7 Questions on Leviticus and Numbers in the NIVAC Commentary Series
Roy Gane (PhD, University of California, Berkeley) is professor of Hebrew Bible and ancient near eastern languages at the Theological Seminary of Andrews University.
He is author of a number of scholarly articles and several books including God’s Faulty Heroes (Review Herald, 1996-on the biblical book of Judges), Altar Call (Diadem, 1999-on the Israelite sanctuary services and their meaning for Christians), Ritual Dynamic Structure (Gorgias Press, 2004), Leviticus, Numbers (NIV Application Commentary; Zondervan, 2004), and Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (Eisenbrauns, 2005), as well as the Leviticus portion of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament (2009).
Dr. Gane and his wife, Connie Clark Gane, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, have one daughter, Sarah Elizabeth.
1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Leviticus and Numbers?
During my graduate school (M.A and Ph.D.) years at the University of California, Berkeley, I had the privilege of studying under Jacob Milgrom, a world expert on Leviticus and Numbers, while he was writing major commentaries on these books. I had almost no interest in Leviticus and Numbers before that time, but Milgrom helped me to appreciate the way in which their details form a system of profound teaching that informs our understanding of the dynamic relationship between God and his people. Accordingly, my Ph.D. dissertation (1992; now published by Gorgias Press as Ritual Dynamic Structure, 2004) focused on the rituals of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) and their function in purging the sanctuary in comparison with purifications of sacred objects and spaces in Babylonian and Hittite ritual systems. Subsequently, in the process of teaching and speaking about ways in which the biblical sanctuary rituals teach us about salvation through Christ’s sacrifice and priestly mediation in heaven, I realized that there was a need for a popular book on the subject. So I published Altar Call (1999), of which a revised edition under the title of The Sanctuary and Salvation: The Practical Significance of Christ’s Sacrifice and Priesthood is currently under production.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
The intended audience is fairly educated people in general who want to learn more about the Bible. It is based on scholarship and seeks to be profitable for professors and pastors, but it also attempts to communicate in a way that is accessible and engaging to a wide readership, including lay Christians as well as students.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Leviticus and Numbers?
The uniqueness and contribution of this commentary is largely based on the unique contribution of the NIV Application Commentary series as a whole. Whereas many commentaries have focused exclusively on the original meaning of biblical books and some have added some modern application, the NIVAC series treats each passage in three steps: original meaning, bridging contexts, and contemporary significance. Original meaning takes the reader back to the meaning in the ancient biblical world, but bridging contexts identify ongoing issues and principles in the text that carry over into contemporary significance, thereby returning the reader to present life in a controlled way, with practical application solidly rooted in actual biblical teaching. My volume on Leviticus and Numbers presents some cutting-edge research, including regarding the function of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16) as a time of judgment between loyal and disloyal Israelites when God’s judicial responsibility for forgiving guilty but repentant people was vindicated.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
I had worked a lot with the sacrificial rituals of Leviticus before writing the commentary, but detailed study of some of the other legal and narrative portions was newer to me. Some of these were especially memorable to research and write because they involve issues that are hotly debated today, such as the laws against homosexual practice (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13), administering capital punishment (see on Num 35), and problems of theodicy, particularly the divinely mandated corporate capital punishment of some people groups, with the Israelites serving as God’s instrument (see on Numbers 21).
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
The whole writing project personally edified me and drew me closer to Christ, first as I saw the loving character of God reflected in the sacrifices foreshadowing the sacrifice of Christ and in the way he reached out to his people and interacted with them as close as he could get from his sanctuary residence among them. The various kinds of animal sacrifices illustrate different aspects of Christ’s sacrifice as he extends transforming mercy with justice to faulty human beings. The laws in Leviticus 17-27 further reveal God as he seeks to guide his people to well-being and happiness through harmony with his principles of cause-and-effect. Among these chapters, Leviticus 19 is a clarion call to love-based holy living that emulates God’s holy, loving character. The narratives in Leviticus and Numbers demonstrate God’s tough love in dealing with human waywardness and rebellion as he applied mercy when possible and justice when necessary to preserve the chosen nation.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Leviticus and Numbers?
Select bibliographies for Leviticus and Numbers are in my Leviticus, Numbers commentary. Here are just a few especially helpful works, and I could refer to many others. The huge 3-volume Anchor Bible series commentary on Leviticus (Leviticus 1-16, Leviticus 17-22, Leviticus 23-27; 1991, 2000, 2001) by my teacher, Jacob Milgrom, provides a wealth of detailed information and explanation of Leviticus, and his JPS Torah commentary on Numbers (1990) does much of the same for this book, although not to the same extent. There are a number of other fine commentaries on Leviticus, including those by Gordon Wenham (The Book of Leviticus; NICOT, 1979), John Hartley (Leviticus; WBC, 1992), and Baruch Levine (Leviticus; JPS Torah, 1989).
Some of the more helpful commentaries on Numbers are the Anchor Bible series commentary by Baruch Levine (Numbers 1-20, Numbers 21-36; 1993, 2000) and the commentary by Dennis Olson (Numbers; IBC, 1996). On the Israelite ritual system, especially in Leviticus but also in Numbers, see Roy Gane, Cult and Character: Purification Offerings, Day of Atonement, and Theodicy (2005) and David P. Wright, The Disposal of Impurity: Elimination Rites in the Bible and in Hittite and Mesopotamian Literature (1987). On biblical law involved in Leviticus and Numbers, see especially Dale Patrick, Old Testament Law (1985); Raymond Westbrook and Bruce Wells, Everyday Law in Biblical Israel: An Introduction (2009); Roy Gane, Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application (forthcoming, 2017).
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
I am now writing the Leviticus volume for the new Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Commentary series, which will be published in 2020. To follow my work, see academic.edu, researchgate.net, or digitalcommons.andrews.edu.
Get Dr. Gane’s Leviticus and Numbers commentary
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- Dr. Gane’s commentary on Leviticus and Numbers at Amazon