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Old Testament Essays

On-line version ISSN 2312-3621
Print version ISSN 1010-9919

Old testam. essays vol.28 n.2 Pretoria  2015 

People and land in the Holiness Code: Who is YHWH's favourite?1, *



Esias E. Meyer

University of Pretoria





The article is interested in how land (ארץ) is personified in the Holi-ness Code. It starts by describing the different "countries" por-trayed in the Holiness Code and then discusses all the instances where land functions as the subject of a verb (Lev 18:25, 27, 28; 19:29; 20:22; 25:2, 19; 26:4, 20, 34, 38, 43). The land at times seems to be close to being a human character by "becoming defiled, " "vomiting, " "acting like a prostitute, " "obserx'ing the Sabbath," "giving" and "enjoying." These verbs are all usually associated with human actions. In the light of these texts the article then attempts to describe the relationship between land, YHWH and the addressees. It becomes clear that there is a closer relationship between YHWH and the land than between YHWH and the addressees. The article then attempts to engage with Habel's ecojustice princi-pies showing that the ancient authors of the Holiness Code might have been familiar with some of them."2

Keywords: Holiness Code, land, ecojustice principles, ecological hermeneutics, connectedness of life




The following description of land (ארץ) in the Holiness Code draws on the six ecojustice principles, or some of them at least, of Norman Habel and his Earth Bible Project.3 With regard to the Priestly creation narrative Norman Habel says:

the primary subject of the primordial setting and subsequent days ofcreation was not the entire cosmos, nor humanity, but erets, Earth.4

Habel prefers to write "earth" with a capital Έ" in order to be consistent with their principles (which I will mention in a moment). Using the term Earth says something of the fact that Earth is regarded as a fully fledged or primary subject.51 will try to show that in the Holiness Code ארץ is perhaps not the pri-mary subject but at least a crucial one, second apparently only to Yhwh. Syn-tactically ארץ is clearly the subject of quite a few verbs. The six ecojustice principles, which seem to have remained constant over nearly a decade, are useful in describing different aspects of the role of ארץ as a subject.6 They con-sist of principles such as (1) "intrinsic worth," (2) "interconnectedness," and the fact that the Earth has (3) "voice" and (4) "purpose"; then there is (5) "mutual custodianship" and the principle of (6) "resistance." I will try to show that some of these principles can be identified in the Holiness Code.7 Especially the principles of intrinsic worth, interconnectedness and resistance are very clear and, although ארץ has no voice (or not one I can hear in the Holiness Code, in any case), it is at least a crucial actor that does things, very important things, especially for the humans who inhabit it. But let us turn to the Holiness Code, which from a historical-critical perspective belongs to another later layer than the Priestly text of which Genesis 1 is part.

In terms of a basic historical-critical point of reference, my understanding of Lev 17-26 is that it is an addition to the Priestly text made by a later generation of priests. Leviticus 1-16 is usually regarded as part of P.8 The authors of Lev 17-26 were well acquainted with P, but they went much further than their priestly predecessors. Where Lev 1-16 is mostly focused on the cult and the rituals associated with maintaining the cult, Lev 17-26 broadens its horizons to include, amongst other things, what we might call "ethical perspectives."9 In this regard I follow important scholars such as Milgrom, Knohl, Otto, Nihan and now also Hieke.10 In terms of dating these texts, however, I do not follow Milgrom and Knohl, who date much of P and Lev 17-26 to the pre-exilic era. I rather follow European scholars such as Otto, Nihan and Hieke, who regard both P and Lev 17-26 as post-exilic texts. To be more specific, I would agree with Otto and Nihan that the creation of Lev 17-26 occurred some time towards the end of the fifth century and could be closely related to the creation of the Pentateuch.11 Most of the scholars mentioned above would agree that there is something often called H, which is usually broader than just Lev 17-26. In the book of Leviticus, 11:43-45 and 16:29-34a are usually also regarded as part of H.12

In the rest of the article I will first provide an overview of the usage of the term ארץ in Leviticus in general (where it occurs 82 times)13 and chs. 17-26 in particular. I will then provide an overview of texts where the land comes close to being personalised. Lastly I will draw from my earlier work and attempt to describe the relationship between Yhwh, ארץ and the addressees.14 What follows is mostly a synchronic reading of the text.



Of the 82 occurrences of ארץ in Lev, 67 are in chs. 17-26. This already shows that the land was much higher on the agenda of the authors of Lev 17-26 than of their Priestly predecessors (Lev 1-16). Chapters 25 and 26 combined have 43 occurrences between the two of them, which is more than half of those in the whole book. I will mostly use the Hebrew term ארץ. Translating the term is difficult. Is it land, country, or Earth as Habel would have it?15 At times it has clearly different meanings. It might actually be Earth in the Priestly creation narrative, but in Leviticus it seems to be referring more to Canaan or Egypt, which would mean it is more like something we might call a country. Before we look at the examples of Canaan and Egypt, let's first consider examples of the more general usage of ארץ.

