Tuesday, April 28, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapters 11 & 12

Chapter 11
Summary:God now tells Aaron and Moses that the people of Israel may eat any animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud, and gives them a list of animals that may not be eaten:
  • Camels: Although it chews the cud, it does not have cloven hooves.
  • Coney: The coney (or rock badger) chews the cud*, it does not have cloven hooves.
  • Hares: The hare chews the cud*, but does not have cloven hooves.
  • Swine: Although they have cloven hooves, it does not chew the cud.
God declares that the people of Israel are not to eat their meat, or to even touch their dead bodies, as they are forbidden foods.

As for fish, God proclaims that anything with fins and scales, whether coming from rivers or the sea, are fine to eat, but that anything else in the water is an abomination. You mustn't eat the meat or touch the carcass of any water creature without fins and scales, they are abominations.

As for birds that God doesn't want eaten (as they are abominations too):
  • the eagle
  • the metire
  • the osprey
  • the falcon
  • the vulture
  • the kite
  • the raven
  • the ostrich
  • the nighthawk
  • the seagull
  • the hawk
  • the owl
  • the cormorant
  • the ibis
  • the marsh hen
  • the pelican
  • the stork
  • the heron
  • the hoopoe
  • the swan
  • the bat*
Flying insects with four legs are abominations and must not be eaten, with the exception of those that jump. Locusts of all varieties - ordinary locusts, bald locusts, crickets, and grasshopers - may be eaten. All other flying creeping things, which have four feet, are an abomination. Anyone who touches their dead bodies shall be defiled until the evening and must wash their clothes immediately.

God also considers a person defiled who has touched the carcass of any animal with semi-parted hooves, or any animal that does not chew the cud. Any animal that walks on paws is forbidden as food, and will also defile anyone (until the evening) who touches their dead bodies. Again, the person must also wash their clothes immediately as they are considered unclean.

Also forbidden and unclean are small animals which creep along the ground:
  • the mole
  • the rat
  • the mouse
  • the lizard
  • the gecko
  • the chameleon
  • the snail
Anyone touching their dead bodies will be considered defiled until the evening. Anything upon which the carcass may fall upon - any article of wood, clothing, rugs, or a sack - must be put into water to be cleansed as it will be considered unclean until the evening.

If an unclean animal carcass comes into contact with a pottery bowl, anything in the bowl is defiled and the bowl itself must be smashed. If the water used to cleanse a defiled and unclean item touches any food or drink, all of it is considered defiled, unclean, and contaminated. If the carcass of an unclean animal touches any clay oven, it is defiled and must be smashed.

However, if the carcass of an unclean animal falls into a spring or cistern where there is water, the water is not considered to be defiled - but anyone who pulls out the carcass is defiled. If the unclean carcass touches grain that is to be sowed in the field, it is not contaminated; but if the seeds are wet and the unclean carcass falls upon it, then the seed has been defiled.

If any animal which is permitted to be eaten dies (presumably by natural cause or disease) anyone who touches the carcass will also be unclean until the evening. Anyone eating the meat of such an animal, or carrying away its carcass must wash their clothes and is considered defiled and unclean until the evening.

Every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth is an abomination and must not be eaten. Animals that crawl their bellies, creep along an all four, or has many feet shall not be eaten, as they are abominations. Any person who touches such an abomination will become an abomination themselves, and will be considered defiled and unclean.

God reminds the people of Israel that it was he who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and therefore they must remain "holy", as God himself is "holy"; therefore they are not to defile themselves by touching any of these animals that creep along the earth. God says that these are his distinctions between the clean and the unclean, and the beasts that may or may not be eaten.
Notes:1.) Neither the coney (rock badger) or the hare are ruminants ("cud chewing animals"), they don't have a fore-stomach to produce cud.
2.) The bat is misclassified here as a bird, when it is instead a mammal.
Thoughts:God begins listing off animals that are not allowed to be eaten. Bothersome is the fact that he misclassifies both the coney (or rock badger) and the hare as ruminants (those animals which have fore-stomachs and produce cud) as his reasoning for being prohibited for food. Both animals would be prohibited for food by God's other stipulations (the both for not having cloven hooves), but very strangely, the supposed creator of these animals clearly classifies these animals as ruminants when neither of them are.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a ruminant is defined as:
1 adj. (1): chewing the cud
(2): characterized by chewing again what has been swallowed b: of or relating to two suborders (Ruminantia and Tylopoda) of herbivorous even-toed hoofed mammals (as sheep, oxen, deer, and camels) that chew the cud and have a complex 3- or 4-chambered stomach.
Although the "rock badger" and the hare are both herbivores, they do not have the complex stomach systems that produce cud and it seems very suspicious that the apparent creator of the universe would be somehow unaware of this, specifically labeling both animals as ruminants when they very clearly are not. It seems far more likely that primitive bronze age men who actually wrote the bible probably mistakenly assumed that both the rock badger and the hare were ruminants due to their herbivore diets.

God not only continues to list the animals that he doesn't want people eating, but goes one step further labeling such animals as abominations. Anyone who touches the carcasses of any said abominations is to be considered contaminated and unclean until the evening. Why everything resets itself at the evening is unclear and a bit puzzling, but this is apparently God's law. Also, unclean people who either touch or eat the carcasses of animals that are considered abominations to God have to wash their clothes immediately. Why one must wash their clothes for eating an "unclean" animal is a bit puzzling unless perhaps they're a sloppy eater.

God however does say it's perfectly okay to eat locusts, grasshoppers, and crickets if you're really hungry for them - as jumping insects are okay - but that any other insects with wings and/or four feet(?!) are abominations as well.

Seafood that has fins and/or scales are okay, but everything else that lives in the water are abominations as well. God also lists a rather extensive list of birds that are also considered abominations as well; humorously amongst his list of birds is the bat, which is probably misclassified simply due to the Hebrew language classifying any winged flying animal as a "bird".

If the carcass of an animal falls into your plates, bowls, dishes, or ovens, God says you'll have to destroy those items, but if it falls onto your rug, any wooden item, clothes, or even a sack you can toss the defiled item into the wash overnight to decontaminate and save the item. However, dead carcasses of animals considered to be abominations won't pollute your water supply or your grains, but might contaminate your grain seeds if they happen to be wet. Also fishing the dead carcass out of the spring will still contaminate you.

God finishes off his list with all the creepy crawlies such as reptiles and multi-legged creatures, declaring them to be abominations too.
Chapter 12
Summary:God gives Moses some more laws for the people of Israel, this time concerning childbirth. Whenever a baby boy is born, the mother shall be considered "ceremonially defiled" for seven days, and under the same "restrictions" as she would be during her monthly periods. On the eighth day, her son must be circumcised. For the following thirty three days she shall not touch anything "sacred", nor enter the tabernacle, until she is no longer "ceremonially impure".

When a baby girl is born, the mother's "ceremonial impurity" will last two weeks (instead of one as in the case of a baby boy). For the next sixty six days she will not be allowed to touch anything sacred, nor enter the tabernacle, until she is no longer "ceremonially impure".

After the mother's thirty three or sixty six days of "purification" she must bring a yearling lamb as a "burnt offering", and a young pigeon or turtledove as a "sin offering". She must take them to the door of the tabernacle where the priest will slaughter them before God in atonement for her "sin" of childbirth, then she will be "ceremonially clean" again.

If she is too poor to afford a lamb, the mother must bring either two turtledoves or two young pigeons for her "burnt offering" and "sin offering" instead. The priest will make atonement for her with these animal sacrifices so that she may be "ceremonially pure" again.
Thoughts:God packs a large dose of misogyny into a rather short chapter in the book of Leviticus. In this chapter God deems child birth as being sinful and unclean and lays down the law about how to punish new mothers.

Mothers giving birth to a male child are considered to be "unclean" for seven days and must be "purified" for the next thirty three days. During these forty days, she's not allowed to touch anything "sacred" nor is she allowed in the tabernacle.

God furthers his sexism by doubling the mother's punishment for giving birth to a female child - hence the mother is considered "unclean" for fourteen days and that she must be purified for the next sixty six days. During these eighty days, she's not allowed to touch anything "sacred" nor is she allowed in the tabernacle.

After her forty or eighty day punishment, she is then to take some animals to the tabernacle for some good old animal sacrificing to atone for the sin of giving birth to a child. Preferably God wants a bird (either a young pigeon or turtledove) and a lamb, but if the offending mother is too poor to buy a lamb, then two birds will do.

It's hard for me to fathom how anyone can justify the blatant misogyny and sexism laid out here in this chapter, how simply giving birth is considered sinful by any means, why giving birth to a female is more sinful than having a son, and why fathers are notably absent from punishment as they are the cause behind the mother's "sin". There just simply is no way to chalk this up to anything but rampant sexism by either God, or more aptly the human authors of the bible.

There is absolutely nothing "sinful" or bad about a woman giving birth, and moreover there isn't anything "worse" about having a daughter as opposed to having a son. Being concerned about a new mother touching something considered "sacred" or entering a tabernacle before her forty or eighty days are up is asinine - period.

