The Leviticus Challenge

What comes to mind when you think of the Book of Leviticus?

Christianity Today asks that very question:

… Leviticus often becomes that graveyard where read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plans go to die. Skeptics know it as ammunition for homosexual haters or as a target for animal-rights activists. Many Jews regard it as awkward and outmoded. To slog through it can be unbelievably tedious. Which is why most of us [Christians] don’t.

But what would it look like to take Leviticus as seriously as we take the rest of the Bible? For believers in Yahweh, this is no rhetorical question. Inasmuch as we consider the Bible to be God’s Word for God’s people, we don’t have the luxury to pick and choose which parts to heed.

Pastor Daniel Harrell of Boston’s Park Street Church decided to follow the book (since it’s so often ignored in church) and have others do it with him:

After much cajoling and some well-placed pastoral guilt, I recruited 21 people from our congregation to become Levitical guinea pigs for a month… Our attempt at living Levitically would be done as New Testament Christians in 21st-century America.

It started out relatively easy:

Some people in the group ate kosher and wore linen trousers (in January no less). Just about everyone did a version of Sabbath keeping. Several men didn’t shave. Another went as far as to build a tabernacle in her 600-square-foot apartment as a reminder of God’s presence. One woman remarked how getting dressed each morning suddenly became a very slow and intentional process. “Fast girls aren’t holy,” she discovered.

So when do we get to the animal sacrifices? The part about avoiding women who menstruate? All the parts about the evils of homosexuality?

They don’t really talk about those… even when they say they’re following the Book of Leviticus, they simply ignore the crazier parts. Which seems to defeat the purpose of everything.

Even A.J. Jacobs in his book The Year of Living Biblically stoned an adulterer.

Oh well.

If you’d like to read more thoughts on the month-long pseudo-experiment, there is a Facebook group all about it.

  • SarahH

    I can see a reasonable excuse for leaving out the animal sacrifices (the death of Jesus is almost universally seen as eliminating the need for any further sacrifices, and so this event renders passages instructing animal sacrifices moot). I can see a reasonable excuse for not stoning people (legal ramifications would immediately put the project to an end).

    I see no excuse for ignoring the myriad of restrictions and instructions regarding menstruation. Also: it’s a shame they aren’t taking Paul’s supposedly-God-inspired instructions for churches seriously as well and forcing women to cover or shave their heads for church, stay silent, etc. This sort of obedience to both the OT and NT regarding women would quickly raise awareness of exactly how horrible the Biblical perspective on women really is.

  • Adrian

    I think Leviticus should clinch the argument that even Christians don’t get their morals from the Bible as they don’t just passively accept everything in it but rather use their existing sense of morality to decide what is good and what isn’t. It should also demonstrate that either God had nothing to do with the Bible and that even so-called literalists still pick the nice stories and reject the bits which inconvenience them.

  • TXatheist

    I would care to guess 90% of xians are unaware that people who work on the sabbath or cursing children are to be killed. The other 10% would say jesus relieved them of the Hebrew laws and they are under a new covenant. Then when you ask if the 10C are part of the old covenant they’ll look at you straight-faced and say no.

  • Ron in Houston

    Adrian said it well. Leviticus is one of the easiest chapters of the Bible to beat fundamentalist with.

  • rowsdower

    we consider the Bible to be God’s Word for God’s people

    This is one thing I have never understood. Aren’t all people created by god? Wouldn’t everyone then be god’s people?

    Hopefully so many people will inquire on their Facebook page that they will have to address why the didn’t follow the crazier restrictions.

  • Richard Wade

    Hypocrisy marches on!

    Inasmuch as we consider the Bible to be God’s Word for God’s people, we don’t have the luxury to pick and choose which parts to heed.

    Yet the participants in this “experiment” did just that. They continued to pick and choose parts that are convenient and disregard parts that are inconvenient. I have never, ever met a Christian who follows the Bible literally, despite their claims. “Well no Christian is perfect” is usually their excuse. It isn’t lack of perfection, it’s active, deliberate hypocrisy. When they say they follow the word of God literally, they’re not mistaken, they’re lying.

    This is the basic formula so-called literalists use to “follow” the Bible:

    If it makes other people miserable they’ll go ahead and follow it, but if it makes themselves miserable, they’ll conveniently ignore it.

  • Polly

    Leviticus often becomes that graveyard where read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plans go to die.

    Weird, I rather enjoyed all the rules and regulations. I RE-read Leviticus and would often refer back to it randomly and just start reading.
    (I’m Tax Director for a large company)

    I even toyed with the idea of trying to live according to the more accessible ones – kosher food, no blended fabrics, keeping the Sabbath, etc.

    I never even considered keeping all the laws as that is clearly impossible without an entire community built around those same rules to support the infrastructure needed. After all, how am I supposed to ordain priests descended from Aaron all by myself?
    And, I’m not even sure I know what a “ram” is; is it a goat or a lamb? What’s an “offal”? – These are rhetorical Q’s.

