Scholars Raise Questions About Formation of Leviticus


Hebron, Israel—A recent cache of of rabbinical letters found in the west bank city of Hebron has raised questions among scholars about the book of Leviticus.

Addressed to all Israelites, Leviticus is third book of the Torah and provides instruction on ritual, legal and moral practices given by God directly to Moses on Mount Sinai. The book was compiled by rabbis at the end of the Kingdom of Judah in the seventh century B.C. and had a period of growth, reaching its present form it the fifth century B.C. The Hebron letters date to this period of growth and seem to indicate these rabbinical compilers were open to being lobbied by the greater community of Canaan.

In or around 600 B.C. The Greater Fin and Scale Fishing Association of Canaan experienced a loss market share due to the rising popularity of oysters that were seasoned with peppers and lobster soaked in goat butter. To offset losses a new recipe, which included batter, breading and pan frying, was developed. The fried fin and scale fish was then served with a cabbage salad, fried potatoes and beer. This helped the fin and scale fish rebound slightly, but not enough for the Association to reach its sales goals. So Association President, Isaac Troutenberg, sent a letter to rabbi Jose ben Joezer  petitioning for relief from this scourge of shellfish. Shortly thereafter ben Joezer introduced a recommendation for a shellfish ban to the Council of Sanhedrin.  After some debate, strong arming and an exchange of sixty goats, seventeen slaves and nine virgins the Book of Leviticus came to include this edict banning shellfish in Chapter 11:

(11. 9-12)‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams you may eat any that have fins and scales. 10 But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales—whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water—you are to regard as unclean. 11 And since you are to regard them as unclean, you must not eat their meat; you must regard their carcasses as unclean. 12 Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be regarded as unclean by you.”

Another ethically challenged edict in Leviticus is the still hotly debated ban on homsexuality in Chapter 18: (18.22) “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, that is an abomination.”

While Chapter 18 lays out the laws governing sexual practices, letters between three prominent rabbis in the Persian period, circa 550 B.C, caught in a love triangle successfully pushed through the ban on homosexuality.

Letters exchanged between the rabbis: Mannis Farbstein, Zaydel Grepslach and Ancel Yankelovitz, seem to indicate each man had relations and then were spurned by an itinerant metalworker named Hod Weiner. Farbstein talked about he how he loved to spoon with young man out among the sheep in the moonlight, Grepslach related how he would get light headed watching him work his fiery alchemy in tight fitting linens and Yankelovitz said the young Hod was so hot he could set a thousand bushes burning just walking through a field.

But, alas, Hod Weiner was not to be tied down, leaving a trail of broken hearts wherever he traveled and the three distressed rabbis decided if they couldn’t have the young man, then no one would and the ban was instituted.

A team of biblical scholars are currently deciphering and analyzing more of the controversial Hebron letters.