The Old Testament: Exodus and Leviticus

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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22 Responses

  1. Jock Coats says:

    Certain transgressions bring death: blasphemy, a Priest’s daughter playing the harlot, killing someone (apparently, not by stoning), adultery, bestiality, sorcery, etc.

    I think also that many of these are misinterpreted though. For example, the principle of an “eye for an eye” has been reckoned to be a “maximum” punishment, in order that bloodfeuds do not get out of hand (unlike, I believe, in the Hamurabi code in which it is the least one can expect). So, for example, as in Islam, the relatives of a murder victim could accept something less than the death of the perpetrator, including “blood money”.

    Also, that group of sexual pecadillos that on the face of it are punishable by death – homosexuality, bestiality, incest etc – I don’t think they do mean that someone should be put to death necessarily. I think what they are saying is something like:

    “look, we are a growing nation in a hostile country, and we need to ensure we grow, but also our idea of immortality is that your name is kept alive by your descendents. So these things listed are things which will prevent you having children, or risk, in the case of incest, having children that are weak or disabled through genetic infirmity. If you do them, and so do not have children, then your name will be lost to posterity. ‘You shall surely die’.”Report

    • Rufus in reply to Jock Coats says:

      @Jock Coats, Ah okay, that idea of ‘maximum punishment’ makes sense. In terms of sexual transgressions, I understand the punishment more as a social death- being separated from the community, but nothing like being stoned to death.Report

      • Jock Coats in reply to Rufus says:


        Yes, “social death” is a nice way of putting it. I can’t remember where I first heard the idea that it was to do with the difference between Judaism’s understanding of immortality and Christianity’s meaning that not have children would end your blood line and therefore immortal memory, but it also seems to make sense to me.

        And of course, neither of these explanations are accepted by mainstream Christians when dealing with, say, the seriousness of the biblical condemnation of homosexuality.Report

  2. Winston says:

    There’s a lot of misunderstanding in these superficial overviews. For example, the prohibition against graven images was specifically aimed at eliminating idolatry – e.g., the statues of Baal – and moving the new people to a more transcendant view of God. (In fact until recent decades religious Jews would not even permit photography.) Similarly, an “eye for an eye” which for millenia was seen as Old Testament harshness was never intended to be literally applied, but instead referred to monetary compensation. (This is not a retroactive humanization of what seemed barbaric practice, but in fact part of Judaism’s oral tradition dating back to the very origins of the faith.) The hardening of Pharoah’s heart is also the subject of a great deal of rabbinical exegesis – it’s hardly accepted as an inexplicable example of God acting irrationally.

    All that said, the God of the Old Testament is indeed the wrathful, vengeful, and quite terrifying fellow you describe – and his being that way was one of the main reasons the more loving image of God in the New Testament had and continues to have such appeal. But to quote someone in a quite different context, you can’t make a revolution – in this case a quite powerful and dramatic move to monotheism – without breaking eggs. The terror might well have served the objective of starting a new religion and people on a completely different path. The rabbis say that the main reason the Israelites had to wander in the desert for 40 years was to let the old generation, with its slave mentality, die off. And for the new God to take root, perhaps the old Gods and ways had to be forcibly uprooted.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Winston says:

      @Winston, I have a different attitude about the two gods, Winston.

      The god of the Old Testament was moody, and yelly, and vengeful, sure. But once he squashed you, he tended to feel better and would, eventually, feel bad about maybe having been excessive… plus there’s that whole “absence of eternal torment” thing.

      The God of the New Testament is much kinder on the surface, but if you aren’t willing to climb on board, you get the full treatment. Eternal torment, eternal fire, and eternal darkness. It’s a James Bond title: Dying is Not Enough.

      I prefer the old gods. They’re far more reasonable.Report

      • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, Associating human ‘reason’, with perhaps the exception of the nous, with God is a bit problematic?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

          @Robert Cheeks, if God is willing to give me faulty reason with which to contemplate Him and thus reach improper conclusions, allow me to say, categorically:

          Fuck God.

          I can handle being stupid. I can handle making mistakes. I cannot handle being given improper tools deliberately in the knowledge that I will reach improper conclusions.

          That’s downright Evil. Note the capital ‘E’.Report

          • Robert Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, …it’s your choice.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              @Robert Cheeks, See, Bob, from where I stand, I can do no other.

              If one is set up and given the tools to examine, to reason, and to judge and then to come to the conclusion that X is Wrong, then one must come to the conclusion that X is Wrong, no?

              We’re stuck with that, right?

              Then if one sees the Creator doing X… what then?

              We are then given a choice:

              To say “I was wrong, X is not wrong.”
              To say “Well, it’s wrong for *US* to do X, but God can do X, in the same way that when we were kids we couldn’t drink whisky, but now that we are adults we can drink whisky… we just aren’t adults yet and God is.”
              Or to say: “God is doing X… and we’ve established that X is wrong.”

              And what is X again?

