Friday, December 25, 2009

Killer Typos

We are in the book of Leviticus, which is full of laws given by God to Moses for the Israelites. Some laws are good, while other laws are weird. For example, in the previous chapter, Leviticus 19, God provides the “love thy neighbor as yourself” law (in a form few would recognize), and in the same chapter God provides a law prohibiting the wearing of clothing made from more than one material woven together.

There are also some laws which seem a bit harsh, at least in terms of their punishments. Leviticus 20 showcases many of such laws, and will be the subject of this study.

Killer Typos
Many Christians have the idea that God is brimming with love and mercy. Indeed, as God describes Himself in Exodus 34:5-7, He is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin. And who has not heard the words of Jesus immortalized in the story of John 8:1-11: “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

However, when you read the laws in Leviticus 20, you get a different impression of God. God comes off as being a bit intolerant. In some cases, the intolerance seems rightly deserved. In others, it just seems that the punishment is a too steep for the sin. In fact, it leaves you wondering why Jesus did not pick up the first stone and throw it at the adulterous woman.

In Leviticus 20:1-3, God commands the Israelites to kill anyone who sacrifices his child to Molech. It's not mentioned here in the text, but it would have been a sacrifice by fire. God goes on to say in Leviticus 20:4-5 that if the Israelites choose not to kill such a man, God Himself will “set [His] face against” that man, his family, and any who follow him, and will “cut [them] off” from their people. I can definitely respect that, but it makes me wonder why God has not “cut off” other evil doers in history.

It is not clear what God means by “cut off” when He said He would “cut off” anyone sacrificing to Molech. God wanted such a person dead, and you cannot be more “cut off” than being dead, so “killed” seems to make sense for a definition.

Leviticus 20:6 commands the slaying of anyone who goes to mediums and spiritists. Seemingly disjoint, God does not call for the slaying of actual mediums and spiritists until the very end of the chapter in Leviticus 20:27. But what would you expect? After all, this divine inspiration was recorded by a man long before the creation of word processing software. Typos happen.

Leviticus 20:9 demands the death of anyone who curses either of their parents. If we had that law, probably around 5% of kids would not make it to adulthood.

Leviticus 20:10-16 covers several sexual sins. Can you guess what the punishment is for these:
Adultery with the wife of your neighbor – death to both people
Sex with your father's wife (not necessarily your mom) – death to both people
Sex with your daughter-in-law (not necessarily your own daughter) – death to both people
Male homosexual sex – death to both people
Marry a woman and her mother – all three are burned to death
Male or female bestiality – death to the person and animal

Notice that God placed the same punishment on adultery as He did male homosexuality. Yet you do not find that hate groups seek out and target adulterers. Where is the Christian outcry against adultery which permeates our culture far greater than homosexuality?

Continuing on the path sexual sin, the language of punishment in Leviticus 20:17-21 gets a little more vague. It is not necessarily death for everyone:
Marry your sister – both people are to be “cut off”
Sex with a woman on her period – both people are to be “cut off”
Sex with a sister of your mother or father – both people are to be “held responsible”
Sex with an aunt – both people will die childless
Marry your brother's wife – both people will be childless

Remember from above that “cut off” seemed to mean killed. So it appears that God also wants to kill anyone who has sex with a woman on her period. On the other hand, it may be that “cut off” was simply kicked out of the community, or even less than that. After all, according to Leviticus 15:24, if a man has sex with a woman on her period, he is unclean for seven days. Oops, it seems we have a little typo contradiction!

Speaking of typos, that last bit about not being able to marry your brother's wife seems to be one too. Or is God implying that it is acceptable to marry other people's wives? This is not about divorced women, as they are dealt with later. The only context where this would really make sense is if the brother had died. However, Deuteronomy 25:5-10 says that you should marry your brother's wife if your brother died without producing a male child, and that marriage is explicitly purposed in order to have children! It seems to be another typo contradiction.

So what do we have here? Lots of laws demanding death to transgressors and several typos showing evidence of being a man-made construction as opposed to a divine dictation. That is not a good combination for a book proclaiming to be the Truth.

Friday, December 18, 2009

God Hates Hybrids and Tattoos

The book of Leviticus mainly consists of laws given by God to Moses for the Israelites. In the previous chapter, Leviticus 18, God provides very specific laws on sex. In Leviticus 19, God continues on with more laws, including what would come to be known as the second greatest commandment, thanks to Jesus. We will continue on in the same chapter.

God Hates Hybrids and Tattoos
One of the great things about being God would be that because you are perfectly omniscient in the past, present, and future, you can created perfect creations for the purposes you intend in their pure form. Naturally, with that being the case, you don't want anyone mixing things up. So you have got to make some laws against that.

In Leviticus 19:19, you find:
"Keep My decrees.
Do not mate different kinds of animals.
Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material." NIV
God does not approve of breading mules, for example; one of the hobbies of George Washington.

It is not clear as to whether or not you could plant a garden with more than one vegetable without disappointing God, or if this was only applicable to farm-style fields, or if you could section the land off to create multiple fields.