There simply is no way to justify the sexism laid out here in the bible by any means.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

LEVITICUS: An Apologist Rebuttal

In Leviticus: Chapter 10 we read about an utterly violent, brutal, and savage death by immolation dealt out by God to Aaron's two sons Nadab and Abihu. I mentioned in my "thoughts" section, that I was curious as to what the traditional apologist standpoint was on this issue, and I consulted the Christian apologist website GotQuestions.org to see what their stance on the matter was. I wasn't very surprised to see that they favor the old "times were different back then" line, but I can't justify this stance at all. Due to the scope of their explanation, I have chosen to address it in its own post rather than to have written a lengthy rebuttal in the midst of my thoughts on Leviticus: Chapter 10.

I will address the entire argument as presented here at: http://www.gotquestions.org/SAB/SAB-CS-Leviticus.html, point by point:

Leviticus is a popular book for skeptics to quote when attacking the Bible.
Already GotQuestions.org is resorting to weasel words defining skepticism as an "attack". Skepticism in it's ordinary meaning refers to:
  • an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object
  • the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain; or
  • the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism that is characteristic of skeptics (Merriam–Webster).
You can assert that something is true, for example, that every house on your street had an igloo in its back yard last July. The skeptical response that the temperature in July would make it unlikely to maintain an igloo is not an "attack" it is an observation, as it does not rule out the possibility of a counter explanation - like perhaps, that everyone in the neighborhood had installed refrigeration units in their back yards.

The use of the word "attack" is to bait the reader into feeling that questioning a claim in the bible is an "attack".
The lengthy lists of rules and regulations are much easier to misrepresent than other sections of Biblical text, especially when separated from scriptural and historical context.
First off, I find this a bit coincidental that many religious people also heatedly debate the "rules and regulations" from the book of Leviticus (as well as Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers) to defend their stances on issues such as homosexuality, slavery, and misogyny. Secondly there is very little historical evidence or reference for the book of Leviticus outside of the bible itself.
There is no question that some of what is described in Leviticus would be considered harsh by the standards of modern society. There is, however, a proper perspective with which to examine these descriptions.
I have always had a problem with these kinds of arguments to defend the wrongs of the past. Most often this argument comes up in the defense of human injustices such as slavery. Quite often an apologist will say something to the effect of that slavery was condonable back in biblical times because it was somehow different than the more modern slavery of African Americans in the American south 150 years ago. However, the bible makes it very clear that only the "slavery" of Hebrew males - as a payment of debt - was looked at differently (Exodus: Chapter 22) than the injustices we think of when dealing with African American slavery. The bible condones beating slaves - as long as they don't die for a couple of days - stating that slaves are considered "property", and that any spouse a slave takes while serving as a slave themselves is doomed to a lifetime of slavery.

No matter how you try to justify it, dehumanizing and oppressing other people has never been humane by any stretch. Beating another person for whatever reason besides reasonable self defense is also inexcusable no matter what justification you try to apply. Just because these activities were viewed as acceptable in the past does not mean they were right by any means.
A biblically-based, historically informed approach to understanding the book of Leviticus provides insights on the meaning and purpose behind it.
The skepticism in question - of analyzing particular quotes - is also "biblically based", and furthermore a differing of opinion on meaning does not change the basis. Again, "historically" there is no evidence to support the claim of millions of Hebrew slaves escaping from Egypt and wandering the desert for forty years outside of biblical texts, so the "history" angle is rather moot in this regard. Most biblical scholars view the books of Leviticus and Exodus as either non-historical or greatly exaggerated, and more of a collection of parables and metaphorical lessons.
It is important to remember that much of Leviticus is God’s response to sin. God has the sovereign authority to impose laws, as well as consequences for those who violate them.
As for the book of Leviticus, I am not arguing what exactly God is punishing, but the cruel and over excessive methods he chooses to punish people with. Setting two young men on fire for making a simple mistake of using the wrong flame to light incense with is beyond excessive - it's cruel, sadistic, and unnecessary. Even if God feels he must kill someone for making a very human error, why couldn't he spare the two young men with less excruciating deaths? Why must he threaten the surviving family members with death themselves if they even dare to show any grief or mourn?

There is no argument to defend the sadistic death of immolation when God is allegedly endowed with the powers to kill people in far more humane methods - even a quick, yet massive, fatal heart attack would surely be far less traumatic than immolation.
One cannot reject this out of hand without rejecting the entire idea of law and order.
GotQuestions.org completely misses the entire point here and tries to insinuate that someone who opposes condemning someone to die in the electric chair is opposing the death penalty outright. This is a typical apologist tactic of trying to paint the only options as being only either black or white.
Just as modern laws prohibit certain actions, and assign penalties to violators, so did the laws described in Leviticus.
However "modern laws" take into account the circumstances surrounding the violation. Two people can break the same law and get served vastly different penalties. A shoplifter without a criminal record probably won't serve any jail time and might not even be arrested, whereas a first time shoplifter that does have a criminal record is more likely to get a more severe punishment. Police officers often get much lighter punishments if they commit a crime versus a regular citizen.
God’s overall purpose in creating these laws was to set the Israelites apart from the other nations around them.
So God is trying to prove that one group of people are superior to the rest? Placing a value upon people by birthright sounds akin to me like what the nations of Germany and Italy tried to assert in the 1930's.
God made it clear that He expected obedience to His authority; those who violated the laws had every reason to expect a strong response.
Actually, according to Leviticus: Chapter 4 not everyone who violates a law might realize what they have done. Chapter 4 is all about unintentional and accidental "sins", and Leviticus: Chapter 5 even makes it clear that someone is still guilty even if they don't realize it.
Historical perspective is especially important when reading Leviticus. Modern society enjoys a level of technological and social stability that ancient peoples did not. Actions that have little effect on modern society might have been dangerously harmful in millennia past.
This doesn't justify setting two young men on fire for using the wrong flame to ignite incense, and further threatening their surviving family not to mourn lest they be killed themselves.
In the days of the ancient Israelites, the survival of your family depended on all of the families around you working towards the same goals, by the same rules, and without undermining the system.
When you have a magical being that provides you with food and water in the desert, protects you from invading armies by raising magical staffs, and threatens you with death for a myriad of trivial "crimes", your survival would be more apt to depend on not angering him by something like using the wrong flame to light his incense than it really had to do with the actual laws themselves.
Adultery was not merely a moral problem in that day. Undermining the family threatened the safety and welfare of the entire culture.
How does adultery - as it is defined in the book of Exodus - threaten the safety and welfare of the entire culture? Men of these days were polygamists, had slave girls in their concubines, and were expected to take their brothers wives as their own if they died without bearing children? Why is death the appropriate punishment and not perhaps being exiled?
Modern critics would do well to note the concept of martial law. When the stability of modern life is interrupted by disaster, it is necessary to take a much harsher stance towards lesser offenses, for the sake of preserving the society.
Such as setting people on fire for using the wrong flame to light incense, stoning people for working on Saturdays, and having to slaughter a bunch of animals if you accidentally touched an insect.

Once again, GotQuestions.org is missing the point.
Ancient peoples lived under these conditions almost constantly.
The Israelis in the book of Leviticus had more to fear from angering their deity and getting set on fire than from actually endangering their society by breaking one of God's laws.
The laws of Leviticus were not especially cruel for their time;
Setting two young men on fire and forcing their father and brothers not to grieve under the threat of their own deaths is "not especially cruel"? Perhaps we must have very strong disagreements on what constitutes cruelty.

Even barring the punishment of death itself as a factor, there are far less cruel ways to execute people - even in ancient times - than by immolation and stoning.
in fact, the emphasis on truth, order, and evidence set the Israelites ahead of their more volatile neighbors.
Evidence? Obviously, we must have missed the section of Exodus: Chapter 22 where a man who defends his home against a burglar in the daytime is automatically presumed to be a murderer; or Exodus: Chapter 21 where a person who's innocent of the accusation of murder will have to rely on God to hide him in order to avoid a stoning. Evidence plays no role in either of those laws.
In a general sense, objections to capital punishment are objections to the death penalty itself.
Again, this is complete nonsense. One can be opposed to capital punishment via the electric chair and still be in favor for the death penalty by other means.
God, being the author and creator of life, has the sovereign right to determine what happens to that life.
Not necessarily. If you or I create something, we are not automatically entitled to destroy it by any means that we see fit. I can build my own house, but that doesn't mean that I'm legally entitled to set it on fire - that is arson.
One’s opinion about the death penalty will determine whether or not these punishments are considered “cruel” or not. “Cruel” is a subjective term that, in reality, has nothing to do with whether or not these punishments were “justified” or not.
While the concept of cruelty is indeed subjective, we can reasonably consider an action cruel when the one committing the act has other less painful methods at their disposal and/or has the ability to minimize the suffering of the offender, or in the case of Aaron and his surviving sons - innocent bystanders. God clearly has other execution methods he could have doled out rather than immolation, and denying grief to the immediate family is a sure sign of a lack of compassion.
The ancient Israelites would probably react to these claims of “cruelty” in the same way modern Americans would if someone claimed that placing thieves in a cage (jail) was “cruel.”
There is a lot less permanent consequences from jailing someone than setting people on fire or stoning them. I think even the "Ancient Israelis" would choose "life in a cage" rather than to die by stoning or immolation.
Leviticus 8:24; 14:14; 14:17; 14:25 - "Use of blood, animal sacrifice in rituals"

