Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Bible, Pt. 26: Leviticus, Chapter 16 - 20

This continues my reading of the Christian Bible directly from Part 25. All quotes are from the King James version, and the entire series can be found here.

Chapter 16:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;

2 And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.

3 Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering.

Remember, God killed two of Aaron's sons because he didn't like the kind of incense they burned while they were worshiping him. Very picky, this god (although, oddly enough, Aaron himself got away with creating a golden calf as a replacement god).

So Yahweh has Moses caution Aaron to make sure he does things just right. Aaron has to wear just the right clothing, sacrifice just the right animals, and flick their blood onto the altar the right number of times. Yes, on and on we go with the details of the blood sacrifices God demands.
8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.

9 And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD'S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.

10 But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.

Yup, it's a real live scapegoat! Neat, isn't it? Oh, the other goat - and the ram and the steer - get butchered and burned on the altar, as usual. God needs his blood. But the lucky one gets to carry the sins of the congregation off into the wilderness.

Note that, much later, that's the role of Jesus, too - only Jesus also gets to be the blood sacrifice. Very primitive stuff, isn't it?
21 And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:

22 And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.

Sorry, but I'm skipping all the gory details of the blood sacrifices. I'm sick to death of blood sacrifice! It's gotten boring as hell! Does this stuff have to be repeated over and over and over again? At least the scapegoat is something a little different.
29 And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you:

30 For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.

31 It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.

This is Yom Kippur. According to Wikipedia, it's the holiest day of the year for Jews: "This day is commemorated with two festive meals, the giving of charity, and asking others for forgiveness."

What, no sacrificing animals or transferring your sins onto goats? Did God change his mind, then? Did he lose his taste for blood? Or is it just because the Temple of Jerusalem hasn't been rebuilt. If it ever is, will God demand his blood sacrifice again?

And doesn't it seem odd that Christians ignore this completely? It's supposed to be the same god, after all. God's specific instructions for an "everlasting statute" aren't even recognized with a Christian holiday.

Chapter 17:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,


3 What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it out of the camp,

4 And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer an offering unto the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD; blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people:

God started out wanting the blood sacrifice of firstborn males. (Luckily, you could substitute a lamb for your child.) Then there were sin offerings and peace offerings and trespass offerings and wave offerings. Then women were required to make sacrifices after every childbirth.

But now, God wants his share of blood every single time a livestock animal is butchered? I can see why the Temple of Jerusalem was described as such a slaughterhouse ("the smoke of the pyres, the bellows of terrified beasts, the sluices of blood, the abattoir stench").
12 Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood.


14 For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.

We've seen this before - we've seen all of this before (Leviticus is nothing if not repetitive) - but blood is magic, so God prohibits you from eating any of it. Funny how Christians ignore this, too (not that blood sausage is particularly popular these days).

Chapter 18:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God.

3 After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.

4 Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.

God has already given the Israelites his commandments - twice - in Exodus. So now, he repeats himself yet again - with variations, of course.

As we've seen before, these features make it abundantly clear that the Old Testament was originally a bunch of separate stories clumsily stitched together. If this were written by one person, God would give his commandments - his judgments and his ordinances - once.

After all, he's God. Do you think he'd forget something the first time?
6 None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD.

7 The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.

8 The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.

9 The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover.

Yeah, no problem so far! Or when it comes to my aunts and my uncles, either, I assure you!
18 Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister, to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, beside the other in her life time.

19 Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.

20 Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife, to defile thyself with her.

21 And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

One of these is not like the others! Since we're talking about sex, you might think "thy seed" refers to semen. Apparently not. Apparently, this reference to Molech has to do with child sacrifice. It seems like an odd place to put it, though, don't you think? Anyway, we'll get back to this in chapter 20.

For the rest of that, note that multiple wives are just fine with God. You just shouldn't take your wife's sister as a new wife - not until the first one is dead, at least. Yeah, that seems wise to me. Sleeping with your neighbor's wife is probably not a good idea, either.

The other verse prohibits sex with a woman who's menstruating. We'll get to the punishments for that in chapter 20. This one, too:
22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

Finally, we get to the one thing in Leviticus that modern Christians take seriously. Sure, it's also an abomination to keep leftovers three days. You must not wear clothing of mixed fibers, either. And, of course, God demands constant blood sacrifice.

But he didn't really mean all the rest of that stuff, huh? This god who killed two people because he didn't like the brand of incense they were using while they were attempting to worship him is just kidding about all the rest of these rules, right? No, he buried the one thing he really meant in this single verse in Leviticus.

OK, like everything else, it's repeated later. (God still has to specify the punishment.) But my point is still valid. Sorry, but if you're not killing and burning animals on a bloody altar, I can't think you really care what God says here. You're just indulging your own bigotry.

Chapter 19:
5 And if ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, ye shall offer it at your own will.

6 It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow: and if ought remain until the third day, it shall be burnt in the fire.

7 And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is abominable; it shall not be accepted.

You thought I was kidding about abominable leftovers, didn't you? :)
9 And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.

10 And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.

11 Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.

Not all of these things are bad, not at all. The first part of this is primitive charity. You leave some of your harvest for the poor to glean. What's wrong with that?
12 And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

13 Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.

14 Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.

The first verse here doesn't refer to profanity, but to perjury. When you swear on God's name, you shouldn't lie.

The rest of these are good prohibitions, too. But do we really need a god to tell us not to make sport of blind people?
18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

When Christians cherry-pick from the Bible, this is one verse they almost always select. Yeah, the sentiment is great. But you have to pluck it out of a pool of sewage. Look at everything you ignore in Leviticus, just to pick out the verses you like.

