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Leviticus 14:4-5

14:4 then the priest will command that two live clean birds, a piece of cedar wood, a scrap of crimson fabric, 1  and some twigs of hyssop 2  be taken up 3  for the one being cleansed. 4  14:5 The priest will then command that one bird be slaughtered 5  into a clay vessel over fresh water. 6 

1 tn The term rendered here “crimson fabric” consists of two Hebrew words and means literally, “crimson of worm” (in this order only in Lev 14:4, 6, 49, 51, 52 and Num 19:6; for the more common reverse order, “worm of crimson,” see, e.g., the colored fabrics used in making the tabernacle, Exod 25:4, etc.). This particular “worm” is an insect that lives on the leaves of palm trees, the eggs of which are the source for a “crimson” dye used to color various kinds of cloth (B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 86). That a kind of dyed “fabric” is intended, not just the dye substance itself, is made certain by the dipping of it along with the other ritual materials listed here into the blood and water mixture for sprinkling on the person being cleansed (Lev 14:6; cf. also the burning of it in the fire of the red heifer in Num 19:6). Both the reddish color of cedar wood and the crimson colored fabric seem to correspond to the color of blood and may, therefore, symbolize either “life,” which is in the blood, or the use of blood to “make atonement” (see, e.g., Gen 9:4 and Lev 17:11). See further the note on v. 7 below.

2 sn Twigs of hyssop (probably one or several species of marjoram thymus), a spice and herb plant that grows out of walls in Palestine (see 1 Kgs 4:33 [5:13 HT], HALOT 27 s.v. אֵזוֹב, and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 195), were particularly leafy and therefore especially useful for sprinkling the purifying liquid (cf. vv. 5-7). Many of the details of the ritual procedure are obscure. It has been proposed, for example, that the “cedar wood” was a stick to which the hyssop was bound with the crimson material to make a sort of sprinkling instrument (Hartley, 195). In light of the burning of these three materials as part of the preparation of the ashes of the red heifer in Num 19:5-6, however, this seems unlikely.

3 tn The MT reads literally, “And the priest shall command and he shall take.” Clearly, the second verb (“and he shall take”) contains the thrust of the priest’s command, which suggests the translation “that he take” (cf. also v. 5a). Since the priest issues the command here, he cannot be the subject of the second verb because he cannot be commanding himself to “take” up these ritual materials. Moreover, since the ritual is being performed “for the one being cleansed,” the antecedent of the pronoun “he” cannot refer to him. The LXX, Smr, and Syriac versions have the third person plural here and in v. 5a, which corresponds to other combinations with the verb וְצִוָּה (vÿtsivvah) “and he (the priest) shall command” in this context (see Lev 13:54; 14:36, 40). This suggests an impersonal (i.e., “someone shall take” and “someone shall slaughter,” respectively) or perhaps even passive rendering of the verbs in 14:4, 5 (i.e., “there shall be taken” and “there shall be slaughtered,” respectively). The latter option has been chosen here.

4 tn Heb “the one cleansing himself” (i.e., Hitpael participle of טָהֵר, taher, “to be clean”).

5 tn Heb “And the priest shall command and he shall slaughter.” See the note on “be taken up” (v. 4).

6 tn Heb “into a vessel of clay over living water.” The expression “living [i.e., ‘fresh’] water” (cf. Lev 14:50; 15:13; Num 19:17) refers to water that flows. It includes such water sources as artesian wells (Gen 26:19; Song of Songs 4:15), springs (Jer 2:13, as opposed to cisterns; cf. 17:13), and flowing streams (Zech 14:8). In other words, this is water that has not stood stagnant as, for example, in a sealed-off cistern.

sn Although there are those who argue that the water and the blood rites are separate (e.g., E. S. Gerstenberger, Leviticus [OTL], 175-76), it is usually agreed that v. 5b refers to the slaughtering of the bird in such a way that its blood runs into the bowl, which contained fresh water (see, e.g., N. H. Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers [NCBC], 74; G. J. Wenham, Leviticus [NICOT], 208; J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:836-38; cf. esp. Lev 14:51b, “and dip them in the blood of the slaughtered bird and in the fresh water”). This mixture of blood and water was then to be sprinkled on the person being cleansed from the disease.

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