The Top Five Most Ridiculous Things in Leviticus

Continuing on our series of “Most Ridiculous” posts (see our previous posts on Genesis and Exodus) we come to the third book of the Old Testament, Leviticus. Leviticus continues the traditions of absurdity in this first few books—and then some. To be fair, Leviticus is absurd mostly because it is anachronistic; all of the specific rules and regulations and estimations are mostly relics of ancient societies, directed at a completely foreign, ancient culture, and speak in that culture’s terms. But that doesn’t make them any less absurd. Our benefits of modern science and reason have let us see the ridiculousness inherent in Leviticus’ many proscriptions.

And, wow, there are some ridiculous things in here: women and those with disabilities are treated unequally to men, God takes on anthropomorphic features, and the punishment systems are severe and strict.

  1. Women Are Worth Less (Lev. 27:1-4). This is one of those passages that really, really should make believers—especially women—question just how much of the Old Testament we can take seriously. According to Leviticus, a man’s worth—in “dedicating a person to the LORD”—is 50 shekels. A woman, however, is only worth 30. (NB: the ratio here is strangely reminiscent of the U.S. Constitution’s provision that a slave was only worth 3/5 of a white man. There must be like the “golden mean” of massive inequalities.) It is difficult to explain this away without logically also concluding that part of scripture was a historical artifact of its time that we should not take seriously. Unless, of course, you actually hold that men and women aren’t equal or shouldn’t be equal. Which would, obviously, be absurd.

  2. God Shuns Those With Disabilities (Lev. 21:16-23). This one should also be really, really, irking. God explicitly tells Moses that pretty much anyone with a disability is a second-class citizen and isn’t worthy enough to “come near to offer the food of his God.” God cuts out hunchbacks, dwarfs, the blind, any of those who are “disfigured or deformed,” or those with any “festering or running” sores. The angle here is purity before God. One can perhaps understand where the Israelites were coming from: assuming God controls everything, it logically follows that the people with these “defects” were made so by God. Thus, then, with their very specific offertory rules, the Israelites are inferring that God doesn’t want them dealing with his holy things. This, however, is patently ridiculous from the modern viewpoint. And even though many people who believe in an omniscient God still believe that God made the “defects” in people with disabilities (this being impossible to stomach for the bloggers on this site), hardly any of them would deny those people a seat in a pew, or a chance to pray.

  3. God Cares What Something Smells Like (Lev. 1-7). The beginning of Leviticus focuses closely on many different forms of animal sacrifice, which apparently are a strong concern of God’s. Much of this involves exactly what kind of odors will be produced. For obvious reasons, this seems anachronistic to modern readers: even ardent worshipers don’t consecrate any creatures for offering to Yahweh. And while to the ancient Israelites a particular production of odor might have been important—understandably so—our modern conception of God usually determines that how we smell (or how something smells) is pretty far from God’s concern. This is another historical relic, when ancient peoples anthropomorphized God even more than we do now.

  4. The Broad and Frequent Use of the Death Penalty. (Lev. 20-27). While some of you readers out there may disagree, on the whole Western Civilization has mostly eliminated use of the death penalty entirely, while the United States reserves it for premeditated murder (yes, I know there are a very few other federal level crimes, but nearly always for premeditated murder). Leviticus, however, sets forth the idea that it should be used for incest, bestiality, homosexuality, prostitution, and blasphemy, among other things. This might have made sense in ancient, theocratic Israel (a fact we have explored on this blog), but it hardly makes sense anymore.

  5. Tattoos Are Prohibited (Lev. 19:28). Maybe you have seen it: some dude with a Bible verse tattooed on his arm. I’m going to guess, though, that it wasn’t the 28th verse of Leviticus’ 19th chapter, which prohibits tattoos. Of course, it’s especially ironic if that individual quotes another verse of Leviticus. Tattoos are prohibited in the Torah based on this passage, and continue to be a no-no among Jews. Christians not so much, though (except Mormons). This type of thing is only “ridiculous,” again, from the modern viewpoint/culture. While neither of your trusty bloggers at Holey Books are tattooed, it doesn’t strike us (personally) as something that should be entirely prohibited. Perhaps the most “ridiculous” part of this verse, though, is its justification: “I am the LORD.” This is the equivalent of your dad telling you that you have to do something because he’s your father. “Come on,” you’d probably respond. “Why not?”

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