Friday, November 27, 2009

Vampires in the Bible

We are roughly two-thirds into the book of Leviticus, which mostly consists of additional laws and regulations for the Israelites. These are dictated by God to Moses for him to instruct the nation.

Immediately preceding this study and in the previous chapter, we took a closer look at the role of the scapegoat involved in the Day of Atonement.

Vampires in the Bible
Reading the Bible has provided fascinating insight into the origin of many concepts and expressions we commonly use in our vernacular, such as being there “with bells on,” kosher food, and “scapegoats” as previously discussed. However, sometimes the influence serves as an inspiration for more abstracted concepts, such as vampires.

Several verses of the Bible forbid the Israelites from eating blood; Leviticus 3:17, Leviticus 7:26-27, Leviticus 19:26, Deuteronomy 12:16, Deuteronomy 12:23-25, and Deuteronomy 15:23. Leviticus 17 is one of the best chapters for providing an explanation for this aversion to eating blood.

Consider Leviticus 17:10-11:
Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood—I [, God,] will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. NIV
and Leviticus 17:14
because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why [God has] said to the Israelites, "You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off." NIV
Back in those ancient times, to some extent it probably did seem like life was in blood in a very literal sense. For example, if they came upon the body of a man in a puddle of blood from inflicted combat wounds, this would have seemed like evidence that his life had literally leaked out of his body.

Yet what makes this strange, and what likely inspired the accounts of vampires, is the prohibition of eating the blood because of the life in the blood. What may have started off as being a custom to give reverence to blood provided only a short journey to the concept that eating (or more appropriately drinking) blood could elongate life, or possibly even permit everlasting life. The vampiric concept followed naturally from these prohibitions.

Even the writers of the New Testament seemed to pick up on this concept. Consider that during the Last Supper, Matthew 26:27-29, Mark 14:23-25, and Luke 22:20 record Jesus as symbolically giving His Apostles His blood to drink. John 6:53-56 explicitly says that eating Jesus' flesh and drinking His blood is essential for salvation into everlasting life.

Yet at the same time, the New Testament continues to prohibit the consumption of blood. In Acts 15:20, Acts 15:29, and Acts 21:25 we see that while the Gentiles would not be encouraged to keep kosher diets and other restrictions under Jewish Law, they would be told to abstain from consuming blood. It has the same importance as avoiding food sacrificed to idols and avoiding sexual immorality.

With the exception of Jesus' blood, consuming blood to live eternally would have stood starkly against God's Plan, and so God would naturally be against such a shortcut. This is why Holy Water, crosses and crucifixes, and God's light (the sun) would be expected to have a condemning effect on vampires. The vampire story principles practically grow themselves in the fertile ground of the Bible's soil. Add in a brutal yet effective monarch with a penchant for bloody and gory psychological warfare like Vlad III the Impaler. Blend well with a little creative writing. Presto! The vampiric concept born in the Bible is established as a full fledged vampire legend in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Friday, November 20, 2009


We are in the middle of the book of Leviticus. Immediately before the chapter we will be examining in this study, God explains in Leviticus 15 how bodily discharges make people unclean. For example, a woman's period makes her unclean and requires a sin sacrifice to make atonement for her uncleanliness (Leviticus 15:28-30).

God abruptly changes over from bodily discharges to one of the most important days of the Judaic calendar. It is the Day of Atonement, and it is the subject of this study.

If there was one event in the Old Testament which most completely foreshadowed the primary role Jesus would take, one might expect it to be Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As it is suggested, it was through God's grace that Jesus took on the responsibility for our sins, thereby making God's forgiveness possible; the pinnacle of Christian doctrine. Yom Kippur offered the Jewish entire community atonement for the sins of the past year. So let us take a closer look at if and how this holiday foreshadowed the coming of Christ.

Leviticus 16 outlines what is to be done on the Day of Atonement.

It starts out by saying that the High Priest, Aaron, should not come into the Most Holy Place on any other day, because God is in a cloud on top of the Ark of the Covenant, and so God will kill him if he enters at some other time (Leviticus 16:2). So God is right away establishing His mercy and desire to interact with His creations, or lack thereof.

