Friday, September 25, 2009

Sustaining the Priesthood

As mentioned in the previous study on burnt offering atonements, there is not much background to Leviticus. This study picks up in Leviticus 2, which further explains why it's good to be the priest, as a continuation of a set of laws which seem to come from out of nowhere.

Sustaining the Priesthood
Imagine having the wealth and respect of a king without having all of that risky and dreary country-running responsibility. Does that sound good to you? Then maybe you would have enjoyed being a priest in the times of the Old Testament.

In Exodus 28:1, we have seen how the priesthood would belong to Aaron and his sons for the generations to come, making it a family-only affair. Exodus 25-31 establish a posh mobile palace for the priests made by the best artisans and with the best materials available. God's priests be adorned in fine cloth, gold, and bells; to give them respect and so that God would not kill them. And we have seen the priests collect money for atonement like a God-directed tax from the entire male adult population.

Now, imagine if you could feast on the best grains and meats without ever having to reap and sow or tend to a herd, or even pay for it. A man has got to eat, and priests are no exception. As we see in Leviticus 2 through Leviticus 7, God's laws provide for the priests there too.

Leviticus 2 covers grain offerings to God. The grains are to already be processed; ground into fine flour (Leviticus 2:1-3), or baked into cakes or wafers (Leviticus 2:4-10), or crushed and fire roasted (Leviticus 2:14-16). Essentially, the grain was to be ready to bake or ready to eat when presented to the priests for an offering. The priests burned a small “memorial portion” for God and then ate the rest themselves.

Leviticus 2:13 goes on to say that all of these grain offerings must be seasoned with salt. This is purely for the flavor, and is therefore additional evidence of these laws being contrived by man. After all, why would God require such a potentially deadly food additive? God would know better. Man would not, at least not for several thousand years.

Regulations regarding offerings continue on to Leviticus 7, but not without Leviticus 6:14-23 strangely repeating some regulations of the grain offerings. (Remember, this was written before electronic word processing, so document organization was a bit flawed at times.)

For sin (Leviticus 6:24-30) and guilt (Leviticus 7:1-10) offerings, the priests get to eat all of the slaughtered animal with the exception of fatty tissues and the kidneys. The priests even get to keep the hides from the animals (Leviticus 7:8)!

By the way, in case you are wondering the difference between guilt and sin offerings, it's like this: guilt offerings made atonement for both unintentional (Leviticus 5:14-19) and intentional (Leviticus 6:1-7) sins, while sin offerings only made atonement for both (Leviticus 5:1-5) unintentional and intentional sins. Clear as mud? And yes, this is true atonement (without Jesus!), as we can see that the guilty party will be forgiven by God in Leviticus 6:7.

Also, did you notice that only males were allowed to eat from the grain, sin, and guilt offerings?

In Leviticus 7:28-36, you find that the priests even get to eat a share of the offerings made for fellowship. While this type of offering was open to any ceremonially clean person to eat, the priests got the breast and the right thigh as payment for performing the offering ceremony.

Yes, the priests ate very well. The Israelite population brought the best of their fields and flocks to offer to God, and to feed the priests. Offerings had to be without defect and of the proper value (Leviticus 6:6). The priests feasted from the labors of others without toil or financial cost.

In fairness, we should expect for priests to have been compensated back then, just as we would today. Certainly, we should not expect God to repay service to Him with a subsistence existence. However, the best foods from the land, the elaborately lush clothing and property, and amassing of monetary wealth of the priesthood as dictated by God's laws seem to put a priority on physical possessions and temporal honors. This detracts from what should have been the great spiritual wealth and honor of being in service to God, but it makes perfect sense for a man-inspired religion.

In that perspective, it is no wonder why some of the poorer masses may have looked with disdain and envy on the Pharisees, a sentiment echoed in Matthew 23:5-7 and Luke 11:43. It should also be no wonder as to why someone, or some group, would have been enticed by that wealth and honor into creating their own religion.

At the end of Leviticus 7, Leviticus 7:37-38 states that all of this information regarding the regulations of offerings were given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, finally tying these chapters into the storyline asynchronously. In a way, that makes sense because it would not really be necessary for all of the Israelites to agree to the regulations for offerings as part of the Covenant with God. On the other hand, it could be an indication of later authorship, details created after the original story to help fill in the gaps.

