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Leviticus 14:5-7

14:5 The priest will then command that one bird be slaughtered 1  into a clay vessel over fresh water. 2  14:6 Then 3  he is to take the live bird along with the piece of cedar wood, the scrap of crimson fabric, and the twigs of hyssop, and he is to dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird slaughtered over the fresh water, 14:7 and sprinkle it seven times on the one being cleansed 4  from the disease, pronounce him clean, 5  and send the live bird away over the open countryside. 6 

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

2 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.

3 tc Heb “the live bird he [i.e., the priest] shall take it.” Although the MT has no ו (vav, “and”) at the beginning of this clause, a few medieval Hebrew mss and Smr have one and the LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate translate as if it is there. The “but” in the present translation reflects this text critical background, the object-first word order in the clause with the resumptive pronoun at the end, and the obvious contrast between the slaughtered bird in v. 5 and the live bird in v. 6.

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

5 tn Heb “and he shall make him clean.” The verb is the Piel of טָהֵר (taher, “to be clean”), here used as a so-called “declarative” Piel (i.e., “to declare clean”; cf. 13:6, etc.).

6 sn The reddish color of cedar wood and the crimson colored fabric called for in v. 4 (see the note there, esp. the association with the color of blood) as well as the priestly commands to bring “two live” birds (v. 4a), to slaughter one of them “over fresh water” (literally “living water,” v. 5b), and the subsequent ritual with the (second) “live” bird (vv. 6-7) combine to communicate the concept of “life” and “being alive” in this passage. This contrasts with the fear of death associated with the serious skin diseases in view here (see, e.g., Aaron’s description of Miriam’s skin disease in Num 12:12, “Do not let her be like the dead one when it goes out from its mother’s womb and its flesh half eaten away”). Since the slaughtered bird here is not sacrificed at the altar and is not designated as an expiatory “sin offering,” this ritual procedure probably symbolizes the renewed life of the diseased person and displays it publicly for all to see. It is preparatory to the expiatory rituals that will follow (vv. 10-20, esp. vv. 18-20), but is not itself expiatory. Thus, although there are important similarities between the bird ritual here, the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:20-22), and the red heifer for cleansing from corpse contamination (Num 19), this bird ritual is different in that the latter two constitute “sin offerings” (Lev 16:5, 8-10; Num 19:9, 17). Neither of the birds in Lev 14:4-7 is designated or treated as a “sin offering.” Nevertheless, the very nature of the live bird ritual itself and its obvious similarity to the scapegoat ritual suggests that the patient’s disease has been removed far away so that he or she is free from its effects both personally and communally.

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