The rock hyrax, one of the unclean beasts mentioned in Leviticus. He looks angry, and you would be too if you had to recycle your meals.
Saturday, February 2, 2008

Angry, Unclean Beasts

Leviticus 11, 18-20. The animal shown above is a rock hyrax, one of the unclean beasts mentioned in Leviticus.

Chapter 11 begins with a list of clean and unclean animals. Unclean animals include camels, the hyrax, and pigs. Unclean sea beasts are anything that doesn’t have fins and scales. (Cetaceans are supposed to have small scales, but they’re mammals, not fish. I think sturgeon, which aren’t fish (they’re related to skates and rays) are kosher. On the other hand, what do I know?)

Apparently I don’t know much. Both Britannica and Wikipedia say that sturgeon are fish. I was mistaken.*

* In the process of updating this page today (01-12-2014), I find that there is some controversy as to whether sturgeon are or are not kosher. See this Wikipedia article for a discussion of kosher animals, including fish.

Birds that feed on carrion, raptors, and several others are unclean.

Then follows a list of rules on contact with unclean things.

Chapter 18 gives a list of rules for conjugal relationships. Most of these are phrased as “You must not uncover the nakedness….” I’m not sure if this is modesty, i.e., not seeing, or a euphemism for sexual contact. At 18:22 we have the prohibition against homosexuality. At the conclusion of the list God says that the land became unclean through these practices.

Chapter 19 focuses on worship. 19:19 contains what many of us consider a sort of weird law about mixing cattle, grain, and fabric. Some of the segregationist types of the 1950s used this as a proof text for the evils of integration, miscegenation, and education. 19:26 is the prohibition against eating things with blood. Christina runs afoul of this prohibition in The Way of All Flesh. It seems to be connected with paganism rather than purely dietary. 19:28 is the prohibition against tattoos, and 19:29 is “Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute; thus the land will not be prostituted and filled with incest.” “Do not profane” seems to imply that the daughter is in some way sacred. “Thus the land will not be prostituted,” links the daughter to the land. So the female is linked to the earth as representative of fertility. “Filled with incest,” raises the possibility at the heart of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, that freely available anonymous sex may at some point result in incestuous couplings. 19:33-34 is about the stranger in our midst. I don’t know if this is being used in the context of religious arguments over illegal immigration, but social conditions at the time were different at the time of Moses/Leviticus. There were no nation states, so crossing borders was not complicated by passports, visas, shots, and all of that stuff. To the extent that it is applicable I would think it applies to legal immigrants. 19:35-36 is about weights and measures, and is basically about fraud.

Chapter 20 begins with a condemnation of handing children over to Molech. This is a reference to the practice of child sacrifice. It doesn’t explicitly condemn abortion, but doesn’t reflection on it suggest that aborting a child for our own desires is the same as sacrificing a child to the idol of our own desires?

20:6 is a prohibition against witchcraft. 20:8-21 is a list of offenses against the family, including at 15 a repetition of the prohibition against homosexuality. (Note: Lesbianism is not explicitly condemned, either it was so unthinkable that it was not mentioned, or it was presumed to be covered by extending the principle of the prohibition against male-male unions to female-female unions. Possibly it was not mentioned because it was not an offense against fertility per se. I’m not saying that it’s morally permissible, merely that it’s not explicitly condemned in the Bible. See this article for a discussion of the point. Romans 1:27 does contain a condemnation, but we’re not discussing that passage here.) 20:21 condemns marriage to a sister-in-law, although Dt. 25:9-10 commands it when the brother is childless. I gather that these are the verses at the crux of Henry VIII’s divorce/annulment.

At 20:22-27 we have the proclamation that God has set Israel apart from the other nations.