All of the Pentateuch’s sources adhere to the law of the firstborns, a sacrificial theology which mandates that the firstfruits of reproduction—whether of plants, animals, or humans—be sacrificed to Yahweh.
“Consecrate every firstborn for me [Yahweh]. The first birth of every womb of the children of Israel, of a human and of an animal, is mine!” (Ex 13:2)
I have already addressed this firstborn sacrificial theology as it relates to all firstborn human males, which, rather than being sacrificed up to Yahweh, are redeemed by the Levites, who ransom all male firstborns and who thus belong to Yahweh! Obviously, there are strong undertones of an original archaic theology of human sacrifice at work here. Again, these ideas were discussed and explored in contradiction #145.
Here, we are interested in this sacrificial theology as it pertains to animals, in which case the Pentateuch bears witness to 2 blatantly contradictory edicts.
“Every male firstborn that will be born in your herd and in your flock you shall consecrate to Yahweh, your god!” (Deut 15:19; cf. Ex 13:2 above)
“A firstborn of the animals—which as a firstling is committed to Yahweh—no man shall consecrate it!” (Lev 27:26)
At face value the terms of these 2 edicts are completely contradictory—1) you shall consecrate all male firstborns to Yahweh (happens on the 8th day), and 2) no one shall consecrate the firstborns of the animals to Yahweh. But I’m not so sure the inherent theological idea which these two expressions are contradictorily expressing is contradictory. And thus I part with the views of my colleagues on this matter.
At face value, what the Priestly writer of Leviticus 27:26 is attempting to articulate—I believe—is that no man can consecrate a firstborn of the herd or flock, traditionally ox and sheep, because these firstlings are already inherently consecrated to Yahweh—“they are already committed”/designated/consecrated to Yahweh. Admittedly, I would argue that both the Elohist and the Deuteronomist would agree with this, but their edicts seem to express that nevertheless these firstlings need to be ritually consecrated to Yahweh, and normally that is done on the 8th day—note: the same day that all male firstborns are to be circumcised—not a coincidence (see #145).
So these sources would seem to agree that the firstborns of ox and sheep are consecrated to Yahweh, inherently, already, by the very fact that they are firstborn males. If this is the case, then we might make sense of the Priestly writer’s stance that therefore “no man shall consecrate them to Yahweh”; they already are. Yet I think the Priestly writer is making a different sort of argument here, and here is an example where context provides the clues.
All of Leviticus 27 discusses the appraisal of things—humans, animals, houses, fields, tithes—that can be devoted or consecrated to Yahweh. For example,
And when a man will consecrate his house to be a holy thing to Yahweh, then the priest shall appraise it. . . And if the one who consecrates it will redeem his house, then he shall add a fifth of the money of your appraisal to it, and it shall be his (Lev 27:14-15).
In other words, a man can give, devote, his house to Yahweh (i.e., to the priesthood) in exchange for money—the appraisal of the house set by the priests. That is, he has consecrated his house to Yahweh. Furthermore, there is the option to redeem his house—buy it back—by paying a fifth more than its appraisal.
This is the case for the consecration of regular animals, fields, and tithes as well. In this context, we can see why the Priestly writer has Yahweh declare that “no man shall consecrate a firstborn of the ox and sheep”—i.e., devote it to Yahweh in exchange for its appraisal money—because it already belongs to Yahweh! I would argue that this is what the Priestly writer intends here (contra Milgrom), and even though its wording is a clear contradiction of Deuteronomy 15:19 and Exodus 13:2, the thought underneath the language is not. So the contradiction stands—after all I have typed this all up—but it’s only a contradiction in word. I think the thought underneath our three sources is harmonious.
As a side note, I cannot help but to mention the valuation, appraisal, given for humans who devote themselves, their lives, to Yahweh (Lev 27:3-8). The appraisal that god Yahweh gives for a male between the ages of 20 and 60 is 50 shekels, that of a woman in the same age group is 30 shekels. From God’s mouth to yours, a woman is worth 40% less than a man!
And modern day people living millennia after these texts were written, most of whom are ignorant about these texts, want to nevertheless claim that morals come from the biblical god! Sometimes I’m ashamed at the paucity of genuine intellectual and spiritual aptitude of my fellow human species.