I’ve been watching Game of Thrones lately and I’ve been surprised at the similarities between it and the Bible. You would think that they would be complete opposites but they have more in common than your local priest would like to admit (especially with this week’s episode involving the Faith Militant). Both are filled with violence, incest, murder, sexism, war, betrayal, religious fanaticism and arbitrary rulers. Reading the Book of Leviticus, I noticed a particularly strong essence of Valar Morghulis (All men must die) both in the sense that women are ignored and in the sense that, no matter how hard you try, sooner or later you’ll end up tripping up and being killed.
There are laws about pretty much everything you can do in a tribal society and pretty much every law carries the death penalty. If you sacrifice your child to Molech (which was either the name of a God or the name of the process of child sacrifice by fire), you will be stoned to death (why was this law needed? Was child sacrifice so common that it had to be forbidden?). If you curse your mother or father, you will be put to death (has anyone not broken this rule?). If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbour, both will die (note that it says nothing about married men committing adultery with single women). If a man lies with his mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, both will die.
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)
As Ireland is currently in the middle of a referendum on marriage equality, this line is particularly important. Think of all the hardship and misery created by it. Even today, although we’ve come so far, being LGBT can still be incredibly rough, due in large part to religion. This is to say nothing of the fact that for most of history homosexuality was illegal and in some places still is. To this day, the Catholic Church and many religious people think homosexuality is an abomination and oppose marriage equality (although they don’t call for the death penalty, why do they pick and choose which parts of the Bible they follow?). What I don’t understand is why God supposedly thinks it’s an abomination? What is wrong with homosexuality (note that the Bible never condemns lesbianism)?
If a man sleeps with a woman and her mother, it is a depravity and they will all be burned to death. If a man or woman sleeps with an animal, both they and the animal must die (this is the 3rd or 4th time the Bible has outlawed bestiality, were people not getting the message the first time? It also seems a bit harsh to kill the animal when it wasn’t it’s fault). If a brother and sister uncover each other’s nakedness, they shall be cut off from their people. I think this means sex and death, but it would be helpful if the Bible used less euphemisms. If a man lies with a woman during her menstruation period, he has “uncovered her fountain of blood” and they put shall be cut off from among the people. “If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity.” Didn’t God kill a man in Genesis for not taking his brother’s wife? A man or woman who is a medium or necromancer shall be put to death (this is the 3rd time this has been forbidden, were they running rampage raising zombies all over the place?).
Chapter 21 deals with the rules for the priests, who are forbidden from approaching the dead unless they are close relatives as it will make them unclean. They are forbidden from shaving their head, trimming their beard or getting tattoos. They cannot marry a prostitute, a woman who has been defiled or a divorced woman (are you allowed to get divorced?). If a daughter of a priest whores herself or profanes her father, she shall be burnt to death. The chief priest cannot go near the dead, not even if it is his own parents. He cannot leave the sanctuary and his wife must be a virgin. No one who has a blemish may offer a sacrifice to God. No one who is blind or lame or mutilated or a dwarf or a hunchback or even an injury or a foot too long or someone with “crushed testicles”. If an animal is sacrificed, it too must be without blemish.
God spends a lot of time talking about how he is to be worshipped, including the next two chapters. He’s so vain he probably thinks this book is about him. There must be many festivals to praise God and tell him how great he is etc. If anyone works during these holy days, they must be killed. In chapter 24, a man got into a fight and cursed, so God demanded him to be brought before all the Israelites who must lay their hands on him, before they stone him to death. Whoever blasphemes the name of God, must be executed. This is the logic of ISIS and the Charlie Hebdo shooters and it’s not a nice thought that your religion (if you are Jewish or Christian) has the same fanaticism. This blog is probably blasphemous so I should be thankful that no takes the Bible that seriously.
Whoever takes another human life must die. Strangely, no context or conditions are given. But what about in war or self-defence or execution? Is killing someone always wrong? So far, an awful lot of people have been killed, both by God and his followers, was that wrong? Whoever takes an animal’s life must replace it (fair enough). Then we have the famous “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Nowadays, that’s seen as pretty primitive and vicious and we’ve more or less moved on to a kinder form of justice. But how could mere humans come up with a better justice system than God?
Chapter 25 marks a shift in focus away from killing people and more towards economics. Six years farmers may till their land, but the seventh must be a Sabbath and no work can be done. Now having everyone in the country stop growing food at the same time sounds like a recipe for famine, so to avoid this, God will make the sixth year so productive that the crop will last 3 years. Call me sceptical, but I wonder what happened if this bumper crop didn’t appear?
Every 50 years there is a Jubilee when all debts are forgiven and loans cancelled. From an economics point of view, this is interesting. How could a modern financial sector operate without repaying debts? Could it? Could a modern economy operate under these conditions? Another economic issue is that God owns all the land, so there is no private property, everyone simply rents their land. All property exchanged must be returned in the Jubilee year. Does this mean the land distribution was more or less permanently fixed? If a man becomes poor and sells his land, he can redeem it at the next Jubilee, which makes me wonder why anyone would buy land. There couldn’t really be a market for land or property under these conditions and the Bible itself says that the price will depend on the number of years until the next Jubilee. The only exception is a house in a walled city, which can be redeemed within a year, otherwise it is lost forever.
“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you.” (25:44)
You may buy slaves from the nations around you, but you cannot make fellow Israelites your slaves. Considering that we’ve just gone through several chapters of killing people for trivial reasons, why is slavery not condemned, but even permitted? How can the Bible claim to be a moral code when it has no problem with one of the most terrible institutions ever created? Why are harmless activities like worshipping another God or being gay punishable with death, yet there is no punishment for something as horrific and oppressive as slavery? What sort of moral code sees a woman’s period as an abomination, but has no problem with slavery?
God then makes the Israelites an offer they can’t refuse. If they worship him, he will increase the crops in the field, the fruit on trees and generally increase prosperity. He will give them peace in their country and remove the sword from the land (much of the later books deal with the many wars the Israelites fought and eventually lost). But like a tyrant who lavishes favours on his followers, he is extremely vengeful to those who cross him. If they disobey God and not follow his rules: he will inflict them with diseases. Their enemies will eat their crops, they will defeat the Israelites and rule them. The land will go barren and they will be punished sevenfold for your sins. God will release wild beasts against them. God himself will take a sword and smite them and starve their cities. They will be so hungry that they will eat their own children. God will destroy the cities and the land will be devastated. The Israelite nation will be wiped out and their bones will be left to rot.
I can see where the phrase “God-fearing” came from. It’s literally an entire chapter devoted to all the ways God will destroy you if you don’t do everything he says. This would put me in absolute terror of this destructive despot I would be forced to obey. Good thing he’s not real 🙂
The Book of Leviticus ends with God literally putting a price on a human live (guess that solves that old philosophical question). Of course, being the Bible, it’s another opportunity to remind women that they are second class citizens. A man between the age of 20 and 60 is worth sixty shekals, but a woman is only worth thirty shekals. The Bible literally says that a woman is only worth half a man. This is true across all ages, between the age of 5 and 20, men are worth twenty shekals and women only ten etc.
Thus ends the Book of Leviticus, the main lesson of which seems to be that everything is unclean, everything unclean is punishable by death and women don’t matter.