This is an example of how cultural changes affect our opinion of cruelty. In our modern society, many people feel that it is “cruel” to even keep animals as pets, use them for food, or for clothing. The luxuries of modern farming, synthetic fibers, and so forth were not available to the ancient Israelites. The use of animals for food and as sacrificial offerings was a common and unremarkable part of ancient society. One might as well expect a culture two thousand years from now to think of us as cruel for ever eating an animal in the first place. The “cruelty” of these passages is entirely a question of subjective preference.
The problem with this argument is that the animals in question are not being slaughtered primarily for food and clothing, they were being used as "substitute" scapegoats for the mistakes of people. Most of the parts of the animals that are brutally slaughtered in Leviticus are simply burned on the altar because God finds it "pleasing". The animal skins and meat are not being given to the poor, most of it is burned and discarded, and what little God allows to be used for food or clothing, is strictly for priests. Commoners get a stoning if they consume any of these animal sacrifices, and even the priests themselves will be excommunicated if they eat in the wrong location.
Leviticus 10:1-2 - "Nadab and Abihu"

The event described here is straightforward: two men did something explicitly forbidden by God, and were punished by God for it. See above regarding the rule of law.
Once again, GotQuestions.org completely misses the point. It is unclear whether Nadab and Abihu's "crime" was an honest mistake, carelessness, or intentional. Regardless of that setting them on fire is far too excessive, as is forbidding their immediate family to grieve over their losses.
Leviticus 20:9 - "Death penalty for cursing one’s father and mother"

The Hebrew word qalal is translated here as “curses”. In context, it implies a severe hatred accompanied by an insult to someone’s reputation. The word is similar in meaning, therefore, to “blasphemy”. God had given a clear and direct commandment to honor parents, not to curse them. As with other offenses, this extreme level of rebellion represented a direct threat to the stability of Israelite culture. The harsh response was in response to the harshness of the offense and its potential social harm.
Completely left out of context is what the parent may have done to cause the child's scorn. Parents who abuse their children physically, mentally, sexually, or emotionally don't deserve a mandatory respect from their children simply by their biological linkage.
Leviticus 20:12-16 - "Death penalty for sins of incest, sodomy, bestiality"

See above about cultural stability and God’s purpose for the law. These kinds of actions were allowed, and even encouraged, by some surrounding nations. Much of this was because of their worship of false gods.
Once again, GotQuestions.org stoops to "weasel wording". "By some surrounding nations"? Which surrounding nations? What did they "encourage"? Incest? Bestiality? Sodomy? Aside from the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (which no evidence for their existence exists outside of biblical texts) I'm not aware of any religions in the bronze age that encouraged bestiality or sodomy, nor any that encouraged incest to a significant degree aside from what was acceptable to the Israelis (Abraham and Sarah were half siblings; Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel were first cousins; Lot's daughters who had sex and were impregnated by their father; etc.)

The assertion of "false gods" is also laughable as deities are not a provable concept, and thus there's no way of determining which gods are "real", "false", or "imagined" outside of personal faith.
God made it clear that these actions were not only immoral, but abhorrent. There was to be no mixing of immoral pagan practices with God’s commandments.
Much of the bible is borrowed from earlier pagan religions, numerology, and astrology. Even our modern Christian holidays - including Christmas and Easter - are clearly littered with pagan practices: Christmas trees, Easter eggs, fertility (Easter), and winter solstice (Christmas) amongst them.
These kinds of sins also created the kind of dangerous instability that threatened Israelite culture.
I fail to see the "danger" this poses, and again this sounds more like elitism and fascism in its wording here.
Leviticus 20:27 - "Death penalty for 'mediums' and 'wizards'"

See above about the purpose for the law. Such actions were a form of idolatry, specifically prohibited by God’s law.
Again, refer to my answer above as well.
Leviticus 21:9 - "Death penalty for daughters of priests engaging in prostitution"

See above about the purpose for the law. Temple prostitution was a common element in false religions.
Weasel wording again. Please state sources to back up your claim if prostitution being a "common element" of "false" religions.
Prostitution was already prohibited; this law made it clear that the families of religious leaders could not expect special exemptions. They would be held to the same or higher standards than the people, helping to prevent the kind of abuse of power common in ancient theocracies.
Except for Judah's story in Genesis: Chapter 38 where Tamar escapes being set on fire from prostitution simply because she's carrying her father-in-law's baby.
Leviticus 24:14, 16, 23 - "Death penalty for blasphemy"

See above about the purpose for the law.
See above to why this is ridiculous.
Leviticus 26:16, 22 - "Punishments from God for disobedience"

See above about the purpose for the law. This part of Leviticus extends the responsibility for obedience to the entire nation, as well as the individual person. As with other aspects of the law, God has given his commandments, and is now giving the penalties for violating them. As with many of the points above, one has to objectively examine the text; part of this is recognition that severe punishments are not necessarily wrong.
Again, severe punishments are wrong when there are more humane ways to go about it. Even if we stick with capital punishment, there is a major difference between the methodology of lethal injection verses setting someone on fire.
Concluding thoughts about Leviticus:

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible considers all of the above “cruel”. Christians should be willing to admit that much of what appears above is harsh and restrictive. However, the basic concept of law is one that even the skeptic has to accept. If societies have the right to determine laws and punishments, then so does God. It is also important to remember the context of these laws. They were given specifically to the Israelites, during the “Old Covenant”, not to modern believers, who live under the “New Covenant”. Once Christ accomplished His work on the cross, He fulfilled the law and most of what is listed above ceased to be in force.

God was teaching and molding His people with these laws. He wanted to send a clear message that He would punish sin. He expected His people to be separate from the wicked cultures they were surrounded by. Many laws of Leviticus also taught lessons about God’s charity, love, and justness. The fact that the punishments for violating these laws are severe is uncomfortable to modern readers; still, God is well within His authority to set down both rules and consequences for violating them.
Once again, GotQuestions.org completely misses the point and tries to excuse God's extreme methods - that even Moses himself questioned as evil in Exodus: Chapter 32.

In western society we cringe and condemn the Islamic world for their brutal versions of capital punishment, more on the grounds of the methodology of stoning and decapitations, sometimes more than the crime that was committed. In many ways these lame apologetic excuses for condoning setting people on fire and stoning them for working on Saturdays are no more or less any different than what countries in the Middle East are doing to people nowadays for being gay, for women not covering their faces in public, or having sex out of wedlock and therefore "shaming" their families.

Regardless of the time period or the conditions of "ancient Israel" you simply cannot condone needless suffering and pain for trivial offenses such as using the wrong flame to light incense.

LEVITICUS: Chapters 9 & 10

Chapter 9
Summary:On the eighth day of Aaron's and sons' consecration, Moses summoned them along with the elders of Israel. He tells Aaron to fetch a bull calf for a "sin offering" and a ram for a "burnt offering".

He tells Aaron, his sons, and the elders that the people of Israel are to also select a male goat for their "sin offering", both a yearling calf and a yearling lamb for their "burnt offering", and an ox or a ram - along with flour mixed with olive oil - as a "peace offering". Moses then adds that God will appear to the people today.

So they brought the sacrificial animals and grain to the tabernacle, as Moses had commanded, and the people came and stood before God. Moses tells the people that when they have followed God's instructions, his glory will appear.

Moses then has Aaron slaughter the animals for his own personal "sin offering" and "burnt offering", and afterward to kill the animals for the "sin offering" and "burnt offering" of the people. As he killed the calf for his own "sin offering", his sons caught the blood for him. Aaron dipped his finger in the blood, smeared it upon the horns of the altar, and poured out the rest at the base of the altar. He then burned the fat, kidneys, and gall bladder from his "sin offering" and burned the rest of the carcass outside the camp.

Next Aaron kills his "burnt offering" animal while his sons catch the blood and sprinkle it back and forth upon the altar. They brought him the animal piece by piece, including the head, and he burned it upon the altar. Aaron then washed the legs and burned them upon the altar as well.

Next Aaron kills the people's goat for their "sin offering" in the same manner he had done for his own "sin offering". Then he sacrificed their "burnt offering" also in the same manner as his own. He also burned a handful of the people's grain offering upon the altar as well.

Next up Aaron kills the ox and the ram for the people's "peace offering", and his sons brought him the animals' blood to sprinkle upon the altar. He then burned the fat, kidneys, and gall bladder upon the altar, and waved the breasts and right shoulders in the air as a gesture of offering to God.

Finally, with his hands spread out towards the people, Aaron blessed them and came down from the altar. Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle, and when they returned they blessed the people while the glory of God appeared to the whole assembly. God, in the form of fire, consumed the fat and "burnt offerings" on the altar; when the people witnessed this they all shouted and fell flat upon the ground before God.
Thoughts:Yet another chapter chocked full of gruesome animal sacrifice, splattering blood, and setting animal parts on fire. After seven days of Aaron and his son's consecration, it's now time to get cracking on slaughtering a bunch of animals for everyone's "sins".

