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Leviticus (Apollos Old Testament Commentary) Hardcover – May 19, 2007
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About the Author
Nobuyoshi Kiuchi is professor of Old Testament at Tokyo Christian University, Japan. He is the author of The Purification Offering in the Priestly Literature (JSOT Press) and A Study of Hata' and Hatta't in Leviticus 4-5 (Mohr Siebeck), and a contributor to the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP). He studied in England for his Ph.D. at the College of St. Paul & St. Mary, Cheltenham (now part of the University of Gloucestershire) and the Oxford Centre for Post-graduate Hebrew Studies.
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Top Customer Reviews
As concerns ritual symbolism, Kiuchi argues that the rituals in Leviticus have symbolic meanings that were never supposed to be divorced from the literal observance of the rite. There is therefore an inseparability between the symbols and what they symbolize. He illustrates this idea with appeal to various passages and the uses of different terms throughout Leviticus and non-priestly literature. One example he gives is of the cleanness and uncleanness regulations in between the Nadab and Abihu incident and the Day of Atonement, in Lev 11-15.
Literal observance of the rite, he points out, renders one clean. Yet if "uncleanness" symbolizes the existential condition of the party, which will be addressed below, "then to attend only to the literal observance of these rules would make a person a mere hypocrite." Thus, it is made apparent that "the Lord commands the observance of the symbolic meaning through one's involvement in outward actions." This is to make intelligible spiritual matters to humans who are often ignorant of such matters. Such an understanding also gets to the heart of what is meant by the prescriptions for the various rituals being statues forever throughout the generations (Lev 10:9; 16:29, etc.). If the symbolic meaning is what the ritual drives towards, then in light of Kiuchi's definition of `sin,' it makes sense that offerings and sacrifices could ever be rendered obsolete.
In order to understand this definition completely, Kiuchi's reassessment of the terms "hatta't" and "hata'," commonly translated "sin," needs to be mentioned. It would be pointless to go on at length about this, but he concludes that "the verb [hata'] means to `hide oneself' and that the noun [hatta't] means the state of hiding oneself." Under this definition, "hata'" does not refer to the conduct-oriented term `sin.' Under the more nuanced definition of `self-hiding,' Kiuchi proposes that the function of the sin offering is to uncover the offerer's heart.
Under this interpretation, the sinful actions themselves were not what incited the Lord to anger and required atonement. Instead, what the actions represent is the despising of God's word. They are representative of an "uncircumcised heart" (Lev 26:41). Ultimately, while the consequences of 'self-hiding' must be dealt with even after the 'self-hiding' has been pardoned by the Lord, a failure to have one's "hatta't" forgiven results in being cut off from one's fellowship with the Lord, which is an eternal consequence. The gravity of hiding oneself against the Lord is that it represents a fundamental disposition of one's entire existence, such that "hypocrisy is nurtured by believing that if one violates one commandment, he is observing the rest of the Lord's commandments, whereas in fact he is unaware of his whole existence being lost before the Lord."
Kiuchi also underscores what he sees as subtle and important differences between the terms "ish" (a person), "adam" (a man), and "nepes," which he translates as `soul' or `egocentric nature,' building on the concept of self-hiding. According to Kiuchi, these terms have often been simply translated as `man,' thus losing the nuances evident in the Hebrew text. He takes a more in-depth look at "nepes" before concluding that the human "nepes" is viewed as not only having a strong inclination towards sin and defilement, but it also serves as the agent, and not object, of defilement. He concludes that since "nepes" "refers to the invisible side of a human being, it should be translated `a soul,' with the understanding that, despite having a pure core, it ordinarily manifests itself with egocentricity that constantly reacts, consciously or unconsciously, against God (cf. Hab 2:4)." Thus, the various rituals in Leviticus are aimed at the wicked human soul that constantly hides one's self from the Lord.
Many of his theological conclusions drawn from these understandings are fascinating, but the understandings upon which they are based are problematic. I am not a scholar, but the basic imposition of modern psychology (conscious/unconscious/egocentrism, etc.) on Hebrew words and ANE culture is a bit anachronistic to say the least. To assume that findings from this type of hermeneutic are highly reliable would be a bit of a stretch.
For me, the reading of ritual symbolism is particularly insightful. I love this element of his commentary, especially when it does not depend too much on his definition of hata' and hatta't (which is by no means heretical, in fact his understanding of these words brings a profoundly orthodox view of depravity to the pages of Leviticus, but it's just most likely wrong). I do not think it is a stretch to say that there is more going on in the rituals than the literal observance of the cultic prescriptions.
This has been a good companion volume to Gordon Wenham's concise, intelligible, more sure-footed volume in the NICOT series. I recommend it for someone preaching from or interacting with Leviticus, but as with all things: discernment required.
If you overlook that one twist, you will have an excellent commentary to grapple with Leviticus. That will be clear in the Introduction. It is well written, easy to comprehend, and not sidetracked on esoteric sidewalks. He quickly dismisses, as is easily done, bizarre theories like the documentary hypothesis. He was at his best in the section on Structure. Whether you would agree or not, he really analyzes in a way that opens up Leviticus.
His analyses of key words and themes was equally helpful. I believe repeated words are always a clue to themes and he follows that line. At other points he presents original thinking and even writes as if symbolism (what some call “types”) is not far off the mark.
He had a few other peculiarities like calling the soul “one’s egocentric nature”, but was still helpful. He interacted well with the exegetical volumes most likely to compete for pastor’s attention: Wenham, Rooker, and Hartley.
The commentary proper was excellent and presented in the typical Apollos style: Translation, Form and Structure, Comment, and Explanation. This is a solid effort and worthy of purchase.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.