Leviticus 10:1: Strange Fire and an Odd Name -- By: Richard S. Hess

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 12:2 (NA 2002)
Article: Leviticus 10:1: Strange Fire and an Odd Name
Author: Richard S. Hess


Leviticus 10:1: Strange Fire and an Odd Name

Richard S. Hess

Denver Seminary

This study will argue that the names of Nadab and Abihu, as well as the unique description “strange fire,” describe an association with cultic activities that are not merely outside the divinely approved actions of the priests but represent an innerbiblical association with the sin of Aaron in Exodus 32 as well as a parallel with Semitic rites of ordination found in extrabiblical texts from thirteenth-century bce Emar. Together these support the conclusion that the condemned actions were idolatrous.

Key words: Aaron, Abihu, coals, Emar, Exodus 32, fire, Golden Calf, idolatry, incense, Leviticus, Nadab, ordination, torch

Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took their firepans and put coals in them.
They placed the incense on top
and offered strange fire before the Lord,
that he had not commanded them.

The significance of the ʾēš zārâ, “strange fire,” and the nature of the action that provoked the deadly response of v. 2 have been the object of much discussion. Some scholars have identified the culprit as inappropriate incense.1 Others have emphasized the condition of the priests, suggesting that the fire was offered when the priests were drunk or before they were actually priests.2

Commentators have also proposed that the term designates fire or coals that were not part of the fire that was authorized to burn continually within the Tabernacle precincts.3 Finally, some have been satisfied with the final phrase in the verse, that it was contrary to God’s command, and they have not pressed any further.4

The purpose of this study is to consider the nature of the transgression and the meaning of the “strange fire” by examining the literary context and structure of the verse, the significance of the personal names of the two sons, and the role of the ancient Near Eastern context of rites of anointing priestly figures in the West Semitic world.

Strange Fire As A Foreign Cultic Activity

This section will consider the importance of fire in the immediate literary context of Lev 10:1, the “strange” nature of the fire and how ...

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