Extra Credit Reading:
Check out the regulations regarding the fellowship offerings in Leviticus 7:11-21. Particularly interesting is Leviticus 7:18 where it talks about eating the offering leftovers on the third day will not be credited to the offerer. Then ponder if that section, and that verse in particular, seems a bit too arbitrary and legalistic for God to have commanded.


  1. Dear Wise Fool,

    You really need to read: “The Hidden Mystery of the Bible” by Jack Ensign Addington.
    He gives some examples of interpreting spiritual allegory and gives a glossary with enough spiritual terms to get an intelligent seeker of truth, started, understanding the spiritual meaning of the scriptures. But Addington does not get everything exactly right (none of us do). For example he gives the meaning of “stone” as “spiritual truth at any level.” But to me it seems that the meaning of “stone” is more like, “spiritual truth in its literal wording.” The ten commandments were on stone and they are a good example of what “stone” represents. The ten commandments have spiritual meanings in addition to their literal meanings. I only understand the spiritual meaning of about half of them so far.

    In case you don’t acquire that book for a while yet, here are a few allegorical terms and their meanings to get you started.
    Bread = spiritual teaching. Bethlehem = “house of bread” where Jesus comes from. The Jesus within us, our spiritual side, can only come from a “mentality of spiritual teachings,” Bethlehem.
    Stone = truth in its scriptural form. Stone needs to be turned into bread for us to be nourished by it. If you son asks for bread would you give him only stone? (Matthew 7:9)
    Salt = wisdom (spiritual wisdom). Salt, Sophia and Mary are also terms that refer to wisdom. When your understanding grows to a certain point you will understand why Mary was a virgin and was still a virgin after Jesus was born. Also the spiritual meaning of the story of Lot’s wife will be perplexing without knowing the allegorical meaning of salt, pillar, Sodom & Gomorrah and what the male and female genders represent. Greek, Sophia = wisdom. Egyptian, Isis = wisdom (and maybe some other things as well). Note that Isis was frequently depicted with the icon of a throne over her head. In the bible “throne” seems to have something to do with wisdom or understanding. I think Isis is sometimes even called, “the Egyptian Madonna.”
    Offerings are sacrifices. Sacrificing earthly things is necessary for spiritual growth. Many religions teach giving up earthly things or at least fasting from them for periods of time. But to give things up or deprive yourself of things without understanding why, gets you nowhere. This is why offering must have salt. If you have the wisdom (salt) to understand the reason for sacrificing earthly things, you will benefit from the sacrifice. Without salt (wisdom), no amount of offering/sacrifice will profit you, or as the bible might put it, “be pleasing to God.”
    Feet = understanding. Washing someone’s feet = cleansing their understanding. Sitting at someone’s feet = maybe something like, “paying attention to someone with understanding.” Making the earth your footstool, probably means something like your understanding is higher than everything that is of this material world. So everything of earthly nature is now below your feet (understanding).

    I think the spiritual meaning of “fool” is someone with only earthly understanding. It probably has a little more nuance than just that, but I haven’t figured that out yet. Despite your exceedingly literal reading of the scripture you seem to be an intelligent, open minded and genuine seeker of truth. Your chosen name “The Wise Fool” seems very appropriate.

    To be continued.

  2. Continuing:

    Hopefully soon you can be singing, “…was blind, but now I see.”
    John 5:21 … the Son quickeneth whom he will. Matthew 7:14 “ …and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord,… Not everyone “hath ears to hear.” Not everyone is able to see spiritual things. I hope that you are among those whose eyes become opened to spiritual things. Perhaps then you will need a new name.
    But even if your eyes become opened you will not see everything at once. Understanding advances step by step, or as Isaiah puts it:

    Isaiah 28:9 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
    Isaiah 28:10 For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
    Isaiah 28:11 For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.

    Milk = simpler teaching than bread. See one of Paul’s letters for example of this usage.
    “…stammering lips…” tells you that spiritual understanding will come to you in fits and starts. “…another tongue…” tells you that it will be a whole new way of looking at things, a new viewpoint, a new perspective, an entirely new paradigm.
    Precept upon precept, line by line, here a little there a little. I think you better get Addington’s book and get started.

    I find the search feature of this site very useful:
    The searches are in the King James Version of the bible in the Old and New Testaments,
    with the Apocrypha.
    A compound search is also available and is even more useful.

