Sunday, July 12, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapter 20

Chapter 20
Summary:God gives further laws to Moses:

Whomever, whether he be an Israeli or a visitor to the land that give any of his offspring (as a human sacrifice) to Molech*, shall be put to death. The people of the land are to stone that person to death. God himself will "set his face against" such man and will cut him off from amongst his people - because giving his offspring to Molech apparently defiles the sanctuary of the tabernacle and profanes God's name. Anyone who will not acknowledge a person sacrificing his offspring to Molech, and refuses to kill him, then God will set his face against them, against their family, and will excommunicate them and all who "go a whoring after him", to commit whoredom with Molech.

Anyone who turns to those with "familiar spirits" or wizards, "to go a whoring after them", God will "set his face against" them, and will excommunicate them. The people should instead sanctify themselves and be "holy", because God is their ruler. The people must follow and obey God's laws, and God will "sanctify" them.

Anyone who curses their mother or father shall be put to death. Whomever curses their mother or father, deserves their fate - their blood shall be upon them.

If a man commits adultery with another man's wife - even he that commits adultery with his neighbor's wife - both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. A man who sleeps with his father's wife has "uncovered his father's nakedness" and both shall be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. If a man sleeps with his daughter in law, both of them shall be put to death - they have wrought confusion and their blood shall be upon them.

If a man sleeps with another man as he would with a woman, both of them have committed an "abomination" and they shall both be put to death - their blood shall be upon them.

If a man takes a wife and her mother, it is wickedness and they shall all be burnt with fire - there shall be no wickedness amongst you.

If a man has sex with an animal, he shall be put to death and the animal shall be killed. If a woman allows herself to be penetrated by an animal, both the woman and the animal shall be put to death - their blood shall be upon them.

If a man takes his sister - whether it's his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter - and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness, it is a wicked thing. They shall be "cut off in sight of their people" - he has uncovered his sister's nakedness, he shall bear his guilt.

If a man sleeps with a woman "having her sickness" (her menstrual period) and uncovers her nakedness, he has "discovered her fountain"(!), and she has uncovered the "fountain of her blood", both of them shall be excommunicated.

A man shall not uncover the nakedness of his mother's sister (his maternal aunt) nor his father's sister (his paternal aunt) - they shall bear their own guilt.

If a man sleeps with his uncle's wife, he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness and they shall bear their sin - they shall die childless.

If a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an "unclean" thing - he has uncovered his brother's nakedness and they shall die childless.

Therefore the people need to keep God's laws and judgments and obey them so that God will not have to throw them out of the "promised land". The people of Israel are not to share the customs and lifestyles of the people that God is casting out of the "promised land" - for they have committed all of these things and therefore God abhors them.

God reminds the people of Israel that they will inherit their land, and that he will give it to them to possess - a land he claims "floweth with milk and honey". God claims that because he rules over them, it has separated the people of Israel from other people. Therefore, because of this the people of Israel shall make a difference between "clean" birds and animals and "unclean" birds and animals. The people of Israel shall not make themselves "abominable" by eating the wrong kind of birds or animals.

God says that the people of Israel must be "holy" to God, as God himself is "holy", and has made a distinction between them and other people. He continues, that the people of Israel belong to him,

God closes out the chapter by stating that either a man or woman that has "a familiar spirit", or that is a wizard must be put to death by stoning - their blood shall be upon them.
Notes:1.) Although completely unexplained in the book of Leviticus, Molech, as mentioned and introduced in Chapter 18 is the name of a Middle Eastern god common to both the Canaanites and Egyptians, as well as the Hebrews, that followers supposedly presented human sacrifice to by fire.
Thoughts:After a mostly pleasant chapter with Leviticus: Chapter 19, God switches gears with a vengeance. He starts by revisiting his possible rival, Molech.

Molech, who I first went into more detail about in my commentary on Leviticus: Chapter 18 is considered either to be a god who accepts human sacrifice by fire, or is simply the act of "human sacrifice by fire" itself. In the King James translation of the bible, and I believe all (or at least most) English language translations of the bible "Molech" is capitalized and used as a proper noun as if it were a name of a being. There is no archaeological evidence to support the worship of any god named Molech by the Caananites, the Egyptians, or the Hebrews and is more recently thought to be a name for the actual practice of "human sacrifice by fire". Whichever the case may be Molech is (so far) not explained in the bible and is assumed that the reader should be familiar with the name.

