The Pulpit Commentary

Leviticus 11:1-47 (Leviticus 11:1-47)



The second section deals with the uncleanness contracted every year by the whole congregation, to be annually atoned for on the great Day of Atonement ( Leviticus 16:1-34 ), followed by a parenthetical chapter as to the place in which sacrifice is to be offered—sacrifice being the means by which purification from uncleanness is to be effected ( Leviticus 17:1-16 ). The third section is on moral uncleanness, or sin ( Leviticus 18:1-30 , Leviticus 19:1-37 ), and its punishment ( Leviticus 20:1-27 ). The fourth relates to the ceremonial and moral uncleanness of priests ( Leviticus 21:1-24 , Leviticus 22:1-33 ).

The idea underlying ceremonial uncleanness is not peculiar to the Jews. With the Greeks the idea of moral beauty was borrowed from physical beauty, and the standard of moral excellence was the beautiful. With the Hebrews physical ugliness is taken as the symbol of moral ugliness or deformity: whatever is foul is the type of what is evil. That which we have a natural admiration for is good, said the Greek; that which we have a natural repugnance for represents to us what is evil, said the Hebrew. In either case, taste appears to take the place of moral judgment; but in Greek philosophy, moral taste and moral judgment had come to be identical, while the Hebrew knew that what taste condemned was not therefore of itself evil, but only symbolical and representative of evil.

Another principle underlies the Hebrew theory of uncleanness. It is that whatever is itself foul, and therefore symbolical of sin, conveys the quality of foulness, and therefore of ceremonial uncleanness to any one it comes in contact with, and often to anything which it touches. Thus a dead body, quickly assuming a loathsome appearance in the East, where the setting in of corruption is very rapid, is unclean itself, and conveys uncleanness to those who touch it. The leper is unclean, and transmits uncleanness by his touch; and certain foul diseases and fluxes from the human body have the same effect. These and such like things, being always repulsive, always cause uncleanness; but there are others which, while in some associations they are utterly repellent, in others are not so. For example, there are some vermin and insects which are pretty to the eye, but the thought of eating them creates a natural feeling of disgust. These, in so far as they are not repulsive, that is, as creeping or flying creatures, are not unclean, nor does their touch produce uncleanness, but as objects of food they are "an abomination."

Hence we are able to explain the distinction of clean and unclean animals. It does not rest upon a sanitary basis, though the prohibition to eat carnivorous and other animals repulsive to the taste is probably in accordance with the rules of health. Nor is it based on political reasons, though it is probable that the distinction kept the Jews apart kern other nations, and so served an important political purpose. Nor is the injunction in the main theological, though we know that in later times the favourite interpretation was that the clean animals represented the Jews, and the unclean animals the Gentiles ( Acts 10:28 ). Rather it was that certain creatures were forbidden because they were offensive to the taste, and, being so offensive, they were symbolical of vicious things, which must be avoided, lest they make those that partake of them or touch them to become vicious like themselves.

Leviticus 15:2-8 contain the regulations relating to the eating of quadrupeds; Leviticus 15:9-12 , those relating to fish; Leviticus 15:13-19 , those relating to birds; Leviticus 15:20-23 , those relating to flying insects; Leviticus 15:29 , Leviticus 15:30 , those relating to unwinged creeping things; verses 41-44, those relating to vermin. Leviticus 15:23-28 and Leviticus 15:31 -40 extend the defiling effect to the simple touch of the dead carouses of animals, whether edible or not.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Leviticus 11:44-47 (Leviticus 11:44-47)

These concluding verses give a religious sanction to the previous regulations, and make them matters of sacred, not merely sanitary or political, obligation. They were to sanctify themselves , that is, to avoid uncleanness, because God is holy, and they were God's. They were thus taught that ceremonial cleanness of the body was a symbol of holiness of heart, and a means of attaining to the latter. For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt. It is possible that Egypt may be named as being the laud of animal-worship. To be your God; ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. The only way by which there can be communion between God and man is the way of holiness.

Jewish industry and care has counted the number of letters in the Pentateuch, and marked by the use of the letter ו in larger type, in the word גָּחוֹן , which occurs in Leviticus 11:42 , that that letter is the middle letter of the whole work from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy. It is easy to see what a protection to the text such minute and scrupulous care must be.

- The Pulpit Commentary