Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Bible, Pt. 23: Leviticus, Chapter 1 - 8

I'm starting Leviticus now, after finishing Exodus in Part 22 last time, in my reading of the Christian Bible. All quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the King James version.

Leviticus, Chapter 1:
1 And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

...

5 And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

6 And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces.

7 And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire:

8 And the priests, Aaron's sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar:

9 But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

Oh, god! Last time, I said I hoped we were done with the interior decorating stuff, and it seems that we are. But what do I get instead? Chapter after chapter of recipes!

OK, not exactly recipes, I suppose, though it gets pretty close to that sometimes. No, these are detailed instructions about how God wants his blood sacrifices prepared - 8 chapters worth! (Note that God is talking to Moses from the tabernacle now, since he's moved into his new home.)

I'm going to skim through this stuff very quickly, because it's mostly just repeating the same thing over and over again. But before I do, let me just re-post this paragraph from Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity (1976), which I first noted back in Part 17:
But the God of the Jews was still alive and roaring in his Temple, demanding blood... (N)othing could hide the essential business of the Temple, which was the ritual slaughter, consumption and combustion of sacrificial cattle on a gigantic scale. The place was as vast as a small city. There were literally thousands of priests, attendants, temple-soldiers and minions. To the unprepared visitor, the dignity and charity of Jewish diaspora life... was quite lost amid the smoke of the pyres, the bellows of terrified beasts, the sluices of blood, the abattoir stench, the unconcealed and unconcealable machinery of tribal religion inflated by modern wealth to an industrial scale. (p. 13-14)

That's what we're talking about here. This is where they got God's instructions for all that. And I have to wonder just how modern Christians rationalize this. After all, this isn't just the God of the Jews, but the Christian God, and the Muslim Allah, too. (And no, none of them do this stuff anymore.)

The Bible emphasizes over and over again how God demands blood sacrifices and how he relishes the sweet savor of burnt flesh. But I went to church for years as a kid, and I never noticed any of that stuff. So what happened?

Did God turn vegetarian, then? If so, why did he change his mind? Did he just lose his taste for blood? Or did he finally have his bloodlust sated, perhaps in the extravagant gore of sacrificing himself to himself to appease himself (the crucifixion)? Remember, this is supposed to be the same god. This is the Christian holy book I'm reading, after all.

And Christians always tell me that their god is eternal, unchanging, timeless. So this Old Testament god is still the god you worship today, then? Really?

Or is this part of the Bible just fiction? But if that's the case, what makes you think that any of it is real? And how do you determine which parts are real and which parts aren't? Do you have any evidence that some parts are real? Or do you just decide which parts you want to believe and which parts you don't?

None of this stuff has ever made sense to me, and the more I read, the less it does. But keep these questions in mind as we continue through this gore-splattered manual of blood sacrifice. (Again, I'll get through it as quickly as possible, just skimming the surface, but there's a lot of it.)
14 And if the burnt sacrifice for his offering to the LORD be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons.

15 And the priest shall bring it unto the altar, and wring off his head, and burn it on the altar; and the blood thereof shall be wrung out at the side of the altar:

16 And he shall pluck away his crop with his feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, by the place of the ashes:

17 And he shall cleave it with the wings thereof, but shall not divide it asunder: and the priest shall burn it upon the altar, upon the wood that is upon the fire: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

When it's sheep, goats, or cattle, the sacrifices usually must be male and "without blemish." God isn't so picky when it comes to birds, though - or maybe it's just harder to tell the males from the females, in some cases.

Chapter 2:
1 And when any will offer a meat offering unto the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense thereon:

2 And he shall bring it to Aaron's sons the priests: and he shall take thereout his handful of the flour thereof, and of the oil thereof, with all the frankincense thereof; and the priest shall burn the memorial of it upon the altar, to be an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD:

3 And the remnant of the meat offering shall be Aaron's and his sons': it is a thing most holy of the offerings of the LORD made by fire.

I wasn't kidding about the recipes, or not entirely. Well, note that the priests will eat some of this. Not all of it gets sacrificed to the Lord. (Note that Aaron doesn't seem to have been demoted for his little faux pas of creating a new god, in the form of a golden calf, for the Israelites to worship instead of Yahweh.)

And although the vast majority of this is about the blood sacrifice of live animals, that's not entirely the case. Some offerings are "baken in the oven" or even fried up in a frying pan:
4 And if thou bring an oblation of a meat offering baken in the oven, it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil.

5 And if thy oblation be a meat offering baken in a pan, it shall be of fine flour unleavened, mingled with oil.

6 Thou shalt part it in pieces, and pour oil thereon: it is a meat offering.

7 And if thy oblation be a meat offering baken in the fryingpan, it shall be made of fine flour with oil.

...