The Bible is a huge book. It's hard to imagine a book this size which wouldn't have phrases you could pluck out of context and hold up as good examples. I doubt if there's a single religious text in the world where that wouldn't be possible, but you don't think all of them were inspired by a god. Of course not!
19 Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.

20 And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.

21 And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering.

22 And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.

And then you get this stuff. The first prohibits hybrid cattle, certain gardening practices, and the wearing of clothing made from linen and wool, both. That seems pretty strange, don't you think? It's petty, if nothing else.

The second is generous. When a slave woman is raped, you don't have to kill her, "because she was not free." Yeah, a good whipping is enough, huh?

The rapist, though, has to donate a ram to God. Then he's forgiven, too. Isn't that nice?

Do you think I'm being harsh? Maybe it was consensual sex, after all. Well, the different punishments doled out to them still wouldn't be fair. And given that the woman was "not free" - not that any women had much control over this stuff back then - it's hard to see much that's consensual about it.
27 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.

28 Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

29 Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.

OK, no haircuts, no beard-trimming, and no tattoos. Oh, and don't prostitute your daughter, either. Right.

Of course, God isn't concerned for the girl herself, but he doesn't want the neighborhood to go downhill.

Chapter 20:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones.

3 And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name.

4 And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not:

5 Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.

Molech is another god, a Canaanite god, and at first, I assumed that this was just religious intolerance. Yahweh is a jealous god, after all.

Apparently, though, it's about child sacrifice. Wikipedia says that "Moloch had associations with a particular kind of propitiatory child sacrifice by parents." But what's that mean? "Associations"?

First of all, it's not uncommon for a religion to be accused of terrible things by members of some other religion. In fact, it's typical. Wikipedia also notes speculation that early Judaism itself practiced child sacrifice, suggesting that this prohibition was aimed against this practice in their own religion.

Otherwise, why would God have to command so emphatically that his followers not do that? Why would they? Also, if this were about the worship of some other god, why would Yahweh worry about it defiling his holy name?

My own view? I don't know. But I have to point out God's requirement in Exodus that the firstborn male of both livestock and people be sacrificed to him. God allowed an ass or a child to be "redeemed" with a lamb - i.e. the lamb would be killed, instead - but if you couldn't afford a lamb, you had to kill the ass.

Now, it doesn't specifically say that about your firstborn son, but it doesn't say anything at all. So I have to wonder if something hasn't been cut from earlier versions of Exodus. Note that, although we haven't gotten to Numbers yet, it does seem like virgin girls - captives kept alive after the Israelites killed everyone else in their families - were sacrificed to Yahweh.
9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.

10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.


13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Here again is the prohibition against gay sex (nothing about lesbians), with the punishment being death. Of course, the punishment is also death for cursing your parents and for adultery (among many other things). Again, if you're not going to follow all of Leviticus, I can't really take your biblical argument against homosexuality seriously.
14 And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.

Ouch! Here's not just the death penalty, but death by fire. So why does this get such an extreme punishment? Sex with your wife and with your mother-in-law? Probably not a wise thing, but is it really "wickedness"?

Furthermore, like most of these (sex with your father's wife, sex with your daughter-in-law, etc.) both parties are put to death. But I've seen pretty much no indication in the Old Testament (with the possible exception of Judah and Tamar - and they did plan to burn her, at first) that women have the slightest say about any of this.

When men want a wife, they just "take" her. That's apparently all the ceremony that's required. Of course, they need the consent of her father, if they don't want trouble, but no one thinks to ask the woman what she thinks about the whole idea. Still, if it's the wrong match, she's apparently going to burn, too.
18 And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness; he hath discovered her fountain, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall be cut off from among their people.

Here's another weird one. It's not the death penalty, at least, but if a man has sex with a menstruating woman, they both get exiled?
20 And if a man shall lie with his uncle's wife, he hath uncovered his uncle's nakedness: they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless.

I keep telling you, God, you don't have to worry about that. I'm not going to have sex with any of my aunts!
23 And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.

24 But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people.

25 Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean.

26 And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.

Again, God tells the Israelites that he's giving them someone else's land. Furthermore, he has separated them - severed them - from other people. He's their god, not the god of anyone else. And they're his people.

This is a very, very tribal concept, and Yahweh is a tribal god. He will support his chosen people if they obey him in every way.

This isn't the last verse in this chapter though. This is the last verse:
27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.

Yeah, God believes in magic. And no one is going to help the poor souls murdered - horribly - because of verses like this.

OK, that's enough. I'd like to get to the end of Leviticus next time - mostly because I'm heartily sick of it - but I don't know if it will take one more post or two. I hope this hasn't been too boring. The Bible has got to get better than this, don't you think?

Note: This entire series is available here.


jeff725 said...

Speaking of Leviticus, I found this in London's "Daily Telegraph:"

You know damn well the Christian Right is going to jump all over this. They'll be like "ah-ha, we've got a foothold."

WCG said...

You're probably right, Jeff. But the only reason they'd think that is because they don't understand the science.

I don't think anyone ever thought there was a 'gay gene'. And there are a lot of things which affect the development of a fetus which are not genetic. (This article mentions just one of them, the immune response of the mother.) Not to mention environmental factors after birth.

One of the scientists quoted says flat out that, "Sexual orientation has nothing to do with choice." But I'm not sure why it would matter if it were choice. If that were actually the case, why shouldn't people have the freedom to make that choice?

I'm not worried about the Christian right misinterpreting that, because why should this be different from everything else? :) Besides, it seems pretty clear to me that they've already lost this fight.

Chimeradave said...

So according to Leviticus what kind of three ways are acceptable? :)