  • cipher

    Bear in mind that the Levitical proscriptions are directed at Jews. They were never meant for Gentiles to follow. As much as I’m in favor of putting Christians on the spot, asking them “So why do you eat milk and meat?” doesn’t really speak to the underlying problem – that the Bible is a set of Bronze Age myths,and that God is a genocidal fanatic with anger management issues.

    Of course, they can always come back with “But the Church is the “New Israel’ ” – but that really proves your point in that it implies an obligation on their part.

    But you’re all correct, of course- the cognitive dissonance is staggering.

  • Ron in Houston

    cipher

    Toying with people’s cognitive dissonance can be fun in a twisted sort of way.

    Actually, the whole freedom from the law/under the law dilemma is a perfect ground to show how much people pick and choose their theology.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Polly:

    And, I’m not even sure I know what a “ram” is; is it a goat or a lamb? What’s an “offal”?

    Well, offal is animal guts – all the parts that are left over after butchering that you really wouldn’t want to eat. The parts you make Scrapple with. Or Haggis.

    (And a Ram is definitely a male sheep. If you need one to sacrifice, just ask your local Halal butcher. Muslims sacrifice sheep and goats every year at their Eid celebrations, so they could probably supply you with one.)

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    Wait a minute…

    Our attempt at living Levitically would be done as New Testament Christians in 21st-century America.

    They’re more honest then you’re giving them credit for. By virtue of being NT Christians in 21st century America there are some things in Leviticus they simply can’t do. Stoning and sacrifice are among those things. the above quote makes the fact that their experiment has limits very clear and some of the questioning of their experiment invalid.

  • Larry Huffman

    Yeah…any people who can actually live leviticus would not be so cheery about their faith afterwards, I am thinking.

    The whole tabernacle in the living room is just an example of how stupid this was approached. Leviticus would not instruct a common person to build a tabernacle…there was one…and it was maintained by the Levites…in fact, non-levites were not even allowed into certain portions…so if she made it and then entered it, she might have to steon herself to death as punishment…all in the name of following leviticus.

    You see…rather than approach it with the right mindset…these people still are missing the bad parts…and making symbolic gestures of setting up tabernacles. I assure you…she did not find a verse that told her to do that. Unless she is a levite named Aaron…as the task was his.

    They spend their time doing what they think would be good revolving arund it…rather than actually reading what is says. If she did…she would realize she was NOT to make a tabernacle…that doing so…especially a woman…would be blasphemus to the god of the OT…and she would see that she should lock herself away when she mentruates.

    The truth is…for a believer, Leviticus is just too much to try to wrestle with for most. The implications make their god look very bad, and the basis of their belief cruel and man made. No wonder after they did…they erected a tabernacle as their form of following, proving they still do not get it.

  • Ed Hopkins

    TXatheist raised a good point there, why do so many christians raise the isue of Old Testament and New Testament covenants with god as justification as to why they no longer follow some of the more (from a modern day point of view) inconvenient or just down right abhorent instructions in the bible.

    I can understand the christian argument that Jesus’ coming changed the rules, but this surely just raises a much larger issue, one that if christians addressed in a proper logical fashion would surely cast huge doubts on their faith: If Father, Son and Holy Ghost are all one and Jesus’ coming changed the rules, then it meant that God changed his mind. Why would he change his mind unless this supposedly perfect being realised he got it wrong!!

  • llewelly

    rowsdower:

    we consider the Bible to be God’s Word for God’s people

    This is one thing I have never understood. Aren’t all people created by god? Wouldn’t everyone then be god’s people?


    The Old Testament is entirely unambiguous on this topic: the Jews are God’s chosen people, and everyone else is scum.
    The New Testament is also unambiguous on this topic: Christians are God’s chosen people, and everyone else is scum.
    God, you see, created an awful lot of people whose function was to be despised.
    (By the way – this sort of xenophobia is by no means unique to Jews and Christians … prior to the last few centuries, it was nearly universal. Still very common.)
    The idea that all people are potentially God’s people is really a post-enlightenment idea.

    Leviticus certainly didn’t stop my plans to read the KJV cover to cover. I was quite young when I read it, and at that age, I didn’t discriminate in that fashion. If I set my mind to reading something, I’d usually read the whole damn thing, no matter how boring or how awful it was. But as I grew older I found it harder and harder to read material I found boring, useless, or poorly written.

  • Polly

    This is all beside the point. NOBODY ever lived like this! The OT itself admits as much. The priests ruling until King Josiah came of age, had “found” the law, hint hint: That’s because his court just invented all this bullshit at that late date. It was a major power grab by the priests.

    II Kings 23:
    22 Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the LORD in Jerusalem.

