Leviticus 12

Purification of a Woman after Childbirth

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites, ‘When a woman produces offspring
Heb “produces seed” (Hiphil of זָרַע, zara’; used only elsewhere in Gen 1:11–12 for plants “producing” their own “seed”), referring to the process of childbearing as a whole, from conception to the time of birth (H. D. Preuss, TDOT 4:144; cf. J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 164-65; and J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:742–43). Smr and LXX have Niphal “be impregnated” (see, e.g., Num 5:28); note KJV “If a woman have conceived seed” (cf. ASV, NAB, NRSV; also NIV, NLT “becomes pregnant”).
and bears a male child,
The regulations for the “male child” in vv. 2–4 contrast with those for the “female child” in v. 5 (see the note there).
she will be unclean seven days, as she is unclean during the days of her menstruation.
Heb “as the days of the menstrual flow [nom.] of her menstruating [q. inf.] she shall be unclean” (R. E. Averbeck, NIDOTTE 1:925–26; the verb appears only in this verse in the OT). Cf. NASB “as in the days of her menstruation”; NLT “during her menstrual period”; NIV “during her monthly period.”
See Lev 15:19–24 for the standard purity regulations for a woman’s menstrual period.
On
Heb “and in….”
the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin
This rendering, “the flesh of his foreskin,” is literal. Based on Lev 15:2–3, one could argue that the Hebrew word for “flesh” here (בָּשָׂר, basar) is euphemistic for the male genitals and therefore translate “the foreskin of his member” (see, e.g., J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:748). A number of English versions omit this reference to the foreskin and mention only circumcision, presumably for euphemistic reasons (cf. NIV, NCV, TEV, CEV, NLT).
must be circumcised.
Then she will remain
Heb “sit, dwell” (יָשָׁב, yashav) normally means “to sit, to dwell”), but here it means “to remain, to stay” in the same condition for a period of time (cf., e.g., Gen 24:55).
thirty-three days in blood purity.
Heb “in bloods of purification” or “purifying” or “purity”; NASB “in the blood of her purification”; NRSV “her time of blood purification.” See the following note.
She must not touch anything holy and she must not enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled.
The initial seven days after the birth of a son were days of blood impurity for the woman as if she were having her menstrual period. Her impurity was contagious during this period, so no one should touch her or even furniture on which she has sat or reclined (Lev 15:19–23), lest they too become impure. Even her husband would become impure for seven days if he had sexual intercourse with her during this time (Lev 15:24; cf. 18:19). The next thirty-three days were either “days of purification, purifying” or “days of purity,” depending on how one understands the abstract noun טֹהֳרָה (toharah, “purification, purity”) in this context. During this time the woman could not touch anything holy or enter the sanctuary, but she was no longer contagious like she had been during the first seven days. She could engage in normal everyday life, including sexual intercourse, without fear of contaminating anyone else (B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 73–74; cf. J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:749–50). Thus, in a sense, the thirty-three days were a time of blood “purity” (cf. the present translation) as compared to the previous seven days of blood “impurity,” but they were also a time of blood “purification” (or “purifying”) as compared to the time after the thirty-three days, when the blood atonement had been made and she was pronounced “clean” by the priest (see vv. 6–8 below). In other words, the thirty-three day period was a time of “blood” (flow), but this was “pure blood,” as opposed to the blood of the first seven days.
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
Heb “on purity blood.” The preposition here is עַל (’al) rather than בְּ (be, as it is in the middle of v. 4), but no doubt the same meaning is intended.
blood purity.
For clarification of the translation here, see the notes on vv. 2–4 above.
The doubling of the time after the birth of a female child is puzzling (see the remarks in J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:750–51; and G. J. Wenham, Leviticus [NICOT], 188). Some have argued, for example, that it derives from the relative status of the sexes, or a supposed longer blood flow for the birth of a woman, or even to compensate for the future menstrual periods of the female just born. Perhaps there is a better explanation. First, a male child must be circumcised on the eighth day, so the impurity of the mother could not last beyond the first seven days lest it interfere with the circumcision rite. A female child, of course, was not circumcised, so the impurity of the mother would not interfere and the length of the impure time could be extended further. Second, it would be natural to expect that the increased severity of the blood flow after childbirth, as compared to that of a woman’s menstrual period, would call for a longer period of impurity than the normal seven days of the menstrual period impurity (compare Lev 15:19 with 15:25–30). Third, this suggests that the fourteen day impurity period for the female child would have been more appropriate, and the impurity period for the birth of a male child had to be shortened. Fourth, not only the principle of multiples of seven but also multiples of forty applies to this reckoning. Since the woman’s blood discharge after bearing a child continues for more than seven days, her discharge keeps her from contact with sacred things for a longer period of time in order to avoid contaminating the tabernacle (note Lev 15:31). This ended up totaling forty days for the birth of a male child (seven plus thirty-three) and a corresponding doubling of the second set of days for the woman (fourteen plus sixty-six). See R. E. Averbeck, NIDOTTE 2:368–70. The fact that the offerings were the same for either a male or a female infant (vv. 6–8) suggests that the other differences in the regulations are not due to the notion that a male child had greater intrinsic value than a female child (J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 169).


“‘When
Heb “And when” (so KJV, NASB). Many recent English versions leave the conjunction untranslated.
the days of her purification are completed for a son or for a daughter, she must bring a one year old lamb
Heb “a lamb the son of his year”; KJV “a lamb of the first year” (NRSV “in its first year”); NAB “a yearling lamb.”
for a burnt offering
See the note on Lev 1:3 regarding the “burnt offering.”
and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering
See the note on Lev 4:3 regarding the term “sin offering.”
to the entrance of the Meeting Tent, to the priest.
The priest
Heb “and he” (i.e., the priest mentioned at the end of v. 6). The referent has been specified in the translation for clarity.
is to present it before the Lord and make atonement
See the note on Lev 1:4 “make atonement.” The purpose of sin offering “atonement,” in particular, was to purge impurities from the tabernacle (see Lev 15:31 and 16:5–19, 29–34), whether they were caused by physical uncleannesses or by sins and iniquities. In this case, the woman has not “sinned” morally by having a child. Even Mary brought such offerings for giving birth to Jesus (Luke 2:22–24), though she certainly did not “sin” in giving birth to him. Note that the result of bringing this “sin offering” was “she will be clean,” not “she will be forgiven” (cf. Lev 4:20, 26, 31, 35; 5:10, 13). The impurity of the blood flow has caused the need for this “sin offering,” not some moral or relational infringement of the law (contrast Lev 4:2, “When a person sins by straying unintentionally from any of the commandments of the Lord”).
on her behalf, and she will be clean
Or “she will be[come] pure.”
from her flow of blood.
Heb “from her source [i.e., spring] of blood,” possibly referring to the female genital area, not just the “flow of blood” itself (as suggested by J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:761). Cf. ASV “from the fountain of her blood.”
This is the law of the one who bears a child, for the male or the female child.
If she cannot afford a sheep,
Heb “If her hand cannot find the sufficiency of a sheep.” Many English versions render this as “lamb.”
then she must take two turtledoves or two young pigeons,
Heb “from the sons of the pigeon,” referring either to “young pigeons” or “various species of pigeon” (contrast J. Milgrom, Leviticus [AB], 1:168, with J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 14; cf. Lev 1:14 and esp. 5:7–10).
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.’”
Or “she will be[come] pure.”


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