Leviticus 11
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

These laws suitably follow chs. 8–10 which record the consecration of the priests. As sacrifice was the principal element in that consecration, the laws of sacrifice (chs. 1–7) appropriately precede the account of the inauguration of the worship in chs. 8–10.

One of the chief duties of the priests was ‘to put difference between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean’ (Leviticus 10:10); instructions for putting this difference appropriately follow the account in chs. 8–10.

These laws may be divided into two groups:

(1) those in ch. 11, which relate to food and contact with the carcases of animals;

(2) those in chs. 12–15, concerning the uncleanness of persons, garments, furniture, and houses.

And the LORD spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them,
Ch. Leviticus 11:1-23 [51]. The Distinction between Clean and Unclean Food

[51] For the sources from which this ch. comes, and its relation from a critical point of view to Deuteronomy 14:3 ff. see App. I (c), pp. 162 f.

One principle underlying this distinction appears to have been that animals which were recognised as in any way objects of worship by heathen neighbours, or even supposed by them to be connected with unseen supernatural beings, were to be considered unclean. See Bertholet in KHC., introd. note to this ch. But in other cases the prohibition probably rested on the animal’s repulsive appearance or uncleanly habits, or on sanitary or totemistic grounds. See Driver, Deut. p. 164, and Rob.-Sm. OTJC.2 p. 366.

A list of animals which may and may not be eaten is given in Deuteronomy 14:3-20; it has close verbal affinity with Leviticus 11:2-21 of this ch. The two passages are placed side by side in Driver (ICC.) Deut. P. 157 f.

Both lists are divided into classes:

(a) Beasts Leviticus 11:2-8. Cp. Deuteronomy 14:3-8Deut. enumerates three domestic, and seven wild animals, as clean beasts which may be eaten. Lev. does not mention the clean beasts, but both give their two distinguishing marks—‘Whatsoever parteth the hoof … and cheweth the cud,’ and specify the same four beasts which have not both of these marks as unclean. Lev. is more diffuse, but employs the same expressions as Deut.

(b) Fishes Leviticus 11:9-12. Cp. Deuteronomy 14:9-10The same criterion of cleanness, having ‘scales and fins,’ is given both in Lev. and Deut., but Lev. is more diffuse, and introduces a word (Heb. shéḳeẓ) detestation, used frequently in this ch., also in Leviticus 7:21, and Isaiah 66:17; Ezekiel 8:10. Another and commoner form (shiḳḳuẓ) occurs in Deuteronomy 29:16. No fish is mentioned by name, and the distinction between clean and unclean fishes in particular cases was determined by the Jewish rabbis.

(c) Birds Leviticus 11:13-19. Cp. Deuteronomy 14:11-18Deut. begins with ‘Of all clean birds ye may eat’ (Leviticus 11:11), but does not give a list like that of clean beasts. The forbidden birds are almost identical in both.

(d) Winged swarming things Leviticus 11:20-23. Cp. Deuteronomy 14:19-20Lev. adds ‘that go upon all four’ (Leviticus 11:20), and in Leviticus 11:21-22 gives a list of winged swarming things that may be eaten (those that ‘leap’), repeating in Leviticus 11:23 the prohibition of Leviticus 11:20. Deut. concludes the list with ‘of all clean fowls (the same Heb. word as for ‘winged things’) ye may eat’ (Leviticus 14:20), but gives no list.

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.
Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat.
Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
4. The camel’s hoof is parted above but the lower part is not divided. The Egyptians did not eat the flesh of the camel, but both the flesh and the milk are considered as lawful food by the Arabs.

And the coney, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
5. the coney] The exact equivalent of the Heb. shâphân is given in R.V. mg. In Psalm 104:18; Proverbs 30:26 it is described as a weak and timid animal, taking refuge in the rocks, and Tristram (Land of Israel, p. 250) remarks that it is difficult to capture. ‘Coney,’ an old English term for ‘rabbit,’ is the rendering of A.V., which follows the traditional Jewish interpretation. As ‘coney’ is no longer in use, it has been retained in R.V., on the principle of avoiding all unnecessary alteration, but with the exact rendering in the margin. This is one of many instances where the rendering of R.V. mg. is essential for the full understanding of that version.

