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It seems straightforward that if a house is dedicated then it can only be brought back by paying the set value plus 20%, but I'm a bit confused about what the passage is saying about dedicating people. It seems like that to dedicate a person then the value is paid to the priest, or the value plus the person is given to the priest?

Does this mean when a person is dedicated both the money and the person are given to the priest, (set apart, made holy, etc) or just the money itself is actually entering God's service?

Why would dedicating people be different than all the other types of dedications outlined in Leviticus 27? I feel like I'm missing something here.

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As I understand it, the person must be redeemed. There is a provision for reducing the valuation in case of need, Lev 27:8 (ESV2011): "And if someone is too poor to pay the valuation, then he shall be made to stand before the priest, and the priest shall value him; the priest shall value him according to what the vower can afford." Redemption appears to be mandatory. Verse 28 seems to be a different kind of vow -- "devoted", need to investigate that. –  disciple Apr 22 '14 at 1:46
    
Good point, I'll read it again with attention to the language used for vow. –  Jacob Apr 22 '14 at 4:59
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Please cite a specific translation as various versions don't always line up. See this explanation of why this is important that gives examples of what we're looking for. –  Dan Apr 22 '14 at 11:47

2 Answers 2

There's a very simple reason why people are evaluated differently than property: people aren't property. Technically, a person does have a monetary value according to how much he/she would be sold as a slave, but I could think of many reasons why the Bible wouldn't want such an evaluation: is the value of a human being really equal to how good of a slave he'd be?

To answer what actually happens, then, is that the person is 'redeemed' by his/her value given to the LORD according to the numbers in the passage. I assume that your confusion comes from the KJV, which begins Ch. 27 with "the persons shall be for the LORD, by thy estimation", implying that the person is given. However, other translations are more clear: "If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons...", which is closer to the Hebrew. This verse (27:2) is merely introducing the numeric values given in the next few verses (50 shekels for a male, 30 for a female, etc.). The person himself is not given to the LORD.

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Leviticus 27 describes the laws regarding the dedications of people, animals, and houses to G-d. The dedication involved sacrificing the item in question to G-d. In some cases, such as in the dedication of animal, the item could be literally sacrificed. However, in other cases, such as a person, there is a general principle that the sacrifice was substituted for a monetary payment given towards the service of G-d.

Leviticus 27:9 reads:

וְאִם בְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ מִמֶּנָּה קָרְבָּן לַיהֹוָה כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן מִמֶּנּוּ לַיהֹוָה יִהְיֶה קֹּדֶשׁ
"And if they bring a (kosher) animal as an offering, any part from which they give will be holy unto G-d."

The Talmud (Arachin 5a) relates that a man could actually offer an individual part of an allowed animal by entering into an agreement with someone else who wanted to purchase the animal for a sacrifice. The owner of the animal would end up offering that certain part while being financially compensated for the remainder. Here, we see that dedicating a kosher animal literally means sacrificing it to G-d.

However, Leviticus 27:11 mentions that in the case of a unclean animal, the priest will determine what the value of the animal is. As Rashi discusses, the unclean animal will then enter into the Temple treasury where it will be available for purchase by another party. And if the owner of the unclean animal wishes to redeem it, he will the full price plus one fifth added. In this case, we see that the item cannot be dedicated to G-d's service, so instead a compensation takes its place.

Leviticus 27:2 deals with the dedications of people (souls):

דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אִישׁ כִּי יַפְלִא נֶדֶר בְּעֶרְכְּךָ נְפָשֹׁת לַיהֹוָה
"Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: "When a man expresses a vow regarding the value of lives to G-d."

The Talmud (Arachin 20a) interprets the phrase בְּעֶרְכְּךָ נְפָשֹׁת to refer to vital organs of the body. Hence a man could dedicate his heart or liver to G-d. However, this was interpreted as meaning giving an amount corresponding to the value of his life. Again, as in the case of dedicating an unclean animal, we see that dedicating one's life meant in practice giving a certain compensation to the Temple treasury.

Finally, Leviticus 27:14-24 deals with the dedication of houses and fields. The concept of redeeming the dedicated house or field for its equivalent monetary value is the same as the examples already given. The laws of the Jubilee and their effect on land ownership are also discussed, although it doesn't change the behavior of the dedication.

To cross-validate what I have claimed above, consider the redemption of the first-born male child. Numbers 3:45-47 records G-d commanding Moses to take the Levites in place of the firstborn male children of Israel for service in the Tabernacle. Moses is also commanded to take five (silver) shekel coins for each of 237 people in excess of the Levites. The firstborn male children of Israel were originally supposed to serve as priests. But as Jewish tradition holds it, they forfeited this right to the Levites due to the sin with the Golden Calf in Exodus 32. As the firstborn males can no longer be holy to serve in the Temple, they must be redeemed for an appropriate value. And this practice actually continues to this day in Judaism.

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