Friday, February 11, 2011

Leviticus 24-27 Last Push

Leviticus 24-27

We're finishing up our third book!

A child is stoned to death for taking the lords name in vain.  I found it interesting that it was pointed out that he was a mix of Israelite and Egyptian.

Much of these last chapters deals with the mundane rules of farming, taxation and God's wrath for the weak of faith.

The Jubile confused me a little.
Why fifty years?  This seems an odd number considering the importance of the number seven.
Where slaves to be set free?  Property returned?

Does God change the rules here when he states:

Leviticus 26:7-8  And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.
And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.

Earlier in Exodus I believe God states that the Israelites will take over lands peacefully by integrating themselves within the existing inhabitants.  
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  1. Leviticus 27 (NIV version)

    28 “‘But nothing that a person owns and devotes[k] to the LORD—whether a human being or an animal or family land—may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD.

    29 “‘No person devoted to destruction[l] may be ransomed; they are to be put to death.

    The KJV is a bit obscure
    28 Notwithstanding no devoted thing, that a man shall devote unto the LORD of all that he hath, both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy unto the LORD.

    29 None devoted, which shall be devoted of men, shall be redeemed; but shall surely be put to death.

    "devoted" and "devoted to destruction" is the same word, cherem/herem. We'll see a fair bit 'devoted' later on.

  2. It's been about 35 years since I became un-born-again ... and I think it was right about here that I called B.S. on the whole deal. I'd read the NT uncritically, then started through the OT so that I would know what was all behind the Jesus story. Somewhere in Leviticus it unraveled ... so I'm having deja vu again.

    On the lighter side, it's fun to catch things that I missed years ago:

    - Molech was fun ... I really like the constant struggle with allegedly inferior deities

    - Lev 23:42 "...dwell in booths..." Some one please explain that one. Did the Israelites just get hazed, or what?

    - Lev 27:2,3 "...estimation..." I presume this is a tax levy

    - The Lord spake unto Moses over, and over, and over. I will never be able to read this again without thinking "this Yahweh guy is limited and devious". Moses appears, despite his alleged aversion to public speaking, to be carving out a sweet deal as the main guy that the Lord talks to.

    - Final thought: The difference in some terms between NIV, KJV and others is always interesting. Another limitation of the big guy exposed. If he's the kind of guy that I'd be in awe of, printing his rules, rewards and punishments on a Giant Indestructible Monolith that all people for all eternity can understand without argument would have been a much better plan. All of the other verbiage just muddies things up

  3. Chapter 26 reminds me that the conditional Mosaic covenant is supposedly modeled on the six-part suzerain-vassal treaties used by the Hittites et al., the sixth and final part of which is always a list of blessings for those who keep the terms of the treaty and curses for those that don't. These lists apparently tend to be quite imaginative, and the curses are often specific and vivid. We get a compelling enough list in chapter 26 to soil a few (single-fabric) undergarments. I for one am not about to run the risk of my children being eaten by wild beasts or my eyes being consumed by a burning infection.

    For those interested in comparing Exodus/Leviticus to the six-parts of Hittite treaties, here they are:
    1. Preamble identifying parties to treaty (suzerain & vassals)
    2. Historical prologue - a story about why the suzerain is so great and should be loved by the vassals, having done great things for them.
    3. Treaty stipulations - always including how the vassals are to serve nobody else but the suzerain, and details of how they are to behave.
    4. Deposition - a plan for the safekeeping of the written record of the treaty (do you think we got enough of this in Exodus?), and its regular renewal by public recitation.
    5. List of divine witnesses - the patron deities of both parties.
    6. List of blessings and curses as described above.

  4. I spoke too soon. I just read the first 2 chapters of Numbers; now I know why it's called numbers.
    See you tomorrow

  5. As part of the Leviticus wrap-up I feel the need to clarify one thing: The notion that modern Christians are bound by the crazy laws in Leviticus (a view seemingly expressed in the comments here a few days ago) is not at all reflective of mainstream Christian theology!

    I know a lot of people probably realize this and it feels strange to be defending a faith that I no longer subscribe to, but I just don't want anyone to leave this book with the wrong impression. What I believed as a Christian and heard taught by numerous denominations is that many of these laws are part of the old covenant which was superseded by the new covenant (salvation through Christ). Some laws, however, were intended to carry over and still apply. I'm pretty sure that the beliefs of most mainline Christians line up more or less with this type of interpretation (your neighbors don't want to stone you). Just thought I'd throw that out there at the risk of stating the obvious.

    So, which laws are which? Many people pointed out that there is no textual distinction readily available in Leviticus to separate laws that only apply in the ancient context from universal timeless laws. Turns out that the laws that have been deemed by theologians to be superseded by Jesus are precisely the ones that came to be seen as problematic through the development of Western culture. I don't know if I can think of a better example of the glitch in critical thinking known as "special pleading."

