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.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Clean, Unclean, and Dirty Lies

Just prior to this study, the Israelite priests were ordained. The priests then performed the atonement sacrifice for all of the Israelites, and there was much rejoicing. Two priests, sons of Aaron, worshiped God the wrong way, and God promptly burned them to death with His fire.

Roasting the two priests seems to have jogged God's memory that the Israelites needed some rules regarding what was acceptable to eat, as we will see below.

Clean, Unclean, and Dirty Lies
For those unfamiliar with the Old Testament, the kosher diets of orthodox and conservative Jews may seem like some sort of foreign religious relic of unknown origin. Despite being a source of some contention to the Apostles in the New Testament, most Christians know little about the particulars of these dietary laws beyond avoidance of pork products. In this study we will learn a little more about them, and unearth a dirty little secret too.

Leviticus 11 defines which animals are clean (and therefore permitted to be food) and which ones are unclean. Leviticus 11:2-8 reveals that land animals which have both split hooves and chew cud are clean. Leviticus 11:9-12 dictates that scaly, finned fish are the only clean aquatic or amphibious animals. Leviticus 11:13-19 lists specific birds which are detestable, including bats. Leviticus 11:20-23 prohibits eating flying insects which “walk on all fours” except for some hopping insects like locusts.

Quickly, I'll point out the standard glitches from these passages which many other skeptics highlight. Rabbits do not chew cud. Bats are not birds. Insects have more than four feet. These issues seem valid, but they may also be explained in the sense that the Hebrew language of that time lacked the appropriate technical terminology for accurate descriptions. (Given that God gave the Israelites their language, that issue would seem to be God's fault, or God's design, depending on your perspective.)

Leviticus 11:27 labels animals with paws as unclean too. Sorry cat and dog lovers.

Of ground dwelling animals, Leviticus 11:29-31 makes weasels, rats and some lizards unclean. Then Leviticus 11:41-42 states that all ground dwelling animals are detestable. Maybe this is another language limitation issue, or maybe the author had second thoughts and decided to expand the scope.

These laws seem arbitrary. While some argue that the prohibitions may have been set for health reasons, such as avoiding trichinosis from undercooked pork or avoiding the toxins collected in shellfish during red tides, other potentially deadly foods are not labeled unclean within the dietary laws.

Perhaps the random nature of these laws is some evidence of divine inspiration. Who else but God would make weird laws like that? However, they may also represent the bias of the author; excluding foods which were not eaten in his family, city, or culture. For example, in the United States, most people shun eating insects of any type, yet there are still several cultures in the world today which consume insects as part of their regular diet.

As the title of this study infers, there appear to be some lies associated with these kosher animals, but we must take a step back in Biblical time to examine them.

Back in the days of Cain and Abel, all men and creatures were on a strictly vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29-30), which made Abel's animal sacrifice stand out like a sore thumb. After The Flood, God tells Noah and his sons that they are now omnivores, with the only restriction being that they could not eat meat with the blood still in it (Genesis 9:2-5). Keep in mind that The Flood was God's reset button, and He had hoped to set the world on the right path by starting with His righteous servant Noah.

Here is the snag: Before The Flood had started (but after God had told Noah to gather two of every animal in Genesis 6:19-20) God directs Noah to gather seven of every “clean” animal and seven of every kind of bird in Genesis 7:2-3. Yet no explanation is given of what a clean animal is until here in Leviticus.

Did Noah, who lived in a world where he was vegetarian and all of the other people in existence were reportedly wicked, have knowledge of clean animals? That sounds rather improbable. Even if that was the case, why would God go on to tell Noah that he could eat any animal as opposed to restricting him to the clean ones? It would make no sense given that God was trying to set the world right, and, clearly from Leviticus 11, God found some animals detestable for food.

Just like Abel's animal sacrifice, the clean animal request for Noah speaks of an author so familiar with these classifications and customs that including them anachronistically in Noah's story did not register as being detrimental to its accuracy. It is akin to writing that Einstein utilized the internet while researching his Theory of Relativity. These glitches in time reveal the stories for what they are: fiction.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Wrong Way = The Dead Way

After providing regulations for mandatory and free will offerings, Moses anointed and ordaining his brother Aaron and Aaron's sons as priests. The priests then performed the atonement sacrifice for all of the Israelites, and there was much rejoicing.

