It Was a Dark and Stormy, Awkward, Opening Line

Moses Receiving the Law. Anonymous Artist. Netherlands 1465. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It Was a Dark and Stormy, Awkward, Opening Line •
Leviticus 1:1

Writers of novels and other fiction pay a great deal of attention to the opening lines of their works. Non-fiction writers also must also take care with opening lines.

The author of the book of Leviticus however — Moses and any subsequent editors — did a seemingly poor job of this in the Hebrew text passed down to us.

A strict English reading of the first line of Hebrew Leviticus runs something like this:

“And he is proclaiming to Moses, and declaring to him, is the Lord God, saying from the tabernacle that….”

This reads poorly, doesn’t it?

Here is the Hebrew of verse 1. Read from right to left:

Our attention is drawn to the implied pronoun “he” which comes early in the sentence. This “he” does not have a prior referant, coming not only early in the line but in the very first line of the book.

One doesn’t lead off a narrative by writing the opening line “He ran over the hill and Dave washed the car.” Instead, a writer says “Dave ran over the hill and then he washed….”

English translations sensibly “fix” this bad writing craft by explicitly placing the word “LORD” at the beginning of the sentence:

Here’s a broad sampling of English translations. We can find no English translation of Leviticus 1:1 which begins “And then he….” Here:

The LORD called…
The LORD called…
The LORD called…
The LORD called…
The LORD called…
The LORD called to…
The LORD told…
Then the LORD called…
Then the LORD called…
Then the LORD called…
Then the LORD called to…
Then the LORD summoned…
Then the LORD summoned…
And the LORD called…
And the Lord called…
And the Lord called…
And the LORD called to…
And the LORD called to..
And the LORD called unto…
And the LORD called unto…
And the LORD called unto…
And THE LORD called unto…
Now the Lord called…
Now the LORD called…
And Jehovah called unto…
And Jehovah called to…
And Jehovah calleth unto…
Yahweh called to…
Adonai called to…
And Hashem spoke unto…

So why does the writer of Leviticus do this? Why doesn’t Moses better edit his work?

The answer comes by flipping back a page in your Bible and reading the final lines of Exodus. Here, from the Berean Study Bible:

Exodus 40:34-38 Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35Moses was unable to enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

36Whenever the cloud was lifted from above the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out through all the stages of their journey. 37If the cloud was not lifted, they would not set out until the day it was taken up. 38For the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel through all their journeys. (Berean Study Bible)

So, if we attach these lines together with the first line of Leviticus, we end up with a clean-reading sentence something like:

For the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was so on and so forth, and then he….

where “and then he…” is the opening line of Leviticus following the strict order of the Hebrew text. If the Hebrew of Lev 1:1 is tacked onto Ex 40:48, all is fine with the writing craft.

To be sure, we suppose that when preparing the scrolls “published” as Leviticus, the early Hebrews might have shown some editorial craft and cleaned up the first page of the Leviticus scroll. But they apparently did not feel compelled to do so, and we can not blame them for what would have been, in the end, unnecessary word-smithing.

. . . . .

Thanks to Studylight, Scripture4All, and the NET Study Bible’s translators notes.

. . . . .

God’s blessings to you!

If you wish to comment, please 1) quote scripture, 2) avoid giving your opinion, but instead provide 3) what you’ve gleaned from published, learned commentary from scholarly and devout interpreters.

And read the actual Bible for yourself! 🙂

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