There are some examples where one could simply translate it with "land" or even "ground." This is especially true of examples from ch. 11, where we find reference to animals. Examples include "land animals" (v. 2)16 opposed to flying and swimming animals. Or animals who leap (v. 21), or swarm (vv. 29, 41, 42, 44) on the ground or earth. In Lev. 16:22 one finds the expression "barren region" or ארץ גזרה. The three references17 to the עם הארץ ("people of the land") are obviously something else as well. Yet, and this is important, in H ארץ usually refers to the land to which the addressees are going, i.e. Canaan, especially as part of expressions such as "when you come to the land" (Lev 19:23; 23:10 and 25:2), or the "land of milk and honey" (Lev 20:24), or most of the examples where land is the subject of a verb. Let us take a closer look at Canaan, Egypt and another country implicitly referred to, before moving to cases where ארץ is the subject of a verb.

ארץ can refer to at least three different "countries." The first example of ארץ as referring to a country is אךץ־מצרים or Egypt.18 In terms of Leviticus as a book, Egypt occurs only in H. It is usually associated with being a bad place in terms of where it fits into the broader Pentateuch narrative. Leviticus is part of the Sinai pericope19 and Israel thus finds itself between Egypt and the promised land. Egypt is always linked to Yhwh presenting himself as the liber-ator from Egypt. Of the 11 examples of אךץ־מצרים, it is actually preceded by the proposition מן on nine20 occasions, always expressing movement away from.21 The first example says it well:

Leviticus 11:45:

The land of Egypt is thus part of the way Yhwh presents himself as the divine agent who took the addressees from there. This text is usually regarded as part of H and should thus be read along with Lev 17-26.23 Opposite the land of Egypt is of course אךץ־כנען, which is not mentioned all that often, in fact only three times,24 of which only two are in Lev 17-26. In both of the latter cases the land of Egypt is also mentioned:

Leviticus 18:3:

This is from the second chapter of the Holiness Code and it is clear that in the larger Pentateuch narrative the addressees are located between Egypt and Canaan. On both sides you have inhabitants who do bad things, things which may not be imitated. One should also keep in mind that in the Holiness Code itself the very first occurrence of ארץ is in Lev 18:3 and immediately we are introduced to Egypt and Canaan. This thus sets the tone for what follows in the rest of the Code. Another example is:

Leviticus 25:38:

Once again we meet Yhwh the liberator, who is bringing the addressees from a not so desirable place to the land of Canaan, which is more desirable. Although the name Canaan is used only twice in the Holiness Code, it is obvi-ous that most of the other occurrences of ארץ or הארץ are actually referring to the land of Canaan, and this will be especially true of the examples which will follow below, where ארץ is the subject of the verb.

A third more specific kind of ארץ is found only in Lev 26 in vv. 36, 38, 39, 41 and 44, namely the land of your enemies (איביכם ארץ). Except for v. 38, to which we will return later, it is always preceded by the preposition ב indicat-ing that the addressees will be in the land of their enemies.25 For the post-exilic audience this land obviously referred to the Babylonian exile. Thus we have Egypt, Canaan and an implied reference to Babylon. These are the cases where ארץ refers to what we might call a country. Within the fiction of the Sinai pericope the addressees are on the way between Egypt and Canaan, and in the far distant future the "land of the enemies" lies - well, only if the addressees do not comply with the laws.



The Hebrew word ארץ occurs as the subject of the verb on the following occasions. With one exception, human beings are usually the subject of these verbs.

1 ארץ Defiled

On two occasions in Leviticus - 18:25 and 27 - one reads of ארץ becoming defiled (qal of טמא). In Leviticus this verb appears 8526 times, most of which are in the qal with a few nip'al,27 pi'el´s28 and hitpa'el´s29 added here and there. In the qal the verb usually means to "become defiled" or "unclean."30 Usually a human being is the subject of this verb, but there are quite a few exceptions. Thus in Lev 11:32-36 one reads of different kinds of materials which become unclean when they come into contact with dead unclean animals such as the mouse, weasel and different kinds of reptiles. In Lev 15:9 the sad-die on which a person with discharge sits becomes unclean. The same goes later in the chapter for furniture and clothes which come into contact with an unclean person. Then there are the two examples in ch. 18 of the land becom-ing unclean. In v. 25 the land becomes defiled because of the practices of the nations in v. 24, which then triggers a response from Yhwh. In short, the verb טמא is not the most useful for my argument. It is true that in most cases people are the subjects of this verb, but there are a few exceptions which include the land. One cannot really built an argument for personification on this verb, but luckily there are some better examples which follow.

2 ארץ Spits Out

The other verb found in these verses means קיא "spit out" or "vomit up."31 In the whole hb it occurs only eight times.32 Half of these are in Leviticus and on every occasion the ארץ is the subject of the verb. In the other four instances in the hb human beings are usually the subject of the verb, apart from Jonah's large fish, which also experienced a fair amount of nausea.

3 ארץ Prostitutes Herself

The next verb is זנה, found seven times in Leviticus33 and 59 times in total in the HB, usually translated with "to prostitute yourself' or "to fornicate."34 Apart from 19:29, human beings are always the subject of the verb. In 19:29 ארץ is the subject (verb= qal), but only after a daughter was made a prostitute (verb=/hip ´il/) by her father.