With the initiation out of the way, the daily rituals and oblations began, but things didn't go according to plan...

The Wrong Way = The Dead Way
Jesus, and the God of the New Testament, are often presented figuratively with welcoming and open arms, spliced with a “come as you are” yet “acknowledge your need for forgiveness” attitude. This is perhaps best exemplified in the “Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven” bumper sticker. Also, let us not forget that God is love per 1 John 4:16, and the perfect father per Matthew 5:48.

The God of the Old Testament thought pretty nicely of Himself too. As you may remember from the Biblical Ten Commandments study, Exodus 34:5-7 shows God bragging about how He is slow to anger, abounding in love, and ready to forgive wickedness, rebellion, and sin, among other things.

In contradiction to both of these perspectives comes Leviticus 10. In this charming chapter, the story begins with Nadab and Abihu, who were priests and sons of Aaron, offing incense with “unauthorized fire” to God (Leviticus 10:1). So how does God treat these two men who wanted to give God an offering, but did not do so according to the regulations?

God did what any slow-to-anger, abounding-in-love, ready-to-forgive, perfect father would have done; He slew His wayward sons on the spot, burning them to death with magic fire (Leviticus 10:2)!

Moses goes on to add insult to Aaron's injury in Leviticus 10:3, saying that this is what God meant when He said “Among those who approach Me I will show Myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.” Reading between the lines, God is saying that you had better worship Him correctly or else He will kill you!

This action speaks of a God who demands perfect adherence to His laws from His imperfect creations with zero tolerance for mistakes. Is that a God who is slow to anger? Is that a God who is ready to forgive? Is that a God of love? No to all three. And God is certainly not a perfect father, for what father would kill his child for not perfectly following newly learned directions or committing a victimless crime?

Christian commentaries on this passage suggest that this punishment was somewhat deserved because they were drunk as well, that God needed to provide a stern example to show seriousness of sin and to ward off future divergence, and that this shows the imperfection of the priesthood from the very beginning and the inherent need for Jesus. Yet all of these commentaries fail to speak on how this action contradicts God's own self-ascribed characteristics noted above.

That Nadab and Abihu were drunk is pure speculation based on the newly made ordinance that priests abstain from alcohol when going into the Tent of Meeting which appears a little later in Leviticus 10:8-11. However, if they were drunk, that would mean that their judgement was impaired, and they may not have even done that under normal circumstances. Does that make it worthy of capitol punishment?

If God had intended for this to be a warning, it seems to have failed in getting the message across. As further study of the Bible reveals, the Israelites would go on to do far worse than offer unauthorized fire.

And finally, if this was to highlight the imperfection of man and the need for Jesus, why bother establishing an imperfect system from the beginning? To which is given the unsatisfactory reply: have faith in the providence of God.

God chooses no action of love. He does not use the rod of correction (Proverbs 29:15) to teach Nadab and Abihu, and inherently the rest of the Israelites, a lesson by making them temporarily blind, or burning only the hands that held the illegal incense, or any number of other temporary but effective punishments. Instead, God chooses death.

Apparently to make God's image even meaner, God tells Aaron and his remaining sons (through Moses in Leviticus 10:6-7) that they are forbidden to mourn for the loss of Nadab and Abihu, and even goes on to say that if they do mourn their deaths then God will kill them and be angry with all of the Israelites. God told them to suppress their feelings of love lost under penalty of death for not doing so. That is sick, and certainly not love.

I pray that nobody “loves” me like that!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fabled Fishers of Men

Having been very recently baptized, Jesus decides that it is time to pick out some Apostles. At least that is according to the Gospel of John. The other three Gospels say Jesus was baptized, tempted by Satan for forty days, and then began teaching in Galilee that the time has come and the Kingdom of God is near before He started collecting Apostles.

The little trip-up in the sequence of events will pale in comparison to the inconsistent storytelling in this study, which will further suggest that the Gospels are fictitious fabrications.

Fabled Fishers of Men
Imagine that you believe Jesus is God. (Maybe you do not have to try hard to imagine that.) Now imagine it is about 2000 years ago, and that you go walking around as an Apostle of Jesus for years while He works miracles and preaches that the time has come for the Kingdom of God to appear. It might not seem that important to you to write down what He says and does, given that the appearance of the Kingdom of God is imminent.

