In this book, Trevaskis argues that holiness in Leviticus always has an ethical dimension, and is not simply a cultic category. In so doing he departs from the usual view that in Leviticus 1–16 (P) holiness is largely a cultic concept. Biblical scholars have commonly read ritual texts as practical instruction or prescription, inferring the theological significance of the rituals from elsewhere. For example, theological interpretations of the ‘burnt offering’ have been derived from its use in narrative settings (e.g. Gen. 8:20; 22:13) rather than from its legal prescription in Leviticus 1.
Trevaskis, however, argues that an implicit command to be holy exists within some ritual texts in Leviticus, which are more than mere ritual prescriptions. It is in the symbolic dimensions of the rituals that the theological significance lies. In support of this argument, he undertakes exegetical studies of the ‘burnt offering’ (Leviticus 1), of the ‘purity regulations’ (Leviticus 11–15) and of the physical appearance of priests and sacrificial animals (Leviticus 21–22). These studies take place within a methodological framework that avoids capricious symbolic interpretations. Trevaskis draws on cognitive linguistic insights to discern when a text may allude to other texts within the Pentateuch (especially Genesis 1–3), and attends to the legislator’s use of various rhetorical devices (e.g. ‘rhetorical progression’).
Since the command to ‘be holy’ in Leviticus 17–26 (H) only makes explicit what P leaves implicit in Leviticus 1–16, this study has important implications for the compositional history of Leviticus. It becomes much less clear that H’s ethical view of holiness developed from a prophetic critique of P (as Milgrom and Knohl, for example, argue).