    Are you faking or exaggerating your lack of any allegorical understanding of the scripture? You are putting a lot of effort into your study of the bible, you must have some feeling that there is more to it than the literal reading that most people settle for.

    A final thought. Reading “The Hymn of the Pearl” and a little knowledge of the path of a Zen Buddhist can be helpful in getting the nature of the spiritual path taught by the bible to come into focus.


  3. Thank you for your comment Caleb. I certainly appreciate your time and obviously heartfelt words. I will try to do you the justice of a thorough reply.

    I am not the most intelligent guy around, and I don't think that I have it all figured out, but I work with what I have. What I have is a mind which is at once skeptical and empathetic. Sometimes this allows me to discern the false from the true and understand the motive for what is provided at that time.

    You ask: "Are you faking or exaggerating your lack of any allegorical understanding of the scripture?", implying that it is one or the other. I would say neither.

    I think first you have to decide if by allegorical you mean that sections are completely fictitious for the point of illustrating some greater spiritual truth or that some details within the story carry some greater spiritual meaning.

    When you read the Bible, it appears that it is written as literal truth. Aside from one-off books like Job, the story flows through time continuously, replete with lineages some of the people who lived. All the way from Adam to King David are recorded names which are included in the lineages of Jesus. If the Old Testament was mainly allegorical up to King David, then this would not be necessary to record. (That is, of course, unless you can reveal some purely spiritual significance of the lineage to render it fictitious yet meaningful.) So it appears that we are down the path of some details within the story carry some greater spiritual meaning.

    However, that makes things really tricky to keep straight. For instance, in the story of the tower of Babel, was God really afraid that men could do anything they wanted to do if they all spoke the same language, including making a tower which reached into Heaven? Surely this entire story must be an allegory, right? Yet it is sandwiched between those lineages and supposedly historic events. This muddies up the water considerably.

    So now you have the need for discernment to determine what is purely allegorical and what is true history. What should be the criteria for that discernment? Is it simply that anything which seems impossible, improbable, or scientifically inaccurate? It couldn't be, because God's miracles would fit into the same category. So then, does discernment come by accepting what is historical as what seems right, true, and possible, while relegating anything else to allegory?

    Look at your example for salt = spiritual wisdom. Is it not strange then that salt is only required in the grain offering, not in animal sacrifices which carry the blood of atonement (Leviticus 2:13)? And how about when Jesus says that everyone will be salted with fire in Mark 9:49? That doesn't seem to imply spiritual wisdom. James 3:11-12 uses salt water in an example as an unfavorable trait when fresh water is instead preferred. Clearly discernment would be needed for that as well.

    While requiring all of this discernment does not make it false necessarily, it does put it into a category of objects which we mold to our own personal opinions and interpretations. That makes it very dangerous when trying to arrive at the Truth. The Gnostic sect had their own supposedly hidden mysteries. Every different denomination within Christianity has them as well, although admittedly they are less hidden. They all believe that they understand the Scripture better than anyone else, and that they are the correct ones. That should be a warning to everyone.

    So I will take your words into consideration. However, many of my issues with the Bible revolve more around what is revealed about the nature of God and how there appear to be artifacts within the text which betray them as being of human origin instead of the divine.

  4. I didn’t word that question about faking or exaggerating well, but the overall nature of your reply covered the answer pretty well.

    In general most of the issues/questions in your reply could be viewed as being about interpretation theory. A few of the issues stood out to me. Allegory v history. Divine v human origin. Gnostic hidden mysteries.

    When you start learning what the bible (and many other spiritual traditions) is endeavoring to teach, these things pretty much become non issues. There are lots of books by bible scholars arguing for this or that sort of interpretation of the bible. The argue endlessly over points that don’t matter to those using the scripture for its intended purpose. Imagine a calculus textbook in a time that had no knowledge of calculus or any of the modern branches of mathematics. If there were many scholars arguing over how many people were involved in the writing of that textbook, what order the chapters may have been written, whether whatever the subject of the “calculus” book is, had previous versions, and so on. You can see that that could be done for centuries without anyone in that society ever learning calculus.

    Someone might come along one day and somehow begin to understand the mathematics that the text was actually trying to teach. Over time he would see the purpose of the structure of the explanations, the examples, the problems sets and selected answers near the end of the book. He might even be helped by the books of the scholars in some way, although they themselves never learned any mathematics from a lifetime of study of the book. The scholars might even have been right in some of their hypotheses, it just doesn’t matter, when you begin to get what the book was written to teach.

