Gary A. Rendsburg

The Grand Scheme of Leviticus

A brilliant insight by one of the major biblical commentators of the Middle Ages is the discovery by Ramban (that is, Nahmanides, 1194-1270) that the tripartite division of the Tabernacle reflects the similar tripartite division of Mount Sinai. According to Exodus 19 and 24, during the revelation of the Decalogue, (a) the people as a whole occupied the lower slopes; (b) Aaron, his two sons and the elders were permitted halfway up the mountain, and (c) only Moses was allowed on the summit. Ramban noted that, in like fashion, the priestly instructions in Exodus 25-40 and the book of Leviticus permit (a) the people as a whole to visit the outer court of the Tabernacle, in which the main altar was situated; (b) the priests to enter the inner sanctuary, which contained the table, the lamp stand and the incense altar, and (c) only the high priest to enter the holy of holies, or innermost sanctum, which housed the ark of the covenant.

The Subversion of Myth

A major finding of modern biblical scholarship is the extent to which the narrative in the book of Exodus is informed by the ancient Israelites’ knowledge of Egyptian culture, religion and literature. The birth story of Moses in Exodus 2:1-10 provides an excellent illustration of both the extent of and the transformation involved in such borrowing.

Comfort, Comfort

This week’s portion, Va-Et’hanan, includes two of the most famous sections of the Bible, a second version of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:6-18, and the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. One could write endlessly about these crucial texts and their importance for the history of Judaism. However, I’ll focus instead on the Haftarah, Isaiah

Determining the Bird

This column, both when written by myself and by others, typically dwells on the larger issues inherent in the particular portion — for example, a theological point, an ethical or moral lesson, a social observation, whatever it may be. I depart from that norm this week with a look into the arcane world of biblical philology.This

The Fate of Slaves in Ancient Israel

With this week’s Torah reading, called Mishpatim or “Rules,” the presentation of the laws of ancient Israel formally commences. Earlier sections of the Torah have occasional laws imbedded in them, such as the law of circumcision in Genesis 17 or the laws pertaining to Passover in Exodus 12. But these items are few in number and are

Misconceptions About the Ancient World

The weekly Torah portion of last week, Vayikra, and of this week, Tsav — the first eight chapters of Leviticus — present in great detail the various rituals and sacrifices performed by the priests in ancient Israel.Instead of concentrating on a particular aspect of the portion, this week’s column is devoted to a lesson in the history

Common Names and Secret Names

One of the most enigmatic passages in the entire Torah appears in this week’s portion, Shemot. I refer to Exodus 3:13-14:And Moses said to God, “Behold I come to the children of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’; and they will say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?” And God

The Literary Effects of Wordplay

Readers of the Bible approach the subject from a variety of perspectives. People with a historical bent use the text to reconstruct the history of ancient Israel. People with a theological bent use the text to understand ancient Jewish theology and/or to derive lessons of moral theology that speak to us still today. People with a

We Have a Different Sense of Justice

In 1931 my late teacher Cyrus Gordon, who died in 2001, was a young archaeologist working at an excavation in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. As one might imagine, the region was much safer than it is in our day. Indeed, usually there were no problems with the local villagers on such scholarly expeditions. On one occasion, however, as

Putting ‘the Rules’ In Perspective

With this week’s Torah reading, called Mishpatim, or “Rules,” the presentation of the laws of ancient Israel formally commences. Earlier sections of the Torah have occasional laws imbedded in them, such as the law of circumcision in Genesis 17 or the laws pertaining to Pesach in Exodus 12. But these items are few in number and are directly