4 ארץ Rests

The verb שבת occurs 71 times in the hb, of which seven35 are in Leviticus. Of these seven, five are in the qal meaning to "cease" or to "stop" and two are in the hip'il meaning to "leave out" or more literally "cause to cease."36 Of the five referring to resting, the addressees are once (Lev 23:32) the subject of the verb and in four cases ארץ is the subject (25:2; 26:34, 35 (x2)). Clines under-stands these examples as "land not in use for agriculture," which is clearly correct.37 In Lev 25 it is about the Sabbath year when land will not be used for agriculture. In Lev 26 it is about the land lying empty during the exile.38

5 ארץ Gives

The next verb is נתן, which obviously also occurs a lot in the OT, with 8639 examples in Leviticus itself.40 Most of these are in the first half of Leviticus, often about somebody (a priest, Aaron or Moses) applying blood on the horns of the altars. The only examples of non-human or non-divine agents being the subject of this verb are found in Lev 25:19 and 26:4 and 20, where on both occasions the land and the tree(s) of the land provide produce. In 26:4 they provide and in 26:20 they stop providing. The fascinating thing about v. 4 is that the giving by the land is triggered by Yhwh giving rain at the correct times. We will return to these examples later.

6 ארץ "Takes Pleasure"

The meaning of the following verb is highly debated amongst OT critics. Some scholars argue that there should be two meanings attributed to the same root.41There should thus be a רצה I and a רצה II. The former has a far more positive meaning, namely "to take pleasure" or "enjoy," whereas the second is more about "redeeming" or even "paying." 42In any case, if you take both together the verb is used 56 times in the OT, 1143 of which occur in Leviticus. In the more cultic part of Leviticus one finds this concept sometimes expressing the notion that a sacrifice will be deemed "acceptable"44 for the sake of the person who brings the sacrifice. Sometimes45 it is used in the negative, usually saying that if a ritual is not performed correctly then "it shall not be acceptable" for the person bringing the sacrifice. In all of these above mentioned cases one finds passive verbs which are used as part of a cultic formula. In three of the five instances in Lev 26 (vv. 34 and 43) ארץ is the subject of the verb, with the addressees as subject in two further cases (vv. 41 and 43). In this last case it is usually translated as "make amends." It thus probably has two different meanings depending on whether the Israelites or the ארץ is the subject. As Hieke puts it:46

Die Israeliten hätten ihre Schuld im Sinne von Strafe anzunehmen (V 41.43), das Land dagegen werde die Schabbatjahre (als Ersatz) annehmen (V 34.43).

Thus when the ארץ is the subject of the verb it has a very positive meaning as Hieke shows, sometimes even translated as "enjoy" (nrsv) which actually takes it much further than Hieke. In both vv. 34 and 43 the ארץ enjoys the Sabbath.47 When the addressees are the subject of the verb it is by no means good news.

7 ארץ Eats

The last example of ארץ acting as a subject is found in Lev 26:38. Yet in this case it is not the promised land, but instead the land of the enemies which will devour (אכל) the addressees.48 This term also occurs a lot in the hb, with 104 instances in Leviticus only. In most of these cases human beings are portrayed as those doing the eating, except for fire,49 which is often portrayed as consum-ing a sacrifice and, of course, the land of the enemies, which also consumes the addressees.

In short, it should thus be clear that, apart from טמא, in all other cases the land is the subject of a verb which is usually something done by humans; gods are sometimes animals like Jona's rather large fish. The ארץ at times acts like a person or is at least described by means of anthropomorphic language.



How is the relationship between addressees and Yhwh portrayed? And what is the relationship between Yhwh and ארץ, or for that matter between the addressees and ארץ?

1 Yhwh and the Addressees

The relationship between Yhwh and the addressees is defined by the fact that he is the one responsible for bringing them from bad Egypt to good Canaan. Yet according to Lev 26, he is also the one who will eventually make them end up in the "land of their enemies." Apart from being on their way between bad Egypt and good Canaan, in the distant future lies the possibility of the even worse "land of your enemies." Everything in Leviticus is happening at Sinai and Sinai is this in-between place, but Yhwh is the one who makes this hap-pen. The clearest expression of the relationship between Yhwh and the ad-dressees and the ארץ is found in Lev 25:23, which immediately introduces us to the triangle between Yhwh, the ארץ and the addressees:

Leviticus 25:23:

The addressees are aliens and tenants as far as Yhwh is concerned, which usually means that they do not own the land. There is, of course, a ten-sion between what we have here and the beginning of the chapter, which talks about Yhwh giving (נתן) the land to the addressees, but whatever "giving" means, the rest of ch. 25 is clear that receiving land in this fashion does not allow one to sell it. In the four cases found in the second half of ch. 25 the individual property of the addressees is referred to as.אחזה50 Many have argued that this term in itself should not be understood as implying any kind of property, but rather a kind of "Nutzrecht."51 Then you have v. 23 saying that the ארץ is "for Yhwh." This sounds like a warning to the addressees that there is a closer relationship between Yhwh and the land than between them and Yhwh. The land is "for" Yhwh, but to him they are strangers and tenants. The phrase כי־לי הא.ח is usually translated as "the land is mine"52 or in Dutch "het land behoort mij toe"53which support arguments that אחזה refers only to "Nutz-recht." The ארץ belongs to Yhwh but the addressees may use it. We are already talking about the relationship between Yhwh and ארץ, which shows that it is difficult to describe the relationship between any two partners of this triangle without mentioning the other.

