Both of these passages, Leviticus 4 and Numbers 15, were penned by the Aaronid priestly guild. So they may reflect differences within the priesthood that would have naturally arisen over the centuries it existed. It might also be that Numbers 15 was a later amendment to the earlier instruction (torah) of Leviticus 4.
Leviticus 4 details the sin or purification offering, and in order of descending urgency: the sin-offering to be performed if the high priest sins, if the community sins, if a chieftain sins, and finally if a commoner sins.
A close reader of Leviticus 4-5 will notice two important and fundamental precepts that are theological and cultic staples of the priestly guild:
- Sin can only be atoned through a sacrificial offering to Yahweh.
- Only inadvertent sins, those made by mistake or unknowingly, can be atoned.
In other words, any deliberate violation of Yahweh’s laws, according to the Priestly writer, cannot be atoned for. That individual is to be “cut off” from the people (Num 15:30-31). We will look at this more closely on tomorrow’s contradiction.
Leviticus 4 also specifies that its sin-offerings are for violating Yahweh’s prohibitive commandments—the ‘thou shalt nots.’ Numbers 15 may be reacting to this because it specifies any violation of all of Yahweh’s commandments, prohibitive and performative. Like Leviticus 4, Numbers 15 also stress that the sin-offering is only performed for those sins that were committed “by mistake,” or unknowingly. All deliberate or brazen sins are not eligible for atonement, period. “That person will be cut off. His crime is in him.”