The High Priest is to bathe and put on his holy underwear and special belled uniform (Leviticus 16:4), because otherwise God would have to kill him. You remember when Jesus put on His special uniform? No? That is right, Jesus did not have such a uniform.

The High Priest also had to make a sin offering and a burnt offering to God (Leviticus 16:3). Obviously, Jesus did not sin, so He would not have needed the sin offering. Because the burnt offerings were for atonement too, Jesus would not need that either. So these offerings are inapplicable to Jesus.

After the High Priest slaughters his sin offering, he can go behind the curtain and into the Most Holy Place to sprinkle bull's blood seven times in front of the Ark, provided first that he puts incense on burning coals to create enough smoke to conceal where God is so that God will not kill him (Leviticus 16:11-14). This is part of the atonement process of the priest, so we would not expect Jesus to need this either. However, note that incense smoke was not required in the previously prescribed priestly atonement (cross-reference Leviticus 4:3-7), and again shows an eagerness on the part of God, the epitome of love, to kill His priest just for seeing Him. Also note that there was no Ark involved Jesus' story.

With the High Priest's sins handled, we turn to the sins of the community. As we see in Leviticus 16:5, the community required two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. (Note that this is a different process than the one prescribed for community sins in Leviticus 4:13-21.)

The two goats play interesting roles. Effectively, a coin is flipped to see which goat will die and which goat will live (Leviticus 16:7-10).

The goat marked for death is treated as a sin offering; slaughtered with some of its blood sprinkled on and in front of the Ark, and also put on the horns of the altar (Leviticus 16:15-19). This offering effectively cleanses the stain of the Israelites' sin from the Most Holy Place, Tent of Meeting, and the altar, consecrating them (Leviticus 16:16, Leviticus 16:19). Note that this blood cleansed these items, not the Israelites. This sacrifice was not for forgiveness of the community.

For absolving of sin, we look at the goat which will live. Leviticus 16:20-22 gives us the origin of the term scapegoat. The High Priest brings the goat, known as the scapegoat, in front of the Tent of Meeting, lays both hands on its head, and confesses the sins of the Israelites; thereby transferring the sins of the community onto the goat. The goat is then given to an appointed man, who then takes it out into some part of uninhabited desert and releases it. This action literally removed the sin from the Israelites. At least, that is according to the Old Testament. You know, God's Word.

Now before you go thinking that the live goat represents Jesus, consider these issues: The wages of sin is death, but the goat does not die or get killed from the sins applied to it. Jesus was not simply lead out of Jerusalem into the desert like the goat. Instead, Jesus was supposedly crucified and resurrected. Also, as we can tell from Leviticus 16:26, which requires the scapegoat-handling man to wash himself and his clothes before coming back to the Israelites' dwelling place, the live goat was considered unclean. I'm pretty sure that given Jesus was God, it would be tough for Him to be unclean by Biblical standards, especially after He had taken away the sins of the world.

Do you remember that ram that the community needed for a burnt offering? Well, in Leviticus 16:23-24 you will find that it is the burnt offering which finally offers atonement to the people for their sins. You may remember that there was nothing even loosely resembling a burnt offering in the story of Jesus, so that is a significant foreshadowing discrepancy.

As we have seen in this study, the High Priest of the Old Testament Day of Atonement does not bear even the slightest allusion to Jesus. The Old Testament process of preparation for the forgiveness is foreign to the story of Jesus. And the offerings themselves, particularly the scapegoat and the burnt ram, do not appear to forecast Jesus' sacrifice in any shape or form.

All in all, the only way to claim that this is a foreshadowing of Jesus is to look at it from very far away, where you can only see that there is an offering made for atonement where something dies, something lives, and everyone is forgiven (or at least the Israelites are).

