Friday, February 26, 2010

Leviticus Chapters 18-20

Jerry actually has something insightful to say about chapter 18, and the entire book of Leviticus: "The literary structure is interesting in that it resembles the basic form of the vassal or suzerainty treaties of the kings of the ancient Near East. The vassal treaties were made between a great king and a people whom he wished to bring under his rule. He usually identified himself in the preamble; thus here I am the LORD god (v. 2)." If only he could complete that thought and realize it's Moses that's making this agreement.

Chapter 18

In the agreement, god reminds them not to adopt the practices of the Egyptians or the Canaanites, which apparently includes a lot of deviant sex.

First, no sex with your relatives, which includes your father, mother sisters, half-sisters, step-sisters, nieces, granddaughters, paternal and maternal aunts, paternal uncles, daughters-in-law, sisters-in-law. No marrying mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, or marrying your wife's sister to spite her. Jerry says this is because the Canaanites did all of these, but I find that hard to believe. Every society, no matter how primitive, has rules about who can and cannot have sex. Usually, it's the relatives who have names: mother, grandmother, cousin, etc. Granted, many have fewer words and tolerate uncle-niece or cousin marriage, but the point is, they do have a moral system about this.

No sex with a woman who has her period, or your neighbour's wife.

No child sacrifice. Again, supposedly a practice of the Canaanites. But even today, every country has myths about its neighbours. For example, Canadians will tell you that Americans know nothing about Canada, while we have to learn everything about the USA at school. First, ignorance about Canada is not limited to one country. The next time a Canadian makes that claim, ask him or her what the capital of New Brunswick is (unless he or she is from New Brunswick, in which case you should ask the capital of Saskatchewan) or when and where and why the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in North America. Then ask the person if Americans sacrifice babies. They will probably have an answer based on universal health care.

And the biggie for Christians, the one that is most frequently used to justify denying rights to gays: no homosexual sex.

No bestiality, for men or women.

The punishment for any of the above transgression was banishment. The laws apply to the Israelites and foreigners who live in their territory.

Jerry actually has nothing to say about homosexuality today. He only gives the historical background of the law, saying it was a practice of the Canaanites and some other tribes. He doesn't even do his usual cop-out of showing why we do or don't have to follow it today with something from the new testaments. So to those Christians who justify their views on homosexuality with this verse: why do we have to follow that one verse, but none of the others in this book? Why aren't children killed for talking back to their parents, and why aren't people banished for having sex with menstruating women? Why only that verse?

Oh, and another thing. I read a blog entry by a Christian who was twisting himself in knots trying to explain why there are two punishments for having sex with a menstruating woman, either the cleanliness ritual or banishment. If you take god out of it and just look at this as a how-to manual, it actually makes sense. Taking the example of London, Ontario, if you go into any park in the city, you'll see a sign that says the maximum fine for having your dog off the leash is $5000. Now, hardly anyone gets a fine that big. Your dog would have to say, attack a child to incur that maximum penalty. Same story here: if you're an agreeable person who makes his sacrifices regularly, you can just be unclean for the day and get on with it. But if you're kind of an asshole and you haven't been keeping up with your religious obligations, they can hold the threat of banishment over your head to keep you in line.

What's most disturbing to me is that you'd have these rulers who want to control every aspect of your life, down to when you do and don't have sex with your own wife, and then punish you when you break them.

Chapter 19

Social ethics. Of a sort.

First, respect your parents, and the sabbath.

No idols.

Sacrifices have to be voluntary, and you have to eat it that day or the next, or it will be rejected.

Leave the corners of your fields unreaped, and don't pick up the grain that falls, and don't go over the vineyards a second time or pick up the fallen grapes. Leave that to the poor.

No stealing or lying or cheating. No false swearing to god, no defrauding or robbing your neighbours. Pay your workers on time. Be nice to deaf and blind people. Be fair in your justice. Don't gossip or do anything to endanger your neighbour's life. Be kind to your brother, confront your neighbour directly so you won't share in his sin. No vengeance towards your enemy's kids (except god, he can curse you up to your grandchildren). Be nice to your neighbour.

No mixing cattle breeds, seeds or linens. Jerry of course, has to link this to abnormal sex practices of the Canaanites, it might be more realistic to think the cloth merchants has a say here.

No sex with engaged slaves whose fiancés haven't yet raised the money for their freedom. This is still a slave-owning society living in tents, after all. The punishment cannot be death for this one, because she wasn't free, it should be a ram.

No eating the fruit from your trees for three years, the fruit from the fourth year is for god, and you can finally have it in the fifth.

No eating blood, which is oddly in the same verse banning divination and sorcery.

No cutting off the hair at the temples or the edges of the beard. According to Jerry this was a practice in a Syrian cult that thought cutting the hair influenced the will of the deity. It's certainly cheaper than sacrificing a goat. Also, no cutting yourself to remember the dead, nor can you tattoo yourself for the same reason.

No prostituting your daughter, which would imply that the Israelites were doing this. The chosen people, mind.

In the next breath, we are reminded keep the sabbath and temple holy, and to avoid witches wizards and mediums.

Then we get back to the good stuff, where we are told to honour the elderly, be kind to strangers and foreigners that live amongst us (is Tom Tancredo aware of this one?), and finally, to use proper weights and measures.

Chapter 20

Primitive notions of justice.

The penalty for child sacrifice to god's main rival Molech: stoning to death, then banishment. How are you supposed to do both of these? I'm thinking there was some room for bribing Aaron here. Of course there is no explanation of why it was fine for god to order Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

The punishment for visiting a medium, witch or wizard: banishment.

Cursing your parents: death, same for adulterous husbands and wives, whether it's between neighbours or step-families or in-laws. Of course Reuben didn't suffer this fate when he had sex with his step-mother.

Homosexual? Death!

Marrying a mother-daughter pair: auto-de-fé for all of them.

Bestiality: death for man or woman and beast.

Sex with your sister, half-sister: banishment.

Again, the punishment for sex with a menstruating woman is banishment. This is so clear, and yet... Jerry has nothing to say about it today, and nor does any major religion that I know of.

Sex with your aunties or sisters-in-law: childlessness. Now seriously, how did Moses think he was going to carry out that particular punishment?

The chapter finishes with a reminder not to be like the Canaanites and a promise to give their land to them, and a final ruling on witches and wizards: death by stoning!

Oh yes, the answers: Fredericton is the capital of New Brunswick, not Saint John, which is another city, or St. John's, which is the capital of Newfoundland, and which most Canadians will answer. Regina is the capital of Saskatchewan, not Saskatoon. And the first feast of Thanksgiving held in North America took place in 1578 in Newfoundland to celebrate explorer Martin Frobisher's survival after an arctic expedition.

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