2 Yhwh and ארץ

As pointed out above, ארץ is mentioned for the first time in the Holiness Code in 18:3, where we have the clear contrast between the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan. Usually vv. 1-5 and 24-30 are regarded as part of the parenetic frame of the Holiness Code, which in the case of this chapter starts and con-eludes it nicely. In the second part of the parenetic frame one also finds at least two of the examples mentioned above, where ארץ is the subject of a verb involving the actions "to become unclean" and to "vomit out." One further thing is important to note from this text. The ארץ seems to become a kind of intermediary between Yhwh and the previous inhabitants.

Leviticus 18:24-30:


In vv. 24 and 25 the verb "to defile" or "to become unclean" is repeated three times. First the addressees, then the nations and finally the ארץ is the sub-ject of the verb. What I find strange about these verses is that v. 25 states that Yhwh punished the ארץ for becoming unclean.54 The land became unclean be-cause of the nations living on it. The nations are not punished by Yhwh, but instead he punishes ארץ and it then punishes the inhabitants. On the one hand, the ארץ is punished although it is not to blame and is an altogether innocent party. On the other hand, the ארץ becomes an instrument of punishment for Yhwh. Land thus functions as an intermediary between Yhwh and the inhabit-ants, but one could also say that the relationship between Yhwh and ארץ has an element of abuse to it. Why should Yhwh punish the land for crimes com-mitted by the inhabitants?

In a more positive fashion a similar domino effect is found in Leviticus 26. Once again we find some kind of chain reaction triggered by Yhwh in which the land has a role to play, but now with a positive outcome.

Leviticus 26:4

In this text the same verb "to give" is repeated three times. First Yhwh gives rain and then the ארץ gives produce and then the "tree of the field" gives fruit. An action by Yhwh triggers an action by ארץ, which in this case has a very wholesome result. The ארץ is the agent or vehicle by means of which Yhwh curses (as in ch. 18) and blesses (as now in ch. 26). It should thus be clear that the relationship between Yhwh and ארץ is a very close one. In a sense Yhwh owns ארץ; it is his to give away, although "giving away" sounds inaccurate in the light of the debate about אחזה, and it is more a case of provid-ing ארץ to the addressees to be used by them. What Yhwh seems to be handing out is not so much the land itself, but the opportunity to live off it. At the end of ch. 26 (v. 42), when things start to become positive again, one hears that Yhwh will remember his covenant, but also the ארץ.

Leviticus 26:42

In this instance Milgrom argues that the waw that precedes ארץ is explanatory and it means that "the essence of the covenant with the patriarchs is the promise of land."55 Milgrom also regards this verse as a "personification of land."56 Hieke is slightly more careful and talks of "fast personifiziert" (almost personified).57 Yet when he discusses the next verse (v. 43) he refers back to Lev 18:28:58

Israels Fehlverhalten im Gelobten Land führt zwangsläufig dazu, dass Israel das Land (wieder) verlassenmuss - dieser Gedanke wurde schon in Lev 18, 28 angesprochen. Dort reagiert das Land personifiziert und speit die Bewohner aus, die sich nicht an die Weisung des Landeigentümers (Jhwh) halten. Hier steht als eigentlich Handelnder Jhwh im Hintergrund, [my italics - EEM]

It is fascinating that Hieke now points back to 18:28 as an example of the personification of land, something he does not explicitly mention in his actual commentary on this verse. He does mention that the portrayal of the land as "spitting out" could be considered a "körperliche Metapher," which makes it at least anthropomorphic language.59 It should be clear that ארץ at times becomes a person who has a very intimate relationship with Yhwh. If the rela-tionship between Yhwh and the ארץ is so intimate, how could we describe the relationship between ארץ and the addressees?

3 The Addressees and ארץ

In short, the relationship between the addressees and the ארץ is not always so intimate. The אךץ־בנען is the place where the addresses are on their way in order to receive it, so that they can make a living on it, but from the start and especially in the parenetic frame of the Holiness Code the threat of losing or of literally being spat out by the ארץ hangs like a sword of Damocles over the heads of the addressees. On 12 occasions one finds references to "your land" (ארצכם), which seems to show that there is indeed a close relationship between the addressees and the 60.ארץ These examples appear for the first time in ch. 19 and in some cases they seem to refer to a plot of land, like the examples in 19:9 and 23:22, which both talk of the edges of your land that may not be harvested. In some instances (with the previous two examples included) the term is used in close proximity to references to the 25:45 ;23:22 ;33 ,19:9) גר). Are these texts trying to emphasise the right of the addressees to the land by reminding them that it is "their land" after all? Yet the problem with this expression is that half of the examples are in ch. 26. The first three are in the first part of the chapter which tells of all the blessings that Yhwh will bestow on the people if they obey his laws. They are very positive, but they are embedded in the con-ditionality of v. 3.