Sometimes I wonder how most people would react if they were told chapters like these when stripped of biblical characters and references. Would they be appalled? If you then mentioned that the story was taken right out of the bible as a command from God, would that excuse the appalling conditions? Why would that justify the savageness and gruesome nature of the story?

Anyway, Aaron kills a bunch of animals both on his own behalf, and as well as for the people of Israel. When he's finished God appears in the form of fire and consumes every bit of animal parts that were left upon the altar. The people of Israel seeing this, all shouted and fell on their faces. Okay...
Chapter 10
Summary:Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu put "strange fire" ("unholy" fire) into their incense censers, laid incense on the fire, and offered the incense to God. This was against what God commanded them, so God's fire blazed forth and killed them both by immolation.

Moses turned to Aaron and told him that this what God meant when he said that he would show himself holy amongst those who approach him, and that God will be glorified amongst the people. Aaron held his peace.

Moses then called for Aaron's cousins Misha-el and Elzaphan (sons of Uzziel) to go fetch the charred bodies of Nadab and Abihu, get them out of the tabernacle, and dump them outside the camp. They went out and retrieved the bodies, wrapped them in their coats, as Moses had commanded.

Moses then turned to Aaron and his two surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, and told them not to mourn or show any grief for either Nadab or Abihu, or else God would kill them too, and that his wrath will come upon all of Israel as well. However, Moses adds that the rest of the "common folk" can go ahead and mourn them if they wish, but warns Aaron and his living sons that they are not to leave the tabernacle under the penalty of death. They did as Moses commanded.

God now tells Aaron that he is never to drink wine - or any alcoholic beverage - before entering the tabernacle, lest he shall be killed. God explains that this rule also applies to his sons and to all his descendants from generation to generation. He tells Aaron that their duties are to arbitrate for the people between what is "holy" and what is ordinary; what is pure and what is impure; and to teach the people the laws that he had given through Moses.

Then Moses said to Aaron and his surviving sons, to take the "grain offering" (making sure there is no yeast in it) and to eat it in the sanctuary beside the altar. Moses adds on that although the "grain offering" may only be eaten in the sanctuary, the breast and the thigh from the "peace offering" can be eaten in any holy place. He tells Aaron that this belongs to Aaron and his sons and daughters as their food. He continues, saying that the people of Israel are to bring the thigh and breast and wave them in the air as a gesture to God - after which they belong to Aaron and his family.

Moses then searched everywhere for the goat of the "sin offering" but discovered that it had been burned. He became angry with Eleazar and Ithamar and demanded to know why they did not eat the "sin offering" in the sanctuary, as God had given it to them to make atonement for the people of Israel.

Aaron interceded and explained to Moses that his sons had offered their "sin offering" and "burnt offering" before God, but asked Moses if God would have actually been pleased if he had eaten it on such a day like this. Apparently, this satisfied Moses.
Thoughts:Aaron's sons make the fatal mistake of lighting their incense with "strange fire", to which God retorts by immolating them both with his own fire. Incredibly, Aaron just sits there and watches his sons burn to death - and is warned by Moses that neither he nor his sons are to mourn or grieve over the sons' deaths, or God will kill them too. So much for a God who describes himself as merciful.

This whole passage is a perfect example of the cruelty and absence of love and mercy in the bible that simply cannot be justified or rationalized. I was very curious as to what the apologist standpoint on this was, guessing that it was probably the old "you have to take these things into context with the times" bit - and sure enough, the source I consulted uses this weak explanation to excuse God's savage brutality.

I consulted the Christian apologist website GotQuestions.org to see what their rationale was for God's behavior in the book of Leviticus, and have decided that I'm going to dedicate my next blog post to refute it at length rather than to address it here, so that I may stress the many disagreements I have with this sort of outlook on God's savage cruelty here.

Back to our story, particularly bothersome is that Nadab and Abihu's violent deaths by immolation elicit no response or reaction from either Aaron or his surviving brothers. If you have ever witnessed a death by immolation you'd know exactly what I'm talking about here (as several such deaths can be viewed over the web). Immolation is probably one of the most painful ways to die and will leave its victims writhing around in severe pain until they are overcome by shock and their eventual demise. It's extremely unbelievable that neither Nadab or Abihu's father or brothers would have had an emotional reaction to watching their immediate family members die in such a horrific way. To add more cruelty to the matter, God forbids them from showing any emotion towards their savagely killed family members with the threat of being killed themselves. This is a stark contradiction between God's self professed "compassion", "love", and "mercy" and is completely inexcusable.

Moses however tells Aaron and his surviving sons that it's okay if the regular "common folk" mourn for the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, but that they're not to leave the tabernacle now, or God will kill them for that too. While he's on the subject of capital punishment, God also tells Aaron that there's to be no drinking alcohol while entering the tabernacle, as that's a death sentence too.

God further explains that the bulk of their jobs as priests will be differentiating the "holy" things from the ordinary things for the common folk, and to teach them the laws that Moses had been given.

Moses then tells Aaron and his surviving sons about where they are to eat various sacrifices before he goes off looking for the goat offered as a "sin offering". When he finds out that it wasn't eaten, but just set on fire, he gets furious at Aaron's surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar.

Aaron buts in and asks Moses that considering the circumstances of the day, would God actually be pleased with them for eating the "sin offering"? This seems to satisfy Moses' anger and he drops the issue.

LEVITICUS: Chapters 7 & 8

Chapter 7
Summary:God continues to relay to Moses more instructions for animal sacrifices:
For "guilt" offerings:
  • The sacrificial animal shall be slaughtered at the same place where the burnt offering sacrifices are slain, and its blood shall be sprinkled back and forth upon the altar.
  • The priest will burn upon the altar all its fat, including the tail, the kidneys, and the gall bladder.
  • Only males amongst the priests* may then eat the carcass, and must be eaten in a "holy place"
God notes that the same instructions for "burnt offerings" will apply to guilt offerings, stating that the carcass shall be given to the priest in charge of the atonement ceremony, as his food. God adds, however, that in the case of a "burnt offering", the priest will also be given the animal's hide.

Further, he tacks on that the priests who present the people's grain offerings shall be given whatever remains of the sacrifice after the ceremony is completed. This applies whether the sacrifice is baked, fried, or grilled. All other grain offerings are the common property of all the sons of Aaron.
For special "peace offerings":
  • Unleavened short bread shall be included with the sacrifice, along with unleavened wafers spread with olive oil, and loaves from a batter of flour mixed with olive oil.
  • This sacrifice will also be accompanied with loaves of leavened bread.
  • Part of this sacrifice shall be presented to God by a gesture of waving it before the altar, then it shall be given to the assisting priest (the one who sprinkles the blood of the animal sacrifice). After the animal has been sacrificed as a "peace offering", its meat is to be eaten that same day, none is to be left for the following day.
God adds that if anyone brings a sacrifice not as a "peace offering", but as either a vow or a voluntary sacrifice, any portion of the sacrifice that is not consumed the first day, may be consumed on the day after. However, anything left over on the third day must be burned - for if it is eaten on the third day, God will not accept it. It will have no value as a sacrifice, there will be no credit to the one who brought it, and the priest who eats it will be found guilty - as it is detestable to God, and the person who eats it must answer for his sin.

Any meat that comes into contact with anything that is "ceremonially unclean" must not be eaten, but burned. As for the meat that can be eaten, it must only be eaten by a person who is "ceremonially clean". Any priest who is "ceremonially unclean" and eats this meat must be excommunicated and exiled from his people, as he has defiled what God deems "sacred". Anyone who touches anything that is "ceremonially unclean" and then eats the peace offering, shall be exiled, as he has defiled what is deemed "holy".

God then told Moses to instruct the people never to eat any fat - whether from oxen, sheep, or goats. The fat of an animal that dies from disease or that is killed by wild animals may be used for other purposes, but never to be eaten. Anyone who eats fat from an animal sacrifice shall be exiled from his people. Never eat blood, whether from birds or animals, or you shall be exiled and excommunicated.

Anyone bringing a "peace offering" sacrifice must do so with their own hands. He shall bring the offering of the fat and the breast and wave it in the air before God. After the priest burns the fat upon the altar, the breast will belong to Aaron and his sons but the right thigh will belong to the officiating priest alone. God considers these portions - the breast and the right thigh - as the priests' pay for their work, it is their right indefinitely through generations.
Notes:1.) As noted in prior chapters, this declaration of sexism would seem redundant as God has not decreed any provision for women to serve as priests. God has specifically given the rights of the priesthood to Aaron, his sons, and their descendants.
Thoughts:God doles out yet even more of his rules for animal sacrifices, and confusingly so. While Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 are intended to divide the provisions up for "burnt offerings", "sin offerings", "grain offerings", "guilt offerings", and "peace offerings", God often interjects rules for offerings he's already covered and backtracks a lot. Here in this chapter he allows the priests to also take the animal hides in the case of "burnt offerings", a topic he covered early in the last chapter. It would seem to me that God should want to be clear and concise rather than confuse his message by adding afterthoughts all over the place.

