Friday, July 10, 2009

LEVITICUS: Chapters 17 & 18

Chapter 17
Summary:God speaks to Moses, telling him to relay further instructions to Aaron, his sons, and all the people of Israel.

Any Israelite who kills an ox, lamb, or goat anywhere except at the tabernacle as a sacrifice to God, will have blood on their hands and will be excommunicated from amongst the nation of Israel. God states that he wants the people not to sacrifice animals in open fields, but rather to be brought to a priest at the door of the tabernacle as "peace offerings" for himself (God). The priest shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar at the door of the tabernacle, and burn the animal fat as a "sweet savor" that God will enjoy.

The people shall no longer sacrifice animals to "devils", or evil spirits, that they have whored after. This shall be a permanent law from generation to generation. Anyone whether Israeli, or a foreigner living amongst them, who offers either a "burnt offering" or an animal sacrifice any place other than at the front door of the tabernacle, will be excommunicated.

Anyone, whether an Israeli, or a foreigner living amongst them. that eats any manner of blood, will be excommunicated and God will turn his face against them. God explains that the life of the flesh is in the blood and claims that he has provided blood upon the altar of the tabernacle to make atonement for your "soul", because blood apparently is what makes atonement for people's "souls". Therefore, this is God's reasoning behind disallowing the people of Israel, or any foreigner living among them, from eating blood.

Anyone, whether Israeli or foreigner living amongst them, that hunts and catches and bird or animal permitted to be eaten, must first drain the animal's blood and then cover it with dust. God states that that the people of Israel must never eat blood of any sort, for the blood is the life of all living things, and whomever does so will be excommunicated.

Anyone who eats the dead bodies of animals that have either died naturally, or have been torn apart from wild animals, must wash their clothes and will be considered "unclean" until evening; after the evening comes, they shall be considered "clean".

If the person does not wash their clothes, however, then they shall suffer the consequence.
Notes:1.) The actual Hebrew translation here is "hairy ones".
Thoughts:God begins chapter 17 by first addressing the utter importance that animal sacrifices are only to be made to him, and to him only, and only at the door of the tabernacle by a priest. God wants to enjoy the "sweet savor" of burnt animal flesh at his tabernacle and threatens anyone sacrificing animals elsewhere with excommunication.

Interestingly, this chapter is also technically our first mention of "devils" (in the King James Version), or "evil spirits", although the proper Hebrew translation in Leviticus:17:7 is actually "hairy ones". God forbids his people from sacrificing animals in open fields to the devils/evil spirits/hairy ones that the people have apparently "whored" after.

This ban on animal sacrifices anywhere but at the tabernacle is a permanent law and applies to the people of Israel and any foreign visitors that may be living amongst them. Disobeying this law gets you excommunicated.

Next up God goes into greater detail about an issue he only vaguely touched upon almost 800 years earlier to Noah in the book of Genesis (Genesis:9:4). God commands that neither the Israelis, or any foreigner living amongst them shall ever consume any manner of blood, and if they do so they will be excommunicated.

This section of the chapter has famously been cited by Jehovah's Witnesses to explain their stance on refusing blood transfusions believing that having a transfusion is in fact considered "eating blood". It begs the question of why certain parts of the Old Testament still apply to the beliefs of modern religions (such as many of the traditions in modern Judaism, Christianity's anti-homosexual stances, and of course the Jehovah's Witnesses anti-transfusion stances) while other laws, which seem to be as equally or even far more important to God, such as animal sacrifices, stoning adulterers, endorsing slavery (including how to properly beat your slaves), and the use of scapegoats seemed to have fallen by the wayside to modern day believers of these ancient religions.

A major problem I have with this line of thinking is not that I care whether an adult wants to refuse medical treatment based on the grounds of their religious beliefs, but when that adult puts the lives of their children in serious, or even mortal danger on the grounds of their vague interpretations of some several thousand year old collection of stories. To make a similar comparison, my sister has been a vegetarian since she was a teenager (something I also partially share in common with her) and it's a decision she made due to her own ethics in regards to her feelings about animals. Like myself, it is something she feels very passionate about for personal reasons, yet she doesn't impose her own values upon her children, both for the fact that it's better for their nutrition as they are still young and growing, and for the fact that it takes a lot of careful thought and preparation to make the decision for a drastic change to your lifestyle and dietary habits. I also feel that religion is a rather personal decision that children are incapable of grasping or understanding, and when religion stands in the way of lifesaving medical procedures it's not fair to the child to be forced to suffer and perhaps die for the selfishness of their parent or legal guardian's personal superstitious beliefs.