The coney (rock-badger) and hare move their jaws like beasts which chew the cud, but are not ruminating animals. Here, as in other passages of the Bible, the language is popular, rather than scientific.

And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.
And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.
7. The flesh of the pig is forbidden because it is not a ruminant. Of the four animals here mentioned, the swine was specially obnoxious to the Jews, either owing to its being an object of heathen worship (cp. Isaiah 65:4; Isaiah 66:3; Isaiah 66:17), or for sanitary reasons. To eat pork was by them regarded as abjuring their religion, and it is recorded as one of the abominations that were forced upon the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes in the Maccabaean persecution, 2Ma 6:18-19.

Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.
8. their carcases ye shall not touch] The word carcase is the same as that translated ‘that which dieth of itself’ (Leviticus 17:15; Deuteronomy 14:21). Here and in Deuteronomy 14:8 contact with the dead bodies of these unclean animals is prohibited.

These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.
And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,
13. the eagle] Heb. nésher, great vulture R.V. mg. The nésher is described (Micah 1:16) as bald, as spying for prey on the peaks of the rocks, and as swooping down upon the slain (Habakkuk 1:8; Job 39:27-30). The griffon, of the vulture family, is denoted by this Heb. word. The eagle cannot be described as bald, having feathers on the head and neck, but the griffon has only down.

the gier eagle] Heb. péreṣ, the ‘breaker’ or ‘cleaver’: the bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus, which breaks the bones of animals in order to obtain the marrow. Hence the name ‘ossifrage’ (bone breaker) in A.V. Geire (cp. the German Geier) was an old English word for vulture.

the ospray] The fishing hawk or another species of eagle. There are seven different kinds of eagle in Palestine.

And the vulture, and the kite after his kind;
14. the kite] vulture A.V. The Heb. word dâ’âh occurs only here as the name of a bird, but a similar word dayyâh is found in Deuteronomy 14:13 and Isaiah 34:15 (kite[s] R.V., vulture[s] A.V.) only. The Heb. words in Lev. and Deut. are

Lev. dâ’âh (kite) ’ayyah (falcon),

Deut. râ’âh (glede) ’ayyah (falcon) dayyah (kite).

râ’âh is doubtless a copyist’s error for dâ’âh (it has been translated in R.V. and A.V. ‘glede,’ an old English word for ‘kite’), and dayyah may have been added instead of the omitted dâ’âh.

the falcon] kite A.V. The word occurs here, in Deuteronomy 14:13 and Job 28:7 (vulture A.V.) only.

The expression ‘after his kind’ following, implies that several varieties of this bird were known. The Heb. ’ayyah may be derived from the bird’s cry which is rendered in Arabic as yâ yâ.

Every raven after his kind;
And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind,
16. ostrich] Here and in Deuteronomy 14:15; Job 30:29; Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:13; Isaiah 43:20; Jeremiah 50:39; Micah 1:8 the rendering ‘owl’ of A.V. should be corrected to ‘ostrich.’

the night hawk] The meaning of the Heb. taḥmâṣ is very uncertain. The root seems to indicate a bird of aggressive and violent character.

the seamew] cuckow A.V. So LXX. and Vulg.

the hawk after its kind] Many varieties of the hawk are indicated. The Heb. word nçẓ occurs here, in Deuteronomy 14:15 and Job 39:26 only.

And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl,
17. the little owl] Heb. kôṣ in the two texts and in Psalm 102:7 only. A bird screeching by night is indicated by the LXX. and Vulg.

the cormorant] The position of this word in Deut. is more suitable than here. The Heb. word shâlâk implies plunging downwards with force and the Targ. translates it ‘a bird that catches fishes.’

the great owl] In the two texts and Isaiah 34:11 (‘owl,’ R. and A.V., ‘bittern’ R.V. mg.) the LXX. translate ‘ibis.’ Some species of owl is indicated.

And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle,
18. the horned owl] (swan A.V. and R.V. mg.) another kind of owl. The Heb. root (also used in Leviticus 11:30 for the chameleon [mole A.V.]) suggests a bird that makes a snorting sound, or breathes hard. The LXX. trans. πορφυρίων. Tristram (Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 249) and Driver (Deut. in loc.) ‘the water hen.’

the pelican] In the lists and Psalm 102:6 [Hebrews 7] (‘a pelican of the wilderness’); Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14 (cormorant A. V.) it is used of a bird inhabiting desolate places.

the vulture] (the gier-eagle A.V.) It is distinguished by zoologists as vultur percnopterus.