Next God covers his requirements for the humorously named "peace offerings", which also entail violent animal sacrifice. God demands some bread items to go with this animal sacrifice and warns that the meat is to be eaten by the priests only on the day of the animal sacrifice.

However God says that if people want to make some voluntary animal sacrifices, then he's okay with the meat hanging around for another night, but it must be burned on the third day. Anyone who disobeys will be found guilty and will have to answer for his "sin", as God finds this detestable.

On a roll with what he finds "detestable", God now goes on saying that any meat that comes into contact with anything "ceremonially unclean" can't be eaten at all and must be burned. Any priest who has done something to make himself "ceremonially unclean" (and remember he doesn't even have to be aware of it), he shall be exiled and excommunicated.

Let's take a step back here and look at what's being said - in Leviticus: Chapter 5 we are told that: "Anyone touching anything "ceremonially unclean" - such as the carcass of an animal forbidden as food, or the carcass of a "forbidden insect". He is guilty even if he is unaware of having touched it.". So technically here, a priest could sit on and squash an "unclean insect", eat some animal sacrifice meat, and when he stands up and other priests notice that he's touched an "unclean insect", he can be exiled and excommunicated from his people. Quite frankly this is downright ridiculous and asinine, but it is perfectly in accordance with God's law.

Moving along, God now commands that people are never to eat animal fat. If an animal is killed or dies by other methods than animal sacrifice, then it's okay to use the animal fat for other purposes, but it is not ever to be eaten. Doing so land you both exiled and excommunicated.

God decrees that this also goes for consuming blood, which some believers use as grounds for refusing blood transfusions. The King James verses in question are verses 26 and 27, which read as such:
26: Moreover ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings.
27: Whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people.
Now, I don't have any problems with adults who refuse life saving treatments on bizarre religious beliefs - or for whatever reason - but it is a truly awful thing when grown adults refuse to permit their children life saving medical procedures on the grounds of superstitious belief systems. Furthermore it's certainly not clear in referencing life saving transfusions, but moreover the ingestion of blood in the manner of eating. While most believers don't literally interpret these verses in this manner, it is still notable as to how dangerous biblical literalism can impact people in this day and age.

God finally finishes off this chapter by decreeing that while the breast of animal sacrifices will belong to all the priests as a whole, the officiating priest of the sacrifice will be given the animal's right leg as his wages.
Chapter 8
Summary:God has Moses bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tabernacle, along with their priest outfits, the anointing oil, the sacrificial bull, two sacrificial rams, and a basket of unleavened bread. Moses then summoned all the people of Israel to witness the event.

Moses tells the people that what he is about to do "has been commanded by God". He then washes Aaron and his sons with water, clothed Aaron with his coat, sash, robe, and belt. As he put the chest upon Aaron he place the two sacred stones - the Urim and the Thummim* - inside its pouch. He finished dressing Aaron and placed the turban upon his head.

Moses then took the anointing oil and sprinkled it upon the tabernacle, as well as upon each item contained within, "sanctifying" them. When he came to the altar, he sprinkled it seven times. He then poured the oil upon Aaron's head, setting him apart for his work. Next Moses dressed Aaron's sons in their robes, belts, and caps.

He then took the bull and made Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the animal's head as Moses killed it. Moses then smeared the blood on the altar with his finger, and poured out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. He then took the animal fat, the liver, the two kidneys and burned them all upon the altar. The animal's carcass was burned outside the camp, just as God had commanded Moses.

Next Moses slaughtered a ram for a "burnt offering", once again while Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the animals head during the slaughter. Moses sprinkled its blood back and forth upon the altar before quartering the ram and burning the pieces (along with the head, and the fat) upon the altar. He then washed the ram's insides and burned the rest of the ram upon the altar as well. Apparently, God was pleased "very much" by this "burnt offering" - and by the fact that Moses followed every last detail.

Moses then killed the other ram in the same fashion (with Aaron and his son's hands upon the animal's head) and smeared the animal's blood upon the lobes of Aaron and his sons right ears, right thumbs, and the big toes of their right feet. The rest of the blood he sprinkled upon the altar.

Moses then took the fat, the tail, the gall bladder, the two kidneys, and the right shoulder of the ram. He then placed on top of these animal parts: one unleavened wafer, one wafer spread with olive oil, and one slice of bread. All of this was placed in the hands of Aaron and his sons for them to wave in the air as an offering before God. Moses then took the animal guts, parts, and bread items back from them and set it all on fire upon the altar - this apparently pleased God very greatly. Moses then took the ram's breast and waved it before the altar - this was Moses' portion of the "ram of consecration".

Next Moses took some of the anointing oil along with some of the blood that was sprinkled upon the altar, and sprinkled the mixture upon Aaron and his sons, and upon their clothes. Moses then told Aaron and his sons to boil the meat at the entrance to the tabernacle, instructing them to eat it along with the rest of the bread in the basket, and that any leftovers must be burned.

Moses then tells Aaron and his sons not to leave the tabernacle entrance for seven days, after which time their consecration would be complete. He warns Aaron and his sons that if they leave the entrance that they will die - as that is what God has said.
Notes:1.) The "Urim and the Thummim" are apparently two magic stones that were used to determine God's will with "Yes" or "No" answers, much like a Magic 8-ball. These stones were also purportedly used by Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon religion) to translate the Book of Mormon into English.
Thoughts:Here in this chapter Aaron and his sons finally get consecrated as priests, complete with plenty of animal sacrifice, splashing blood around the tabernacle, and setting animal carcasses on fire - which pleases God greatly.

Moses gathers the entire population of Israel (at least 600,000+ and more probably several million people) to witness the event, explaining to them that everything they are about to see was commanded by God. Compare this gathering to a typical modern day rock concert, which is usually an audience of only several thousand people, and where we know it's virtually impossible to see what's going on near the back rows. Now here we're supposed to grasp that at least over six hundred thousand people (more likely several million if we factor in the elderly, the children, and the women) were able to witness these events? It's not very likely that more than a few hundred may have been able to see what was going on.

As Moses begins dressing Aaron in his priest costume, a curious tidbit is mentioned - two stones called the "Urim and the Thummim" that are placed into the outfit. These stones were apparently used to determine God's will in the form of "Yes" or "No" answers, much like a Magic 8-ball. Besides being an utterly ridiculous concept, it's also a frightening one when we factor in that probably the fates of many people's lives rested in the hands of these "magic stones" and their random answers.

Continuing on, Moses slaughters all the sacrificial animals; splashes some of the animal blood upon the altar; smears some of the blood upon the right ear, thumb, and big toes of Aaron and his sons; and sets portions of the animal meat on fire - which always pleases God very much.

Moses then has Aaron and his sons eat some of the sacrificial animal meat at the entrance to the tabernacle and warns them that they'll have to burn anything that's left over.

He then tells Aaron and his sons that they will have to remain at the entrance to the tabernacle for the next seven days and that they are not to leave there before the seven days are up - or else they will die. This begs the question as to how Aaron and his sons will be able to relieve themselves of their bathroom needs. I suppose the religious apologist approach could theorize that just like God kept Moses alive somehow for forty days and forty nights without eating or drinking, God could possibly put their bathroom needs "on hold" in a similar fashion, however there is nothing to support that theory. However there's also nothing to prevent them from soiling themselves, especially when threatened with death for leaving their post at the entrance to the tabernacle.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapters 5 & 6

Chapter 5
Summary:God makes a few clarifications on matters that people are to be found guilty of sin:
  • Anyone who refuses to give testimony towards what he knows about a crime.
  • Anyone touching anything "ceremonially unclean" - such as the carcass of an animal forbidden as food, or the carcass of a "forbidden insect". He is guilty even if he unaware of having touched it.
  • Anyone touching human discharge of any kind becomes guilty as soon as he is aware that he has touched it.
  • Anyone who takes a rash vow, regardless of whether the vow is good or bad. When he realizes that the vow is foolish, he is guilty.
In any of those cases, he shall have to confess his sin and bring a female lamb or female goat for a "guilt offering" animal sacrifice. This will free him from his sin and in the case of a "foolish vow", absolve him from his vow.

If he is too poor to afford a lamb, then he can bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, with one bird being a sin offering, and the other a burnt offering. The priest shall sacrifice whichever bird is handed to him first as the sin offering - wringing its neck, but not severing its head from its body. The priest shall then sprinkle some of its blood upon the side of the altar and the rest will be drained out at the base of the altar. The second bird will be a burnt offering following "standard procedure".

If he is too poor to afford turtledoves or pigeons, then he must bring a tenth of a bushel of fine flour - the flour is not to be mixed with olive oil or incense. The priest is to take a handful as a representative portion and burn it on the altar. The rest of the flour shall belong to the priest, in the same manner that a grain offering is conducted.

If anyone sins by unintentionally defiling something that is holy, then he shall bring a ram for a "guilt offering" animal sacrifice. He will also have to make full restitution for the item he has defiled, plus a twenty percent penalty fee.