10 And that which is left of the meat offering shall be Aaron's and his sons': it is a thing most holy of the offerings of the LORD made by fire.

One thing God can't abide, though, is yeast. As we've seen previously, he insists on unleavened bread. He doesn't like honey, either - at least, not in "any offering of the LORD made by fire." And although you can make an offering of fine fruit, that's not supposed to be burnt on the altar. (What they are supposed to do with it is left unsaid.)

Chapter 3:
1 And if his oblation be a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offer it of the herd; whether it be a male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the LORD.

2 And he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering, and kill it at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and Aaron's sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar round about.

3 And he shall offer of the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire unto the LORD; the fat that covereth the inwards, and all the fat that is upon the inwards,

Most of this is specific instructions for sacrifices of various animals for various reasons, not just the required sacrifice I wrote about earlier of all firstborn male animals (and people, though you're supposed to substitute a lamb for your son - there are no instructions for human sacrifice here).

In this particular context, I really don't know what "peace offerings" are, but it's one of the few times you can actually sacrifice female animals. (They still must be "without blemish," of course.) The instructions are very similar, but we see separate verses for sacrificing lambs and for sacrificing goats.
16 And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the LORD'S.

17 It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.

In any case, though, the fat and the blood must be reserved for God. You can't eat any of that. It's a "perpetual statute for your generations" that you must eat neither fat nor blood.

Hmm,... my grandmother - oddly enough, a devout Catholic - used to finish up a rare steak, bacon, or any other meat by taking a piece of white bread and sopping up all the leftover fat and other juices on her plate, so she wouldn't miss a bit of it. (She lived to age 99, too.)

She also liked blood sausage (as I do). So I guess that statute wasn't so 'perpetual' after all, huh?

Chapter 4:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

...

3 If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the LORD for a sin offering.

4 And he shall bring the bullock unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD; and shall lay his hand upon the bullock's head, and kill the bullock before the LORD.

5 And the priest that is anointed shall take of the bullock's blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation:

6 And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the LORD, before the vail of the sanctuary.

7 And the priest shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the LORD, which is in the tabernacle of the congregation; and shall pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

The previous chapter was about "peace offerings," while this one is about "sin offerings" - specifically, when you sin through ignorance.

The first part of this seems to be referring to when a priest sins, but it's followed by the instructions for when anyone else sins, too. In both cases, they must sacrifice a steer (in very specific ways, of course).

Ironically, though, if a ruler sins, he only has to sacrifice a kid (a young goat) - a male or a female, depending on the circumstances - or a female lamb, depending on other circumstances. And all this is described, of course, in detail, repeated for each specific circumstance.

The killing, the blood, and the burning are all very, very similar, though.

Chapter 5:
1 And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.

2 Or if a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty.

3 Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatsoever uncleanness it be that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty.

...

6 And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin.

More about sin offerings. In most of these, you're guilty even if you don't know about it (which would seem to imply that you need to make sin offerings even if you don't think that you've actually done anything wrong).

In this case, though, if you can't afford a lamb, two turtledoves or young pigeons will do. (The details about how you sacrifice these various animals seem to be very similar - if not identical - to what we've already read over and over again.)
14 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

15 If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the LORD; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering:

So how does a "trespass offering" differ from a "sin offering," except for requiring a ram as sacrifice? In both cases, these are clearly explained as being sins through ignorance.

Chapter 6:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the LORD, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour;

3 Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein:

4 Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found,

5 Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.

6 And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest:

These, on the other hand, are deliberate sins - or crimes, as we'd consider them. You still have to make the same "trespass offering" to the Lord, but you also must make amends to the people you've sinned against. (Still, it's hardly "get tough on crime," is it? You just have to give back whatever you "took violently away"?)
8 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

9 Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering: It is the burnt offering, because of the burning upon the altar all night unto the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be burning in it.

...

16 And the remainder thereof shall Aaron and his sons eat: with unleavened bread shall it be eaten in the holy place; in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation they shall eat it.

...

18 All the males among the children of Aaron shall eat of it. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations concerning the offerings of the LORD made by fire: every one that toucheth them shall be holy.

Again, Aaron doesn't seem to have suffered any downside from that whole creating-a-new-god-to-worship thing. Indeed, he and his male ancestors - only the males, of course (did you really expect any differently?) - will eat very well from the leftovers of all the blood sacrifices they perform.

Remember, these are holy, so we certainly can't have any women touching them!

The chapter concludes with instructions about what sacrifices the priests are allowed to eat - indeed, commanded to eat - and what they aren't.

Chapter 7:
1 Likewise this is the law of the trespass offering: it is most holy.

2 In the place where they kill the burnt offering shall they kill the trespass offering: and the blood thereof shall he sprinkle round about upon the altar.

