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Leviticus 21:1-24

Context
Rules for the Priests

21:1 The Lord said to Moses: “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron – say to them, ‘For a dead person 1  no priest 2  is to defile himself among his people, 3  21:2 except for his close relative who is near to him: 4  his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother, 21:3 and his virgin sister who is near to him, 5  who has no husband; he may defile himself for her. 21:4 He must not defile himself as a husband among his people so as to profane himself. 6  21:5 Priests 7  must not have a bald spot shaved on their head, they must not shave the corner of their beard, and they must not cut slashes in their body. 8 

21:6 “‘They must be holy to their God, and they must not profane 9  the name of their God, because they are the ones who present the Lord’s gifts, 10  the food of their God. Therefore they must be holy. 11  21:7 They must not take a wife defiled by prostitution, 12  nor are they to take a wife divorced from her husband, 13  for the priest 14  is holy to his God. 15  21:8 You must sanctify him because he presents the food of your God. He must be holy to you because I, the Lord who sanctifies you all, 16  am holy. 21:9 If a daughter of a priest profanes herself by engaging in prostitution, she is profaning her father. She must be burned to death. 17 

Rules for the High Priest

21:10 “‘The high 18  priest – who is greater than his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil is poured, who has been ordained 19  to wear the priestly garments – must neither dishevel the hair of his head nor tear his garments. 20  21:11 He must not go where there is any dead person; 21  he must not defile himself even for his father and his mother. 21:12 He must not go out from the sanctuary and must not profane 22  the sanctuary of his God, because the dedication of the anointing oil of his God is on him. I am the Lord. 21:13 He must take a wife who is a virgin. 23  21:14 He must not marry 24  a widow, a divorced woman, or one profaned by prostitution; he may only take a virgin from his people 25  as a wife. 21:15 He must not profane his children among his people, 26  for I am the Lord who sanctifies him.’”

Rules for the Priesthood

21:16 The Lord spoke to Moses: 21:17 “Tell Aaron, ‘No man from your descendants throughout their generations 27  who has a physical flaw 28  is to approach to present the food of his God. 21:18 Certainly 29  no man who has a physical flaw is to approach: a blind man, or one who is lame, or one with a slit nose, 30  or a limb too long, 21:19 or a man who has had a broken leg or arm, 31  21:20 or a hunchback, or a dwarf, 32  or one with a spot in his eye, 33  or a festering eruption, or a feverish rash, 34  or a crushed testicle. 21:21 No man from the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a physical flaw may step forward 35  to present the Lord’s gifts; he has a physical flaw, so he must not step forward to present the food of his God. 21:22 He may eat both the most holy and the holy food of his God, 21:23 but he must not go into the veil-canopy 36  or step forward to the altar because he has a physical flaw. Thus 37  he must not profane my holy places, for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.’”

21:24 So 38  Moses spoke these things 39  to Aaron, his sons, and all the Israelites.

1 tn The Hebrew term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “soul, person, life”) can sometimes refer to a “dead person” (cf. Lev 19:28 above and the literature cited there).

2 tn Heb “no one,” but “priest” has been used in the translation to clarify that these restrictions are limited to the priests, not to the Israelites in general (note the introductory formula, “say to the priests, the sons of Aaron”).

3 tc The MT has “in his peoples,” but Smr, LXX, Syriac, Targum, and Tg. Ps.-J. have “in his people,” referring to the Israelites as a whole.

4 tn Heb “except for his flesh, the one near to him.”

5 tn Cf. v. 2a.

6 tn Heb “He shall not defile himself a husband in his peoples, to profane himself.” The meaning of the line is disputed, but it appears to prohibit a priest from burying any relative by marriage (as opposed to the blood relatives of vv. 2-3), including his wife (compare B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 142-43 with J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 343, 348).

7 tn Heb “they”; the referent (priests, see the beginning of v. 1) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

8 tn Heb “and in their body they shall not [cut] slash[es]” (cf. Lev 19:28). The context connects these sorts of mutilations with mourning rites (cf. Lev 19:27-28 above).

9 sn Regarding “profane,” see the note on Lev 10:10 above.

10 sn Regarding the Hebrew term for “gifts,” see the note on Lev 1:9 above (cf. also 3:11 and 16 in combination with the word for “food” that follows in the next phrase here).

11 tc Smr and all early versions have the plural adjective “holy” rather than the MT singular noun “holiness.”

12 tn Heb “A wife harlot and profaned they shall not take.” The structure of the verse (e.g., “wife” at the beginning of the two main clauses) suggests that “harlot and profaned” constitutes a hendiadys, meaning “a wife defiled by harlotry” (see the explanation in B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 143, as opposed to that in J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 343, 348; cf. v. 14 below). Cf. NASB “a woman who is profaned by harlotry.”