Anyone who disobeys some law of God without realizing it is guilty regardless, and must bring a sacrifice with a value determined by Moses. This sacrifice shall be a ram without defects, and must be given as a "guilt offering", for he is certainly guilty in God's eyes.
Thoughts:God lays down a few things that fall under his category of guilt, beginning with people who won't testify against a crime. Next, God marks the carcasses of animals that are not marked for food as "unclean" and that touching said carcass dooms you with guilt. This "sin" also applies to "forbidden insects" as well, whatever that means. Quite frankly, this "sin" is just downright silly, as anyone who has touched the dead body of a pet dog, cat, hamster, etc. is guilty of this "sin".

Next, God tells us that touching human discharge of any kind is also a sin. Parents who've changed messy diapers, people who've sneezed on themselves, and even those wet sloppy kisses you give to your grandkids - well, they're all sins, folks. However, unlike touching a dead animal carcass - where you're guilty whether you realize you've touched it or not - you're only guilty once you realize that you've touched human discharge, which I guess might be a comfort to people who might not be the best at wiping themselves in the bathroom and thoroughly wash their hands afterwards.

Curiously, the final example God gives is about making a rash vow - regardless of whether it's good or bad. I would suspect that people probably interpret this as a loophole for divorce, because as soon as you're forgiven for your "sin", you're absolved from having to abide by the vow.

Now God tells us that the proper way to absolve guilt is by slaughtering some female lambs and goats at church. If you can't afford either a lamb or a goat, a pair of turtledoves or pigeons will do. If you're really poor, then God will allow you to sacrifice a tenth of a bushel of fine flour instead. Graphically, God describes that priests are to wring the necks of the birds given, but to make sure that the head is at least still attached to the body.

Now if you have defiled anything God deems "holy", then that will cost you a ram, plus you'll have to reimburse the church for the full value of the item you defiled plus a 20% surcharge.

Regardless of whether you know what you've done or not, God says you're still guilty and that you must bring whatever sacrifice Moses decides upon, which apparently, Moses wants you slaughter rams. Perhaps he thought ram's meat was really tasty, or maybe he just enjoys seeing rams being slaughtered.
Chapter 6
Summary:God continues his laws to Moses, stating that anyone who refuses to return a deposit upon something borrowed or rented; by refusing to return something entrusted to him; by robbery or oppression; or by finding a lost item and lying about it, claiming he doesn't have it - on the day he is found guilty, he shall restore what he took, pay an additional twenty percent fine to the person he harmed, and shall bring a "guilt offering" animal sacrifice to the tabernacle. His "guilt offering" shall be a ram without defect, of any value that Moses demands.

God then said to Moses to give the following regulations to Aaron and his sons concerning sacrifices:
For burnt offerings:
  • The burnt offering shall be left upon the hearth of the altar all night, with the fire kept burning.
  • The following morning the priest shall put on his linen garments and clean out the ashes, putting them beside the altar.
  • After changing clothes, he shall carry the ashes outside the camp to a place that is "ceremonially clean".
  • The fire upon the altar must be kept burning continually, and must never go out.
  • The priest must put fresh wood on the fire each morning and lay a daily "burnt offering" animal sacrifice upon it.
For grain offerings:
  • Aaron's sons shall stand in front of the altar to offer the sacrifice to God.
  • The priest shall take out a handful of the finely ground flour mixed with olive oil and incense, to burn upon the altar as a representative portion to God.
  • After taking out this handful, the rest of the flour will belong to Aaron and his sons as their food. It shall be eaten without yeast in the courtyard of the tabernacle.
  • Although God is allowing the priests to eat this flour, it still technically belongs to God, so it must not be shared with anyone who is not a priest.
  • On the day of Aaron and his sons being anointed as priests, they are to offer to God a standard "grain offering", consisting of a tenth of a bushel of fine flour.
  • The flour that the Aaron and his sons are to give is to be offered half in the morning and half in the evening. It must be cooked on a griddle using olive oil.
  • As the sons of the priests replace their fathers, they shall be inducted into office by offering this same sacrifice on their day of anointing. This is a perpetual law.
  • These offerings are to be entirely burned up, and none is to be eaten.
For "sin offerings":
  • This animal sacrifice is considered most holy and shall be killed at the same place where the burnt offerings are killed.
  • The priest who performs this ceremony shall eat it in the courtyard of the tabernacle. Only priests are allowed to eat this meat.
  • If any blood gets onto a priest's clothing, it must be washed in a holy place. The clay pot in which the clothing is boiled shall be broken, and in the case of an iron pot, it must be cleaned thoroughly.
  • Every male amongst the priests may eat this offering, but only they, because it is deemed "holy".
  • No sin offering may be eaten if the animal's blood is taken into the tabernacle for atonement. That carcass must be completely burned with fire before God.
Thoughts:This chapter begins as more of a continuation of Chapter 5 before it gets to it's real point - how the priests are to administer grain and animal sacrifices. Initially we've opened up with God's thoughts about what people guilty of possessing something that doesn't truly belong to them need to do to repent - and of course, it's to bring a delicious ram to be brutally slaughtered - plus he's got to pay restitution to the person he harmed, plus 20% interest. Moses gets to choose how valuable a ram needs to be given to slaughter.

Now God gets to his real point of the chapter, how the priests are to administer grain and animal sacrifices. First up God gives his declarations for "burnt offerings", making sure that the priests keep the fire in the tabernacle burning continuously, and that they have at least two different outfits - one for cleaning out the ashes, and one for bringing the ashes to the outskirts of the camp.

His next set of rules concerns how grain sacrifices are to be carried out. God specifically tells the priests that while they're allowed to munch on the grain all they want, they're not allowed to share any of it with the "common folk", as it technically belongs to God, and he doesn't like sharing his "holy" grain with outsiders. "Holy" food can only be eaten by "holy" people, end of discussion. I'm wondering what would happen if stray animals came inside the tabernacle tend and found the "holy food", I'm guessing a stoning would be in order.

Next we move on to God's rules for the priests to carry out "sin offering" animal sacrifices. Like the grain offerings, only the priests may eat the cooked meat of the slaughtered animals, however, God goes out of his way to emphasize that only the males amongst the priests may eat it, due to the fact that it is "holy". This seems a bit redundant as so far, only the sons of Aaron and their descendants are to be ordained as priests. Why this sexist distinction is thrown in here is puzzling.

Friday, April 10, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapters 3 & 4

Chapter 3
Summary:God reinforces that anyone who brings a bull or a cow for animal sacrifice must bring an animal completely free of defects. He continues, repeating that whomever brings the animal must lay his hand upon the animal's head and kill it at the door to the tabernacle. The priests will then throw the animal's blood against the sides of the altar, and burn the animal fat, the kidneys, and the gall bladder - as this will give God much pleasure.

God reinforces that anyone who brings either a goat or a sheep, male or female, for animal sacrifice must bring one completely free of defects. It can be a ram or ewe, billy goat or nanny goat.

When sacrificing lambs, a man must lay his hand upon the animal's head and kill it at the door to the tabernacle. The priests will then throw the animal's blood against the sides of the altar, and burn the fat, the kidneys, the gall bladder, and the tail removed close to the backbone.

When sacrificing goats, a man must lay his hand upon the animal's head and kill it at the door to the tabernacle. The priests will then throw the animal's blood against the sides of the altar, and burn the animal fat, the kidneys, and the gall bladder - as this will give God much pleasure.

All the animal fat belongs to God - this is a permanent law that consuming fat or blood is forbidden.
Thoughts:God gives us some more specifics on how he wants animal sacrifices conducted, and that all of the animal fat belongs to him. Priests again get to splash the animal blood on the sides of the altar.

He lays down another permanent law as well, forbidding people from eating animal fat or drinking blood.
Chapter 4
Summary:God now tells Moses what to do if people unintentionally breaks any commandments.

If a priest sins unintentionally - thereby bringing guilt upon the people - he must grab a young bull, free from defects, bring it to the door of the tabernacle, lay his hand upon its head, and slaughter it before God. The priest shall then take the animal's blood inside, dip his finger into the blood, and sprinkle it seven times (there's that number again) before God in front of the veil of the sanctuary. Then the priest shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the incense altar. The remainder of the blood shall be poured out at the base of the altar at the entrance to the tabernacle. He shall then take the fat, the kidneys, and the gall bladder and burn them on the altar. The remainder of the animal shall be carried out to a ceremonially clean place outside of the camp and burned there on a wood fire.

If the entire nation of Israel sins out of ignorance, all of the people are guilty. When they realize what they have done, they are to grab a young bull, bring it to the entrance of the tabernacle, where the leaders of the nation shall lay their hands upon its head while it is slaughtered before God. The priest shall then bring the animal's blood into the tabernacle, dip his finger into the blood, and sprinkle it seven (again with that number) times before God, in front of the veil. Then the priest will put put blood upon the horns of the altar, and pour the rest at the base of the burnt offering altar. All the fat shall be removed and burned upon the altar and the priest will follow the same procedures as if atoning for the sin of an individual.

If one of the leaders of Israel sins out of ignorance, as soon as it is brought to his attention he must bring a billy goat - without physical defects - as an animal sacrifice. He shall lays his hands upon the goat's head and kill it at the entrance to the tabernacle to present it to God. The priest is then to smear the blood upon the horns of the altar with his finger, and to pour the rest at the altar's base. Following the usual procedure, the priest will burn the animal fat upon the altar and the leader will be forgiven for his atonement.

