“Yahweh summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, when any of you brings an offering of livestock to Yahweh, you shall bring your offering of cattle from the herd or from the flock.’”
Leviticus gets its name because it explains what Aaron and his sons, the priests of Levi, are to do when they worship God. This liturgical ritual manual comes out of the priestly tradition, about 500 BCE, following and elaborating on the prescriptions found in the book of Exodus. It presupposes the completion of the sanctuary as in Exodus. Much of this was adopted by the Jewish people and some by the followers of Jesus Christ. The holocausts or offerings come from the livestock herds or the flocks. There is a very specific ways in which these offerings are to be performed. They are done this way because, as in much of Exodus, Yahweh had summoned Moses and spoke to him. Yahweh commands Moses at the tent of meeting on how things are to be done.
“If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish. You shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance on your behalf before Yahweh. You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be acceptable on your behalf as atonement for you. The bull shall be slaughtered before Yahweh. Aaron’s sons, the priests, shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts. The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar, and arrange wood on the fire. Aaron’s sons, the priests, shall lay the parts, with the head and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar. But its entrails and its legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to Yahweh.”
You had to offer a male bull without blemish. You bring this bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then you lay your hand on the head of this burnt offering, so that it may be atonement for you. Thus the animal serves as a surrogate offering. Then the bull is slaughtered, while Aaron’s sons offer the blood, dashing it against all sides of the altar. There is a clear separation of the blood from the various animal parts. The priests put wood on the altar to prepare for a fire and cut the bull up, with the head and the fat on the altar. However, the entrails and the legs were to be washed with water. Finally the priest turns the offering into smoke as a burnt offering with its pleasing odor for Yahweh.
“If your gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, your offering shall be a male without blemish. It shall be slaughtered on the north side of the altar before Yahweh. Aaron’s sons, the priests shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar. It shall be cut up into its parts, with its head and its fat. The priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar. But the entrails and the legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall offer the whole and turn it into smoke on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to Yahweh.”
If you are dealing with sheep and goats, you still need a male without blemish. This slaughter takes place on the north side of the altar. Otherwise it is the same procedure as for the bull.
“If your offering to Yahweh is a burnt offering of birds, you shall choose your offering from turtledoves or pigeons. The priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head, and turn it into smoke on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out against the side of the altar. He shall remove its crop with its contents and throw it at the east side of the altar, in the place for ashes. He shall tear it open by its wings without severing it. Then the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to Yahweh.”
If you are dealing with birds, they have to be turtledoves or pigeons. There is a precise procedure for killing them. You wring off its head, and turn it into smoke on the altar. Once again the blood is drained out against the side of the altar. Then you remove its crop. The crop is a pouch in the throat of many birds in which they store food before regurgitating it to feed their young. This crop is then thrown in the ashes on the east side of the altar. You tear it open by its wings without severing it. This then becomes smoke that is an offering that gives a pleasing odor to Yahweh.
By today’s standards, the PETA people would be upset about cruelty to animals. However, we have to remember that all the meat that we eat comes from slaughtered animals. At least here there were clear prescriptions within a religious context of trying to please Yahweh. Also of note is the pleasing odor to Yahweh, which indicates that Yahweh God has a keen sense of smell, which is rarely emphasized. Perhaps the poor people would bring the birds, while the well to do would bring the larger animals, bulls, sheep, and goats. There was a set procedure for the bulls, then the sheep and goats, and finally the turtledoves or pigeon birds. The fact that these animals and birds were chosen seems to indicate that they must have been available to the Israelites.