On Sacred Heads and Sullied Wombs: Bouncing Between Leviticus and Numbers

  • Bernon Lee
Part of the Postcolonialism and Religions book series (PCR)


In this chapter, Lee expands the emergent logic of exclusion in the previous chapter by drawing into the web of prized possessions the offerings (of things and persons) in Leviticus 21–22 and the protected entities of the rulings and procedures of Numbers 5–6 on purity, sexual impropriety, and Nazirite ordination. Lee contends that the reader’s ‘wandering viewpoint’ invents a network of analogies of binary distinctions, as it grows Israel’s social-religious boundaries through and across these laws and rites. The result, at the chapter’s conclusion, is an expanded web of guarded things and spaces—houses, heads, wombs, camps, and offerings—that correlate categories of abjection at the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and morality. As before, Lee has in focus the vulnerability of readerly correlations across texts.


  1. Achenbach, Reinhard. 2003. Die Vollendung der Tora: Studien zur Redaktionsgeschichte des Numeribuches im Kontext von Hexateuch und Pentateuch. Beihefte zur Zietshrift für altorientalische und biblische Rechtsgeschichte 3; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.Google Scholar
  2. Achenbach, Reinhard. 2004. ‘Numeri und Deuteronomium.’ In Das Deuteronomium zwischen Pentateuch und deuteronomistischem Geschichtswerk, ed. Eckart Otto and Reinhard Achenbach. Forshungen zur Religion und Literartur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 206; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Achenbach, Reinhard. 2007. ‘The Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Torah in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries B.C.E.’ In Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E., ed. Oded Lipschits, Gary N. Knoppers and Rainer Albertz. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.Google Scholar
  4. Bach, Alice. 1993. ‘Good to the Last Drop: Viewing the Sotah (Numbers 5.11–31) as the Glass Half Empty and Wondering How to View It Half Full.’ In The New Literary Criticism and the Hebrew Bible, ed. J. Cheryl Exum and David J. A. Clines. Sheffield: JSOT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Baentsch, B. 1903. Exodus, Leviticus, Numeri. Handkommentar zum Alten Testament 2; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.Google Scholar
  6. Barthes, Roland. 1974. S/Z: An Essay, trans. Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang.Google Scholar
  7. Barthes, Roland. 1986. The Rustle of Language, trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang.Google Scholar
  8. Bird, Phyllis. 1989. ‘To Play the Harlot: An Inquiry into and Old Testament Metaphor.’ In Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel, ed. Peggy Day. Minneapolis: Fortress.Google Scholar
  9. Bloom, Harold. 1982. Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Blum, Erhard. 1990. Studien zur Komposition des Pentateuch. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 189; Berlin: de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boer, Roland. 2006. ‘The Law of the Jealous Man.’ In Voyages in Uncharted Waters: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Biblical Interpretation in Honor of David Jobling, ed. Wesley J. Bergen and Armin Siedlecki. Hebrew Bible Monographs 13; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.Google Scholar
  12. Brichto, Herbert Chanan. 1975. ‘The Case of the Sota and a Reconsideration of Biblical “Law.”’ Hebrew Union College Annual 46: 55–70.Google Scholar
  13. Briggs, Richard S. 2009. ‘Reading the Sotah Text (Num 5: 11–31): Holiness and a Hermeneutic Fit for Suspicion.’ Biblical Interpretation 17: 288–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Budd, Philip J. 1984. Numbers. Word Biblical Commentary 5; Waco: Word.Google Scholar
  15. Carden, Michael. 1999. ‘Homophobia and Rape in Sodom and Gibeah: A Response to Ken Stone.’ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 82: 83–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Carmichael, Calum. 2012. The Book of Numbers: A Critique of Genesis. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Childs, Brevard S. 1979. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia: Fortress.Google Scholar
  18. Clayville, Kristel A. 2013. ‘Landed Interpretation: An Environmental Ethicist Reads Leviticus.’ In Leviticus and Numbers, ed. Athalya Brenner and Archie Chi Chung Lee. Minneapolis: Fortress.Google Scholar
  19. Davidson, Steed Vernyl. 2013. ‘Gazing (at) Native Women: Rahab and Jael in Imperializing and Postcolonial Discourses.’ In Postcolonialism and the Hebrew Bible: The Next Step, ed. Roland Boer. Semeia Studies 70; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.Google Scholar