If any one of the common people sins out of ignorance, they are to bring a nanny goat as their animal sacrifice to God. Following the usual procedure (a person placing the hand upon the animal's head and killing it, smearing blood upon the altar, etc.) this will make atonement for the person's sin and he will be forgiven. A female lamb can also be substituted for the nanny goat for the sins of the common man.
Thoughts:God gives some specifics here as to which animals people of different status must use as in animal sacrifices if they sin against God "unintentionally" or out of ignorance. I just fail to see how slaughtering a goat fixes anything, and with the vast amount of animal slaughter God commands, I would think the people would become rather desensitized to the act and learn nothing to correct their behavior.

In a more modern example, the crime of manslaughter is an unintentional killing, but one where the offender is still viewed as negligent. Imagine if a judge, instead of sentencing a person to jail or prison, made the offender slaughter a goat. Perhaps the first time somebody saw a goat brutally slaughtered in the courtroom, seeing its blood smeared all over the judge's bench, it might cause the offender to think about the consequences of their crime, but when brutally killing animals and playing around in its blood is common place - as it was in the bronze age - people become desensitized to the cruelty and suffering of the animals.

God presumably must realize that human beings are imperfect and bound to make mistakes, and therefore it would appear that he is actually intentionally sending many animals to a brutal and terrible fate for his own "pleasure" in it. It's hard to rationalize this as anything but.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapters 1 & 2

Chapter 1
Summary:God now spoke to Moses from the tabernacle and gave him more instructions on how to conduct animal sacrifices. When sacrificing an animal, the people of Israel have to sacrifice an animal from within their own herds and flocks. If the animal is an ox to be given as a burnt offering, then it must be a bull with no physical defects.

The animal is to be brought to the entrance of the tabernacle where the priests will accept their "gift" for God. The person who brings the animal is to place their hand upon the animal's head and it then will serve as a substitute: the animal's death will be accepted by God as a substitute for the life of the man who brought it as the penalty for his sins. The man shall then kill the animal before God, the priests, and will present the blood to God, sprinkling the blood about the altar. The priests will then skin the animal, quarter it, and build a wood fire upon the altar. The animal's sections, its head, and fat shall be placed upon the wood. The internal organs and the legs are to be washed, and then the priests shall burn them upon the altar. This will then be an acceptable burnt offering that will please God.

If the animal used for a burnt offering is a sheep or a goat, it too must be a male without defects. The man who brings it shall kill it before God on the north side of the altar, and the priests shall sprinkle its blood back and forth upon the altar. The man will then quarter it, and the priests will then lay the pieces with the head and the fat on top of the wood on the altar. The internal organs and the legs shall first be washed with water. The priests shall then burn it all upon the altar, as burnt offerings give God much pleasure.

If a bird is to be used as a burnt offering, either a turtle dove or a young pigeon may be used. A priest will take the bird to the altar and rip off its head, while the blood shall be drained at the side of the altar. The the priest will remove the crop and feathers and throw them on the east side of the altar with the ashes. Then grasping it by the wings, the bird shall be torn apart - but not completely - and then be burnt upon the altar. God will have pleasure in this sacrifice.
Thoughts:There's really not much to say about our first step into the book of Leviticus other than point out the gruesomeness along with the complete disregard for the pain and suffering of the animals involved. I find it rather disturbing that each description of ritual animal sacrifice has to be accentuated by the announcement of God's "pleasure" in it.
Chapter 2
Summary:God now tells Moses about how to sacrifice grains, stating that one who chooses such is to bring fine flour and pour olive oil and incense upon it. Then the man is to take a handful of the grain (which will symbolically represent the full amount) to one of the priests to burn upon the altar, and this will fully please God. The remainder is to be given to Aaron and his sons as their food, but all if it is considered to be a burnt offering to God.

If baked bread is to be given as an offering, it must be made with finely ground flour, baked with olive oil, but without yeast. Wafers made without yeast and spread with olive oil may also be used as an offering. If the offering is something made off of a griddle or a pan, it too must be made of finely ground flour without yeast, mingled with olive oil. The food is to be broken into pieces and oil is to be poured upon it. However it is prepared, it shall be given to a priest and he will present it to God. As like a grain offering, the priests are to burn a small portion and to keep the rest as their own food, however, symbolically the entire offering will be counted by God.

Yeast and honey are not permitted in burnt offerings to God; these ingredients may be used in harvest time offerings, but never in burnt offerings. Every offering must also be seasoned with salt, as salt is symbolically a reminder of God's covenant.

If you are offering from the first of your harvest, remove the kernels from a fresh ear, crush and roast them, then offer them to God. The priests again will burn a small part mixed with oil and incense as a symbolic representative portion to God.
Thoughts:While there's obviously nothing sadistic and inhumane about this chapter compared to the previous, it still comes off as rather puzzling as to why God "is pleased" by things being set on fire so much.

God also makes it clear that he doesn't like yeast or honey in his food products, and also curiously demands salt in his food as well - for some reason, salt reminds him of his covenant with the people (perhaps from having Moses part the Red Sea?).

The priests however, whom are apparently too busy burning things and splattering animal blood around all day to do any real work, get the benefit of chowing down on all these foods that they get to set on fire. The one big perk of being a priest it seems, is that God shares his meals with you.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thanks, and I *DO* Read and Answer Your Comments

To all my friends and readers, I just want to say thanks to everyone - my theist, atheist, and agnostic friends alike - for their support in my little project and experiment. With the length of the posts that I've been making on each chapter, along with the frequency in which I've been posting, I do want to assure everyone who has commented so far or wishes to comment, that I have been and will continue answering your comments. To those who have simply been lurking, please feel free to share your thoughts regardless of your belief system, as I really do appreciate everyone's point of views, whether we agree or not.

Once again, while I do realize it can be hard for me to be serious with some of the subject matter of the bible, it is neither my intention to insult people's chosen belief systems nor to attempt to derail anyone's beliefs either. My intentions are only to share how the bible reads to someone reading it from cover to cover for the first time. If anything, I only hope this little experiment helps people think more clearly about the book, whether it makes you question it or perhaps even if it strengthens your faith.

Thanks again for everyone's positive support and encouragement, and feel free to leave your comments. I'm more than willing to engage in discussion on any agreement or disagreement you may have.


While the book of Genesis may be the most hotly debated book of the bible for fundamentalist believers, creationists, and proponents of "Intelligent Design", the book of Exodus tends to be one of the more favored biblical books for the skeptics and atheists - mostly due to the absurdity, cruelty, intolerance, sexist and bizarre nature of God's laws.

This book is mainly the beginning and introduction to the legendary biblical character of Moses, whose significance lies in the common assertion that the first five books of the bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are thought to have been written by Moses himself. Most archaeologists tend to view the book of Exodus as non-historical, and at best an exaggerated account containing a sliver of truth, as there are many events that just don't hold up to our known archaeological evidence. For example, with over 600,000 Hebrew men leaving Egypt, it is likely that when counting wives, children, and the elderly amongst them that a number of two million or more would be accurate - a sizable chunk of the entire Egyptian population of around 3 to 6 million. Such a sizable population drop (not to mention the hoards Egyptian people that God kills with plagues and the entire Egyptian army that he drowns in the Red Sea) would have had a severe chaotic impact on the economy of Egypt to which no known evidence supports. Also implausible is that the 70 descendants of Israel described in Genesis: Chapter 46 managed to increase their population to over two million in a matter of 400 to 430 years.

The story of Moses' birth and subsequent escape from infanticide suspiciously mirrors the story of King Sargon that is thought to possibly predate the earliest writings of the Torah - the Jewish books of the Old Testament. His adoption by Egyptian royalty also seems suspect and similar to other mythologies including that of King Sargon.

Moses goes into exile from Egypt after he witnesses an Egyptian strike a Hebrew slave, knocking him to the ground, and retaliates with murdering the Egyptian. He travels to the land of Midian where he marries and settles down as a shepherd for about forty years. Also suspect is that Moses' father-in-law is inexplicably referred to by two completely different names, suggesting multiple authorship.

God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush and sends him on a mission to liberate the people of Israel from their slavery and teaches Moses a variety of magic tricks, or "miracles", that somehow aren't so "miraculous" as a bunch of Egyptian sorcerers are able to duplicate many of them.

However, before Moses can get on with his mission (and meet up with his brother Aaron) God almost kills Moses in the desert in a bizarre scene more at home in a David Lynch film. Apparently God wants to kill Moses as he hasn't yet had his son circumcised (which is not readily explained) and upon hearing this, Moses' wife Zillah lops off their son's foreskin with a sharp knife and throws the bloody foreskin at Moses. God flees the scene after this, rightfully so.

While Moses and his brother Aaron impress the leaders of the Israeli tribes with their magical staffs that turns into snakes, the trick doesn't go over quite as well with the Pharaoh of Egypt who somehow finds a bunch of sorcerers who are able to turn magic staffs into snakes too. Unimpressed with the magic tricks God taught Moses and Aaron (and despite the "coup de grĂ¢ce" Aaron's snake delivers by eating the sorcerer's snakes) the Pharaoh refuses Moses' request that the Israeli people be allowed to go out on a three day picnic to sacrifice animals out in the wilderness.

