Friday, October 30, 2009

Sugar, Spice, and Twice the Unclean Grime

Now that the priesthood has been ceremonially established, God is revealing additional rules and regulations to govern the lives of the Israelites to keep them clean and pure. First, we learned what animals were clean. Next on the agenda: how women can be clean again after childbirth.

Sugar, Spice, and Twice the Unclean Grime
There are a couple of popular children's rhymes which muse about the constituents of little boys and girls. “Snips and snails, and puppy-dogs' tails” make up little boys, while “sugar and spice, and everything nice” constitute little girls. I think poetically this means little boys are rough-and-tumble, gross-nature loving, and full of energy, while little girls are some of the most pleasant things in life. It seems that God has quite a different opinion, at least at their births.

In the short chapter of Leviticus 12, God provides instructions on how a woman is to purify herself after childbirth. You see, according to Leviticus 12:1-5 when a woman has a child, she becomes unclean, just like when she is on her period. (See Leviticus 15:19-28 for laws governing the treatment of periods. By the way, isn't it odd that this passage about childbirth comes before the one on periods when it references the periods?) In an unclean state, you are essentially untouchable and separated from all things holy (Leviticus 12:4). Given that God is holy, it seems that you would be separated from Him as well.

It seems odd that bringing life into the world would be something which separates you from God. The text suggests that this uncleanliness is related to the discharge of blood associated with the birthing process, but clearly there is more to it than that based on the even stranger fact that God differentiates based on the sex of the child.

Leviticus 12:2-4 specify that a woman will be unclean for seven (7) days after the birth of a boy, and will require an additional thirty-three (33) days beyond that for purification. However, Leviticus 12:5 doubles that to be fourteen (14) days of uncleanliness and sixty-six (66) days purification for the birth of a girl!

There is no scientific reason why the birth of a girl takes twice the purification of the birth of a boy, so this seems to come down to God's own distinction of value or relative cleanliness of males versus females. Apparently, God thinks women are twice as unclean and dirty as men.

Closing out this short chapter is another strange regulation. In Leviticus 12:6-8 the mother is to bring a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or dove for a sin offering (a dove or pigeon could be substituted for the lamb if financially necessary). That is right, somehow a sin has been committed by giving birth to a child. That sin appears to be related to the blood discharged during the birth. These offerings will make atonement for her sin!

From this chapter we see that not only does God consider girls twice as unclean as boys, but God also considers an essentially unavoidable, natural process of childbirth to be sinful.

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