Monday, July 8, 2013

Leviticus: A Victimless Crime

Hello and welcome back. I’ve had some time to get the ick out of my head from my last post, and I’m prepared to move on with Leviticus. But even finding that there’s plenty of stuff worth commenting on doesn’t really make the format of Leviticus any easier to deal with, what with the lists of rules that basically take up the whole book. But I soldier on and try to make it interesting to read if I can.

So when I ended the last post, we were in the middle of the section on rules for priests. Since they’re mostly ritual rules that probably aren’t going to apply to 99.9% of anyone reading this, I’m not going to waste much time on going over them in any detail. I’ll just bring up a few interesting details if they catch my attention as something worth talking about.

Anyhow, the first thing that caught my attention was still in the section on the chief priest, where it states that he shall not go out of the sanctuary (i.e. temple). At this point in the story, complying with that demand would be pretty damn hard, since the Jews are traveling between Egypt and Canaan, and the sanctuary tent as described is way too damn big to transport without taking it apart. Maybe that command will make sense once they settle, but where it’s placed in the story it doesn’t.

The next interesting thing was that none of Aaron’s descendants (the priesthood is, apparently, hereditary) are allowed to bring God’s offerings to him if they “have a blemish,” or are disfigured, maimed, or disabled in any way because that would be profane. Many of the conditions they listed are the sort that people could be born with or acquire accidentally, so it seems like kind of a dick move for God to create people with inborn conditions that he considers profane. It’s like, just fucking with people because he can.

A little later, we get some more details about the portion of the sacrifices that priests are allowed to eat. Non-priests are not allowed to eat it, because it’s holy and they’re not. But a priest’s slaves are allowed to eat it. So just to recap. Being born blind or lame: profane. Owning other people: not profane. Good one.

So after the bit about priestly rules, there’s a little bit about what constitutes an acceptable sacrifice. It basically amounts to that, with a few narrow exceptions, they have to be physically perfect just like the priests making them.

We move on to a recap on holidays that have been mentioned haphazardly earlier in the Bible. So we get a reminder that nobody is allowed to work on the Sabbath, and that Passover is supposed to be celebrated every year (complete with the seven-day-long Feast of unleavened Bread). There’s also the Feast of Firstfruits, in which the best products of the first harvest of the year are to be offered, and nobody is allowed to eat of the harvest until this has been done. Seven weeks later there’s another holiday (Feast of Weeks) that involves making more offerings to God. Then we get introduced to a holiday to occur on the first day of the seventh month (of the Jewish calendar) that is supposed to be signaled with a blast of trumpets. The text doesn’t name this holiday, but the “handy” headings the translators provided call it the Feast of Trumpets. I’ve never heard of it. The tenth day of the same month sees a Day of Atonement when they’re supposed to “afflict themselves,” which is a phrase alternately translated in an earlier passage as “fast.” And on that day anyone who doesn’t “afflict themselves” should be shunned, and anyone who does any work should be killed.

The last holiday we get introduced here is the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles, depending on translation), which starts on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. It’s a seven-day celebration, with daily food offerings to God (i.e., feeding the priests for free). And everyone is supposed to live in booths (tabernacles) for the full seven days. It’s a statute forever. So why have I never seen anyone move into their church/temple/synagogue for a week in midsummer?

Moving on, more about the lamp to be lit in the sanctuary, and bread for the offerings, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Wow, this is boring. Fortunately, the Bible can sense my waning interest, and decides to perk things up a bit with a story. It’s a fun one about the son of an Israelite woman (but whose father is Egyptian), who gets in a fight with another Israelite man in the camp. Tempers flare, and in the course of the argument he says something interpreted as cursing the name of God (the exact words weren’t recorded, but I like to think it was something pithy along the lines of “To Hell with Yahweh!”).

So anyway, the people confine him until God has a chance to weigh in on what should be done. Moses consults, and God gives the unsurprising verdict that the young man should be stoned to death. He then goes on to clarify that this is a general rule: anyone who blasphemes against God is to be put to death, including non-Jews living among them.

From here there’s a brief lecture about how any injury done from one person to another should be repaid in kind.

“Lev 24:19 if anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.”

Now, this actually doesn’t seem like a horrifically unreasonable code. As a rough rule, I can see some value in it. I’m just struck by the tremendous irony that this instruction is given immediately after God decrees a death sentence, and just before the people carry it out, for the crime of saying some mean words about God!

Just an aside for those people who think US law is based on the law of the Bible: not only is this kind of thing not contained in American law, it is explicitly forbidden as one of our highest national principles. In fact, if American law can in any way be said to be based on the Bible, it would only be in the sense of being based on explicitly repudiating it as much as possible. Because many of these laws are barbaric trash.

I am also reminded at this point of a bumper sticker someone was telling me about. Quite apropos to the situation: Blasphemy is a Victimless Crime.

Anyway, that’s the end of storytime, and the Bible goes back to listing more rules. In a striking illustration of non-sequitur, after that diversion from holidays into punishing blasphemy it jumps right back to holidays. But we can get to that when I get back in my next post.

Take care all!

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