Back to our story, God emphasizes that "the blood is the life" and that its only other purpose besides being the life of an animal or human being is to atone for people's "souls". So God's law here is simply that eating blood, whether you're an Israeli or simply just living amongst them, is forbidden and will find you excommunicated. God adds that any animal (one that he is allowing you to eat in the first place) that is hunted and killed for food must first be drained of its blood (with the blood being covered by "dust", or dirt) before it can be eaten. Failure to do this will also find you excommunicated.

Anyone deciding to dine on the carcasses of dead animals (again, of those that are permitted to eat in the first place) that have died of natural causes, or have been attacked and killed by wild animals, has to wash their clothes and they will be considered "unclean" until sundown. God finishes up the chapter by issuing a threat to those that don't wash their clothes after dining on animal carcasses, stating that they will suffer the consequences.
Chapter 18
Summary:God tells Moses to tell the people of Israel that he, Yahweh, is their god, and that they aren't to follow any of the laws or customs of Egypt where they once lived, or any of the laws or customs of Canaan where they would eventually be brought to. The people of Israel are only to follow God's laws and to live by them as well.

None of the people of Israel are to "uncover the nakedness" of anyone that is near kin to them. The nakedness of either your father or mother you shall not uncover, she is your mother and therefore don't undress her. You are also not to uncover the nakedness of your father's wife, as that nakedness belongs to your father. Your sister's nakedness, whether she is the daughter of your father, or the daughter of your mother, born at home or abroad, even her nakedness you are not allowed to uncover.

The nakedness of your grandchildren, whether it's your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter is also forbidden for you to uncover - as their nakedness is the equivalent of your own nakedness.

The nakedness of the daughter of your father's wife (step sister) is your sister's, and you shall not uncover her nakedness.

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's sister (your paternal aunt) as she is too close of kin to your father. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister (your maternal aunt) as she is too close of kin to your mother. You shall not uncover the nakedness of the wife of your father's brother (your paternal uncle) as she is your aunt.

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter in law, she is your son's wife.

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife, as that is your brother's nakedness.

You shall not uncover the nakedness of both a woman and her daughter, nor the woman's son's daughter (her granddaughter from her son) or her daughter's daughter (her granddaughter from her daughter), for they are the near relatives to the woman and this is wickedness.

Neither shall you marry two sisters, for they will be rivals. However if your wife dies, you may then marry her sister.

Never approach a menstruating woman to uncover her nakedness during her "uncleanliness". Moreover, you can not have sex with your neighbor's wife, or you will defile yourself with her.

You shall never sacrifice by fire any of your offspring to the god Molech*, nor shall you profane the name of your god by doing so.

A man shall not lie with another man as he would with a woman (meaning homosexuality) - it is an "abomination".

Neither shall a man defile himself by having sex with any animal, nor shall a woman allow herself to be pentetrated by an animal herself - it is confusion.

Don't defile yourself by doing any of these things, as these are the things done in the nations which I'm leading you to whom I will cast out of their lands before you. God claims that they have defiled the land itself and therefore they will be punished and "vomitted out" of the land.

God demands that these laws are to be kept and obeyed, and that none are to commit any of these "abominations". These rules are to be followed by the people of Israel, as well as foreigners living amongst them.