    After learning calculus and the nature of the problems that it could solve, it might be that he looked around the society and realized that here and there, there were some problems that had been solved that must surely have taken calculus to solve. He would realize that he was not the only person to have seen the true meaning of the calculus text. “By their fruit…”

    Websites and blogs pointing out what seem to be bible inconsistencies and all sorts of ignorance among Christians seem to have sprouted like weeds over the last few years. A few do actual research and study and write about what they find, but it seems that the majority just cherry pick the stuff they find interesting on other sites and write about that. I could be wrong, but it looks like you are actually doing a lot of studying. But if you don’t think the spiritual path is real and has great benefit for those that are able to discover and follow it, you are wasting your time studying the bible or any other similar writings.

    The gospels in the NT are every bit as Gnostic as Thomas or Philip. Bible scholars are always seeing evidence of clashes between various Christian sects and various groups from old testament times. That is just bogus. I don’t know if Mohandis Gandhi, the Dali Lama or others like that know how to interpret bible allegory, but surely they know something about the spiritual path from somewhere. Can you imagine one of them verbally trashing some other religious tradition? Their eyes have been opened, they know that would be a ridiculous thing to do. The imagined conflict between the followers of John the Baptist and the followers of Jesus after the baptism of Jesus is completely untrue. When you begin to understand the overall allegory of the Gospels you will see why it would be impossible for that to have been true.

    The people that wrote the NT gospels and whoever wrote the Gospel of Phillip had no clashes with one another. GOP in the literal sense calls at least several of the things in the synoptic gospels, errors. But when you reach a certain level of understanding you can see that they are doing what is sometimes done in the Zen literature. You can sometimes make a new lesson about the spiritual path, by seeming, on the literal level, to directly contradict previous spiritual teaching.

  5. Why not stop determining what the cover of the bible is made of, what the length and width of the pages are and the chemical composition of the ink is and start trying to understand what the bible (or other writings) are trying to teach? You don’t have to give up your scientific perspective (you should be so lucky). You can test the waters without risking turning into babbling idealistic hypocristian (my word for the hypocrite Christians). Someone with your skepticism is in little danger of being sucked into having beliefs that have no basis in reality.

    The bible was written not to record history, but to teach the spiritual path. If it contains any real history you can safely ignore it, it is irrelevant. Any of the word problems in a calculus textbook are not there to tell you about the world, they are there to teach you calculus.

    Documenting features of bible text reaches the point of diminishing returns after a while. You pretty much get a sense of what is there and few Christians are swayed by what you find and even when they are, it doesn’t make the world a better place. Now, if the atheist blogs and websites would make a serious effort to badger, shame and goad the Christians into actually living up to the values that they claim to have, well, that might actually do some good. Making fun of them might relieve a little of the frustration of living in a world with so much ignorance, but you could probably drink a few beers and get the same effect.

    You mentioned two more verses that mention salt. The first one Mark 9:49 fits well with salt meaning wisdom although it may not be easy to see if you don’t understand how “fire” is used allegorically. I’m not going to define it, or give you a term to use in place of it, but I can give you a way to think about it that will help you see that salt is wisdom in this verse.

    If I put some gold and silver in a furnace I still get gold and silver back out unchanged. If I put straw twigs and leaves in the furnace they get completely destroyed. If I put a mixture of gold, silver, straw, twigs and leaves in a furnace, I get just pure precious metals back out. Fire did not harm Daniel’s companions in the furnace because they were pure. That is how fire can destroy some, purify others and have no effect on the righteous or pure.
    Mark 9:49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
    You should be able to see now that this is saying something about being purified or wizened by fire. Also note here that “every sacrifice” shall be salted, not just the grains.
    I see this verse showing that the allegory of sacrifices is more extensive than just the terms sacrifice and salt. If altars for sacrifice are a pile of stones, this would be fitting. Maybe, “according to the scripture (stone) this sacrifice is being made. (Sacrificed on the altar of truth, as it were.) Doing it with the wisdom(salt) of what its purpose is, will take away the torment that fire causes us, because that part that is affected by fire will be burned away.