              Torturing someone forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and… I’m getting tired of typing. (and yet, God has not yet grown tired of poking, proding, torturing those who are in the outer darkness. In His defense, he likely has a lot of time on His hands… no? Or are we just unable to understand why it’s oh so very important that folks get poked, proded, etc for ever more?)Report

            • Robert Cheeks in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              @Robert Cheeks, C’mon JB, you’re way to smart, and way to experienced in the Evan thing to give me the false choice that Divine Being is capable of sin.
              God doesnt’ sin, He can not tolerate sin.
              Re: “hell” I have to check out what Jesus says, but can’t tonight. If you know give me both barrels.
              In the final analysis modernity has given birth to the demon that is the epiphany of the ego, a product of the “amor-de-sui” in opposition to the “amor Dei” where we find the natural condition of man, the pre-fall condition. Modernity gives us the rise of the ego and the demonic hope for the ensuing eclipse of the epiphany of God.
              We are in a state of disorder. It is our great task to find that order that unites us, as we should be, with the Divine.
              I love ya, dude!Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

              @Robert Cheeks, we’re in “if the President does it, it’s not illegal” territory.

              God, as he is presented by Christianity proper, is not a deity deserving of worship. If anything, I am reminded of Mordecai and Haman.

              I’ll do some digging but Jesus is a big fan of the outer darkness. Many of his parables end up with people thrown to where there will be weeping/gnashing of teeth.

              The Rich Man and Lazarus, the parable of the wedding guests (which makes no sense to me… they run out into the street to find anybody, even beggars, to show up and then they throw someone out because he’s not wearing wedding clothes? Don’t drag beggars to the wedding then throw them out!), the parable of the Ten Virgins… there’s a lot of outer darkness going on.

              Of course, I love you too.Report

      • Rufus in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, I’m coming at this having just read a bunch of Greek mythology, so I find the idea of atoning for sins and winning back God’s favor to be really good news actually.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Rufus says:

          @Rufus, Don’t get me wrong. I find the very concept of Purgatory, when coupled with Hell, almost beautiful.

          Niven/Pournelle came out with a couple of books called “Inferno” and “Return to Hell” that are quite moving… the basic idea is that Purgatory is the asylum for those who are theologically insane and Hell is the violent wing.

          Those who are insane (obviously!) need to go through more rehabilitation before they can handle even so much as the voice of God before they ascend, let alone those who are violently insane. Right?

          But if Hell is eternal, then it’s not about rehabilitation. (Cue Pat Benetar: )

          It’s about punishing the Romans for holding gladitorial games with your spouses, friends, and children and, eventually, for allowing you, like Ignatious, to become “the wheat of Christ, ground by the teeth of beasts to become pure bread.”

          I understand why the earlist Christianity is drenched in blood.

          I don’t understand why, necessarily, it still must be.Report

    • Rufus in reply to Winston says:

      @Winston, Oh yeah, of course there’s superficiality- I have read very little in the exegetical tradition, so I welcome notes from those who have. I’d definitely be interested in the discussion about the hardening of the Pharoah’s heart- I’m not making an assertion about that as much as saying I can’t come to any conclusions about how those passages should be read.Report

  3. Jock Coats says:

    @Jaybird: September 6th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Apologies, your comment is nested too far to be able to reply to it directly.

    Anyway, what I was going to say was that when, in my mid-late twenties I was converting to Catholicism my teacher was an eminent Benedictine monk and general editor of the New Jerusalem Bible.

    When we got onto Hell and the like, he stunned me by saying “of course, I don’t believe there is actually anyone in Hell.”

    I tried to think of the most evil person I could name, and said “What, not even people such as Hitler, who showed no sign of remorse?”

    And he explained – that it would be illogical. If God is Love, and He wants us to be united with Him, and He is omnipotent, and Hell is the absolute absence of God, and of Love, then He would find a way to persuade you of the right track, even if that was only in the time immediately after your death as you leave “time” and only then can see what you’d be missing.

    We cannot truly appreciate, he said, what that Love would be like, while we are alive. Some may have faith, but cannot know. And the circumstances of life of others may obscure faith and understanding right to the very end. How would God be so cruel, and so powerless to persuade everyone, eventually, if that’s what He actually wants of everyone.

    Now, fifteen years later, I am never terribly sure whether I believe or not, but you’ve got to admit that it is quite a logical position to take if you accept the premises that are at the heart of that faith (God is Love, omnipotent, and wants everyone to share that Love). Even if it upsets those of a more Hellfire and Brimstone outlook who believe, possibly arrogantly, that eternal separation from that Love is a just punishment for some nasty people.Report

    • Bo in reply to Jock Coats says:

      @Jock Coats, Man, stuck for eternity with the universe’s most persistent missionary? That sounds like Hell all right.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jock Coats says:

      @Jock Coats, I’ve heard that Hell is only for those who are willing to cut themselves off totally and knowingly from God. (It was a Catholic who told me this.)

      I asked “even Satan Himself?”, and got a shrug in response.

      Fair enough, I guess.

      This is somewhat intellectually consistent… but keep in mind that I am arguing with folks who argue that homosexuality is sufficient to cut oneself off from God and to self-exile from the Church.

      I suspect that those who are unwilling to shrug for homosexuals would be willing to shrug for the other Himself.

      Or, maybe after a bottle of wine, I’d find it amusing to think that they would.

      I’d have to think about it.Report

  4. Jim Booth says:

    Since there is no known original Bible text in existence we are left to reading transcriptions which may not be accurate. We can not know what the original scriptures said. This alone makes me tire of religious discussion. Why expend energy over the unknowable? All biblical scriptures are hearsay evidence and not admissible in a court of reason!Report