Chances are, you are offending God right now with your clothing. Even your 100% cotton underwear has elastic woven into the waste band. You could probably extrapolate this to nearly any blend of multiple chemicals to make synthetic fabrics. If so, maybe God and I are on the same page with our dislike of polyester slacks. You also have to wonder how God feels about composite building materials, like fiberglass and reinforced concrete.

With the prohibitions of mating of different animals, planting different seeds, and weaving different materials, you may think that what God is striving for is purity as a representation of Holiness and a reflection of God's perfect creation. However, this is not the case. Or if it is the case, then God contradicts it with His directive in Exodus 28:8 for the priestly garments to be made from gold thread, blue, purple, and scarlet woolen yarn, as well as fine linen all woven together. So His Holy representatives are decked out with rather fancy, mixed-fabric clothes.

Further down in the chapter, after legislating having sex with slave women promised to other men (Leviticus 19:20-22), prohibiting eating fruit from trees for four years after they are planted (Leviticus 19:23-25), and condemning eating blood and sorcery (Leviticus 19:26), God veers off into some extra-odd territory again. In Leviticus 19:27-28, we find:
“Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” NIV
Oddly in contrast, it seems that God would not approve of either well groomed men or women with tramp stamps!

This couple of strange verses could come from a couple of different points of view. One may be that God made you perfectly, so He does not want you grooming your hair or marking your body in a way that changes it. The other point of view may be that these actions were commonly practiced among the pagan nations God (or the author) did not want people duplicating these superficial practices.

Yet either way, this seems to be an odd divergence into minutia which is very far away from what is reportedly the core message; that of God's love. For why should God care if you breed mules or trim your beard? What speaks of love in restricting you from wearing clothes of interwoven fabrics? These arbitrary laws seem more like someone voicing their personal dislikes as opposed to God trying to show His love for the Israelites.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Second Greatest Commandment?

The book of Leviticus mainly consists of laws given by God to Moses for the Israelites. In the previous chapter, Leviticus 18, God provides very specific laws on sex. In Leviticus 19, God continues on with more laws, prefaced by a plea by God for the Israelites to be Holy.

The Second Greatest Commandment?
Think for a moment about giving verbal instructions to someone. Suppose that there were a couple of key objectives which you wanted to communicate as well as several other instructions which would help people achieve those goals. How would you elevate these primary objectives? Perhaps you would explicitly say those were the goals? Maybe you would provide emphasis to them, such as by mentioning them first or last, or repeating them throughout the instructions, or somehow otherwise set them apart in the instructions?

You may remember a story from the New Testament where Jesus is asked by one of the scholars of the Law what is the most important or greatest commandment. Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-34 record the episode, including Jesus' reply. (Luke 10:25-28 records a similar but different story.) Jesus says that the most important commandment is to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus goes on to say that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Love your neighbor as yourself is a wonderful commandment! :-) It is exactly the type of commandment you would expect from a God who is the epitome of love. So let us examine the emphasis God places on this commandment in the Old Testament.

This commandment is not in the first or the second set of the Ten Commandments. It is not even in the first or second books of the Bible. Well over 100 commandments had been dispensed before it appears in the third book of the Bible, Leviticus, and in a location roughly 2/3 through that book. Leviticus 19 is a listing of various laws. About halfway through the chapter you will find Leviticus 19:18 in all of its splendor:
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” NIV
You will notice that the command is not simply to love your neighbor as yourself. Instead, it is played off as a contrast to seeking revenge or bearing a grudge. Perhaps most significant is the implied definition of “your neighbor” as “one of your people” instead of how Jesus would redefine it as everyone in Luke 10:29-37 in what is commonly referred to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It seems God and Jesus had different opinions on the matter.

There is nothing to make this commandment inherently stand out in the list. It is sandwiched between the good law of Leviticus 19:17 which tells you not to harbor hate in your heart and the strange law of Leviticus 19:19 which tells you not to mate two different kinds of animals. Even the phrase “I am the Lord” is repeated in several other verses within this same chapter in seemingly poetic meter as opposed to highlighting extra-important commandments.

Clearly no prominence of placement or explicit emphasis was given to this commandment to mark its importance. So what about repetition? Was the importance of this commandment driven home by listing it over and over again?

In Mark 12:33 it says that loving God and loving your neighbor are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. If that is so, then it is difficult to discern from the text. Being somewhat generous, there are around 50 calls to love God in the Old Testament. The sentiment of loving your neighbor is explicitly expressed only one time in the Old Testament. Only once. Meanwhile, burnt offerings are mentioned at least 260 times, with 39 instances of it saying how the smell of the burnt offering was a pleasing aroma to God.

If God truly thought that loving your neighbor was the second most important commandment, He has an odd way of showing it.

Instead, it seems that human analysis was involved to find this little diamond in the rough, shine it up, and promote it to its proper level of importance and moral guidance. In fact, this follows the trend of modern day cults or denominational divisions within the church. Some re-interpretation of the importance of particular parts of Scripture precedes an entire movement, just like John Wesley's interpretations created Methodism. Christianity latched on tightly to this new interpretation, repeating the message of loving your neighbor eight times within the New Testament.

