Thursday, June 27, 2013

Leviticus: Unclean!

OK, you may have noticed that I put a whole bunch of posts all at once recently. That’s because we just moved, and I was without internet access for several days. But I was still reading and writing, so I had a backlog when access was restored. But now, hopefully back to a more regular posting schedule.

Anyway, when last we left we’d just completed the bloody, traumatic, and homicidal process of consecrating Aaron and two of his sons as God’s priests at the cost of the lives of two other sons. And now we’re moving on to more laws, starting with what is and isn’t unclean.

God begins by telling Aaron and Moses to pass on his strictures regarding what animals the people can and cannot eat. This is a good bit of the basis for the kosher rules for food, such as why Jews aren’t allowed to eat pigs. Though it might surprise you some of the things that are on the list and why. For example, everything with parted hooves, cloven feet, and that chews cud is OK to eat. So the reason pigs are unclean is because, while they have cloven feet and parted hooves, they do not chew cud. Not for any logical reason like because they’re likely to carry trichinosis. Rabbits are also unclean because they don’t have cloven feet or parted hooves, but chew cud (actually, they don’t chew cud or anything like it, though to ignorant goat herders in the ancient world it might appear that way).

Also, anything in the water with fins and scales is allowable. Which leaves out shrimp, lobster, and scallops. So you pretty much know that this god is evil because that’s the only possible reason to make those things and then forbid people to eat them. The fact that combining these rules renders scallops wrapped in bacon completely out of the question is all the reason anyone should ever need to abandon the worship of the Abrahamic God.

There’s also a list of birds that are (literally) off the table, which for some reason includes bats in spite of the fact that bats are not birds in any sense. Though maybe the Hebrew word for “bird” used to include everything that flies and isn’t an insect, which only goes to show how fallible a tool written language is for communicating the supposedly eternal word of God.

Speaking of flying insects…

“Lev 11:20 ‘All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. 21 Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. 22 Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. 23 But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.’”

Is this a really complicated way of saying “you can eat nearly any winged insect,” or of saying “God doesn’t understand such a ridiculously, visibly obvious fact about the insects he made as that they have six fucking legs?!” It’s doubly stupid, because not only is this something that an all-knowing god should know, it’s visibly obvious to even the most ignorant cock-up who might be writing a book impersonating a fictional god. There is no excuse whatsoever for this passage other than that someone wasn’t really even trying.

Moving on, anything with paws and all the “things that swarm on the ground,” are unclean – things like rats, mice, and geckos (good thing, or else they might not have survived human predation long enough to sell us car insurance).

So not only are unclean things off the dinner table, they also communicate uncleanness through contact with their corpses. So touching a dead “unclean” thing makes you unclean for a period of time (rather than until you wash).

Interestingly, in the bits about consecrating the altar it was said that anything that touched it would become holy. But here we see that anything that touches the carcass of an unclean animal becomes unclean. What happens when you touch the carcass of an unclean animal to the altar? Would they mutually annihilate?

God finishes the section on the law about clean and unclean animals by blowing his own horn a bit with some verbal masturbation about how awesome and holy he is. Then he moves on to childbirth, where we learns that a woman is unclean when she menstruates, is unclean right after childbirth, and is unclean twice as long for giving birth to a girl as she is for giving birth to a boy. So making more people is bad, but making more female people is really bad.

Also, after giving birth and completing her month (or two) of purification afterwards, she’s required to take a burnt offering and a sin offering to the priest to “make atonement for her.” Which kind of implies that the so-called “miracle of birth” is a sin for which the mother owes God an apology.

The Bible then goes on at great length for fifty-nine verses about how the priest should identify leprous disease in people and garments. Then another thirty-two verses on what to do about it. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t really comment knowledgeably about the medical value of most of it. I suppose that in a primitive culture with practically no medical knowledge at all, advice to wash on occasion and quarantine people who might have communicable diseases is at least some improvement over nothing at all.

Then there’s a section that talks about “cleansing” the person of leprous disease by taking two birds, killing one, dipping the other in its blood, and releasing it. The Bible catches a lot of shit for claiming that this is a cure for leprosy. But I don’t think that’s really the case. It seems to be instructions for after the person has already healed from the infection on his own (actually, there are no instructions for helping the guy at all – just quarantining him). The appearance is that the bird procedure is for a kind of spiritual cleansing to purify them so they can once more approach God at the tabernacle. So it’s still bullshit, but it’s at least not medical bullshit.

Then there’s a brief section on “leprous disease” in a house, which sounds more like mold on the walls from the description. The cleansing ritual, as usual, involves killing animals and doing stuff with their blood.

Now, since talking about skin disease and animal blood wasn’t quite unappetizing enough, the Bible moves on to talking about bodily discharges. As in, when you get sick and your body starts leaking stuff it shouldn’t. Well, those and perfectly normal things like semen and menstrual blood that are kinda dropped into the same category. And basically, whatever comes in contact with those discharges, or the person having them, becomes unclean. Here’s a fun little subset of that bit:

“Lev 15:18 If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe themselves in water and be unclean until the evening.”

Yes, nothing says romance like making love to someone and then going “OK, God says I need to wash your filth off of me now, and even then I won’t be clean.” Not that I’m opposed to regular bathing, or even bathing after sex (heck, I’m a proponent of bathing while having sex if I can arrange it). But pay attention to the wording. Even after you’ve washed up, the act of having had sex has polluted you to such a degree that you remain unclean for a period of time thereafter.

I also love how the woman’s period is referred to as her “time of menstrual impurity.” Now, if you believe the Bible, God made humans and therefore made their reproductive systems. Women menstruating is nothing more than part of the normal function of that system, and is not something over which she has a choice (short of radical medical interventions). For that matter, so is the system in which the man has to “lie with a woman and have an emission of semen.” The idea, therefore, that the normal function of a process God himself designed (and is necessary to fulfill his command to multiply) is inherently “impure” makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

And why is it, exactly, that blood and semen associated with the most life-giving process there is (reproduction) are impure, and the blood associated with death (that of sacrificed animals) is required to purify stuff? Could it be that the assholes who wrote this book (or God, if you believe in that) are just in love with death?

Life is icky, death is purity. It’s a pretty fucked up mindset.
Sigh. Bit of a rant there, but all this law stuff is so dry that it kinda gives the mind time to wander into tangents about the implications. But we can hear more law stuff in the next post. Y’all take care!

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