13 sn For a helpful discussion of divorce in general and as it relates to this passage see B. A. Levine, Leviticus (JPSTC), 143-44.

14 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the priest) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

15 tn The pronoun “he” in this clause refers to the priest, not the former husband of the divorced woman.

16 tn The three previous second person references in this verse are all singular, but this reference is plural. By adding “all” this grammatical distinction is preserved in the translation.

17 tn See the note on “burned to death” in 20:14.

18 tn The adjective “high” has been supplied in the translation for clarity, as in many English versions.

19 tn Heb “and he has filled his hand.” For this expression see the note on Lev 8:33.

20 tn Regarding these signs of mourning see the note on Lev 10:6. His head had been anointed (v. 10a) so it must not be unkempt (v. 10b), and his garments were special priestly garments (v. 10a) so he must not tear them (v. 10b). In the translation “garments” has been employed rather than “clothes” to suggest that the special priestly garments are referred to here; cf. NRSV “nor tear his vestments.”

21 tc Although the MT has “persons” (plural), the LXX and Syriac have the singular “person” corresponding to the singular adjectival participle “dead” (cf. also Num 6:6).

22 sn Regarding “profane,” see the note on Lev 10:10 above.

23 tn Heb “And he, a wife in her virginity he shall take.”

24 tn Heb “take.” In context this means “take as wife,” i.e., “marry.”

25 tc The MT has literally, “from his peoples,” but Smr, LXX, Syriac, Targum, and Tg. Ps.-J. have “from his people,” referring to the Israelites as a whole.

26 tc The MT has literally, “in his peoples,” but Smr, LXX, Syriac, Targum, and Tg. Ps.-J. have “in his people,” referring to the Israelites as a whole.

27 tn Heb “to their generations.”

28 tn Heb “who in him is a flaw”; cf. KJV, ASV “any blemish”; NASB, NIV “a defect.” The rendering “physical flaw” is used to refer to any birth defect or physical injury of the kind described in the following verses (cf. the same Hebrew word also in Lev 24:19-20). The same term is used for “flawed” animals, which must not be offered to the Lord in Lev 22:20-25.

29 tn The particle כִּי (ki) in this context is asseverative, indicating absolutely certainty (GKC 498 §159.ee).

30 tn Lexically, the Hebrew term חָרֻם (kharum) seems to refer to a split nose or perhaps any number of other facial defects (HALOT 354 s.v. II חרם qal; cf. G. J. Wenham, Leviticus [NICOT], 292, n. 7); cf. KJV, ASV “a flat nose”; NASB “a disfigured face.” The NJPS translation is “a limb too short” as a balance to the following term which means “extended, raised,” and apparently refers to “a limb too long” (see the explanation in B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 146).

31 tn Heb “who there is in him a broken leg or a broken arm,” or perhaps “broken foot or broken hand.” The Hebrew term רֶגֶל (regel) is commonly rendered “foot,” but it can also refer to the “leg,” and the Hebrew יָד (yad) is most often translated “hand,” but can also refer to the “[fore]arm” (as opposed to כַּף, kaf, “palm of the hand” or “hand”). See HALOT 386 s.v. יָד and 1184 s.v. רֶגֶל respectively (cf. the NJPS translation). In this context, these terms probably apply to any part of the limb that was broken, including hand and the foot. B. A. Levine (Leviticus [JPSTC], 146) points out that such injuries often did not heal properly in antiquity because they were not properly set and, therefore, remained a “physical flaw” permanently.

32 tn Heb “thin”; cf. NAB “weakly.” This could refer to either an exceptionally small (i.e., dwarfed) man (B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 146) or perhaps one with a “withered limb” (J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 342, 344).

33 tn The term rendered “spot” derives from a root meaning “mixed” or “confused” (cf. NAB “walleyed”). It apparently refers to any kind of marked flaw in the eye that can be seen by others. Smr, Syriac, Tg. Onq., and Tg. Ps.-J. have plural “his eyes.”

34 tn The exact meaning and medical reference of the terms rendered “festering eruption” and “feverish rash” is unknown, but see the translations and remarks in B. A. Levine, Leviticus (JPSTC), 146; J. E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC), 342, 344, 349-50; and R. K. Harrison, NIDOTTE 1:890 and 2:461.

35 tn Or “shall approach” (see HALOT 670 s.v. נגשׁ).

36 sn See the note on Lev 16:2 for the rendering “veil-canopy.”

37 tn Heb “And.” The Hebrew conjunction ו (vav, “and”) can be considered to have resultative force here.

38 tn Heb “And.” The Hebrew conjunction ו (vav, “and”) introduces a concluding statement for all the preceding material.

39 tn The words “these things” are not in the Hebrew text, but have been supplied in the translation for clarity.



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