Leviticus 26:3

All the good things following in the next 10 verses or so are dependent on this condition. And if one looks at the last three examples of או״צכם in ch. 26, then they are actually used to describe the precariousness of the relationship between the addressees and ארץ. Verse 33 says it well:

Leviticus 26:33:

There is some irony in this verse. The ארץ is described as "your land," but it has no use since it has become a place of desolation.

In short, even if the use of או־צכם seems to imply a solid relationship between ארץ and the addressees, when one takes the conditionality of ch. 26 into account the relationship does not seem all that solid any longer, but rather more unstable. Add to that the threats in chs. 18 and 20 that the land will vomit out the addressees, then clearly the relationship between the addressees and land is the weakest link in the triangle constituted of Yhwh, ארץ and address-ees. The answer to the question posed in the title would probably be that "the ארץ" is the favourite of Yhwh.



In the light of the principles identified by Habel I think one could make an argument that the ancient authors of the Holiness Code knew about the intrinsic worth of ארץ and they knew that without ארץ life itself was not possible. Yet in this text ארץ refers to Canaan and not what we would call earth or Earth, as the Earth Bible Project Team tend to do. The ancient authors also probably under-stood something of the connectedness of life. They could not think of their relationship with Yhwh without at the same time thinking of ארץ. I wonder about the principle of resistance, though. The Earth Bible Team had already argued in 2000 for an element of resistance in Lev 18:24-30, when they asked whether there is "more than poetic imagery in the assertion that the land will 'vomit out' those inhabitants who defile the land?"61 Yet I pointed out above that the action of ארץ was triggered by Yhwh punishing it. It seems more a case of Yhwh resisting than ארץ, which has no guilt whatsoever but still gets punished. I also mentioned that there is an element of abuse in the relationship between Yhwh and ארץ. Tucker has asked whether it would be accurate to talk of resistance and whether this is not simply a case of "actions have conse-quences"?62 As he puts it:63

If we foul our nest, we will live in a foul nest. Houses built on fault lines or in the paths of hurricanes likely will fall, and their owners might think the earth angry.

It is clear though that ארץ was understood as an actor with its own will (mostly), who could at times make life very difficult for its inhabitants. ארץ is not simply a victim, but has a fair amount of agency. It is an actor that does things.

I thus do not think that this text (Lev 17-26) is all that anthropocentric. In the light of the two basic assumptions of anthropocentrism as defined by Habel,64 namely that we are of a different order than nature, or that nature is an object, it is then evident that neither one is that clear in this text. ארץ is part of the triangle also involving Yhwh and the addressees, and this interrelatedness implies agents of the same order. It should also be clear that ארץ is not an object, perhaps not so much for the addressees, but that role of objectifying ארץ seems to be reserved for Yhwh, who punished the ארץ, or even better Yhwh, who eventually remembers ארץ. Yet from the perspective of the addressees, ארץ is a subject of the kinds of verbs which do not always convey good news for the people living on it. It is no pushover.

When the Holiness Code is read within the historical context of the Per-sian period, it is clear why the addressees thought of their relationship with the ארץ as precarious. They write from the perspective of people who have lost their land and only received small parts of it back, since the province of Yehud in the Persian Period was much smaller than the kingdom of Judah conquered by the Neo-Babylonians. It was the loss of land which made them realise their dependence on it and their interconnectedness with it. This in itself does not bode all that well for us, since losing the Earth is not an option. There is no other planet to go to. It is difficult to see how we can take "ecological wis-dom"65 from this text, unless to underline what we already know.

And here one should also add a word of caution. In the Holiness Code ארץ is usually אךץ־בנען and not Earth, as Habel would like to call it; even if I think that could be the case in Genesis 1, it is not the case here. The Holiness Code in itself was probably also aimed at the growing Jewish diaspora community living in Babylon and Egypt, and thus outside of the אךץ־כנען66 The mes-sage of these laws for them was probably that you could be Jewish even if you lived outside of the land of Canaan, but the important issue was how you lived, and that identity should rather be linked with how we live and not where we live. This aspect of the text makes it difficult for us to take anything from it, since we have no other place to live than Earth.

I conclude with the words of a modern-day Jewish poet, David Kramer, who writes in Afrikaans, but whose words are not that encouraging. In the song it is Mother Earth singing to humans and the chorus follows:

Welkom hier aan boord (Welcome on board)

Jammer maar die rit is so kort (Sorry but the trip is so short)

Welkom hier aan die einde want (Welcome at the end because)

Die ape het te slim geword. (the apes became too intelligent)



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Carroll, Robert P. "The Myth of the Empty Land." Semeia 59 (1992): 79-93.         [ Links ]

Clines, David J. A., ed. The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993-2011.         [ Links ]

Conradie, Ernst M. "Towards an Ecological Biblical Hermeneutics." Scriptura 85 (2004): 123-135.         [ Links ]

Earth Bible Team, The. "Guiding Ecojustice Principles." Pages 38-53 in Readings from the Perspective of Earth. Edited by Norman C. Habel. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.         [ Links ]

Gerleman, Gillis. "Nutzrecht und Wohnrecht: Zur bedeutung von אחזה und נחלה." Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 89 (1977): 313-325.         [ Links ]

Habel, Norman C. "Geophany: The Earth Story in Genesis 1." Pages 34-48 in The Earth Story in Genesis. Edited by Norman C. Habel and Shirley Wurst. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.         [ Links ]