    The verse in James is beyond my ability to interpret yet. But I wouldn’t put to much stock in salt water being representing something unfavorable. I get the impression that sometimes the scripture writers took a little delight in having the literal meaning actually leading one away from the true spiritual meaning. Sometimes I can see the reason they did that, at other times I have no clue. But just as many times they seem to have put things in expressly for the purpose of teaching us to understand how to read the language of spiritual allegory. Sometimes they put two equivalent terms together to teach us that they mean the same thing. Maybe I will look for a few of the teaching examples and list them for you. “Reed shaken by the wind” is a teaching example, but not an easy one for a beginner.
    Addington sees lineage as fictitious and meaningful. I think I agree. Meanings of names in OT are often highly important.

  6. Thanks for the reply Caleb. Given that our discussion is veering far from being a comment on the text, it may be better to email any additional replies directly to I promise I will respect the privacy of your address. But if you would rather continue on here, that is fine. I have nothing to hide, and a lot to learn.

    If you haven't already, I would suggest you click on the “About Me” keyword to get a little more background on me. In particular, I would recommend reading the “My Angle” and “An Atheist Defense of Salt” posts. (Oh, now the irony of the salt! :-)

    I am doing serious studying of the Bible, taking notes as I go, which have been converted into the Summarized Bible books available on this site. So thanks for noticing. However, it seems as though you may be very far ahead of me in research, particularly in extra-Biblical accounts.

    To be honest, I've never had a spiritual experience, at least not that I can remember or could discern. I hope you could imagine how this must taint my view (at least from your perspective). To use my own metaphor from academia, I watch people every day be amazed at how some guy can predict where a cannon ball will hit. While the crowd stands in awe, I walk around and stumble upon a physics book which describes mathematically the parabolic shape of the ball's trajectory.

    The revelation of the knowledge in that physics book is fairly analogous to the revelation I've had when reading the Bible. To me, it seems that there only two possibilities thus far: 1) God is not the same God whom I learned about in church, and that is a change for the worse, or 2) there is no real mystery in the Bible, as it is mostly fictitious fables and exaggerated legends, punctuated with occasional historical or quasi-historical events to grant it some implicit reliability.

    To be fair, I realize that just because I can't or haven't experienced something does not mean that such an experience is false. There are many recorded spiritual events which certainly defy my explanation. However, they seem to be the exception to the rule, and do not hold up empirically. So I consider this among other peculiar events of life, like when you drop something which just happens to land in a spot or position which you could not have made it intentionally land without two or three hundred tries. This is not to say I dismiss them as simply quirks, rather I leave the door open for future consideration.

    “Can you imagine one of them verbally trashing some other religious tradition? Their eyes have been opened, ” No, but I gather it is more from a respect of people than a respect of the religion. Neither Gandhi nor the Dali Lama became Christian, and there is more weight in this sentence than can be hashed out here. In my walk, I've met a few Christians of the Unitarian perspective, which I am guessing may be your persuasion. I am learning more about what your beliefs are as the dialog continues, and I could probably provide a more satisfactory answer later.

    You seem to suggest that I am wasting my time with this blog, and with studying the Bible for that matter, given my lack of spirituality. You may be right. This work may never (and likely will not) amount to a significant world impact. However, I am doing it for a purpose. That purpose is not as base as simply making fun of Christians for some of their crazy beliefs. How could I do that when I once numbered myself with the believers?

    Instead, I believe that I have valid criticisms of the Bible which go beyond mere cherry picking. True, it is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, which, it seems, you consider to be an inappropriate interpretation. However, I'm guessing that you are not the type who would go out and shoot an abortion doctor just because you believe that God wants you to do that based on Scripture. In fact, I would guess that you are very far from being that type of believer.

  7. You see, because it seems that I do not have the gift for spiritual discernment, I'm trying to make the world a better place with the gifts I do have: attention to details and a skeptical mind. If I can spread a “healthy” amount of doubt into people's faith, then I feel I have done well. I person who has some doubt is less likely to take extremist positions which have so often in history had disastrous consequences.

    In the interest of brevity, I will skip commenting on the salt, salt water, and lineage for now. However, something you said came across as a big red flag to me. You said “sometimes the scripture writers took a little delight in having the literal meaning actually leading one away from the true spiritual meaning.” With a skeptical mind, these type of issues stand out. There is no “good” reason for not being consistent in representing the Truth, unless you are trying to exclude some people from the Truth through confusion (much like Jesus reportedly did through the use of parables [so hearing they would not understand]). Why not try to enlighten as many people as possible? That's what Gandhi and the Dali Lama did/do.

    I welcome your reply.