Monthly Archives: April 2013

Leviticus Is Not What You Think It Is

And here we get to the controversial stuff.  Where I REALLY contradict the Bible.  As in, I look at the words on the page and say, “No, this is wrong.”  I’m pretty sure Exodus has been changed dramatically, but I only have my suspicions, my knowledge of where Judaism came from, and the fact that there’s never actually been any concrete evidence found of Jews enslaved in Egypt.  No, seriously, for all the reconstructions of the Exodus you’ve seen on the History Channel, and all the Seders you may or may not have attended, there is literally zero concrete evidence that Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt.

My personal hypothesis is that the Exodus is actually a later retelling of the proto-Hebraic escape from Ur, and the Babylonian system, which was pretty brutal in and of itself.  It makes a lot of sense if you read Leviticus and the Levite laws.  A lot of them refer back to the Babylonian religious system.  Priests not marrying prostitutes?  That’s a direct reference to Babylonian temple prostitution.  Men not laying with men refers to that, too, and there’s actually not a single word against same-sex love in the OT, but more on that later.  As for how Egypt got in there, the Hebrew people ended up settling a lot closer to Egypt, and they became the big, imperial boogeyman.  There were probably some nasty political run-ins, and there may have been some Jews taken as prisoners of war, who later returned–possibly with Egyptian wives and families–with tales of (scientifically plausible) plagues that combined with oral tradition of fleeing Babylon to create the Exodus story we know now.

As for what this has to do with Leviticus, allegedly, God dictated all of it to Moses.  You know, after the Israelites found their way out of the desert.

Anyway, Leviticus is not the literal word of God.  It’s a legal text.  It, and the Ten Commandments, are quite literally the legal manual of the ancient Hebrews.  What it has to do with modern American law, I really don’t understand, but a lot of people seem to think that laws written 5000+ years ago for a bronze-age refugee people resettling and restructuring after fleeing a system that included mandatory and sanctified rape (obligatory temple prostitution) are immediately relevant to a technologically advanced civilization with major global impact.  (I refer back to temple prostitution a LOT, by the way, because I think it was a major reason the proto-Hebraic people broke away from the Babylonians.)  I’ll grant that some elements are timeless.  A democratic-republican system, for instance, seems to work moderately well.  Not perfectly–otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this blog–but well enough that some guys risked their necks to revive the plan from Greece and Rome a couple of centuries back.  And concepts like Don’t Steal and Don’t Murder are always good, though I’ve been tempted to bump off a couple of people in my time.  However, a great number of laws in Leviticus are intended only for a post-Babylonian Hebraic society.

For instance, as a greater society we don’t demand mikvah for menstruating women.  Or men who’ve come.  Honestly, the second category is probably why, because that would get inconvenient.  “Oh, yeah, I jacked off last night.  Better stop by the mikvah on my way to work.”  And we have laws against that, anyway.  The Fourth Amendment guarantees bodily autonomy.  Remember, no unreasonable search and seizure?  Personally, I’d consider the police getting all up in my junk, looking for traces of blood or semen, pretty damn unreasonable.

Similarly, we have no ecumenical reason to require or restrict one man laying with another.  Now, you see that little word I used there, “ecumenical?”  One thing about Leviticus is, in the original version, there were two words that got translated as “abominable” or “abomination” (or “abhorrent” in my Tanakh).  One, the minor one, was applied to things like eating shellfish.  This was roughly equivalent to letting a big ol’ stinky fart rip in the middle of your boss’s fancy Seder.  Your coworkers are gonna give you crap for months.  However, that’s about as far as it goes, apart from your boss saying no falafel for a week before the next Seder.  The other one, the one used for two men laying together, is punishable more or less by being made a complete pariah.  It’s about the worst thing you can do.  However, that word is only applied to things done for purposes of worship.  I learned this from an Orthodox rabbinical dropout, an amazing guy, with whom I sadly lost touch a while ago.  It’s stuck with me for years, and I finally made the connection with temple prostitution.  No man shall lay with another man if either man is a temple prostitute.  Remember what I said about sanctified rape?  I have a suspicion a lot of men in what became the proto-Hebraic community were raped to death in the course of fulfilling their religious duties, and I suspect that’s a major reason the proto-Hebrews fled Ur and the Babylonian beast.  In other words, they escaped the Whore of Babylon to save their people.

Leviticus is not what most of us in America have been taught, and we’re protected from it.  So why are we listening to people who say we need to follow any of it?  It’s fascinating to study, and elements of it are still valid, and may always be, but others are and must remain products of their time.  Additionally, it and its related works must be read in original context, or else we lose not only the story behind them, but the people.