. Baker (Ph.D., University of London) is Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at ATS.

Though it is not the most popular of Old Testament books among the reading public, Leviticus has engendered a veritable tsunami of commentaries and related studies in recent years. Riding the crest, or possibly even driving the wave, have been the works of Jacob Milgrom, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His three-volume Anchor Bible commentary on the book is without peer, and I doubt if they will ever be duplicated.1 Arguably the leading living expert on biblical ritual and cult, Milgrom provides an exhaustive analysis of every verse and word in the book. He is especially helpful in his discussions of parallel biblical passages of import (there is a 76-page index of OT passages cited, with ½ page of NT citations), and also he makes available ancient Near Eastern comparative material (sources in Aramaic, Hittite, Greek, Ugaritic, Punic, Egyptian, Persian, and Latin, as well as those from Mesopotamia). He brings some of this material in through the work of some of his own students, several having become recognized authorities in their own right, who have contributed sections of the discussion.

Useful for many readers, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, will be his insights derived from rabbinical sources, since the rabbis provide some of the earliest commentary. While no-one will agree with every interpretation, he judiciously presents alternative views so the evidence can be weighed by the reader. Use of Hebrew would be an advantage to the reader, but much can be gained even by those who are unskilled in it. No serious student of the Pentateuch can be without the set, which should also be in every theological library.

A distillation of Milgrom’s massive erudition has just been made available in his commentary from Fortress.2 It is a masterful crystallization of the vast amount of material into a scope manageable for the common reader. Just as one example, the 358 pages dedicated to the sacrificial section of Leviticus 1–7 in his 3-volume work have here been reduced to 55. He does this by dealing only with selected themes and texts, rather than touching every aspect. This single volume is an excellent place to begin, and provides a good entrée into not only the book of Leviticus, but also into the fuller work of Milgrom.

Another full—scale commentary, by John W. Kleinig, comes from a Christian perspective.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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