  20. Delaney, Carol. 1987. ‘Seeds of Honor, Fields of Shame.’ In Honor and Shame and the Unity of the Mediterranean, ed. David D. Gilmore; Washington DC: American Anthropological Association.Google Scholar
  21. Diamond, Eliezer. 1997. ‘The Israelite Self-Offering in the Priestly Code: A New Perspective on the Nazirite.’ Jewish Quarterly Review 88: 6–18.Google Scholar
  22. Douglas, Mary. 1999. Leviticus as Literature. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Driver, S.R. 1913. Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament. 9th edn.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark.Google Scholar
  24. Ellens, Deborah L. 2004. ‘Numbers 5.11–31: Valuing Male Suspicion’ In God’s Word for Our World I: Theological and Cultural Studies in Honor of Simon John de Vries, ed. J. Harold Ellens, Deborah L. Ellens, Rolf P. Knierim and Isaac Kalimi. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 388; London: T & T Clark.Google Scholar
  25. Feinstein, Eve Levavi. 2014. Sexual Pollution in the Hebrew Bible. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fishbane, Michael. 1974. ‘Accusations of Adultery: A Study of Law and Scribal Practice in Numbers 5:11-31.’ Hebrew Union College Annual 45: 25–46.Google Scholar
  27. Foucault, Michel. 1970. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  28. Frevel, Christian, Thomas Pola and Aaron Schart, ed. 2013. Torah and the Book of Numbers. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe 62; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.Google Scholar
  29. Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. 1984. ‘The Strange Case of the Suspected Sotah (Numbers V 11–31).’ Vetus Testamentum 34: 11–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gray, George Buchanan. 1906. Numbers. International Critical Commentary; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.Google Scholar
  31. Haberman, Bonna Devora. 2000. ‘The Suspected Adulteress: A Study of Textual Embodiment.’ Prooftexts 20: 12–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hartley, John E. 1992. Leviticus. Word Biblical Commentary 4; Dallas: Word.Google Scholar
  33. Hayes, Christine E. 2002. Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Heinisch, Paul. 1936. Das Buch Numeri. Bonn: Peter Hanstein.Google Scholar
  35. de Hemmer Gudme, Anne Katrine. 2009. ‘How Should We Read Hebrew Bible Ritual Texts?: A Ritualistic Reading of the Law of the Nazirite (Num 6, 1–21).’ Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 23: 64–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Iser, Wolfgang. 1978. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Jeon, Jaeyoung. 2007. ‘Two Laws in the Sotah Passage (Num. v 11-31).’ Vetus Testamentum 57: 181–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Joosten, J. 1996. People and Land in the Holiness Code: An Exegetical Study of the Ideational Framework of the Law in Leviticus 17-26. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 67; Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  39. Knierim, Rolf P. and George W. Coats. 2005. Numbers. Forms of Old Testament Literature 4; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.Google Scholar
  40. Knohl, Israel. 1995. The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School. Minneapolis: Fortress.Google Scholar
  41. Knohl, Israel. 2011. ‘Who Edited the Pentateuch?’ In The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research, ed. Thomas B. Dozeman, Konrad Schmid and Baruch J. Schwartz. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 78; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.Google Scholar
  42. Koltun-Fromm, Naomi. 2010. Hermeneutics of Holiness: Ancient Jewish and Christian Notions of Sexuality. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Leveen, Adriane. 2008. Memory and Tradition in the Book of Numbers. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Levine, Baruch A. 1974. In the Presence of the Lord: A Study of Cult and Some Cultic Terms in Ancient Israel. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  45. Levine, Baruch A. 1993. Numbers 1–20. Anchor Bible 4a; New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  46. Lipka, Hilary. 2010. ‘Profaning the Body: HLL and the Conception of Loss of Personal Holiness in H.’ In Bodies, Embodiment, and Theology of the Hebrew Bible, ed. S. Tamar Kamionkowski and Wonil Kim. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 465; New York and London: T & T Clark.Google Scholar
  47. MacDonald, Nathan. 2012. ‘The Book of Numbers.’ In A Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch: Interpreting the Torah as Christian Scripture, ed. Richard S. Briggs and Joel N. Lohr. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Academic.Google Scholar