Jesus dies, resurrects, and then disappears. Time goes on. It becomes clear that perhaps when Jesus said that the time had come, He meant that it was still on its way; yet to come at some distant, unknown time. Eventually you and the other apostles realize that it may be good to write down the story of Jesus for posterity's sake.

Fortunately, you and the other apostles, all had the same experiences and shared your “how Jesus found me” stories, so your stories will be consistent for the most part, with only minor memory flaws. Maybe even with a little help from the Holy Spirit, your historical accounts will be perfect.

Unfortunately, the truth, we find, is quite different. Let us take a look at the Gospel stories of how Jesus begins collecting the Apostles.

Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20 discuss how Jesus gathers brothers Simon (a.k.a. Peter) and Andrew as well as brothers James and John. The two accounts are simple and nearly identical, as if taken from a single source. Jesus was by the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. Lake of Gennesaret, Sea of Tiberias) when He called to Simon and Andrew casting their nets, saying “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately followed Jesus. Walking further, Jesus sees James and John preparing their nets in a boat and He calls to them. They immediately followed Jesus.

Christians like to marvel at the faith of these four Apostles; how they left everything and immediately followed Jesus. On the other hand, it paints them as men who would take any excuse at all to get out of fishing! Honestly though, if this is writing from a memory which was one, or two, or more decades old, a short account with minor quirks and without much dialog might be expected.

Then comes Luke 5:1-11. Luke's account has Jesus step into Simon's boat, preach for a while, and then tells Simon to cast his net into deep water. Simon reluctantly obeys, then catches so many fish that he believes Jesus is God. His fishing partners, James and John, are also impressed. Jesus tells them they “will catch men” from now on, and so they parked their boats and followed Jesus.

Luke adds preaching, a miraculous fish catch, recorded dialog, and collects James and John at the same time as Simon, but leaves Andrew out of the story completely. Keep in mind that traditionally scholars attribute the Gospel of Luke to Paul's physician. In other words, Luke is not an eyewitness working from his own memory, but rather is gathering information from other sources (Luke 1:3).

It seems rather unlikely that Luke could have found an eyewitness who remembered even the short dialog perfectly, but Luke's account is similar enough to Matthew and Mark to suggest that all three are sourced from within one group or sect. In other words, it seems possible that the source was from the original Apostles. Possible, that is, until you get to the Gospel of John.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that Jesus got Simon, James, and John off of fishing boats, and Luke even goes as far as to make the three fishing partners. In direct contradiction, the Gospel of John, supposedly written by the very same John whom Jesus had collected in the other three Gospels, provides a completely different account which fails to mention fish, boats, John's brother James, and possibly even John himself.

John 1:35-51, which starts the day after Jesus was baptized, has two of John the Baptist's disciples leaving to follow Jesus, one of whom was Andrew, Simon's brother. The identity of other disciple is never revealed, but scholars most often claim that he is John, and less often claim that he is Thomas. Andrew recruits Simon to follow Jesus. Jesus renames Simon to be Cephas, which by translation is Peter (an event which does not happen until the group goes to Caesarea Philippi in verse Matthew 16:18). As we see in John 1:43, this was before Jesus even went to Galilee! The next day Jesus collects Philip, who then recruits Nathanael. The whole account is replete with even more dialog than Luke. Not once does John mention fish, fishing, or fishers of men.

The circumstances and events are irreconcilably different between Luke's and John's accounts, yet both had the audacity to record dialog as if what had been said was remembered. This included speech from Jesus Himself! Yet it is extremely unlikely for Jesus to have given all of those statements at that time, given the different circumstances. In other words, someone lied about what Jesus said, and quite probably lied about the entire story.

Anyone who would be bold enough to put unspoken words into the mouth of Jesus obviously did not have a fear of God, and so that person would have been constructing this story with a motive other than altruistically revealing the Truth to mankind. The question is who lied?

As previously mentioned, most scholars believe John was the unnamed disciple of John the Baptist who went to follow Jesus. If so, that makes his eyewitness account more accurate than the other three, and so call Matthew, Mark, and Luke into question. If instead it was Thomas or some other Apostle, John's lengthy fabrication thus calls into suspicion his entire Gospel, a Gospel which holds some of the best-loved verses and doctrines within Christianity, such as John 3:16.