    Echoing a point Abbie made weeks ago, special pleading has essentially been the bread and butter of Christian theologians and apologists throughout the ages. It's sort of the argumentum ad invisible-floating-dragon-in-my-garage-um; Because I can define my god in a way that can't be disproven, it must be real (see Bertrand Russel's teapot).

    Things get really easy when you throw out the practices and conventions of real scholarship: Personally, I interpret "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" as "It was the best of times" and "the earth was without form, and void" as "It was the worst of times" and so on. Strangely enough, I've concluded that the Old Testament was written by Dickens!

  6. @Brian - you get my vote for memorable phrases this week:

    "argumentum ad invisible-floating-dragon-in-my-garage-um" from today ...and...

    "Molech is the Flanders to Yahweh's Homer Simpson" from a few days ago.

  7. Personally, I am mind-numbed by all of the things God told Moses to tell Aaron. I am sure that Aaron must have whined more than once for direct communication. Apparently, some of you were getting giddy, too, and I enjoyed your comments.

  8. Chapter 24 is a tiny shred of narrative, which is nice, but then the Israelites stone a poor guy to death for saying "Goddamnit" and thats screwed up. I mean come on.

    FUN FACT: The word "Jubilee" is derived from the Hebrew word for ram's horn, yohbel.

    Ch. 26: is this the twentieth time God has said "don't make idols"? Does he think the Israelites didn't hear him the first 19 times? (Spoiler: they didn't, see Judges.)

    And, uh, I hate to be a downer, but Numbers begins with TEN MORE CHAPTERS of this stuff.

    (It's called Numbers because... there's lots of numbers... mind-numbing numbers.)

    Some laws, however, were intended to carry over and still apply.

    But how were you supposed to know which ones? (Honest question. I was never a believer, so I'm not really sure how the whole thing works.)

    Chapter 26 reminds me that the conditional Mosaic covenant is supposedly modeled on the six-part suzerain-vassal treaties used by the Hittites et al.

    That's fascinating. My Bible hints at it ("patterned after Ancient Near Eastern contracts"). I'll have to look into that!

    The difference in some terms between NIV, KJV and others is always interesting.

    That's nothing compared to the differences between the major text traditions- the oldest Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Syrian manuscripts all have considerable differences. It's basically a bush of textual divergence, there is by no means "one" Bible text, not even theoretically.

    I've found several places where my favorite translation chooses the Septuagint over the Masoretic text, and the differences are not trivial. I need one of those bibles that compares them all.

  9. "I spoke too soon. I just read the first 2 chapters of Numbers; now I know why it's called numbers."

    < whimpers >

    I'm an accountant, numbers are supposed to be my thing, but I'm losing the will to live...

    I agree with whoever it was who said earlier that what this book needs is a much stricter editor prepared to be harsh with the red pen over duplications. And for the next edition, I'd suggest that some of this stuff could go in footnotes rather than the main text.

    Has anybody checked the arithmetic in Numbers?

  10. Bruce,
    The fifty year jubilee: 7 Sabbath years or 7X7=49, so the next year is the jubilee.
    My impression of the taking over Canaan by peaceful assimilation is that that was never the plan. God said he would send a "hornet" before Israel to drive out the inhabitants.

  11. I think allusions to a gradual takeover of Canaan are the more authentic cultural memories coming through.

    The violent conquest of Canaan is a complete mythological fabrication. (Which is relieving, the Book of Joshua is morally abhorrent.)

    I think Judges is the first book of the Bible with any authenticity, and it shows a long period of conflict between the Israelite tribes and the other Canaanites.

  12. @Abbie - any chance @Bruce would give you guest blogger permissions? I'm sure everyone would like to mow through Numbers just as quickly as possible.

    On historicity in general - I had a profound revelation this morning - of the academic kind, of course. I'm overtly skeptical of the Bible, as many atheists are, but it is an extraordinary blessing to have these texts to give us a glimpse into ancient civilization(s). I appreciate all of you on this blog that have taken time to look several layers deep into the Bible and give the rest of us different perspectives - believer and non-believer alike.

  13. @Skepticali, I'm still trying to decide if I'll have guest bloggers. I won't be giving anyone blogger permissions to run the blog. I'm a dictator in that regard. ;-)

    I will set an aggressive reading schedule for Numbers though.

  14. I love in Leviticus 24 immediately after it's determined that the blasphemer is to be stoned to death, you have this verse: 17 “‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death.

    Seems like it sets up a pretty vicious cycle ;)

  15. @Euslyss,

    You are correct, in Exodus 23:28 it mentions the hornets and how they should not make any covenant with them, no with their gods. This was not going to be a peaceful integration of people and culture. However Joshua, if i remember correctly, gets tricked and does make a agreement with a group of people.