Leviticus-Numbers. Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary

By Lloyd R. Bailey
Macon, Ga. : Smyth & Helwys (2005). xxii + 648 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
17.2 (Fall 2006) : 231-232

Lloyd Bailey retired from his professorship in Hebrew Bible at the Divinity School, Duke University, and became a Professor of Religion at Mount Olive College and an Adjunct Professor at Methodist College. He has authored fifteen books and was one of the editors for The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: Supplementary Volume (Abingdon, 1976).

The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary aims at being “a visually stimulating and user-friendly series that is as close to multimedia in print as possible” (xv). Much of the visual in this particular volume consists of various samples of art through the ages that reflect Leviticus and Numbers in some fashion. The accompanying CD includes a full-text PDF document of the volume that is fully searchable and allows copying of both text and illustrations for use in classroom instruction. Formatting for the volume accomplishes the visual and user-friendly aspects that present detailed information palatably.

Valuable discussions pepper the volume. One such is Bailey’s presentation of interpreting the food laws. He rightly concludes that the issue is actually “one of simple obedience to the Creator’s directives” (19). In addition, he exposes Western modernity’s focus “upon the autonomy of the self”—identifying this as “a rejection by creatures of their accountability to their Creator” (20). Yet another topic involves the repetitive nature of the sacrificial instructions in Leviticus 1–7 (57) and of the narrative in Numbers 7 (430). Such repetition “serves to drive the lesson home in a forceful and memorable way” (57). Readers will also find Bailey’s extended evaluation of various interpretive categories regarding food laws in Leviticus 11 clarifying and refreshing (129-39). This reviewer was pleasantly surprised by the author’s clear interpretive analysis of the ban on homosexuality in Lev 20:13, responding to seven erroneous popular claims about that text (245-56).

As good as some sections might be, a reader must use this volume with extreme caution. Bailey takes stances that are consistent with the Documentary Hypothesis (14-16) and antithetical to Mosaic authorship. Such an approach fragments the text of Leviticus into at least six different documents in six different time periods. One of his supports for this fragmentation of the text is the use of “the past tense and the third person” (24), as though it is unreasonable or illogical for an author to speak of himself or of an event in the past tense. Another erroneous basis for dividing the text into different productions involves the mention of cattle as a reflection of “a time when Israel had already settled in the ‘promised land,’ since cattle will scarcely survive the rigors of nomadic life (in the Sinai Desert) at the time when the narrative is set” (46; see also 430). The biblical text, however, clearly reports that Israel took cattle into the desert (Exod 9:4-7; 10:9, 24-26; 12:32, 38).

Occasional comments denigrate the integrity of the text. For example, Bailey claims that textual differences “are to be found at tens of thousands of places” (8), without explaining whether such differences really impact meaning. Are these differences true material variants, or are they minor variations such as two different spellings for exactly the same word with the same meaning? Again, Bailey speaks of “a certain roughness of syntax” (68)—a judgment that a non-native, chronologically distant reader of Hebrew cannot make with any degree of certainty. When he writes that “the New Testament writers used (or misused) Leviticus” (96), he questions the integrity and accuracy of the NT. He proposes that final compilers of the text “were not bothered by . . . conflicting details, . . . apparently because the specifics did not matter” (111). It appears that Bailey has a low view of inspiration and inerrancy. Such examples of theological antipathy to divine authorship conflict with his declaration that “God has defined holiness” (203). Other than Walter Kaiser on Leviticus (in The New Interpreter’s Bible [Abingdon, 1994]) and Gordon Wenham on Numbers (Old Testament Guides [Sheffield, 1979] and Tyndale OT Commentaries [Inter-Varsity, 1981]), commentaries from an evangelical perspective are notably absent in the bibliography (615-22).

Bailey employs the human analogy of a family gathering a genealogical history in an attempt to explain the gradual development of the text (17). Such analogies, however, do injustice to the divinely superintended inscripturation of the Word of God (a concept whose presence is noticeably missing in this volume, unless one might read something into his sidebar comment about “the spirit of the LORD” coming upon the literary prophets, 114). In the same vein, even though Bailey criticizes one author for basing an interpretation “upon modern anthropological models, a rather precarious methodology” (121 n. 5; cf. also his criticism of “a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion,’” 183), he himself uses such models for explaining the concept of God’s “glory” (109-10), the practice of corner tassels with blue thread (153 n. 35), and the belief in demons (168; over and over again Bailey denies the existence of demons, even at the expense of the NT record, 33-34, 126, 185).

In the sidebars, Bailey occasionally fails to clarify information for the reader or to discuss obvious associations. In the discussion of the Dead Sea scroll notation 4QSamb, the author provides no explanation for the meaning of b (10). Treatment of the topic of demons lurking on thresholds and divine guardians (72) provoke questions regarding the cherub decorations in Tabernacle and Temple as well as the presence of cherubim to guard the entrance into the Garden of Eden. However, Bailey does not address any of those associations. Within the text itself the reader is left wondering how being “cut off” would be accomplished, if it consists of “termination of the offender’s genealogical line” (88). Was Israel to execute all of a violator’s children, or did they castrate him?

Unfortunately, Bailey reveals a lack of accurate knowledge about the church in both Russia and China by claiming that, unlike persecuted Judaism, the persecuted church is “driven to the verge of extinction” (147). It is but one example, however, of providing undependable information.