Friday, November 13, 2009

If You Are Sick, You Are Guilty

In this part of the book of Leviticus, God is instructing Moses to instruct the Israelites on the finer points cleanliness. Having established how baby girls are twice as dirty as baby boys, God moves on to cover skin diseases and mildew. God lumps skin disease and mildew together as though they are related. The recommended treatment of those people and things with skin disease and mildew begins in Leviticus 13 and continues on to Leviticus 14, our entry point in this study, covering the purification of people with skin disease and houses with mildew.

If You Are Sick, You Are Guilty
Imagine a time long ago on a continent far away. You become ill, so you go see the local shaman, or medicine man, to cleanse you of the evil spirits causing the illness. The shaman puts on his sacred costume which is adorned with all kinds of feathers and animal bones. He gathers two birds and then kills one of them over a pot of clean water. Taking the live bird, some scarlet yarn, and a sprig of hyssop, he dips them into the bloody water and sprinkles you seven times with it to begin the cleansing process.

This cleansing ritual may have seemed like some primitive pagan ceremony to you, but it comes right from the Bible as a command of God. Well, everything is there except for the feathered costume. God had different designs for what priests should wear.

In Leviticus 14:1-32 is an instruction manual for the purification process which is to occur after you are healed from a skin disease. Leviticus 14:1-7 covers the bit about killing the bird and sprinkling the bloody water. After that, the person shaves off all of their hair and then bathes, waits outside camp for seven days, and then shaves off all of their hair and bathes again to become clean (Leviticus 14:8-9).

Then things get really weird.

Leviticus 14:10-20 (and the corollary for poor people in Leviticus 14:21-32) states that after a man heals from his skin disease and goes through this shaman-istic cleaning ritual, he must then make not one, not three, but five offerings to God! Two male lambs, one female lamb, fine flour mixed with oil, and a “log” of oil must be offered to God.

One male lamb is used as a guilt offering sacrifice, and some of its blood gets put on the man's right earlobe, right thumb, and right big toe. Oil from the log is sprinkled “before the Lord” seven times and then applied to the same locations as well as the man's head (Leviticus 14:10-18). This sounds more like some sort of magical incantation than the words of the true God.

After that, the female lamb is sacrificed as a sin offering and the other male lamb and the flour are sacrificed as a burnt offering (Leviticus 14:19-20).

The point of these steps is to make atonement for the man, as is repeated three times in the three verses of Leviticus 14:18-20. In other words, it is assumed that God afflicted the man with his skin disease due to the sins which he had committed. The natural conclusion: If you are sick, you are guilty of sins and therefore God is punishing you. This was a logical mindset in a time when the causes of disease were still mostly mysteries and superstitions ruled supreme, but now it stands off as yet another textual artifact which suggests that this tale is man-made.

Not convinced that skin disease was bestowed by God? I invite you to examine the surrounding contextual evidence.

Before this chapter, Leviticus 13 describes how to treat a man who has a skin disease, as well as how to treat mildewed items, as if they were related. That theme of disease-and-mildew relation continues in Leviticus 14, where you will find instructions for handling houses with mildew immediately after the purification and atonement of the man with skin disease in Leviticus 14:33-53.

In verse Leviticus 14:34, we find:
“When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mildew in a house in that land, ...” NIV
The “I” in this verse is God. Take a moment to think about this: God is putting mildew in people's houses. (I've got to find a way to keep God out of my shower!)

The whole account of household mildew in Leviticus 14:33-53 is a bit long, but one section stands out. There is a purification ceremony for the house in Leviticus 14:49-53 which matches the one performed for the man with the skin disease in Leviticus 14:1-7.

The last verse of that section, Leviticus 14:53, reveals the truth. The reason for the copied ceremony for the house is to make atonement for the house! It is not that the house sinned, but rather that the owner of the house has sinned. And so, just like with the skin disease, God applies mildew as a punishment for sin.

Oh well. I guess I will always have mildew in my shower. :-)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Changing Water Into Whine

There were several dark times in United States history. Ironically, one of the darkest chapters sprang from an attempt at a higher righteousness. On October 28, 1919, the 18th amendment to the US constitution was ratified to prohibit the manufacture, sale, or transport of alcohol. Until repealed by the 21st amendment in December 5, 1933, American mafia groups stepped up the illegally fill the demand for alcohol, greatly expanding their power at the cost of government corruption and the loss of many lives.