God again claims that these "abominations" have been done continually in the land where they are headed and that the people of Israel are not to let themselves follow any of these "abominable customs", lest they defile themselves and find themselves exiled from their people.
Notes:1.) Although completely unexplained in the book of Leviticus, Molech, as mentioned 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:God's spends this chapter giving us his revised views on sexuality while implicating that the "heathens" of Egypt, and moreover Canaan are ritualistic practitioners of incest, homosexuality, bestiality, and human sacrifice. I state that God has revised his stances on sexuality, mainly in his new regard towards incest as God has at the very least, tolerated incestuous relationships in the book of Genesis - In chapter 20, God does not condemn either Abraham or Sarah (half siblings) for their incestuous marriage nor Aaron and Moses' father Amram, who married his aunt Jochebed. Sarah was even blessed by God, contradicting his stance on the law he states here in Leviticus. The problem with this angle, is that God obviously accepted incestuous marriage not only in the past with Abraham and Sarah (Israel's parents), but also in the near past (Aaron and Moses' father Amram married his aunt Jochebed). Now, with God enacting this new law now, he condemns the Egyptians (who would have no way of predicting this law, regardless of whether they followed God's laws or not) and the Canaanites (whom he's had it out for anyways since after the Noah's Ark story after Noah cursed the Canaanites) whom would also have no way of knowing this new law either. Calling their behaviors an "abomination" for incestuous marriages when it was obvious practiced by the people of Israel as well is hypocritical due to the timing.

God's new laws on incest are spelled out in the beginnings of chapter 18. Although the meaning is thought to imply "marriage" or at the least "sexual relations", the King James Version uses the phrase "to uncover the nakedness of" - which I've left intact, as this can also apply to "peeping" in on the naked body of, similar as to what Ham had done to anger his drunken father Noah.

God's new laws concerning incest is that a man may not marry or have sex with: his mother or father, his step mother, his sister, his half sister, his grandchildren, his step sister, his maternal or paternal aunt, his maternal or paternal uncle's wife (which is also his aunt), his daughter in law, your brother's wife (contradicts why God had killed Onan), both a woman and daughter, both a woman and granddaughter, nor may he marry two sisters at the same time (contradicting Jacob's marriage to both Leah and Rachel in which all three were blessed by God), any menstruating woman, or your neighbor's wife. Despite claims by some that God's laws are consistent and unchanging, they do in fact adapt and change over the course of Genesis to Leviticus (and beyond).

Next up in God's laws is a curious mention of another god named Molech, who is not explained within the context of his appearance here. Molech allegedly was a god worshiped in the middle east by the Canaanites, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Hebrews, but is in fact simply a Hebrew name for the god. No evidence of a god fitting his description or bearing his name has ever been found outside of the Torah (the original Jewish version of the Old Testament) and is considered more of a Hebrew legend. The name was letter retconned into describing simply the concept of an infanticide human sacrifice by fire. Whether the translation here is to mean a sacrifice to the god Molech (which was probably believed to be a true god by the Israelis - meaning they thought other cultures worshiped a god named Molech) or whether it's to describe the human sacrifice itself, God forbids it and claims that it profanes his name to sacrifice in this way.

God next dishes out a rather famous verse on homosexuality calling the act an "abomination". This verse is still often pointed out today by believers who condemn homosexuality, despite many other Mosaic laws (such as the condoning of slavery itself as well as the condoning of beating the said slaves) being disregarded. It's puzzling as to what parts of the Old Testament are supposed to hold true today and which are to be disregarded - each faction of Abrahamic religions, and each faction of Christianity, pick apart their own version of what to keep and what to ignore.

God's next law forbids bestiality - specifically a man having sex with a female animal, or a woman being penetrated by a male animal.

God finishes up by claiming and implying that the Canaanites (as well as the Egyptians) practice all these deviant forms of sex (and human sacrifices to Molech) when there is little archaeological evidence to support a claim that either the inhabitants of Canaan (or Egypt) practiced these deviant sexual acts and incestuous marriages any more or less than the ancient Hebrews themselves. Remember that even Aaron and Moses's parents were incestuous according to the rules laid out here in Leviticus 18. The truth behind this chapter is more likely to be an extension of the xenophobia the Hebrew tribes had of their neighbors and an attempt to vilify and justify the wars between the tribes, the conquest of their lands, and the passing tales of myths and legends about their enemies. The archaeological evidence just doesn't seem to fit the assertions made and no literature outside of biblical sources corroborates the claims within the same time frame.


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    JJones, you're completely missing the point of this blog, which is not an all out attack on Jehovah's Witnesses, but a critical view of the bible as a whole. I brought up the JWs in this chapter because they fit the example of a religious group taking verses from this chapter to an extreme, not because I wanted to single out the JWs.

    I'm deleting the rest of your comment with your weblinks, as I'm suspecting this to be spam posting. However, if I am wrong, you are more than welcome to post again if you wish and can remain on topic.