Saturday, February 5, 2011

Leviticus 11-13 These are the Beasts That You Shall Eat

Leviticus 11-13

Back home for 24 hours.  Doing laundry.

Hopefully I'll be able to post more this weekend.
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  1. A general comment: Leviticus seems to be a very functional piece of work. We have the rules and enforcement for what appear to be holdovers from pagan days (the sacrifices), we have a set of FDA-style regulations on food, we have the institutionalization (is that a real word?) of the priestly class by laying down conventions that insure that they get fed, plus the fact that the prophets and priests are reinforcing their importance by handing down all these rules. This is seriously worthwhile to a society that has no other form of organization other than tribal knowledge.

    I can't wait for the pagan stage to pass, however, and the truly monotheistic stage to commence.

  2. I agree with Skepticali about Leviticus. Especially when people began to live in cities, the possibilities of diseases that could spread was much greater, so some basic rules could help to control things. And I guess it was important to have those rules come from an authority with the power to enforce them.
    Sometimes I think about what it took to write all those things down, too. Here I am typing away on an iPad, but some poor Israelite had to start out by killing a sheep to get something to write on! And he couldn't exactly run down to Staples when he needed a new pen, either. I admire them for making the attempt.

  3. Chapter 13 sort of reads like an old-fashioned medical school manual. I wonder if biblical literalists or fundamentalists would go to their priest with a rash instead of to a doctor, and if they would do it any time they have a spot that's indicated in this chapter.

    The lists of clean and unclean animals seems somewhat arbitrary. Some of the unclean animals make sense, and some of them might have made more sense because raising the animals would be more unclean than actually eating them. I also noticed that bats were included with the unclean birds. Was this a translation error or a reflection of the way animals were classified back then?

    Also, is there any reason why having a daughter would make a woman unclean for longer than having a son? And what about twins?

  4. I think all flying creatures were considered birds back then, same as some of the "insects" which are not classified as insects by scientists today, or whales were called fishes.

    As far as being "unclean" one theological answer I've read is that it has to do with the idea of original sin & bringing another sinner into the world (the idea being a girl will be a woman & can birth even more sinners), but this seems more based in modern Christian theology than in Hebrew thought during the time of Leviticus. Many people just assume it is because society was patriarchal and women were considered more sinful and/or less valuable.

    Medically, there are two reasons I can think of. The most sensible is that a vaginal discharge is also considered unclean and, when a woman nurses a female child, the hormones left over at birth can cause the child to have a discharge during the first month or so of life. I have also heard the argument made that "modern medicine' has proven that women are more susceptible to disease or infection after having girls, but have not seen the supposed data that backs this up.

  5. I'm really curious what Christians or Jews think about the statement in these chapters that giving birth dishonors/sullies the woman.

  6. Raine, I thought "original sin" was actually passed through the men, via the semen, which is why Jesus had to be born without it.

  7. Leah, is it possible that when Leviticus uses the term "unclean" it doesn't have the connotation of being dishonored or sullied? In a couple of instances a person is called unclean until even, at which time he is socially acceptable again. It could just be the ritualist's version of "time out"

  8. I can't wait for the pagan stage to pass, however, and the truly monotheistic stage to commence.

    I'm not really sure when that happens in a linear reading of the Bible.

    I find the concept of "pagan" to be extremely limiting. What makes the Levitical law "pagan"? Because it was ritualistic? Islam is plenty ritualistic and plenty monotheistic.

    I haven't been paying attention to the Priestly law's exact phrasing, but it seems farther on the path to monotheism than JE, which unfailingly accepts foreign gods as real, just not awesome like Yahweh.

    I'm fairly certain that monotheism is a purely post-exilic phenomena. I imagine it will be Ezra/Nehemiah before we see true monotheism in the text.

    I see the Israelite religion going through a "bottle-neck" when Ezra returned from exile.

  9. Someone should do a comparison between things that make you unclean in Leviticus and the types of miracles that Jesus performs in the New Testament.

    Jesus touches lepers, touches corpses, deals with swine, heals woman with discharge, blind, lame, etc. (Matt 8,9).

  10. Leprosy must have been quite an issue at the time, considering the amount of attention it gets here. I suppose this attempt, crude as it is to us, is better than nothing in attempting to limit its spread.

    Just gotta say it: God Hates Shrimp!! Bummer!

  11. I don't know how KJV translates it, but my bible's 13:45 is pretty strange:

    One who suffers from malignant skin disease shall wear his clothes torn, leave his hair dishevelled, conceal his upper lip, and cry, 'Unclean, unclean.'

    Is this saying "please maintain a dirty and weird appearance so we know to stay far far away from your freakish diseased body".

    Seems there's a dose of folk medicine to all this ritual purity business. Waiting seven days to see if disease or mold would spread; the idea of medical quarantine; knowing that dead rotting stuff can contaminate potable water. Lots of superstition, but there was a point behind a lot of it.

    Would have been a good place for God to mention the existence of germs, though. Funny how this all seems to be the product of an iron age civilization.

