Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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.

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