The Prohibition had been driven mainly by conservative Protestant denominations; especially the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Congregationalists, Scandinavian Lutherans, and Quakers. It seems that they had forgotten that Jesus' first recorded miracle was turning water into wine.

Just prior to this study, Jesus had just picked up at least somewhere between three and six of the disciples whom would become Apostles. So now it's time for Jesus to begin His miraculous ministry. Or is it? Let's find out.

Changing Water Into Whine
In John 2:1-11 is the peculiar story of how Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. It starts like this: Jesus and his disciples were invited to attend a wedding in Cana. As the wedding party progressed, they ran out of wine. Jesus' mom, Mary, tells Him that they have run out of wine. Jesus' reaction to His mom is a bit of an enigma, as we see in John 2:4:
"Dear woman, why do you involve Me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come." NIV
Essentially, Jesus whined to His mom for getting Him involved. In the verses which follow, Jesus' mom tells the servants to obey Jesus, Jesus has the servants fill six jars with water, and then Jesus instructs them to serve from the jars, as the water had been turned into wine. There are some interesting implications to explore about this story.

Mary never specifically asks Jesus to do anything. Christian commentators often cite how humble Mary was, letting Jesus decide the appropriate action. However, that's not what is implied in the text. From Jesus' reaction, it is clear that Jesus knew what Mary wanted, and it actually speaks of a familiarity with Jesus' power as God, as if Jesus had done similar miracles while living with His parents. Dinners at Jesus' house must have been really good! And with Mary prompting Jesus to take action in the first place, Mary seems less humble than she seems perhaps mentoring or controlling. Given that Jesus is God and therefore wouldn't need to be mentored, it would seem the latter is the case.

Jesus' reaction yields an impression that He did not expect Mary's request and that He did not want to perform this miracle. Yet Jesus does go on and turn water into wine so that everyone could have a good time at the party. It's some creative insight into how awkward it would have been for Joseph and Mary to be Jesus' earthly parents. After all, Jesus would have been bound by His own law to honor, and thereby submit, to His parents (Exodus 20:12).

It's the last part of Jesus' response which is strangest of all; “My time is not yet come.” Whether this means His time to perform miracles or His time to die is not really clear. The former seems strange because only several days later He performed miracles in Jerusalem (John 2:12-13, John 2:23).

The angle that this references Jesus' time to die is odd for many reasons. It's been suggested that everything Jesus did was supposed to be viewed through the cross, and so that's why this make sense, but that falls short of being a good explanation due to the lack of hesitation to perform other non-cross-related miracles. It's also been suggested that Jesus hesitated performing the miracle at that time because it might have set off the crucification events too early, but that fails too because it suggests that God is not in control and could not orchestrate events as He wills.

Any way you look at it, this act was not going according to God's master Plan. That's an interesting revelation which suggests either God does not really know the future or that there are multiple paths to achieve the same goal.

Adding one more layer of confusion, Mark 1:14-15 says that Jesus was walking around Galilee saying that “the time has come.” This was before Jesus picked up disciples, so it was before this wedding and therefore before Jesus proclaimed that His time had not yet come.

In closing out the story in John 2:10-11, we find that the wine Jesus made was top notch (Wine Spectator would have rated it a 100) and that this was the first miracle Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee, an act which strengthened the faith of His disciples.

You never forget your first time. Unless, of course, your first time never happened. According to Mark 1:23-28 and Luke 4:33-37, the first miracle Jesus performed was casting out a demon in Capernaum. According to Matthew 4:23-24, the first miracles Jesus performed is briefly summarized as healing many of the sick and the demon-possessed people in the region of Galilee (which includes Capernaum). Yet John, so diligent to record the first and second (reference John 4:46-54) miracles Jesus performed in Galilee, skips the early mention of casting out demons. In fact, in the entire Gospel of John, Jesus never casts out a single demon! This discord is just more evidence suggesting that the Gospels are man-made myths.