The cormorant follows in Deut. at the close of Leviticus 14:17.

And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.
19. the stork] In the two lists, and Psalm 104:17 (‘the fir trees are her house’); Jeremiah 8:7 (‘knoweth her appointed times,’ i.e. of migration), Zechariah 5:9†. The Heb. word means ‘pious’ or ‘merciful’ (referring to her tenderness towards her young). In the difficult passage, Job 39:13, either the stork is mentioned, or there is a play upon words with reference to her name, and a contrast between her and the ostrich seems indicated. See R.V. mg. and A.V. mg.

the heron] Many kinds of heron are found both in Egypt and Palestine. The ibis R.V. mg. was a sacred bird to the Egyptians, and one variety of heron found in great numbers round Lake Huleh is called the white ibis.

the hoopoe] (lapwing A.V.) The traditional interpretation of this strange Heb. word dûkîphath from LXX. and Vulg. onwards is fixed. Some consider it to be derived from the cry of the bird, like that of the cuckoo. Cheyne thinks it is derived by transposition of letters from ḳippôd, the ‘porcupine’ or bittern, Isaiah 14:23; Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14.

the bat] In both lists and Isaiah 2:20 (there in plur.) †. The derivation of the Heb. word is uncertain, but its meaning is not questioned.

All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.
20. All winged swarming things] The same words as in Deuteronomy 14:19; swarming creatures which also fly, i.e. flying insects. A.V. obscures for the English reader the identity of expression by rendering here ‘all fowls that creep,’ and in Deuteronomy 14:19 ‘every creeping thing that flieth.’ In Deut. these things are all classed as unclean and not to be eaten. They are here further described as those ‘that go upon all four.’ All these swarming things have six feet, but the text describes their action as it appears to an ordinary observer, and, as in Leviticus 11:5-6, the language is popular, rather than scientific.

20–23. The connexion between these vv. and Leviticus 11:41 is very close, and Leviticus 11:24-30 are generally regarded as supplementary. See pp. 162 f.

Yet these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth;
21–23. Four kinds of these swarming things which may be eaten are mentioned. The first and last of these occur frequently in the O.T., the second and third only here.

The first is ’arbeh, the general term for a locust, and from the passages in which it occurs (e.g. Exodus 10:4, of the plague of locusts, Jdg 6:5; Jdg 7:12, of invading troops) is clearly a highly destructive insect.

The fourth, ḥâgâb, is translated ‘grasshopper’ except in 2 Chronicles 7:13, where both R.V. and A.V. render ‘locust.’ From the words which follow, ‘to devour the land,’ it is clear the grasshopper is not meant, but one of the locust family. The rendering ‘beetle’ of A.V. for the third is certainly wrong. The Heb. word probably means a galloper, and the characteristic of the four kinds is that they ‘have legs … to leap withal.’

That they were actually eaten appears from Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6.

Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.
But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.
And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even.
24–28. Uncleanness caused by Dead Bodies

(See introductory note on Leviticus 11:20-23.)

Leviticus 11:24-25 are a general introduction. ‘And by these’ (Leviticus 11:24) refers to what follows, not to the ‘winged creeping things’ of Leviticus 11:23.

(a) touching or bearing the carcase of (α) beasts specified in Leviticus 11:26-27 or (β) swarming things specified in Leviticus 11:29-30 caused uncleanness till the even; if they were carried, the clothes must also be washed.

(b) further cases of defilement were caused by a carcase, (α) a vessel (Leviticus 11:32-33), (β) food (Leviticus 11:34), (γ) ovens, etc. (Leviticus 11:35), (δ) water in a pit (Leviticus 11:36), (ε) seed (Leviticus 11:37-38).

Carrying part of the carcase involves uncleanness of a higher degree than that caused by mere contact. Note the difference in the regulations of Leviticus 11:24-25; Leviticus 11:27-28.

In Leviticus 11:26-27 the beasts are specified by their characteristics; in Leviticus 11:29-30 by their names.

