Following the Plagues, the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy are pretty dull. (Believe it or not, the book of Numbers actually has some exciting stuff. It’s a book called ‘Numbers’ – truly the Lord works in mysterious ways.) Mostly these books continue talking about the griping of people forced to wander around in a desert for 40 years, and they (mostly Leviticus) lay down laws. A bunch of laws.
If you’ll remember, back in the beginning of this wacky adventure, God told Noah and his family to just go around eating everything. Now the kosher laws come into play. It takes a whole chapter to go over this. Listen, if you are thinking of reading the Bible, I strongly advise you to skip over these books. This is what you are in for, just to find out what land-dwelling mammals the Jews are allowed to eat (so not counting birds or fish or insects or reptiles, which all get separate but similar sections that just go on forever):
Leviticus, Chapter 11: 1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: 3 You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.
4 “‘There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you. 5 The hyrax, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. 6 The rabbit, though it chews the cud, does not have a divided hoof; it is unclean for you. 7 And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. 8 You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.”
By the way, the hyrax is a rock badger. Glad I could clear that up for you. If you are interested in all of the food restrictions placed on the Jews, read Leviticus 11. Or, better yet, realize that you don’t actually care and then don’t read it.
Chapter 18 of Leviticus is when we get into the restrictions on sexy times, and God has quite a few of these. Mostly they prohibit the crazy amounts of incest that were going on at the time.
Leviticus, Chapter 18: 6 “‘No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.”
I like how He has to punctuate the end of that decree with “I am the Lord” in order to impress upon the people that, yes, they really have to follow it. It goes into more detail: don’t sleep with your mother (as it would dishonor your father); don’t sleep with your sister (or half-sister); no sexy times with your step-mother, or your aunt, or your daughter-in-law (looking at you, Judah); no sleeping with a woman and her daughter or a woman and her granddaughter (it doesn’t say if that’s separate or at the same time); no sleeping with your wife’s sister while your wife is alive; no sexy times with your neighbor’s wife; and absolutely no sexy times with any woman on her period. It also says nobody is to have any sexy times with animals. In between all the familial restrictions and the bestiality laws, we get the verse that’s causing controversy today.
Leviticus, Chapter 18: 22 “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
It’s worth noting the importance of adhering to this guideline, since we follow every single other Levitical law today. Such as…
Leviticus, Chapter 19: 19“‘Keep my decrees.
“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.
“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”
That’s right, sinners — if you’re wearing a cotton-polyester blend, I have bad news about your eternal resting place. All those people who worked to get burros (and ligers!) into this world? Good luck explaining that. The crop rotation system? BANNED.
Still doing okay? If you’re a guy, have you shaved your face to shorten your sideburns or get rid of a beard? Sorry, fellas.
Leviticus, Chapter 19: 27 “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”
How about tattoos? Have you DEFILED your very BODY which God Himself has given you? Ouch for you!
Leviticus, Chapter 19: 28 “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”
That one even gets the coveted “I am the Lord” punctuation.
Here’s another one many of us in modern times struggle with:
Leviticus, Chapter 19: 29 “‘Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness.”
Now I have serious second thoughts about whether I ever want to have children.
Have you ever gone to have your fortune read by a psychic? You’ve been defiled in the eyes of God. Also make sure to always rise in the presence of the elderly, or you’re really just hopeless.
How do you feel about immigrants? Hopefully you said “Foreigner had some good songs, so they’re ok by me.”
Leviticus, Chapter 19: 33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
Just remember all that. If you’re a guy, you need to be a bearded, cotton-only-wearing, non-burro-creating, archaically farming, un-tattooed, rising-for-the-elderly man who DOESN’T turn his daughter into a prostitute. And then you also shouldn’t be gay.
Seriously, these are all of the highlights of the second part of Exodus and all of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and it amounts basically to two chapters of old-timey laws. It also goes into how to examine skin for diseases and what to do with people who have them (fun note: all skin diseases of the time were translated as ‘leprosy’ — it could have been any kind of rash and the person would be referred to in the Bible as a leper; I mentioned this to my sister, a mother of three, and she said that was brilliant, because one of the laws is to separate from the tribe anyone showing a hint of skin disease, and she realized this meant all teenagers could be sent away as soon as they started breaking out).
You can also find out how to deal with mold inside a home, and what the dress requirements for the priests were, and the exact measurements of the ark of the covenant, and what kind of sacrifices were to be made to God and under what circumstances. There are the rules about the different feasts the Israelites are to have and counts of their different tribes, and there are the punishments for breaking the various laws, and also the establishment of ‘base’ in the case of accidental killing.
Much of these rules and restrictions and census information is repeated a couple of times throughout the books, too. As I was reading it, I wondered why all of this remains in the Bible as a whole, but I think I figured it out.
The Bible is, for the most part, a minimalist book. It doesn’t explore the depths of its characters or get inside their heads at all. It’s not good at showing emotional states; that’s not at all what it tries to do. As such, it’s terribly set up to get across the pain of a large group of people wandering through a desert for 40 years.
Except that it does. These long, boring passages and books makes the reader experience some of what it must be like. It brings the pain home, without breaking the style of the book as a whole. Well played, Bible.