Moses and Aaron continue battle it out with the Egyptian sorcerers with both sides being able to turn the Nile River into blood and conjure frogs, but Aaron and Moses somehow stump the sorcerers when they create lice out of the dust on the ground. Defeated, the sorcerers insist to the Pharaoh that this must be "the finger of God" that created the lice, instead of perhaps maybe coming the conclusion that perhaps Moses and Aaron might simply just be better magicians than themselves. Despite the defeat of the sorcerers, as well as their conclusion that because they can't conjure lice that God must be involved, the Pharaoh still isn't letting his Hebrew slaves go on their little picnic in the desert.

All the time while God dishes out magic plague after plague (including destroying all the Egyptian livestock, while sparing the Israeli animals; causing boils to appear on both people and animals; deadly hailstorms; and swarms of locusts) God also manipulates the Pharaoh into either outright saying "no" to Moses' demands, or allowing the people to go (usually under restrictive conditions) and then later changing his mind, disallowing them to go. God makes the Pharaoh keep saying "no" to Moses so that God can flex his might miracle muscles in an attempt to wow both the Egyptians and Israelis alike.

God's next devious plan is to go around killing all of the firstborn male animals and Egyptian people, while sparing the Israelis. In order to ensure that he knows which houses to skip - the ones housing the Israelis - he has them slaughter a whole bunch of lambs and splatter the blood over their door frames of their houses. He makes up a bunch of elaborate conditions on how he wants the people to do this, and how to eat the lamb meat afterwards, and tells Moses that this whole event is going to be a mandatory annual holiday for the people of Israel, introducing us to the Jewish holiday of Passover - as God "passes over" the houses of the Israeli people.

As God is now sure that the Pharaoh will wind up kicking out the Israeli people after this horrible slaughter, he tells Moses to have the women folk go out and ask the Egyptian citizens to give them all of their valuable jewelry and clothing. God forces the Egyptian people to hand over their possessions gleefully to the Israelis, which basically strips them of all their wealth and possessions.

Sure enough, God's mass slaughter of the firstborn Egyptians makes the Egyptian Pharaoh want to be rid of the Israelis and he finally allows them to leave Egypt, with their families, livestock, and all the Egyptian wealth with them.

After the millions of people all managed to leave Egypt on the same night(!), word gets back to the Pharaoh that the Israelis have no intentions of ever returning back to Egypt after their three day picnic. Enraged that he has just lost a good two million or so Hebrew slaves, he sets off after them with his entire army of chariots in tow. While God has Moses seemingly trap the Israelis against the Red Sea, God instead has another trick up his sleeve.

As the Egyptian army gets closer, God has Moses part the Red Sea with his magic staff and after drying the bottom of the sea bed with an eastern wind, has the Israelis cross to safety. When the Egyptians go in after them, he has Moses and his magic staff close the Red Sea back up again, killing the entire Egyptian army by drowning.

After some rousing songs and dances, the people of Israel start having problems acquiring food and water out in the desert and start angrily complaining to Moses, blaming him for dragging them out in the desert to die. Every time Moses pleads with God on their behalf, God somehow solves their problems by leading them to an oasis, making magical food formed on the evaporated morning dew, or having Moses bang his magic staff against a rock causing a stream of water to come forth.

God decides to test the people's obedience by instructing them not to store the magical food overnight (which its magical properties cause it to become maggot-ridden), nor go out gathering food on Saturday (on which day the magic food doesn't appear). Of course, when people go storing food and trying to gather food on Saturdays, God gets angry and frustrated.

Later on the Israelis get attacked by an Amalek army to which Moses is able to manipulate the battle with his magic staff. When he raises the staff above his head, the Israeli army gains the upper hand in the battle; and when Moses' arms get tired and he lowers the staff, the Israelis begin losing. So, Aaron and his pal Hur stand on either side of Moses helping him lift his arms in the air until the Israelis defeat the Amalek army.

Soon after Moses' father-in-law with two names arrives to drop off Moses' wife and kids to him and is baffled by all the time Moses is wasting solving problems for the Israelis. He helps Moses set up a judicial system to disperse the workload before riding off into the sunset.

The people now arrive at Mount Sinai and God begins to meet with Moses on a semi-regular basis on the top of the mountain. God wants the people to be aware of his presence and has Moses tell them all that he will appear in the form of a dark thunder cloud within a couple of days. However, he tells Moses to rope off a boundary at the foot of the mountain and instructs the people to kill anybody - including any stray animals - that tries to climb up the mountain, or even come anywhere near the boundary line. Much like the Wizard of Oz, God doesn't want anybody peeking behind the curtain. God's theatrics of thunder, lightning, and blowing a ram's horn(?) frighten the people into submission and obedience.

God starts giving a whole bunch of rules to Moses for the people of Israel to follow, most that if broken result in death by stoning. The rules are diverse in nature and deal with how to care for and beat your slaves; how to sell your daughters into slavery; what to do when your oxen go kill crazy and whether or not you should be killed for it too; how if you defend your home from a thief and mortally wound him, you'd better hope it occurs at night, otherwise you're automatically condemned as a murderer; learn to understand things that constitute a stoning like cursing your parents, worshiping other gods, working on Saturdays, and practicing witchcraft; and the charming rule of never boiling a baby goat in its mother's milk.

God invites Moses to bring his brother Aaron and about seventy of the elders of the people up to hang out on top of the mountain. They all have a big feast in the presence of God, and afterwards God has Moses climb higher up the mountain to have some private chit-chat. God tells Moses that he's got these ten extra-important rules that he's going to carve on some stone tablets, and that he wants Moses to stick around until he's done writing them. After six days, he lets Moses head back down again, but when Moses returns to the top of the mountain he stays up there for forty days and forty nights straight.

God tells Moses that he wants the people to build him a tabernacle, so that he can live amongst his chosen people and gives Moses a large shopping list of items that will be needed to build his home along with precise building plans. God then fills Moses in on how he wants all of his ritualistic animal sacrifices performed, and all the specifics he expects to be performed in his tabernacle.

God gives Moses the two tablets containing his "Ten Commandments", and stresses repeatedly that anybody caught working on Saturdays must be killed.

Meanwhile, the Israelis start thinking that after forty days of not hearing from Moses that he must have disappeared or ran off and begin panicking that they might also no longer have a god around to lead them. Moses' brother Aaron comes up with a plan to make the people a new god out of the molten gold from everyone's earrings. He melts the gold in a fire and shapes into the image of a golden calf, and the people start a drunken party in honor of their golden calf god. Our God Yahweh, however, is not amused and decides that he's going to kill the whole lot of these people until Moses chastises him for reacting in such an evil way. He talks God out of his kill frenzy by reminding him that he did kind of promise Abraham, Isaac, and Israel that he'd give them a whole ton of descendants and that they'd become a great nation.

Instead Moses comes down from the mountain, melts the golden calf in the fire, grinds up the molten gold into fine powder and force feeds it to these heathen calf worshipers. He then demands that whomever is going to start taking God seriously is going to have to kill a bunch of the people who don't, regardless of family ties or friendship. In the end about 3,000 Israeli people are slaughtered at the hand of the sword.

Moses pats them all on the back for obeying God and slaughtering their sons, brothers, and neighbors for being a bunch of heathens and promises them that God will bestow great blessings upon them for doing so. God instead sends them a plague.

God now tells Moses that he doesn't want to travel with the people of Israel now because he's just going to be too tempted to just murder the whole lot of them, but Moses manages to coax him back along. God in turn pulls a guilt trip upon the people and tells them that they're too shameful of a people to wear jewelry anymore and commands that they strip themselves of their jewels. Moses asks God if he can be allowed to see his face, but while God refuses as he tells Moses that no one is allowed to see his face and live, he settles for letting Moses see his backside as he walks ahead of him.

Moses heads up to the mountain with two new tablets for God to write another copy of the "Ten Commandments" on, and stays up there for another forty days and forty nights. While he's waiting, God tells Moses that when the Israelis reach the "promised land" that they're not to have any tolerance towards the people living there. They're not to sign any peace treaties with them, they are to smash and break all of their religious altars and idols, and they're not to marry any of those "whoring" daughters as they'll corrupt the minds of God's chosen people.

When Moses finally comes down from the mountain with the new copies of the "Ten Commandments", he freaks the people out unknowingly as his face has somehow acquired a strange glow from having spent all that time hanging around with God. He later puts a veil over his face, but continues to take it off in God's presence in order to soak up more of the godly glow.

Moses finally gets two fellows named Bezalel and Oholiab (along with a bunch of people working under them) to start building the tabernacle, its furnishings, and a bunch of priest costumes. The people keep donating supplies until Moses has to force them to stop donating.

Moses anoints his brother Aaron, along with Aaron's sons, as the priests of the tabernacle, while God begins leading the people of Israel towards the "promised land" by using the form of a cloud in the daylight, and a cloud on fire at night.