3 And he shall offer of it all the fat thereof; the rump, and the fat that covereth the inwards,

More of the same.

Really, I'm struggling to even stay awake, at this point. And what can I say that's different in this chapter? That one priest gets "the skin of the burnt offering" for himself? That they can eat some stuff only on the day it is offered, but others for two days (however, on no account for three, because that's an "abomination")?

There's a lot of talk about unclean things here - and even "abominable unclean things," which are different, apparently - and unclean beasts, and "the uncleanliness of man," but no information about what those things actually are. I suppose that comes up later, but it seems odd, given the excruciating detail here about blood sacrifices.

The chapter concludes with:
38 Which the LORD commanded Moses in mount Sinai, in the day that he commanded the children of Israel to offer their oblations unto the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai.

I'm not sure if this means the first time Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mt. Sinai, or the second time. Either way, it indicates a brief flashback, I guess.

However, note that this directly contradicts the very first verse in Leviticus, which clearly indicates that God is talking to Moses from the tabernacle which they had just built for him, in accordance with those instructions on Mt. Sinai, at the very end of Exodus.

You can't have it both ways. Either God is telling these things to Moses on the top of Mt. Sinai, when he also got the instructions for building the tabernacle, or he's speaking from the tabernacle after they built it. This is a clear contradiction.

Chapter 8:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments, and the anointing oil, and a bullock for the sin offering, and two rams, and a basket of unleavened bread;

3 And gather thou all the congregation together unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

Here, again, we're back after the tabernacle has been built, not when Moses got the commandments on Mt. Sinai. We also see, again, that Aaron is still head priest.

Really, if even creating a new god out of gold and leading the congregation in worshiping it (dancing and singing around it, naked), instead of the real god, isn't a disqualification to be head priest, what would be?
8 And he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim.

I should have mentioned this before, but the Urim and Thummim are like flipping a coin to make a decision (only when you think that God is influencing the coin toss, of course). They're something every priest needs to have in his pocket.
13 And Moses brought Aaron's sons, and put coats upon them, and girded them with girdles, and put bonnets upon them; as the LORD commanded Moses.

14 And he brought the bullock for the sin offering: and Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the head of the bullock for the sin offering.

15 And he slew it; and Moses took the blood, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about with his finger, and purified the altar, and poured the blood at the bottom of the altar, and sanctified it, to make reconciliation upon it.

The rest of this chapter - and, really, the next couple of chapters, too - is just Moses following through with the instructions we've been reading. Here, he garbs the priests (Aaron and his sons), pours the anointing oil over their heads, and sacrifices a steer and a ram (two rams?) - pouring the blood all around, then cutting up and burning both animals exactly as God has commanded.

Had enough yet? I certainly have! My apologies, but I didn't write this stuff. I'm only commenting on it.

I think this is a good place to stop, for now. There's more blood sacrifice coming up, but the instructions are over, I think. Now it's time for the Israelites to follow orders - or try, at least. But we'll get to that next time.

___
Note: This entire series of Bible commentary is available here.

5 comments:

Jim Harris said...

Can you imagine what this would look like? What if we had a time machine and could film it, then present a 2-hour documentary on TV. What would religious people think if they saw all this slaughter in HDTV?

WCG said...

Yes, indeed, Jim. Even reading it is pretty shocking. So far, I wonder if any Christians have even bothered to read their own holy book.

How does someone rationalize away this kind of thing? And then to claim that their God is eternal and unchanging?

I wish I had Christians - ordinary, church-going Christians - reading these posts, so they could give me their interpretation. I'm no expert when it comes to the Bible, and I'm deliberately avoiding consulting other commentary. I'm just a layman reading what the Bible actually says.

So how would Christians counter this stuff? I'd be interested to hear that. Of course, since Christians can't even agree among themselves, there would probably be nearly as many arguments as there are Christians, huh?

Jim Harris said...

I think a number of factors come into play. First, there's selective memory. Then, religion is mainly spread orally, even though most religious fanatics spend a lot of time with their holy books. So the Bible for most people is what they hear talked about at church, which is never read start to finish, but passages are fished out by the mood of the pastor/priest. Often when you listen to a sermon, the preacher has a moral to tell, and he finds a passage that fits the lesson. I doubt anyone has heard passages read about animal sacrifices for a very long time.

In David Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity he talks about explaining reality, and for the faithful they say "God did it" as their answer for many things. He did say this, but I did, for many people they validate their believes by saying, "The Bible says its so." But they only validate what they want to believe, which is very selective.

Jim Harris said...

That should say "He didn't say this"

By the way, the editing window for replies is extremely tiny here. Is there anyway you could change a parameter and give us a few more lines in the reply editor?

WCG said...

I wish I could, Jim, but I don't have a clue how to do it.

I could widen the columns of my posts, and that might change the reply editor, too, but I really have no idea.