________. "Introducing Ecological Hermeneutics." Pages 1-8 in Exploring Ecological Hermeneutics. Edited by Norman C. Habel and Peter Trudinger. Atlanta: SBL, 2008.         [ Links ]

____. The Birth, the Curse and the Greening of Earth: And Ecological Reading of Genesis 1-11. The Earth Bible Commentary 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011.         [ Links ]

Habel, Norman C. and Shirley Wurst, eds. The Earth Story in Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.         [ Links ]

Hieke, Thomas. Levitikus 1-15. Herder Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Freiburg: Herder, 2014.         [ Links ]

________. Levitikus 16-27. Herder Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Freiburg: Herder, 2014.         [ Links ]

Joüon, Paul and Takamitsu Muraoka. A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Roma: Editrice Pontificio Intituto Biblico, 2006.         [ Links ]

Knohl, Israel. The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.         [ Links ]

Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, Mervyn E. J. Richardson, and Johann J Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament. Electronic ed. Leiden: Brill, 1999.         [ Links ]

Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus ויקרא. The Jewish Publication Society Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989.         [ Links ]

Meyer, Esias E. "From Cult to Community: The Two Halves of Leviticus." Verbum et Ecclesia 34/2 (2013): 2-3.         [ Links ]

________. The Jubilee in Leviticus 25: A Theological Ethical Interpretation from a South African Perspective. Exegese in unserer Zeit 11. Münster: Lit Verlag, 2004.         [ Links ]

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Yale Bible 3A. New York: Doubleday, 2000. Repr. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.         [ Links ]

________. Leviticus 23-27: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Yale Bible 3B. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Repr. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.         [ Links ]

Nihan, Christophe. From Priestly Torah to Pentateuch. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2, Reihe 25. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007.         [ Links ]

Otto, Eckart. "Innerbiblische Exegese im Heiligkeitsgesetz Levitikus 17-26." Pages 125-137 in Levitikus als Buch. Edited by Heinz-Josef Fabry and Hans-Winfried Jüngling. Bonner Biblische Beiträge 119. Bonn: Philo, 1999.         [ Links ]

________. "The Holiness Code in Diachrony and Synchrony in the Legal Hermeneutics of the Pentateuch." Pages 135-156 in The Strata of the Priestly Writings: Contemporary Debate and Future Directions. Edited by Sarah Shectman and Joel S. Baden. Abhandlungen zur Theologie des Alten und Neuen Testaments 95. Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2009.         [ Links ]

________. Das Gesetz des Mose. Darmstadt: WBG, 2007.         [ Links ]

Tucker, Gene M. "Ecological Approaches: The Bible and the Land." Pages 349-367 in Method Matters: Essays on the Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of David L. Petersen. Edited by Joel M. LeMon and Kent H. Richards. Society of Biblical Literature Resources for Biblical Study 56. Atlanta: SBL, 2009.         [ Links ]

Zenger, Erich and Christian Frevel. "Das priester(schrift)liche Werk (P)." Pages 189-214 in Einleitung in das Alte Testament. 8th ed. Edited by Christian Frevel. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2008.         [ Links ]



Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria
Private Bag X20, Hatfield, 0028, South Africa




