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Friday Bible Blogging - Leviticus 21 to Leviticus 27

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).

BibleThis week's entry covers the final seven chapters of Leviticus, Chapters 21 through 27. For the most part, these chapters are just more rules and regulations.


Leviticus, Chapter 21

This chapter contains rules for the priests, mostly concerned with not defiling themselves. These included rules you might expect, like not marrying prostitutes, not disheveling his hair, and not going near corpses (even those of his parents), but others that seem a bit more arbitrary. For example, they're not allowed to "shave off the edges of their beards". There was a short section on who they were allowed to marry, and of course, they're only allowed to marry virgins. Widows or divorced women? They're tainted goods. There was no mention of whether or not the priests are allowed to re-marry or have multiple wives, though.

There was one passage with a particularly cruel and harsh punishment, "When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death."

The final verses were all about how no one with "a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God." That included blindness, lameness, broken bones, mutilated faces, crushed testicles, etc. "But he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them." Think about all the disabled veterans that we regard as heroes, who gave a huge sacrifice in defense of democracy and freedom. They're not worthy to perform normal priestly duties because they're not pretty enough for Yahweh.


Leviticus, Chapter 22

The first half of this chapter detailed who was allowed to eat the portion of sacrifices set aside for the priests. Only clean priests were allowed to partake. Unclean priests were forbidden from eating of that food until they had purified themselves, lest "that person shall be cut off from my presence", or so that "they may not incur guilt and die in the sanctuary for having profaned it". Additionally, no lay people or servants were allowed to eat from the donations. However, purchased slaves of the priests were allowed to, as well as widowed or divorced daughters of the priests.

The rest of the chapter was rules on animals to be sacrificed. It was a lot of detailed on what constituted blemishes making the animal unworthy. There was also a prohibition from sacrificing newborn animals younger than eight days old, or killing an animal and its offspring on the same day.


Leviticus, Chapter 23

This chapter contained instructions on "appointed festivals of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations", what days to celebrate and how to celebrate them. These included the passover-offering, festival of unleavened bread, first fruits of the harvest, a day of atonement, the festival of booths, and the festival of the Lord. These could last anywhere from a day to weeks, and were accompanied by appropriate sacrifices and offerings, with sabbath days thrown in as well. There were also the normal threats to obey the Lord's commandments lest the people be punished.


Leviticus, Chapter 24

The first third of this chapter was just more instructions on offerings - oil for the lamps in the tent of meeting, bread offerings, and frankincense.

The remainder of the chapter told the story of a man of mixed heritage, with an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, who blasphemed the name of the Lord. The Israelites weren't sure what to do with him, so Moses asked God directly, and got the following reply, "One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death." After a few more eye for an eye statements, the Israelites took the man out and stoned him to death.


Leviticus, Chapter 25

This chapter described two cycles. The first was a sabbath for the land every seven years. The people were not to work the land at all, giving it a complete rest. They were only allowed to eat what they'd stockpiled from previous years, or what the land produced on its own.

The second cycle occurred every "seven times seven years", and was known as a jubilee year. There were many rules associated with the jubilee (this was a rather long chapter), but the basic gist was that "And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family." Debts were settled. Land was returned to the original owners. Indentured servants were set free.

One thing I found odd from this was the writers' conception of property rights. If you sold somebody property, they returned it to you in the jubilee year. It was more like leasing than buying. And I wonder how something like this would have worked in the long term. What happened when people died, especially those with no sons. Did the land pass to the priests?

I haven't been pointing out all the contradictions and inconsistencies in these reviews, even though the New Oxford Annotated Bible I'm reading has noted many of them. Like I wrote in the introduction, I was trying to keep these reviews from becoming too long and detailed. But this chapter contained one that stood out to me. In one of my previous entries, I mentioned how a Hebrew slave could become a slave for life by committing to it and having their ear punched through with an awl. Here, in the description of the jubilee, those indentured servants were set free.


Leviticus, Chapter 26

Chapter 26 was mostly a series of threats. It started off with promises of all the good the Lord would doe if the Israelites obeyed him, starting off, "3 If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, 4 I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit," and continuing on through verse 13. But at verse 14, things turned sour, "14 But if you will not obey me, and do not observe all these commandments, 15 if you spurn my statutes, and abhor my ordinances, so that you will not observe all my commandments, and you break my covenant, 16 I in turn will do this to you: I will bring terror on you; consumption and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away," continuing on through verse 20. And then it got worse, "21 If you continue hostile to me, and will not obey me, I will continue to plague you sevenfold for your sins." It went on through two more worsening threats. And as with other parts of the Bible, these threads had the concept of collective guilt, "39 And those of you who survive shall languish in the land of your enemies because of their iniquities; also they shall languish because of the iniquities of their ancestors." After that, God said that if the Israelites would finally come around and "confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors", that he would remember his covenant and forgive them.


Leviticus, Chapter 27

The final chapter of Leviticus closed with a collection of miscellaneous rules on offerings and consecrations, from vows "to the Lord concerning the equivalent for a human being", to animals, to houses, to landholdings, to firstlings of animals, to tithes.

The most noteworthy aspect of this chapter was the first part, concerning the "equivalent for a human being". It was broken down by age, and then again by gender. For example, "3 the equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel. 4 If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels." In every case, a female was worth significantly less than a male.

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One more book down. After reading Leviticus, I have to say that I'm glad that many of the stories written in the Bible are just myths with only grains of truth, and that I'm especially glad that Yahweh isn't real. Perhaps more than any other book so far, Leviticus reveals a cruel, capricious god, from the harsh and cruel punishments demanded to be given to people (sometimes for 'crimes' that shouldn't even be considered wrong), to the callous treatment of lepers and the disabled, to the barbaric practices of animal sacrifice. I don't understand how people can read a book like this, and still call Yahweh a loving god. In fact, if you accept Leviticus, it makes theodicy superfluous - there's no need to solve the problem of evil if you don't assume omnibenevolence.


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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