Any way you slice it, there are lies in the Gospels. Simply put, that is dangerous.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Gradation of Atonement

We are early in the book of Leviticus within a seven-chapter section covering the regulations of all sorts of offerings made to God, both requisite and by free will. In the previous study, we observed that these laws were supposedly given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.

In this study we will take examine the different levels of atonement offerings, and consider how this would foreshadow anything that Jesus would later bring to the table.

Gradation of Atonement
The great thing about being God is that You would know the end from the beginning perfectly, making it relatively easy to make clear laws and perfectly foreshadow Your master Plan. Well, we will see how well God fares in this study of Leviticus 4, where God lays down the laws for unintentional (Leviticus 4:2) sin atonement sacrifices.

Leviticus 4:3-12 dictates the atonement process for a priest that sins. The priest is to lay his hand on a bull's head, and then slaughter that bull in front of the Tent of Meeting. This is similar to the regular burnt offering atonement from the earlier Leviticus study, but there are differences. One change is that some of the bull's blood is sprinkled in the Tent of meeting and put on the Altar of Incense therein, while the rest is poured out at the Altar of Burnt Offerings. Another difference is that only the kidneys and fatty tissues of the bull are burned on the altar. The rest of the carcass is burned in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp on the ash heap.

If the community sins, Leviticus 4:13-21 spells out a similar process. However, instead of the priest putting his hand on the bull's head, all of the community elders do this. Note in Leviticus 4:20-21 how forgiveness is granted after the blood sprinkling and fat burning on the altar, and then the leftover bull parts get burned outside of the camp. We will revisit that point later.

Community leaders get special treatment too. Leviticus 4:22-26 states the process for leaders who sin. The leader lays his hand on a male goat for the sacrifice, but none of its blood is needed inside the Tent of Meeting. Why the changes? God only knows.

With those special cases out of the way, you might think that the regular burnt atonement would suffice for the rest. If so, you would be wrong. Leviticus 4:27-35 instructs the regular community members in a process which essentially matches the one for leaders, except that a female goat or lamb is used instead.

So what was the purpose of the regular burnt offering atonements of Leviticus 1?

Just when you may think there is a need for clarification, Leviticus 5:17-19 goes on to require that anyone who sins unintentionally must sacrifice a ram for atonement as a guilt offering. This is either in addition to the above sacrifices or in contradiction to them. Contradiction seems more likely. After all, how many times do you need to be forgiven by God for the same sin?

Speaking of forgiveness, let us discuss how these sacrifices do or do not foreshadow Jesus. Amongst a myriad of different, and somewhat conflicting, atonement sacrifice options, the single sacrifice of Jesus stands in bold contrast. Hebrews 7:27-28 waves a hand at this apparent contradiction, suggesting that Jesus' perfection covers all sacrifices. Maybe that works, but if so, it probably would have been better to foreshadow that with only one type of atonement sacrifice, no?

One more foreshadowing failure, and a demonstration of the ignorance of one New Testament author, is covered in Hebrews 13:11-12
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. NIV
These sacrifices fail as a foreshadowing of Jesus because Jesus did not: have hands laid on His head, get slaughtered near the altar, have His blood sprinkled and drained on the altar, and have his fat burned on the altar. As mentioned above, it was at that point of the process when sins were forgiven, not when the body was burned later outside the camp.

Contrary to what the verse of Hebrews says above that “Jesus also suffered outside” the city, the sacrificed animal would have been long dead and unable to suffer more by the time it was burned outside the city.

Perhaps the death knell of these sacrifices as foreshadowing Jesus is that, as mentioned above, the animal carcasses had to be burned in a ceremonially clean location. Given that the hill where Jesus was supposedly sacrificed on was used for crucifixions, the presence of dead human bodies would have made that place anything but ceremonially clean (Leviticus 21:11).

Ultimately, we see that this is not only a tangled mess of rules, but also a disaster in foreshadowing the role of Jesus. In turn, this not only makes the God of the Old Testament seem incompetent as a law giver, but also makes the God of the New Testament seem unable to predict the future enough to foreshadow it. On the other hand, if these regulations, and these religions, are man-made, we do not need a further reason why everything is askew. Nobody ever claimed that men were perfect.