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Name given by modern scholars to that stratum of the Pentateuch which deals with ceremonial regulations, especially those which relate to sacrifice and purification. These laws once formed part of an independent narrative, which contained just sufficient historical matter to form a setting for the laws. In consequence of this, some of the priestly laws, such as those concerning circumcision and the Passover, are still given in narrative form.


The subject-matter of the Priestly Code is as follows: circumcision (Gen. xvii.); the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex. xii. 1-20); qualifications for eating the Passover (Ex. xii. 43-49); the dress of priests (Ex. xxviii.); ritual for their consecration (Ex. xxix. 1-37); the morning and evening offerings (Ex. xxix.38-42); composition of anointing-oil and incense (Ex. xxx. 22-38); law of the Sabbath (Ex. xxxi. 14b-17, xxxv. 1-3); the laws of burnt, meal-, peace-, sin-, and guilt-offerings, including specifications of the priests' portions, and, in some cases, of the dress of the officiating priest (Lev. i.-vii., x. 12-20); laws of purification and atonement (Lev. xi.-xvi. [ch. xi., which treats of clean and unclean animals, is an expansion of an older law of the Holiness Code; comp. Leviticus, Critical View]); many additions to the Holiness Code in Lev. xvii.-xxvi.; the commutation of vows (Lev. xxvii.); miscellaneous laws concerning lepers, dedicated things, and women suspected of unfaithfulness (Num. v.); laws of vows (Num. vi. 1-21); the priestly benediction (Num. vi. 22-27); how to fix lamps on the golden candlestick, and how to consecrate priests (Num. viii.); law of the supplementary Passover for those not able to keep the regular Passover (Num. ix. 9-14); laws of meal- and peace-offerings (Num. xv. 1-31); the law of tassels (Num. xv. 37-41); on the duties and revenues of priests and Levites (Num. xviii.); the "red heifer" rite of purification after defilement, through a corpse (Num. xix.); inheritance of daughters in families without sons (Num. xxvil. 1-11); the priestly calendar of feasts and sacrifices (Num. xxviii., xxix.); the distribution by the priest of booty taken in war (Num. xxxi. 21-30.); the cession of forty-eight cities to the Levites (Num. xxxv. 1-8); laws of murder and manslaughter and cities of refuge (Num. xxxv. 9-34); law concerning the marriage of heiresses to landed property (Num. xxxvi.).


It is evident that rules of priestly procedure must have accompanied the institution of the priesthood. In the earliest times these rules probably were transmitted orally. When writing was first employed in connection with them, it is likely that only some general directions, or some details deemed most important, were committed to writing. As time passed on the importance given to written law would lead the priesthood to commit more and more of the details to writing. In time, too, variations of detail would develop, authority for which must be committed to writing, so that actual practise might be justified by existing law. One would, therefore, suppose beforehand that such a code would exhibit evidence of gradual growth.

Proof that this actually occurred in the case of the Priestly Code is not wanting. As already pointed out, Lev. xvii.-xxvi. is, in the main, an older code, which has been worked over by a "priestly" editor. A careful study of the list of priestly laws exhibits further evidences of their gradual growth. The law of the "little" Passover, in Num. ix. 9-14, is a later addition to Ex. xii. 1-20. The laws of the sin-offering in Num. xv. 22-31 are supplementary to those in Lev. iv. 13-21, 27-31. The calendar of feasts in Num. xxviii.-xxix. is paralleled in Lev. xxiii. The former is much fuller and more specific than the latter, even after the calendar of feasts of the Holiness Code in Lev. xxiii. has been expanded by the priestly editor (P). The law of heiresses in Num. xxxvi. is supplementary to that in Num. xxvii. 1-11. Since the gradual development of this code is so evident, scholars have naturally sought to detect the strata of which it is composed, though they have not yet come to complete agreement. All recognize the author of the Holiness Code (Ph), which begins priestly codification, and the author of the "Grundschrift" (P or Pg), which gives to the priestly institutions their historical setting. Kuenen recognized a supplementary priestly writer, whom he designates P3.

It is now conceded that these supplementary sections are the work of no one hand or age, find that some of them date from a time considerably later than Ezra and Nehemiah. The symbol Ps is now used to designate all these expanders. Carpenter and Harford-Battersby think that prior to Pg there existed, besides Ph, a writer of the priestly schoolwhose work consisted of priestly teaching; they therefore designate him Pt. They believe that before the time of Nehemiah, Pg had embodied in his work that of Ph and Pt, and that most of the supplementary portions were added later. This accords with the view expressed above (comp. Leviticus, Critical View).

  • Kuenen, Hexateuch, pp. 65-107, London, 1886;
  • Wellhausen, History of Israel, London, 1885;
  • idem, Prolegomena zur Gesch. Israels, ch. i-iii., ix., Berlin, 1899;
  • Carpenter and Harford-Battersby, Hexateuch, i., ch. xiii., London, 1900.
E. G. H. G. A. B.
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