And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.
The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean.
And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even.
27. goeth upon its paws] animals like the dog and cat whose feet are hand-like in form, having digits and claws.

And he that beareth the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you.
These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind,
29–38. Uncleanness caused by Creeping Things

29. the weasel†] According to early Versions, and the Mishna the Heb. word should be thus translated; but some prefer the rendering ‘mole.’

the great lizard†] tortoise A.V. The cognate words in Arab. and Syr. support the rendering of R.V.

And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole.
30. For the four words which follow see R.V. mg. They occur only in this verse.

chameleon] mole A.V. following the versions. The same Heb. word is translated horned owl in Leviticus 11:18.

It seems strange that so many kinds of lizards are mentioned; also that the same Heb. word should have two such different meanings in the same chapter.

These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever doth touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even.
31. creep] swarm.

And upon whatsoever any of them, when they are dead, doth fall, it shall be unclean; whether it be any vessel of wood, or raiment, or skin, or sack, whatsoever vessel it be, wherein any work is done, it must be put into water, and it shall be unclean until the even; so it shall be cleansed.
32. The case of one of these small animals creeping into a pan or bag or garment, and being found dead, seems to be contemplated. In such a case the vessel is unclean for the rest of the day and (Leviticus 11:33) if earthen must be broken, cp. Leviticus 6:28.

And every earthen vessel, whereinto any of them falleth, whatsoever is in it shall be unclean; and ye shall break it.
Of all meat which may be eaten, that on which such water cometh shall be unclean: and all drink that may be drunk in every such vessel shall be unclean.
34. Any food mixed with or put in water (for cooking or eating) and any drink into or upon which one of these swarming things has fallen is unclean.

And every thing whereupon any part of their carcase falleth shall be unclean; whether it be oven, or ranges for pots, they shall be broken down: for they are unclean, and shall be unclean unto you.
35. If the carcase of any swarming thing come in contact with an oven, of small cooking stove, the vessel becomes unclean and must be broken.

The Heb word kîraim† probably means a small cooking stove. LXX. translate ‘pots with feet.’ The dual form is used either because the vessel consisted of two parts, or because two portions could be prepared in it; somewhat like a modern egg-boiler for two.

Nevertheless a fountain or pit, wherein there is plenty of water, shall be clean: but that which toucheth their carcase shall be unclean.
36. The continuous renewal of water in a well renders the uncleanness inappreciable, but he who takes out the carcase is rendered unclean by touching it. The case of the pit or cistern is not clear. It might be so large that the effect of a small swarming thing could be neglected, or the water might be replenished by rain.

And if any part of their carcase fall upon any sowing seed which is to be sown, it shall be clean.
37, 38. For the seed which is to be sown, contact with swarming things may be disregarded; but if water be added (i.e. if it is put with water in a vessel for cooking), uncleanness will ensue.

A special case comes in Leviticus 11:39-40.

But if any water be put upon the seed, and any part of their carcase fall thereon, it shall be unclean unto you.
And if any beast, of which ye may eat, die; he that toucheth the carcase thereof shall be unclean until the even.
39. The carcase even of a clean beast causes uncleanness.

And he that eateth of the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: he also that beareth the carcase of it shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.
40. Eating the carcase is forbidden as in Deuteronomy 14:21. According to Leviticus 17:15, the eater must also bathe himself. LXX. supply this command here.

And every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.
41. creeping thing that creepeth] swarming thing that swarmeth, and so in Leviticus 11:42-44 except the last part of Leviticus 11:44 ‘that moveth (creepeth A.V.) upon the earth.’

43–45 may be an excerpt from H (see Introd. p. xix, The Law of Purification). In fact, Horst and Kuenen (and Dillm. partially) would include in H a large part of this ch.

41–44. This would come appropriately as a conclusion to the rules about eating, after Leviticus 11:23. Cp. Ezekiel 8:10 f.

Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.
Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby.
For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
45. The reason for these prescriptions is given; it is the same as in H.

This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth:
46. creepeth] swarmeth.

46, 47. Summary. It refers only to the rules about eating, and so makes no reference to Leviticus 11:24-30. See App. I (c).

To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten.
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