Friday, January 13, 2006

Confession Time

I have to confess, i'm skimming in Leviticus. It is a hard read, and I dreaded it, and I've tried to read it before. I got to the chapter on "discharge" and i'm struggling really bad at this point with all these rules, and rituals that God was having these people do, and what was the point, and why, why, why? HELP


At 1/13/2006 9:48 PM, Blogger LutheranChik said...

Susie: It may help to think about it this way: The ancient Israelites were very concerned about perfection -- about maintaining what they perceived as the divinely established order of things. In addition, they were a people who believed that God was actually physically localized in the tabernacle that traveled with them; I think sometimes in this day and age we don't understand how literally they believed this. (They believed that you could die by touching the tabernacle.) It was vitally important to keep anything impure from coming near this tabernacle where God lived. And...the Israelites were also surrounded by other nations with different religions, different religious practices and different lifestyles that the Israelites didn't understand and found repugnant. So their religious rules are going to reflect this.

In the Hebrew way of looking at things, "There's a place for everything, and everything in its place." Certain classes of animals did certain things; so if you had an animal that seemed to belong to one class, but had characteristics of another class (like a pig, which has hooves like other horned animals, but doesn't have horns and doesn't chew cud, or like a waterfowl, which is mostly like a bird but also like a fish because of its feet and the fact that it spends its time in the water, or like a crustacean, which lives like a fish but walks on legs like a land animal) -- that "off" characteristic made it unclean. Hybridizing is forbidden in the ritual law -- it's presuming to take God-ordained types of things and creating new things from them. The Israelites had a very accute sense of blood as a special, powerful substance that literally held life; so any activity involving blood was literally, in their minds, dangerous -- dangerous to the person involved and by extension to the whole community. Semen and other non-blood bodily fluids, while less important than blood, were also seen as significant, hence all the rules about bodily discharges. Sickness and blemishes of various kinds were another dangerous imperfection in their worldview, that needed to be made right so that the wholeness of person involved could be regained and the community stay safe.

To me, it's really important to keep in mind that these ritual laws were developed a looooong time ago, in the context of a culture with a different way of understanding the world, and God, and themselves than we do. And they need a context. I think I'm going to blog about this on my own blog, but the more I read Scripture in general and the Old Testament in particular, and the more I study it academically, the less patience I have with Christians who tell other Christians or seeking people, "Just read the Bible" -- as if it's all somehow going to magickally make sense or have any useful significance to the reader without an understanding of the history and culture and theological outlook of the authors and editors. Frankly, I would NEVER lead a devotional Bible study on the Pentateuch; if I led a study, it would be as chockful of archaeological/historical/cultural/literary/theological background as possible, so that laypeople without a lot of prior biblical studies under their belt don't walk away from texts like these with "lessons" like menstruation is "bad," or mules are "sinful," or people with acne should be kicked out of church. And without proper formation -- if they're "just reading the Bible" -- that is what some people might pick up.

At 1/14/2006 2:09 AM, Blogger see-through faith said...

Susie, skimming is ok too :)

I agree that this is a hard to understand book. I've found it easier to read it as a huge chunk though because it gives more of a picture. This was an era when blood sacrifice was the norm (in pagan religions) and hard to understand. I think the overall point of the first half (read to Lev 15 so far) is that we are to bring our lives to God (via the priests) and are accountable.

God called the Israelites to be set apart. He was forming them as a people. I found it interesting that there is already an understanding of corporate sin - and there are rules for restribution if you sinned against another person or the community.

Lchik wrote
"I think sometimes in this day and age we don't understand how literally they believed this. (They believed that you could die by touching the tabernacle.)"

They were right to believe this. Later on when David tried to move the ark in a presumptious way, someone tried to stop the ark from falling (good you'd think) and God struck him dead!

And I'm with you on not teaching the Torah (or any of the Bible) out of context. I've heard it done (blaming the tsunami on people having had sex with animals or stuff!)and to be frank it horrifies me!

There are things to learn from every book of the Bible- a lot - but we do need to look at the whole picture and the context. I think reading the Bible fast is helping me get a better overview, and I'm glad :)

It's important to remember too that this is the Old covenant - and Jesus gave us anew one. I think we'll understand Hebrews better when we get there because of this!

At 1/14/2006 9:14 AM, Blogger LutheranChik said...

On another post I mentioned my New Intepreter's Study Bible. It's great. It's an NRSV with an incredible amount of footnotes and prefatory notes and other aids to's twice as big as a regular Bible, because half of it is commentary and reference. The contributors are an ecumenical group, and the Bible is intended as a resource across Christian faith traditions. I had to save up my milk money to purchase mine;-), but it's been worth it.

At 1/14/2006 12:22 PM, Blogger SingingOwl said...

Hadn't heard of that Bible before. I'm heading to the bookstore on Monday, so maybe I'll take a peek if they have one. I'm broke, however. :-(

At 1/14/2006 8:27 PM, Blogger Badoozie said...

thanks so much for your comments, and i will certainly check into that version of the bible. I'm reading out of a NKJV, which is up to this point, my favorite version. I don't know why, it just is. you know how, something just feels right in your hand, (theoretically speaking)

At 1/15/2006 8:24 AM, Anonymous Mary Beth said...

I've been agreeing with Susie. I'm finding it difficult to read this stuff prayerfully and attentively. Context is VERY VERY important!


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