Marriage in Leviticus

Note: This is the third post in an ongoing series where we look at what the Bible actually says about marriage. The first two posts can be found here and here.

Marriage is not explicitly mentioned in Leviticus (it’s possible I missed it, Leviticus is a bore-fest), but there are plenty of relevant laws regarding sex, reproduction, and women. If we go by sheer volume of commandments on these topics, a fair amount of what we find in Leviticus seems pretty reasonable. There are many rules, however, that put women at a distinct disadvantage. Considering the consequences that are set out in Lev. 26 (specifically Lev. 26:14-39) and the historical mistreatment of women, these passages deserve scrutiny.

With regards to sex, Leviticus 18 seems to have survived fairly well. There’s a string of verses (Lev. 18:6-18) that, for the most part, describe who you shouldn’t have sexy times with. The majority of those commandments have to do with screwing family members, and are fairly obvious (unless you’re named Abraham or Jacob): don’t screw your mom, don’t screw your sister or your half-sister, don’t screw your wife’s sister (and take her as a rival wife) while your wife is still alive, etc. For reasons of biology and social harmony I can get behind these, no problem.

The next run of commandments in the same section (Lev. 18:19-22) either go too far and/or haven’t kept up with the times. We know today that safe sex during menstruation between consenting adults is no big deal (Lev. 18:19). Likewise, some communities are built around the idea of doing each other’s wives (Lev. 18:20). Verse 21 refers to sacrificing children to Molek. Generally speaking, child-sacrifice is just crummy behavior, regardless if it’s done Molek-style or otherwise.

The final objectionable verse of this group deals with homosexual sex:

22 “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. (Lev. 18:22)

There’s a lot that can be said here, but I’ll keep it simple. Social progress is quickly making this verse as relevant as Lev. 19:28. And, just because I can’t help myself: how exactly does one have sex with a man as one would with a woman? I think God needs to double-check his blueprints.

Also, and this is a bit of a non sequitur, God seems to be confused about the best time to bathe when it comes to sex. Yes, a post-coital shower can be refreshing, but it shouldn’t be an act of shame, which is suggested by Lev. 15:16-18. If anything, as a courtesy to your partner, maybe God should strongly suggest that the people of the second century B.C., who spend a good deal of time outside performing manual labor, bathe before getting down and dirty.

And just so no one hammers me on this in the comments: sex, at an absolute minimum, must be consensual. Animals, so far as I can tell, cannot consent. I never thought I’d have to comment on bestiality (Lev. 18:23), but, well, there you go.

Moving on.

Women have some unique problems when it comes to Leviticus. In addition to the previously mentioned rule against sex during a woman’s period, there’s an entire section dedicated to the uncleanliness of menstruation (Lev. 15:19-30). Basically it says that a menstruating woman, and anything she sits on, becomes unclean. Now, I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what it’s like being a woman, but I can guess that it’s not easy. Essentially God, who, remember, supposedly created the first woman, stigmatizes you as unclean because of a regular, natural process that you have no control over. Even if we didn’t know the history of the Bible, it’s pretty clear that this passage is man-made.

If the misogyny isn’t clear enough yet, consider the measurable value God gives to men and women. In childbirth, a woman is unclean twice as long if she has a daughter than if she had a son (Lev. 12:1-5). Also, apparently the equivalent value (according to God) for a man is 50 shekels, while a woman is only worth 30 (Lev. 27:1-4). Really.

Leviticus 26 is filled with the consequences that Israel would face if it didn’t stick to these commandments. The punishment is severe. No doubt there were some powerful social forces at work to keep people in line. With that in mind, it’s little surprise that women from the Abrahamic traditions have been, historically, regarded as second to men.

In the public sphere, Leviticus is often cited when it’s convenient (in particular, when it comes to gay rights, especially by the American religious right) but disregarded when it’s not (humorously in this picture, again with regards to Lev. 19:28). The misogyny of Leviticus is sickening and requires some serious mental gymnastics to justify, especially in the 21st century. And if you’ve been following along, I’m sure you recognize that this isn’t unique to Leviticus. If we assume this book is part of the perfect word of God, I think it’s time to reconsider the claims that ethics, morality, and human worth come from the divine.

This entry was posted in Blog Post and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.