The story takes an interlude away from Moses and instead details the laws that God wants us to follow. The main theme of the book is a dire fear of the unclean. Honestly, Leviticus must have been written by OCD germophobe as there is an obsession with avoiding anything unclean (which turns out to be most things). God gives these rules unconditionally and demands that they must be obeyed, which Christians have interpreted to mean they can pick and choose whichever they wish to follow.
Leviticus begins with some long and boring chapters on the proper way to offer sacrifices to God. It is described in minute detail the exact sort of animal and grain to be offered, exactly how it should be offered and what to be done afterwards. Then there is an explanation of how you can atone for certain sins with offerings. It drags along for 9 chapters without too much being said. It should also be said that Leviticus is incredibly badly written, with far too much unnecessary detail and repetition of petty issues, while actually important rules are rushed through. I mean, the destruction of almost all the life on the planet in Noah’s Flood gets a single page, while dozens of pages are spent repeating exactly how you should kill a goat.
One point to mention is that animal sacrifice is a massive part of the Bible. After pretty much every event, some animals are sacrificed to God, which he seems to like. Why? Why would the creator of the universe be impressed with a dead goat? What does God gain from it? Also, ancient societies were desperately poor and most people lived very close to starvation. It was rare for a commoner to be fat as there simply was rarely enough food. The Bible demands huge amount of meat to be wasted that surely must have pushed some people into starvation. When there was so little food, why would God demand that people needlessly suffer hunger?
However, God couldn’t let so many chapters go by without randomly killing someone, so in chapter 10, we have the useless death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. They offer a sacrifice to God, but it is “unauthorised” so God burns them alive. Out of all the pointless and petty reasons God has to kill people, this comes close to the top. These people are literally worshipping God and he still kills them! To make matters worse in chapter 16, God spends an entire chapter detailing the elaborate process Aaron must go through to cleanse himself and atone for having his sons murdered by God.
Then comes the dietary rules and the list of animals that Jews are forbidden from eating. I can’t see any logic or reasoning behind it. The rule is that whatever parts the hoof (?) and chews the cud, can be eaten. But why? So pig (the tastiest of all animals) is forbidden (this alone questions God’s divinity). Everything in water that does not have fins or scales is also forbidden. Birds are picked seemingly at random and banned, but some insects are allowed. Dietary rules are still taken very seriously by Jews, but I can’t see why they exist at all.
Of course, this is the Bible, so we need some needless sexism to remind women how inferior they are. Chapter 12 explains that if a woman gives birth to a male child, she is unclean for seven days and must spend another thirty-three days “in the blood of her purifying”. However, just to hammer home the point that women are second class, if she gives birth to a female child, she is unclean for twice as long. She must then offer a sacrifice to “make atonement”. Why is giving birth considered a dirty act? Shouldn’t it be a joyful occasion? Needless to say the men are not considered unclean in any way or need to do anything. Reading the Bible will turn anyone into a Feminist. This practice was continued until relatively recently in Ireland where women had to be “churched” after giving birth.
We then get a really tedious description of how to deal with leprosy (a term which covers a range of skin diseases) if it affects people, clothes or houses (?). Basically, the priest will look at the disease and see if it is deeper than the skin. How is a priest supposed to know that just from looking? If it is deeper than the skin, the priest will proclaim them unclean and they will be banished from the community and must live alone. If not, they will be locked up for seven days and re-examined and if clean, released. What strikes me most about this is that God doesn’t provide any remedies for these diseases. The only action is to separate the patient and hope the disease goes away. Why does God not tell people how to cure leprosy? Why did God create leprosy in the first place (since God created everything) and make humans suffer from it?
Leviticus has an obsession with clean and unclean, with almost every chapter condemning something as unclean. Faecal discharge (it took a while for me to choose the appropriate term) is unclean (which makes sense) as well as “emission of semen” and people must wash after them. However, when women menstruate, they are unclean for seven days and so is everything they lie on, sit on or touch in any way. If anyone touches anything she touches, they must wash themselves and their clothes and are unclean for the rest of the day. If a man sleeps with a woman during this time, he too is unclean for seven days.
Chapter 18 has a weird commandment against seeing your relatives naked. You are forbidden from uncovering your father’s nakedness because this is your mother’s nakedness. This doesn’t really make much sense. I presume it means sex? But why is seeing your father naked an insult to your mother? Just in case the point wasn’t clear, every single possible relative is named and uncovering their nakedness is forbidden. Then there is the infamous line “do not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” which says nothing about lesbianism or same sex marriage, which religious groups don’t seem to realise. Bestiality is also forbidden and all of the above carry the death penalty. It is also claimed that God is giving the Promised Land to the Jews because the current inhabitants are practicing all of the above. But did God ever tell them that these things are forbidden?
There is a huge amount of waffle in Leviticus, but once we reach chapter 19, the pace quickens and God starts rapidly shooting out laws. Farmers must leave some of their crop for the poor, you shouldn’t steal, lie or oppress your neighbour and your workers should be paid at the end of the day. These are actually decent rules and I’m surprised that we can have five laws in a row that are neither random, sexist or kill people for no reason. As if to make up for this, the next set of laws are bizarre. Cattle cannot breed with another kind (of what?); you cannot plant two different seeds in your field or wear clothes made from two different materials. If a man sleeps with a female slave, he must pay a fine to the slave’s owner. For the first three years after you plant a tree, you are forbidden from eating its fruit, the fourth year must be offered to God and only in the fifth year can you eat it.
You cannot tell fortunes or interpret omens, which is odd, because back in Genesis Joseph was famous for interpreting dreams. God too frequently tells people their fortunes, like how he will bring the Israelites into the Promised Land. “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” Is this one a joke? Slavery is fine but cutting your hair a certain way is forbidden? Tattoos are also forbidden which someone should tell to the people who get tattoos of Jesus. Honour the face of an old man (I really feel like these laws were randomly drawn from a pick & mix bag). Do not do wrong to travellers. Don’t turn your daughter into a prostitute (fair enough). Do not go to mediums or necromancers (people who can speak to the dead or even bring them back to life). Interestingly, it doesn’t claim they are frauds or that only God can communicate with the dead, it seems to believe these people really can raise the dead too. This is a point that occurs frequently in the Bible, as it seems that whoever wrote it doesn’t believe that only God can perform miracles or magic, only that he is best at it.
So the moral of these rules is that everything is unclean and there’s a lot of things you shouldn’t do/eat or else you’ll die. The most striking thing about these rules is how petty and random they are. There is no deep moral code, just a haphazard collection of rules.