God commands that anyone sacrificing to Molech is to be stoned to death, and that God will "set his face off" against him, and he shall be excommunicated(?). I'm not exactly sure what the meaning here is, considering it'd be impossible to excommunicate someone after they've already been stoned to death. Perhaps it means that he may not be buried or have a funeral within the Israeli people's land, or perhaps it means that the person's "soul" would be "excommunicated" from Heaven? The thought that it might mean being excommunicated from Heaven seems unlikely to me, as if I recall, I don't think Jews believe in the concept of Heaven and Hell, but I may be wrong about that. I'm honestly stumped here and I may have to ask around to see if I can get an answer from someone - if you have an answer please leave me a comment. If I find an answer in the future, I'll update this section.

God continues on saying that human sacrifice to Molech defiles the tabernacle and profanes God's name. Anyone who refuses to take part in the stoning of a person who sacrificed to Molech, God will set his face against him also, along with that person's family, and will excommunicate them and whomever else who goes "a whoring" after Molech.

Anyone who turns to those with "familiar spirits" (thought to mean spiritual mediums) or wizards will also result in God turning his face against them and excommunicating them. God states that the people should instead sanctify themselves and be "holy", basically because he is God and he said so. God says that the people must obey his laws and in turn God will "sanctify" them.

Anyone who curses their mother or father also gets a death by stoning. God insists that they deserve it, noting that "their blood is on their hands". This is another case of God's excessive brutality, as it is perfectly normal for young children to react to their parent's discipline by cursing their parents. I'm sure every parent has encountered a time where their unruly child resists their punishment from bad behavior and tells their parents that they hate them, or worse. Many of us probably have said the same thing to our parents growing up also. Folks, that is not a "crime" that warrants a child being taken out and stoned to death - it is normal juvenile behavior. For God to insist upon such a brutal punishment for such a petty thing is sadistic, and not in all in line with the description most believers will give of a "benevolent", "compassionate", and "loving" god.

God's law on adultery is that both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. A man who sleeps with his father's wife is also to be put to death, as is a man who sleeps with his daughter in law. Again, God flexes his brutality muscles by insisting upon capital punishment for the wrong people having sex together. The bible defines adultery as solely "a married woman having sexual relations with someone who isn't her husband" - which means that a married man having sex with an unmarried woman is not considered adultery, nor is an unmarried woman having sex with any man - regardless of whether he is married or not.

A common apologetic view point is that God sets out such a strong punishment to simply serve as a deterrent from people committing these "crimes" to begin with, much like the arguments people use in favor of the death penalty today. However, this doesn't hold up when the punishment simply doesn't fit the crime - it's like demanding the death penalty for jaywalking. Adultery certainly can be a very traumatic thing to the parties involved, but it is never a suitable reason for capital punishment. What if the sex was not consensual and in fact rape, does that still require the death of the victim simply because she had sex with someone who wasn't her husband? What if the person didn't have the knowledge that their partner was married? There's just so many loopholes and problems with defining guilt and intent in regards to adultery that a punishment with so much finality - like death by stoning - just isn't rational.

The argument that capital punishment is a deterrent doesn't hold up very well either when the vast amount of people who commit crimes do so because they believe they are smarter than the system and won't get caught, making the severity of the punishment irrelevant to them. Add to that, that "adultery" (much like "murder") is often a crime of passion which also makes the consequences of punishment not at the forefront of the person's mind when they find themselves in a position to commit the crime.

Regardless of whether you agree with capital punishment or not, it's troubling why God insists that human beings have to be the ones to administer the punishment in the first place. Killing another human being, whether the reason is justified or not can still be traumatizing. Ask any police officer who's fired his gun in the line of duty, or soldiers in the military who've been in combat how they've felt about taking the life of another human being. No-one should ever have to kill another person unless the lives of themselves or others are in danger, anyone who's been forced to kill will tell you that it takes a very strong person to deal with the mental consequences, and that not everyone can deal with the stress - even if what they did was completely justifiable. However, God insists that everyone has to participate in stoning other people to death, threatening those who refuse to participate with being excommunicated from their people. God is basically blackmailing everyone - including those who may not be mentally fit for the task - into killing their fellow Israelis, regardless of whether they might be a close member of their family or perhaps a friend or a neighbor that they've grown to love over the years.

God continues on handing out death sentences, insisting that next on the list is anyone engaging in homosexual sex. He calls the act an "abomination" and that both men must be stoned to death - not making a clarification on if this applies to victims of homosexual rape also.

If a man sleeps with a woman and the woman's mother, God has a special death sentence for all three of these "criminals" - this crime apparently warrants being set on fire apparently. Of all the gruesome ways to die, immolation just may be the worst, and God saves this excruciating punishment for these sexual deviants.