  12. Leviticus 11 has this article entry in the Reformation Study Bible:

    God Is Light: Divine Holiness and Justice
    When Scripture calls God, or individual Persons of the Godhead, “holy” (as it often does: Lev. 11:44, 45; Josh. 24:19; 1 Sam. 2:2; Ps. 99:9; Is. 1:4; 6:3; 41:14, 16, 20; 57:15; Ezek. 39:7; Amos 4:2; John 17:11; Acts 5:3, 4, 32; Rev. 15:4), the word signifies everything about God that sets Him apart from us and makes Him an object of awe, adoration, and dread to us. It covers all aspects of His transcendent greatness and moral perfection, and is characteristic of all His attributes, pointing to the “God-ness” of God at every point. The core of this truth, however, is God’s purity that cannot tolerate any form of sin (Hab. 1:13), and calls sinners to constant self-abasement in His presence (Is. 6:5).

    Justice, which means doing in all circumstances things that are right, is one expression of God’s holiness. God displays His justice as Lawgiver and Judge, and also as Promise-keeper and Pardoner of sin. His moral law, requiring behavior that matches His own, is “holy and just and good” (Rom. 7:12). He judges justly, according to actual desert (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 7:11, 96:13; Acts 17:31). His wrath, His active judicial hostility to sin, is wholly just in its manifestations (Rom. 2:5–16), and His particular judgments (retributive punishments) are glorious and praiseworthy (Rev. 16:5, 7; 19:1–4). Whenever God fulfills His covenant commitment by acting to save His people, it is an act of His righteousness, or justice (Is. 51:5, 6; 56:1; 63:1; 1 John 1:9). When God justifies sinners through faith in Christ, He does so on the basis of justice done—the punishment of our sins in the Person of Christ our substitute. The form taken by His justifying mercy shows Him to be utterly and totally just (Rom. 3:25, 26), and our justification itself is shown to be judicially justified.

    When John says that God is “light,” with no darkness in Him at all, the imagery affirms God’s holy purity, which makes fellowship between Him and the willfully unholy impossible, and requires that the pursuit of holiness and righteousness of life be a central concern for Christian people (1 John 1:5– 2:1; 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1; Heb. 12:10–17). The summons to believers, regenerate and forgiven as they are, to practice a holiness that will match God’s own, and so please Him, is constant in the New Testament, as indeed it was in the Old (Deut. 30:1–10; Eph. 4:17–5:14; 1 Pet. 1:13–22).

  13. @Leah and Barbara: You are right, Barbara, that the impurity brought on by child birth is ritual impurity and does not imply being dishonored. Things that cause ritual impurity, such as sexual contact, contact with corpses and childbirth are necessary parts of life, but just make a person unable to perform holiness rituals for a period of time. The definition of holiness that Brian points out above (things that make God separate from humans) is an indication of why this is. Yahweh doesn't reproduce or die, so when Israelites do things like this that emphasize our "otherness" from Yahweh, they see themselves as particularly unholy.

    My favorite explanation that I've heard for which animals are unclean is Mary Douglas's explaining it as category confusion. Animals that don't fit properly into a category (beasts with a cloven hoof that don't chew cud, "fish" that don't swim or have scales) are unclean.

    Just like Israelites are Israelites and Canaanites are Canaanites, animals should fit into categories. This makes sense to me because one of the functions of religion is to make sense of the world around us. Putting things into identifiable categories helps to establish order, and animals and behaviors that defy this order violate this religious function.

    Other prohibitions can be explained by this too: Men wearing women's clothes or vise-versa, men lying with a man as they would lie with a woman, sex with other species, planting two crops in the same field, garments of mixed materials, etc.

    Do the Leviticus writers think that some insects have four feet (Lev. 11:23)? Seems pretty easy to just count them. I thought the four-legged foul line in Lev. 11:20 could just be a mistranslation (on all fours as a general term for walking on the ground) but 11:23 distinctly says "which have four feet." Priests, leave the naturalism to the clerical drop-outs (Charlie D.!)

  14. Alright! The first of three long chapters of holy dermatology! However, the material here bears no resemblance to the dermatology lectures I remember from med school. For one thing, the disease that is translated as leprosy is most definitely not what we now call leprosy, infection with certain Mycobacteria. I do agree with Abbie that the practices outlined here are a mix of useless superstition and helpful folk-medicine practices that people would figure out empirically, such as the watch and wait seven days approach.

  15. @Abbie - re: "pagan" ... I was thinking specifically of animal sacrifice. There's probably a better term for this ... Primitive? In general, I forgot (over the years) how the Torah records Yahweh's struggles with other deities - giving the broad impression of a struggle among pagan religions, eventually resulting in the primacy of the Yahweh-centric one(s).

    In Lev 12:8: "the priest shall make an atonement for her" - this sure makes it sound as if the woman did something wrong.

  16. Depends on exactly what 'atonement' meant in the original Hebrew which is not necessarily what it meant in later Hebrew or the English word atonement.