  48. McNeile, A.H. 1911. The Book of Numbers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Milgrom, Jacob. 1976. Cult and Conscience: The Asham and the Priestly Doctrine of Repentance. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  50. Milgrom, Jacob. 1990. Numbers. New York: Jewish Publication Society.Google Scholar
  51. Milgrom, Jacob. 1991. Leviticus 1–16. Anchor Bible 3; New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  52. Milgrom, Jacob. 2000. Leviticus 17–22. Anchor Bible 3a; New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  53. Niditch, Susan. 2008. ‘My Brother Esau Is a Hairy Man’: Hair and Identity in Ancient Israel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Nihan, Christophe. 2004. ‘The Holiness Code between D and P: Some Comments on the Significance of Leviticus 17–26 in the Composition of the Torah.’ In Das Deuteronomium zwischen Pentateuch und deuteronomistischem Geschichtswerk, ed. Eckart Otto and Reinhard Achenbach. Forshungen zur Religion und Literartur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 206; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.Google Scholar
  55. Nihan, Christophe. 2007. From Priestly Torah to Pentateuch: A Study in the Composition of the Book of Leviticus. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 25; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.Google Scholar
  56. Noth, Martin. 1968. Numbers: A Commentary, trans. J. D. Martin. Old Testament Library; London: SCM.Google Scholar
  57. Olson, Dennis T. 1985. The Death of the Old and the Birth of the New: The Framework of the Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch. Brown Judaic Studies 71; Chico: Scholars Press.Google Scholar
  58. Orlinsky, Harry M. 1944. ‘The Hebrew Root ŠKB.’ Journal of Biblical Literature 63: 19–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Otto, Eckart. 2004. ‘The Pentateuch in Synchronical and Diachronical Perspectives: Protorabbinical Scribal Erudition Mediating between Deuteronomy and the Priestly Code.’ In Das Deuteronomium zwischen Pentateuch und deuteronomistischem Geschichtswerk, ed. Eckart Otto and Reinhard Achenbach. Forshungen zur Religion und Literartur des Alten und Neuen Testaments 206; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.Google Scholar
  60. Otto, Eckart. 2007. Das Gesetz des Mose. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.Google Scholar
  61. Otto, Eckart. 2007. ‘Scribal Scholarship in the Formation of Torah and Prophets: A Postexilic Scribal Debate between Priestly Scholarship and Literary Prophecy—The Example of the Book of Jeremiah and Its Relation to the Pentateuch.’ In The Pentateuch as Torah: New Models for Understanding Its Promulgation and Acceptance, ed. Gary N. Knoppers and Bernard M. Levinson. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.Google Scholar
  62. Rendtorff, Rolf. 1986. The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress.Google Scholar
  63. Römer, Thomas. 2007. ‘Israel’s Sojourn in the Wilderness and the Construction of the Book of Numbers.’ In Reflection and Refraction: Studies in Biblical Historiography in Honour of A. Graeme Auld, ed. Robert Rezetko, Timothy H. Lim and W. Brian Aucker. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 113; Leiden and Boston: Brill.Google Scholar
  64. Römer, Thomas and Mark Zvi Brettler. 2000. ‘Deuteronomy 34 and the Case for a Persian Hexateuch.’ Journal of Biblical Literature 119: 401–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Schectman, Sarah. 2011. ‘The Social Status of Priestly and Levite Women.’ In Levites and Priests in Biblical History and Tradition, ed. Mark Leuchter and Jeremy M. Hutton. Ancient Israel and Its Literature 9; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.Google Scholar
  66. Schmid, Konrad. 2007. ‘The Late Persian Formation of the Torah: Observations on Deuteronomy 34.’ In Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E., ed. Oded Lipschits, Gary N. Knoppers and Rainer Albertz. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.Google Scholar
  67. Schmid, Konrad. 2012. The Old Testament: A Literary History, trans. Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress.Google Scholar
  68. Ska, Jean-Louis. 2006. Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch. Winona Lake; Eisenbrauns.Google Scholar
  69. Smith, William Robertson. 1972. The Religion of the Semites. New York: Shocken.Google Scholar
  70. Wright, David P. 1987. The Disposal of Impurity: Elimination Rites in the Bible and in Hittite and Mesopotamian Literature. Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 101; Atlanta: Scholars Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernon Lee
    • 1
  1. 1.Bethel UniversitySt. PaulUSA

Personalised recommendations