If a person has sex with an animal, both the person and the animal in question must be put to death. God says they both deserve it - including the animal. Why an animal "deserves" to be stoned to death because some pervert raped it, I don't quite understand. It makes about as much sense as euthanizing your dog because your next door neighbor kicked it.

Curiously, God makes an exception to his usual punishments of stonings and setting people on fire to substitute excommunication for the crime of sibling incest. Most likely this exception was made as to not make Abraham and Sarah's incestuous marriage to seem as hypocritical in light of God's new law. However, as we'll get to shortly, God actually doesn't have as stringent punishments for incestuous relationships as he does for homosexuals, practitioners of bestiality, adulterers, and mother/daughter threesomes.

Before getting to other forms of incest, God also forbids having sex with a woman during her menstrual period - which he calls here, "her sickness". Both the woman having her period, and the man having sex with her during her period, must be excommunicated. Between this chapter and Leviticus 15:19-30 God makes it clear that menstruating women are filthy and "unclean", and are to be avoided at all costs. Don't have sex with them, don't let them sit on any of your furniture, don't touch any of their chairs or bedding, and don't even touch the women themselves during their period or you'll defile yourself too.

Back to the topic of incest, God adds that a man is not to have sex with his aunt (like Aaron and Moses' father Amram did) - regardless of whether it is his maternal or paternal aunt - as they shall "bear their iniquity" if they do so. A thought just occurred to me that according to God's logic in Exodus 20:5 (and repeated in Exodus 34:7) in which God states that a persons' descendants are just as guilty for the sin he committed as he is himself, wouldn't this make Moses and Aaron guilty of their father's sin of marrying his aunt? Shouldn't Moses and Aaron (along with Aaron's sons who inherit the sin through their grandfather) be excommunicated according to this verse? The direct quotes of Exodus 20:5 and Exodus 34:7 are:
Exodus 20:5
"Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;"

Exodus 34:7
"Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children unto the third and to the fourth generation."
This would seem to indicate that this is exactly what God should do with Moses and Aaron, however later verses from the books of Deuteronomy, 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel seem to contradict this. Noah also cursed his grandson Canaan into a life of slavery due to his son Ham's viewing Noah drunk and naked in his tent, which God also seemed to have condoned. The problem here is that even if we argue semantics with a biblical apologist to explain how this could possibly fit alongside later chapters stating that "sin" of a father is not to be passed down to his children to be punished for as well, the message is not being made clear here at all, and anyone reading up to this point, without knowing what is later to be said, has to be lead to think there is a contradiction in God's logic. One would think that a book written by, or is the inspired word of a perfect being such as God would be clear and concise - especially when dealing with laws that could result in excommunication, or worse, death by stoning.

God furthers his laws about men sleeping with their aunts, by claiming that a man who sleeps with his and/or marries his uncle's wife (his aunt by his uncle's marriage) will curse them both by God assuring that they will die childless. God gives this same punishment to a man who sleeps with or marries his brother's wife also.

God interjects that the people will need to follow and obey these laws so that he won't be forced to throw them out of the "promised land" - or worse. He once again stereotypes the people currently living in the land as all practicing these customs of incest, bestiality, homosexuality, and adultery - judging them all as a group rather than individuals - by calling them all "abominable". Because God has took the time to teach the people of Israel which birds and animals are right to eat and which are not, this is a distinction that somehow makes the people of Israel (which he constantly berates for being "unclean" in previous chapters) a better people then all others.

Before closing off the chapter, God also tacks on his law about what to do with wizards and people who "have a familiar spirit" (thought to mean "spiritual mediums") - that's a stoning too.


  1. A friend of mine from Facebook confirmed and expanded upon my hunch about what the excommunication in verse 3 entailed:

    "From my understanding of it, a) you are stoned o death. Your temporal life is ended for worshiping a (supposedly) false god (Malek, consort of Astareth, or Astarte, or Ishtar... good thing I'm not Jewish) and b) you are excommunicated. Removed not just from the Church in the Catholic sense, but from Jewish social life. You will not receive burial ... Read Morerites, and unless someone is willing to take in your family they become pariahs (from what I understand). Plus, your immortal life is also ended. No kingdom of Heaven for you, no chance for redemption or making amends... Cause you are already dead. I don't know in the Hebraic world if there is a Purgatory or what the progression of spiritual worlds is, but if you die excommunicated there will never be a Heaven for you."

  2. Ya know...ya just gotta love Leviticus...what a guy!