Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Leviticus: The Aflac Method

This book is proving to be kind of a challenge to write about. Because a great deal of it is pretty much list upon list of rules and laws loosely organized into paragraphs. It’s really dry, and any given section doesn’t necessarily have a theme to talk around. Plus, since I’m trying not to leave out important details, I’m sort of harnessed into following the lists of rules format while at the same time trying to at least be interesting to read. Naturally, this kind of leads me toward condensing the laws as much as possible. I hope that it’s not too much drudgery for you to read it.

But to continue from where we left off, God had just laid down a whole bunch of laws about who you’re not allowed to have sex with. Then he moves on to commanding Moses to tell the people to be holy. This followed by another list of rules that is basically a repetition of laws already laid down earlier, now with the added innovation of repeating “I am Yahweh” every second or third line like some sort of product placement deal (brought to you by Carl’s Junior). So we are reminded that the people are supposed to revere their fathers and mothers, keep the Sabbath, not make idols, etc. Priests must eat their portions of sacrifices within two days and then destroy what’s left, and eating it on or after the third day profanes it (somehow – more likely this is one of those things meant to keep people from accidentally eating spoiled food disguised as a mandate from God).

Then we move on to some stuff of more practical value. These include instructions to leave a portion of the food from your fields for the poor and sojourners to gather for themselves (“I am Yahweh”). Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t defraud, don’t swear falsely by God’s name (“I am Yahweh”). Don’t oppress your neighbor, or rob him, and don’t withhold payment from your servants. And don’t fuck with cripples (“I am Yahweh”). Don’t commit perjury, or slander people (“I am Yahweh”). Don’t hate your neighbor, or seek vengeance, or bear grudges. Love your neighbor as yourself (“I am Yahweh”). What are the royalties on all that product placement?

So there’s some good stuff in there. I’ll cop to it without reservation. But this is the Bible, so it can’t make sense for too many verses in a row. So then we get into… don’t crossbreed your cattle, don’t grow two crops together, don’t make garments from two kinds of material. Oddly, in the middle of this talk about farming practices, there’s a bit about how if a man sleeps with another man’s slave woman, they shouldn’t be punished because she wasn’t free. Instead, the man has to make an offering of a ram to God, then all is forgiven.

Back to the farming practices, briefly, before running off into random stuff again. Really, there’s no organizing principle here at all. So you get admonitions not to interpret omens or turn your daughter into a prostitute mixed in with advice on how long you should wait after planting a fruit tree before you start harvesting fruit for food. And all of it accompanied by that “brought to you by God” advertising plug (the theological equivalent of the Aflac duck).

At this point, I think I’m going to give up trying to list all the rules except in the most general sense. It’d be tedious to read (and write), and you can always look them up in the Bible if you’re really that interested. So I’ll just stick to what catches my attention for comment.

And the next thing to catch my attention is the admonition against sacrificing your children to Molech. It doesn’t mention any other god, just Molech. Presumably it’s OK to sacrifice kids to other gods, and we know from the Abraham story that Yahweh himself explicitly demands the level of devotion required to sacrifice your own children (even if he did actually put a stop to it… that time – more on that in a later post). So… yeah.

We move on to find later…

“Lev 20:9 For anyone who curses is father or mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.”

Now at first this seems a little harsh. Has there ever been a child who ever lived who did not at some point say “Fuck you, dad!?” And yet clearly Jewish and Christian parents haven’t killed every child who ever lived, so what gives? Well… based on the context, I suspect that there may be a bit more to it than that. See, this verse immediately follows a repetition of the admonition not to consult with mediums or necromancers (who are also supposed to be put to death). So it may be that when they say not to curse your mother or father, they’re talking about casting a harmful magic spell on them. And that might account for the harshness of the punishment if those things were real. But since they’re not, it’s just outrageously and violently stupid.

Remember earlier when there was that discussion on forbidden sex partners? Well, the Bible finally gets around to proscribing punishments for them. For most it’s death for everyone involved, because apparently in the Bible whenever you break the rules something has to die. And of course there’s the famous Lev 20:13 that claims homosexuality (among men – women aren’t mentioned) is deserving of death. But remember that banning of the mother/daughter fantasy? They must’ve felt pretty strongly about that – not only does everyone have to die, but they have to die by fire! That’s some hardcore stuff right there.

Oh yeah… sleeping with your sister is supposed to result in you being cut off from your people… except that the people being specifically referred to in these laws (the Israelites) are descended from a guy sleeping with his sister (Abraham and Sarah).

Then there’s a section on how the priests are supposed to keep themselves holy, and instructions on how to do so. Among those things are not touching dead people except for close relatives, only marrying virgins, burning their daughters to death if they try to become prostitutes (wtf?), and this little gem, which may only apply to the chief priest (the one who is consecrated to wear the holy garments):

“Lev 21:11 He shall not go in to any dead bodies nor make himself unclean, even for his father or for his mother.”

Umm… what the…? If you’ve been paying attention in previous passages, the phrase “go in to” is frequently used in the Bible as a euphemism for having sex. Now… this admonition does not show up in the sections for the general populace, just for the priest. And the phrase “…even for his father or for his mother,” as if, were this not specifically spelled out, the priest might otherwise think that this proscription does not apply to his father or mother.

Please… somebody… tell me this is a case of ambiguous translation or language. Please tell me this doesn’t imply what I think it implies about the Israelite funereal practices. Because… mind… bending… horror…

I think I’ll be trying my best to unsee that. And call it a day, because I don’t know that I can really concentrate on going further until I get that particular thought out of my head. You guys take care.

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