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Friday Bible Blogging - Leviticus 11 to Leviticus 20

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

BibleOkay, I know this is Monday, which doesn't exactly fit with the title of this series, but I got a bit busy last week.

Chapters 11 through 20 of Leviticus continue on with more rules. Chapters 11 through 16 continue with what, according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible and other sources, is most likely from the Priestly sources. Chapter 17 switched to the Holiness code, most likely added by later scribes (as opposed to coming from another independent source).

Leviticus, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 started off the major dietary rules of the Bible. Although there were a few previously, these get into what most people think of when they think of Kosher foods. For example, "Any animal that has divided hoofs and is cloven-footed and chews the cud--such you may eat," or, "The pig, for even though it has divided hoofs and is cloven-footed, it does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you."

This chapter included a few passages that get quoted often by skeptics because of their incorrect descriptions of animals, such as this one saying that hares chew cud, "The hare, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you," and this one describing four legged insects, "All winged insects that walk upon all fours are detestable to you."

It wasn't just about which animals were okay to eat or not. Even touching the carcass of an unclean animal made a person unclean until the evening. Also, different objects (clothes, pots, ovens) were able to be contaminated by contact with unclean carcasses. Some of these were allowed to be purified through rituals. Others were ruined and had to be discarded

Leviticus, Chapter 12

This was a very short chapter (only 8 verses) dealing with a woman's uncleanliness after childbirth, how long she was unclean, and the animals she was to offer at the end of that period. Interestingly this chapter states that a woman is unclean for two weeks after giving birth to a girl, but only one week after giving birth to a boy. Just one more example of the Bible reflecting the sexism of its times.

Leviticus, Chapter 13

The majority of this chapter dealt with skin diseases. Although these are often translate as leprosy, the NRSV has a footnote saying that the precise meaning of the term is unclear, and that it probably refers to a variety of diseases.

The first 44 verses basically deal with diagnosis. There's a fairly generalized form that these verses followed. Once the symptoms are noticed, the person is to go to the priest to be examined. For a few cases, a diagnosis could be made on the spot, but more generally, the priest would re-examine the person after a specified period to see how the symptoms had progressed, and then pronounce a diagnosis. Sometimes, depending on the course of the disease, there might be an additional waiting period.

Chapters 45 and 46 told what a person was to do once diagnosed with a leprous disease. It seems pretty extreme by modern standards, "45 The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp."

The remainder of the chapter dealt with leprous diseases of fabrics. This, then, was most likely about mildew and mold. In some cases, the fabric could be washed, and if the leprous disease didn't spread, then the article was okay. However, anything that was pronounced to have a leprous disease had to be burned.

Leviticus, Chapter 14

The first half of this chapter was on the rituals to be performed once a person with a leprous disease has been healed. The first ritual involves "two living clean birds and cedar wood and crimson yarn and hyssop". Only one of the birds is actually killed. The other is dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird before being set free. After bathing, washing his clothes, and shaving all his hair, the newly cured person can reenter the camp, but still can't move back into his tent for seven days.

Once the seven days are up, there are more rituals. On the seventh day, the person is to shave all of their hair, "head, beard, eyebrows", bathe, and wash his clothes again. On the eighth day, there are more offerings. This time, there are two male lambs, neither of which escapes being sacrificed. There are also grain offerings and oil. The details of these offerings are pretty specific, including which hand to pour what into. There was also a repeat of something I noticed last week, putting oil on the right ear lob, right thumb, and right big toe. There was an alternative version of these sacrifices if the person couldn't afford two lambs.

The remainder of the chapter dealt with leprous diseases of houses and buildings, for once the Hebrews arrived in the promised land. Like for fabrics, this presumably meant mold and mildew. In some cases, a building could be immediately diagnosed. If it was pronounced to be infected with leprous diseases, it was to be torn down and taken to an unclean place outside the city. Other times, people would have to move out of the house for a period of time until the priest could re-examine it. If the house became healed, there was a very similar ritual to when a person became healed, with birds, cedar, hyssop, and crimson yarn. And just like in that ritual, one of the birds was dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird before being released.

Leviticus, Chapter 15

This chapter dealt with emissions of bodily fluids, and how this made the person unclean. For example, "When any man has a discharge from his member, his discharge makes him ceremonially unclean." Anyone or anything who came into contact with that man while he was still unclean also became unclean. Once cleansed and after waiting seven days, the man would finally be clean again, upon which he offered two turtle-doves or pigeons to be sacrificed.