* To cite: Esias E. Meyer, "People and Land in the Holiness Code: Who is Yhwh,s Favourite?" OTE 28, no. 2 (2015): 433-450. DOI:
1 This article was first read as a paper at a conference, namely "Ecological Interpretations of Biblical Texts: Issues and Outcomes." It took place at the Kruger National Park in September 2014.
2 In terms of method I do not consciously follow Haber s three principles of suspi-cion, identification and retrieval, although I think that they are present in my reading. See a recent discussion of these principles in Norman C. Habel, The Birth, the Curse and the Greening of Earth: And Ecological Reading of Genesis 1-11 (EBC 1; Shef-field: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011), 8-14. It is clear that these principles bear simi-larities with feminist hermeneutics.
3 The Earth Bible Team, "Guiding Ecojustice Principles," in Readings from the Per-spective of Earth (ed. Norman C. Habel; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 38-53.
4 Norman C. Habel, "Geophany: The Earth Story in Genesis 1," in The Earth Story in Genesis (ed. Norman C. Habel and Shirley Wurst; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 35.
5 This way of writing still seems to cause some difference of opinion amongst other members of the Earth Bible Team. See the Editorial Preface by Habel and Wurst in Norman C. Habel and Shirley Wurst, ed., The Earth Story in Genesis (Sheffield: Shef-field Academic Press, 2000), 9-10. It is also noteworthy to point out that Habel often simply transcribes the Hebrew word and thus refers to Erets. The word is still capital-ised. See Habel, The Birth, especially his motivation on p. ix.
6 Norman C. Habel, "Introducing Ecological Hermeneutics," in Exploring Ecologi-cat Hermeneutics (ed. Norman C. Habel and Peter Trudinger; Atlanta: SBL, 2008), 2.
7 For criticism of these principles see Gene M. Tucker, "Ecological Approaches: The Bible and the Land," in Method Matters: Essays on the Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of David L. Petersen (ed. Joel M. LeMon and Kent H. Rich-ards; SBLRBS 56; Atlanta: SBL, 2009), 349-367. Tucker5s strongest critique of these principles is reserved for the principles of "voice" and "resistance." See Tucker, "Ecological Approaches," 359.
8 The differences between PG and PS are not relevant for my discussion, since both preceded Lev 17-26. For an overview of the debate see Erich Zenger and Christian Frevel "Das priester(schrift)liche Werk (P)," in Einleitung in das Alte Testament (8th ed.; ed. Christian Frevel; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2008), 193-203. In this regard I follow Christophe Nihan, From Priestly Torah to Pentateuch, (FAT II/25; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 619, who is rather reluctant to distinguish between PG and PS.
9 See the discussion in Esias E. Meyer, "From Cult to Community: The Two Halves of Leviticus," VEccl 34/2 (2013): 2-3.
10 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 3A; New York: Doubleday, 2000; repr. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 1349-1352; Israel Knohl, The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 8-45; Eckart Otto, "Innerbiblische Exegese im Heiligkeitsgesetz Levitikus 17-26," in Levitikus als Buch (ed. Heinz-Josef Fabry and Hans-Winfried Jüngling; BBB 119; Bonn: Philo, 1999), 125-137; Nihan, Priestly Torah, 401-535; Thomas Hieke, Levitikus 1-15 (HTKAT; Freiburg: Herder, 2014), 66-69; Thomas Hieke, Levitikus 16-27, (HTKAT; Freiburg: Herder, 2014), 612-613.
11 Eckart Otto, "The Holiness Code in Diachrony and Synchrony in the Legal Hermeneutics of the Pentateuch," in The Strata of the Priestly Writings: Contemporary Debate and Future Directions (ed. Sarah Shectman and Joel S. Baden; ATANT 95; Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2009), 149; Nihan, Priestly Torah, 546-548.
12 When I refer to H, I thus mean something broader than just Lev 17-26. The latter is often called the Holiness Code, but that is a bit of a misnomer since few scholars still regard it today as an independent code which had a life of its own before it was joined to P. When I refer to the Holiness Code I mean Lev 17-26.
13 Leviticus 4:27; 11:2, 21, 29, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46; 14:34(x2); 16:22; 18:3(x2), 25(x2), 27(x2), 28; 19:9, 23, 29(x2), 33, 34, 36; 20:2, 4, 22, 24; 22:24, 33; 23:10, 22, 39, 43; 25:2(x2), 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 18, 19, 23(x2), 24(x2), 31, 38(x2), 42, 45, 55; 26:1, 4, 5, 6(x3), 13, 19, 20 (x2), 32, 33, 34(x3), 36, 38, 39, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45; 27:24, 30(x2).
14 Esias E. Meyer, The Jubilee in Leviticus 25: A Theological Ethical Interpretation from a South African Perspective (Exuz 11; Münster: Lit Verlag, 2004).
15 Habel, "Geophany," 35-36.
16 Literally it can be translated with "from all animals who are on the land" (
מכלי הבהמה אשר על־הארץ).
17 Leviticus 4:27; 20:2, 4.
18 Leviticus 11:45; 18:3; 19:34, 36; 22:33; 23:43; 25:38, 42, 55; 26:13, 45.
19 Leviticus 19:1 to Num 10:12.
20 The only examples without a min are Lev 18:3 and 19:34. In case of the latter the preposition
ב is used.
21 See discussion in Paul Joüon and Takamitsu Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Roma: Editrice Pontificio Intituto Biblico, 2006), 460, who argue that
מן "expresses primarily separation and distance" and especially "to express the idea of provenance."
22 All English translations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copy- right © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
23 Nihan, Priestly Torah, 569, Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22, 1333.
24 Leviticus 14:34; 18:3; 25:38.
25 Joüon and Muraoka, Grammar, 457: "In the first place it expresses the fact of finding oneself in, or moving in or into, a place."
