Leviticus 12

Notes (NET Translation)

1 The Lord spoke to Moses:

2 “Tell the Israelites, ‘When a woman produces offspring and bears a male child, she will be unclean seven days, as she is unclean during the days of her menstruation.

The child is born clean while the new mother becomes unclean. The impurity of the new mother resembles the impurity of a menstruating woman (Lev. 15:19-24) in that it is the discharge (lochia) that follows childbirth that makes her impure.

3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin must be circumcised.

The rite of circumcision was initiated in Gen. 17:10-14. It identifies the son as a member of the covenant community. The eighth day is the first day after the new mother’s initial period of impurity has ended.

4 Then she will remain thirty-three days in blood purity. She must not touch anything holy and she must not enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled.

The new mother then enters a period known as demei toharah (“blood purity”), the meaning of which is not clear. According to B. Levine: “The sense of the statement is that discharges of blood that occur after the initial period of impurity are unlike menstrual blood and are not regarded as being impure.”1 The new mother can have contact with the common but not the holy.

The regulations governing a new mother may . . . represent a strong response to the emphasis on fertility in ancient Near Eastern polytheism. By contrast, there could be no place in the Israelite sanctuary for the celebration of birth because such would promote a mythological attitude toward God Himself. We know from the literature of other ancient Near Eastern societies that, within the pagan temples, birth dramas were enacted and myths of birth were recited. Both dramatized the birth of gods and goddesses and their sexual union in celebrations that expressed the human drive for fertility. The biblical restrictions, which excluded the new mother from religious life until she and her child had survived childbirth, created a distance between the event of birth and the worship of God, for God rules over nature and grants the blessing of new life, but He is not, of course, subject to the natural processes of procreation.2

5 If she bears a female child, she will be impure fourteen days as during her menstrual flow, and she will remain sixty-six days in blood purity.

The time periods in questions for bearing a daughter are twice those for bearing a son. Longer periods of uncleanness after the birth of a daughter were also customary among the Hittites, the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Indians.3 No reason is given for this difference. A modern person may assume it is because the Israelites had a lower view of females. However, greater defilement was not necessarily an indication of lesser worth. For example, a dead human defiled more than a dead pig despite the fact humans were held in far higher esteem than pigs.4

6 “‘When the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she must bring a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering to the entrance of the Meeting Tent, to the priest.

In this context, a sin offering was given to remove impurity, not to atone for an offense. The fact that the offerings were the same whether the mother bore a son or a daughter “undercuts any interpretation that the different lengths of impurity indicated that a baby boy had more intrinsic value than a baby girl.”5

7 The priest is to present it before the Lord and make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean from her flow of blood. This is the law of the one who bears a child, for the male or the female child.

8 If she cannot afford a sheep, then she must take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering, and the priest is to make atonement on her behalf, and she will be clean.’”

According to Luke 2:22-24, Mary offered the sacrifice of the poor after the birth of Jesus.

Bibliography

Hartley, John E. Leviticus. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1992.

Levine, Baruch A. Leviticus. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Milgrom, Jacob. Leviticus 1-16. New York: Doubleday, 1991.

Rooker, Mark, and Dennis R. Cole. Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Holman Reference, 2000.

Wenham, Gordon J. The Book of Leviticus. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.


  1. Levine 1989, p. 73 
  2. Levine 1989, p. 250 
  3. Milgrom 1991, p. 744, 750; Rooker and Cole 2000, loc. 5173-5174 
  4. Milgrom 1991, p. 751 
  5. Hartley 1998, p. 169 
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