If a man has a discharge of semen, he is unclean, but also "Everything made of cloth or of skin on which the semen falls shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the evening." This brought up a picture of those investigators going into hotel rooms with UV lights. If the man ejaculated into a woman, then they both need to bath and are unclean until evening.

When a woman is on her period, the uncleanliness is basically the same as when a man "has a discharge from his member". Anything or anyone who touches her also becomes unclean. It is assumed that her period will last no longer than seven days. If it lasts longer, she'll be unclean for seven days from when it finally stops, plus she'll have to offer two turtle-doves or pigeons to be sacrificed.

Leviticus, Chapter 16

For the most part, this chapter dealt with rules for priests. Like I've written before, the stakes were much higher for priests back then. If they didn't follow the Lord's rules exactly, they would die. These were rather detailed instructions to the priests on on what to wear, when to bathe, animals to sacrifice (there were a lot), and other rituals.

There was one passage in particular that caught my eye. Aaron was to take two goats to the tent of meeting. Then, he was to cast lots to determine their fates. When God is but feet away, casting lots seems an odd way to determine his will. Once the lots were cast, one of the goats was to be sacrificed as a sin offering. But the other one, "the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, so that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel." Is Azazel a demon, angel, or another god?

Later on was another description of a scape goat, where the priest would "confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task." This seems a rather arbitrary way to forgive sins.

The final verses prescribed a statute that was supposed to last forever, "In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month," everybody was to fast and do no work at all, for it was a day of atonement. The priests were given specific atonement tasks for the day, as well.

Leviticus, Chapter 17

This chapter is supposedly the start of the Holiness Code (H). This first H chapter was rather short and dealt with regulations on animal sacrifice. It prohibited any slaughterings or sacrifices of animals without taking the animal to the tent of meeting. This was apparently "so that they may no longer offer their sacrifices for goat-demons, to whom they prostitute themselves." This rule must have been intended for when the Israelites were still wandering the desert. There's no way it would work logistically one people begin to spread out.

There was also a repeat of the prohibition against consuming blood, and a directive to drain all the blood from an animal before eating it. At least there was som reasoning offered, "For the life of every creature--its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off."

Leviticus, Chapter 18

This chapter was a detailed list of things not to do, that supposedly the Canaanites had been doing. It started with a long list of people whose nakedness you can't uncover. For example, "You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife's daughter, begotten by your father, since she is your sister."

This chapter contains a verse oft quoted by today's bigots, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." This was right before a verse prohibiting bestiality.

One rule seemed out of place, like it was inserted in between the sexual prohibitions, "You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord." Unsurprisingly, there's no evidence that the Canaanites actually practiced child sacrifice.

Verse 26 made it clear that these prohibitions were not just for the Hebrews, but also for the aliens who resided among them.

Leviticus, Chapter 19

More rules, mostly unrelated to each other. Many of these were repetitious of rules that had already been given (some even echoing the Ten Commandments). There were a few that stood out for being good, such as, "9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God," and, "15 You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour."

There were also a few that seem odd by modern standards, such as, "27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord," and, "31 Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God."

There was also a rule that any Christian would recognize, "18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord."

Leviticus, Chapter 20

This chapter started with another mention of Molech. But not only was it a prohibition against child sacrifice, but also a threat to the Israelites that the Lord would punish them if they themselves didn't put to death the people who had practiced child sacrifice. Next were a few verses against mediums and wizards, then a repeat of, "All who curse father or mother shall be put to death".

Next came a list of sexual crimes that were to be punished with death. These included adultery, lying with your father's wife, homosexuality, etc. Although the methods of execution weren't detailed in most cases, this one seemed particularly cruel, "If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you."

Next came a list of sexual crimes that apparently weren't as severe, since the punishments didn't include death.

Verses 22 through 26 were general language about following the Lord's commandments.

The final verse of the chapter mentioned mediums and wizards again, this time saying that they should be stoned to death.


I know I let my review of these chapters grow a little longer than most of these entries, but there were so many rules that I wanted to point out. Leviticus is, after all, one of the main sources of The Law. And although there were some good points, reading through these chapters makes it's pretty clear that these aren't the best sources of morality. Aside from the barbaric practice of animal sacrifice, some of the rules are simply arbitrary with no moral reasoning behind them, some allowances and prohibitions are out of line with decent moral guidelines, and many of the punishments are way too extreme for the crime, sometimes too extreme for any crime. These chapters also reveal a different mindset from the modern day. Sin and uncleanliness aren't merely symbolic or affecting only the guilty - they can contaminate anything that comes into contact with them.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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