26 Leviticus 5:3; 11:24(x2), 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 32(x2), 33, 34(x2), 35, 36, 39, 40(x2), 43(x2), 44; 12:2(x2), 5; 13:3, 8, 11, 14, 15, 20, 22, 25, 27, 30, 44(x2), 46, 59; 14:36, 46; 15:4(x2), 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10(x2), 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20(x20), 21, 22, 23, 24(x2), 27(x2), 31, 32; 17:15; 18:20, 23, 24(x2), 25, 27, 28, 30, 31; 20:3, 25; 21:1, 3, 4, 11; 22:5(x2), 6, 8.
27 Leviticus 11:43.
28 Leviticus 13:3, 8, 11, 15, 20, 22, 25, 27, 30, 44; 13:59; 15:31; 18:28; 20:3, 25.
29 Leviticus 18:30:21:1,3, 4, 11.
30 BDB, 379, "become unclean"; HALOT, 375, "become ceremonially unclean." The translation by Koehler and Baumgartner (HALOT) seems accurate when applied to human beings meaning, that they are excluded from participating in the temple cult, but is a bit strange when applied to things.
31 BDB, 883; HALOT, 1096; DCH 7:246-247.
32 Leviticus 18:25, 28(x2); 20:22; Jonah 2:11; Job 20:15; Prov 23:8; 25:16.
33 Leviticus 17:7; 19:29(x2); 20:5(x2), 6; 21:9.,
34 BDB, 883, 275-276, describe the example where the land is the subject of the verb (qal) as "metaphorically ... a land given to harlotry." Lhey translate the hip 'il where the father is the subject as "cause to commit fornication." HALOT, 275 translates the qal example as "abandon someone to fornication," which sounds rather strange since it is actually about the
ארץ being abandoned to fornication. TTie hip 'il is translated as "encourage to commit fornication." See DCH 3: 121.
35 Leviticus 2:13; 23:32; 25:2; 26:6, 34, 35(x).
36 Leviticus 2:13 and 26:6. BDB, 991-992; HALOT, 1407-1408.
37 DCH 8:256.
38 These examples for the Lev 26 actually triggered the old debate about the myth of the empty land. Robert P. Carroll, "The Myth of the Empty Land," Semeia 59 (1992): 79-93.
39 Leviticus 1:7; 2:1, 15; 4:7, 18, 25, 30, 34; 5:11, 16, 24; 6:10; 7:32, 34, 36; 8:7, 8, 15, 23, 24, 27; 9:9; 10:1, 14, 17; 11:38; 14:14, 17, 18, 25, 28, 29, 34; 15:14; 16:8, 13, 18, 21; 17:10, 11; 18:20, 21, 23; 19:14, 20, 28; 20:2, 3, 4, 6, 15, 24; 22:14, 22; 23:10, 38; 24:7, 19, 20; 25:2, 19, 24, 37, 38; 26:1, 4, 6, 11, 17, 19, 20, 25, 30, 31, 46; 27:9, 23.
40 See BDB, 678-381 and HALOT, 733-735, for an overview of the range of mean-ings for this very common verb.
41 See the difference between BDB, 953, who presents only one meaning compared to HALOT, 1280-1282, who distinguishes between two different meanings. DCH 7: 540-541, actually argues for three different meaning, but the last one occurs only in 4Q424 and thus not in the OT. The first two meanings are basically "be pleased with" for
רצה I and "pay, restore" for רצה II. DCH seems undecided on how to translate the examples from Lev 26 and argues that they could go both ways. In this regard I prefer to follow Hieke, Levitikus 16-27, 1052 (as argued above), who basically sees a posi-tive meaning for the verb when ארץ is the subject and a negative one when the addressees are.
42 This is according to HALOT, 1280-1282.
43 Leviticus 1:4; 7:18; 19:7; 22:23, 25, 27; 26:34(x2), 41, 43(x2).
44 Leviticus 1:4 and 22:27.
45 See Lev 7:18; 19:7; 22:23, 25. In the first two examples the addressees are forbid-den to eat sacred meat on the third day. The third and fourth examples are about certain animals which may not be accepted as certain offerings.
46 Hieke, Levitikus 16-27, 1052.
47 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27: A New Translation with Introduction and Com-mentary (AB 3B; New York: Doubleday, 2001; repr. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 2323 and 2333, mentions that "scholars are at their wits end" in trying to understand this word. Eventually Milgrom settles for a similar translation to the one provide by Hieke above, where both
ארץ and the addressees accept something, but in the case of the former she is receiving Sabbaths while the latter are receiving punish-ment. See Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27, 2273-2274. Hieke was obviously greatly influ-enced by Milgrom.
48 BDB, 37-38; HALOT, 46-47; DCH 1:240-247.
49 Leviticus 6:3; 9:24; 10:2.,
50 Leviticus 25:10, 13, 24, 25, 27, 28, 32, 33(x2), 34, 41, 45, 46.
51 See discussion by Nihan, Priestly Torah, 66-68, especially n. 241. See also Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27, 2185-2191, or Michaela Bauks, "Die Begriffe
מורשה und אחזה in Ps: Überlegungen zur Landkonzeption der Priestergrundschrift," VA W 116 (2004): 171-188. Most scholars usually draw from an older article by Gillis Gerleman, "Nutzrecht und Wohnrecht: Zur bedeutung von אחזה und נחלה," ZAW 89 (1977): 313-325.
52 See nrsv, nkjv, niv, nasb etc.
53 De Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling.
54 See discussion in Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22, 1579-1580, of other scholars who also struggled to understand these verses. For Milgrom God has no choice but to act since the land is polluted.
55 Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27, 2335.
56 Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27, 2335. See also Baruch A. Levine, Leviticus
ויקרא (JPSTC; Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 191, who also thinks that this is a case of personification of land.
57 Hieke, Levitikus 16-27, 1095.
58 Hieke, Levitikus 16-27, 1095.
59 Hieke, Levitikus 16-27, 691.
60 Leviticus 19:9, 33; 22:24; 23:22; 25:9, 45; 26:1, 5, 6, 19, 20 and 33.
61 The Earth Bible Team, "Guiding,53
62 Tucker, "Ecological Approaches," 359.
63 Tucker, "Ecological Approaches," 359.
64 Habel, Introducing, 4.
65 Ernst M. Conradie, "Towards an Ecological Biblical Hermeneutics," Scriptura 85 (2004): 126.
66 See Eckart Otto, Das Gesetz des Mose (Darmstadt: WBG, 2007), 200-201.

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