It would be remiss to not mention one other instance in the Old Testament where this commandment is repeated in a manner of speaking, but with a different target. Later in the same chapter, you find Leviticus 19:34 saying:
“The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” NIV
Again, we see a limitation of the concept of loving your neighbor. The “living with you” clause extends the concept only to those living in the same nation. It is interesting that many of the Christian conservative groups have such strong feelings against the illegal immigrants in the United States. God does not qualify this commandment with legal versus illegal aliens. It comes from the same chapter as loving your neighbor, so it must be important too, right?

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Temples

We are continuing on in the Gospel of John. As it is recorded, immediately after a wedding party where Jesus turns water into the best wine ever, He headed to Jerusalem for Passover.

Upon finding merchants and moneychangers in the Temple there, Jesus runs them out of Temple with a self-made whip. (Of course, this is not to be confused with the other time that Jesus purged the Temple, but that's a story for another time.)

A Tale of Two Temples
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. What better fitting words could describe the story in the Gospels? Jesus was soon going to enable God's grace, but that would come with a price of His innocent suffering and death.

Prior to that big event in the storyline, Jesus would make a some trips through Jerusalem unscathed. In His first recorded visit as an adult, Jesus purges the Temple of merchants and moneychangers. During the purging, Jesus yells at the dove-selling merchants about the audacity they had in turning His “Father's house” into a marketplace (John 2:16). We will examine the aftermath of this purging in John 2:18-22.

As you may imagine, the Jewish merchants were a little upset. They question Jesus, asking Him what miracles He would perform to prove that He had the authority to run people out of the Temple (John.2:18). Notice that this call for miracles implies that the Jews understood that when Jesus said that the Temple was His Father's house, He meant that He was the son of God.

Jesus replies “Destroy this Temple” and raise it in three days (John 2:19). It's not entirely clear who is to destroy the Temple, but it is clear in a later verse that by “Temple” Jesus meant His body (John 2:21). Furthermore, nobody understood that He meant the Temple of His body as opposed to the Temple of Jerusalem until after His resurrection (John 2:22). Finally, note that Jesus was going to raise “it,” with the implied meaning that the same thing which was destroyed would be raised again; Jesus' body.

The actual Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed as well! As we find much later in the storyline, after Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem but before the crucifixion, Jesus prophesied that the actual Temple would be destroyed per Matthew 24:1-2, Mark 13:1-2, and Luke 21:5-6. The Temple was indeed destroyed in 70 CE; ossifying the faith of believers as being an accurate prophesy while simultaneously providing circumstantial evidence to skeptics that the final versions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written after the Temple's destruction. Note that there was no prophesy of rebuilding this Temple.

Things are a little too clear right now, so let us muddy the water in classic Biblical style by looking at some more Temple references. When Jesus is put on trial, Matthew 26:60-61 reported that people gave true (or at least agreeing) testimony claiming that Jesus said that He would destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days. Of course this could be easily aligned with John's Gospel. Meanwhile, as Mark 14:57-59 renders the same scenario, people gave false testimony that Jesus said that He would destroy the man-made Temple and build another in three days which was not built by man. (By the way, this accusation episode is skipped by both Luke and John.)

Beyond Mark 14:59's statement that their testimony did not agree, it is not clear what makes this “false” testimony. In fact, Mark's version is aligned with modern Christian theology, in that Jesus destroyed the old Temple system of worship and rebuilt it upon His resurrection as the church; a theology echoed in Paul's 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 6:19, and 2 Corinthians 6:16, and further explained in Paul's Ephesians 2:19-21.

John gets the last word in the Temple debate. Speaking of the New Jerusalem which would descend from the New Heaven, in Revelation 21:22 he says:
“I did not see a Temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple.” NIV
In that sense, Jesus (and God, which would seem redundant) is the Temple, which aligns with John's Gospel and suggests that the concept of the church being the Temple is not quite accurate.

So what does all of this mean? There's no strong conclusion to be drawn in this study without taking the unsavory approach of hyper-literal interpretation. Words can have multiple meanings, so all of the senses of “Temple” could be resolved.

However, what I suspect is that this conglomeration of Temple references has captured the fluent and dynamic nature of the early myths and theologies which evolved in the birth of Christianity. With a bit of wild speculation...

The Temple would be metaphorically destroyed by Christianity so that worshipers would instead be devoted to church groups, with the three day rebuild always meaning the resurrection of Jesus and inherent birth of the church.

Yet the significance of the Temple could not be easily erased from Jewish culture, so the concept of the body as the Temple could have been invented, making the Temple a metaphor for a spiritually clean place of worship, with the bodies now cleaned spiritually through Jesus. Perhaps the author of John's Gospel saw the persistence of sins in the new Christians, and so put a spin on the Temple destruction and rebuilding as only Jesus' body instead of the church.

Then the actual Temple was destroyed, so it seemed appropriate to make the metaphorical destruction a literal destruction prophesy as well. (Perhaps due to geographic isolation, administrative difficulties, or theological philosophy, John's Gospel somehow escapes this revision, having no verses prophesying a destruction of the actual Temple.) A few more revisions later, and we have the Gospels as they are now.