    This was the most important feast. It celebrated their escape from bondage in Egypt. If this wasn’t followed, nothing else was.

    The Old Testament is entirely unambiguous on this topic: the Jews are God’s chosen people, and everyone else is scum.

    Still believed today by Jewish Israelis and American xians who view the non-Jewish inhabitants of the “Holy Land” as nothing but an infestation in need of extermination.

    @ubi dubium,
    Thanks for the ‘splanation.

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  • stephanie

    I’ve always adored Leviticus for proving that fundie insanity is not a new crisis. There’s just so much fodder there since it’s the original Chick tract.
    Plus, I love starting up literal interpretation debates with Christian friends over seafood dinners…

  • http://www.religiouscomics.net Jeff

    stephanie said
    …Plus, I love starting up literal interpretation debates with Christian friends over seafood dinners…

    see godhatesshrimp.com

  • cipher

    I’ve always adored Leviticus for proving that fundie insanity is not a new crisis. There’s just so much fodder there since it’s the original Chick tract.

    As fucked up as the Old Testament is, I’d say you don’t really get into Jack Chick territory until the New Testament. In the OT, if you did something God didn’t like, he’d kill you. If you really screwed up, he’d leave you alive but kill your family. In the NT, if he decides he doesn’t like you (for committing a heinous crime like not using the correct name when you kiss his ass worship him), he bides his time until you die, then he goes postal worker on you.

    Lazarus and the rich man, the book of Revelation – that’s Jack Chick.

    Plus, I love starting up literal interpretation debates with Christian friends over seafood dinners…

    Again – bear in mind that these rules were meant only for Jews.

  • Adrian

    cipher,

    Again – bear in mind that these rules were meant only for Jews.

    They were meant for people that God cares about. These were only the Jews, but now that also includes Christians.

  • cipher

    The dietary laws and laws pertaining to ritual purity were meant specifically for Jews. Gentiles were (and are) not expected to observe them.

    Now, as I mentioned earlier, if a Christian wants to argue that the church is the “New Israel” – that’s another matter, but it’s moot anyway, because they believe that Jesus abrogated the Levitical laws. In any case, that’s bringing the NT into it. The author of Leviticus was addressing Jews solely.

  • Adrian

    Gentiles weren’t expected to observe them because they’re unloved and unwanted and observing dietary rules won’t help. It’s the same reason why all religious rules only apply to believers.

    The author of Leviticus wasn’t addressing Christians because, shocker, there weren’t any Christians. And since Christians think the OT is a part of their bible describing their God, then yes, the rules given out by their God apply to them.

    AFAIK, Jesus didn’t abrogate Levitical Laws, Paul did. If Christians want to go on about how rules don’t apply to them, they should once and for ever more shut up about the Ten Commandments. Since they clearly do not cut these ties to the OT, we’re back to the original problem: Leviticus is in, or everything is out. God isn’t dealing out cafeteria rules.

  • cipher

    Gentiles weren’t expected to observe them because they’re unloved and unwanted and observing dietary rules won’t help.

    I’m not defending the OT, but that wasn’t the reason. I don’t know what you mean by “help” – the ancient Israelites weren’t thinking in salvific terms in the way that Christians use the term.

    AFAIK, Jesus didn’t abrogate Levitical Laws, Paul did. If Christians want to go on about how rules don’t apply to them, they should once and for ever more shut up about the Ten Commandments.

    What I meant is that Christians believe that Jesus’ coming abrogated those laws. But I agree about their ambiguous attitude toward the OT.

  • stephanie

    OK if this debate is going to continue, someone needs to order up some scampi for me… :)

  • http://www.BlueNine.info/index.php EKM

    On July 28, 2008 at 3:23 pm Ed Hopkins said,

    I can understand the christian argument that Jesus’ coming changed the rules, but this surely just raises a much larger issue, one that if christians addressed in a proper logical fashion would surely cast huge doubts on their faith: If Father, Son and Holy Ghost are all one and Jesus’ coming changed the rules, then it meant that God changed his mind. Why would he change his mind unless this supposedly perfect being realised he got it wrong!!

    The explanation that I was given was that God wanted to have a relationship with humans, but he cannot stand sin. Hates it. (Let’s leave aside the question as to why an infinite, perfect being would want, need or hate anything at all.) So he created the world, and gave Israelites the Law. But people kept sinning, so the J Man had to come and be crucified as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world.

    But I think this raises a few questions. God wants to have a relationship with people, and he hates sin. Yet he designed people in such a manner that knowing God is difficult, yet sinning is easy. (Plus a lot of people who claim to know God disagree with each other.Shouldn’t an infinite, perfect being be able to explain himself to us in a way we understand unambiguously?)

    So God made people such that it is hard for humans to do the thing that God wants, and easy to do the thing that God does not want. Is that intelligent design?


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