Never Have I Ever, Leviticus edition

Tad’s Happy Funtime scores himself against the list of “76 Things Banned in Leviticus.”

Seeing them all listed out like that does seem to invite a marathon game of “I Never.” (Or, depending on regional variations in college drinking games, “Never Have I Ever.”)

But seeing them all listed out like that also invites a more meaningful exercise: Evaluating the consistency of one’s biblical hermeneutic.

That’s fancy seminary talk for an interpretive framework, or more generally for how you read the Bible.

Look at that list of “76 Things Banned in Leviticus.” Pretty much everyone can skim through that list and note several items that they agree ought to be forbidden. And pretty much everyone can skim through that list and note several items that it just seems weird to treat as morally significant in any way.

I personally reject many of these prohibitions while affirming many of the others. No. 39, for example, from Leviticus 18:22, forbids a man from having sex with another man as though “with a woman.” I don’t think that’s binding or meaningful today.

My disregard for that verse and that prohibition leads some of my fellow American evangelicals to accuse me of being “liberal” or insufficiently respectful of the authoritah of scripture.

But none of those folks has any problem with No. 42, maximizing profits (or “Reaping to the very edges of a field”), or with No. 48, “Holding back the wages of an employee overnight.” Most of them don’t believe in No. 66 — forbidding them to treat foreigners differently than they treat the native-born. And they utterly, vehemently reject No. 75, “Selling land permanently.”

Yet somehow their disregard for all of those biblical commands never results in them being accused of “liberal” tendencies or a suspicious failure to respect the scriptures.

They’re picking and choosing.

And so am I, of course. The difference is I can explain why.

Here is the basis on which I do my picking and choosing:

He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

That tells me that No. 47, “Defrauding your neighbor,” still applies. And No. 67, “Using dishonest weights and scales” still applies. Those are both expressions of love for, and justice toward, your neighbor. But No. 61, “Trimming your beard,” does not still apply. In another time, place and culture, leaving one’s beard untrimmed may have been an expression of love for God. But not here, now, in this culture.

So far, everyone I’ve heard trying to defend No. 39 as a form of love for neighbor has resorted to making that case by violating No. 45 (lying), No. 53 (bearing a grudge), No. 67 (dishonest weights and scales), and especially No. 51 (spreading slander).

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  • Viliphied

    One of my old college profs had an interesting take on “as with a woman”. He said that in those times, women were treated as less than men, so the verse, instead of prohibiting sex with men, was rather sayin that you should treat your male sex partners as equals.

  • Mau de Katt

    Offhand, I don’t remember if the OT forbids charging interest at all, charging interest to a fellow Israelite (translated to “fellow RTC” in today’s “literal interpretation” churches), or just forbids usury.  But as you’ve pointed out before,  much if not most of our modern capitalistic society is based upon those very things.  Including usury, thanks to the modern Republicans.

  • Practically everyone but the Mormons violates #14;
    #41 appears to specifically ban Rob Halford.
    #50 has been violated by every human society ever, all the time.

    Does anyone know what #11 (bringing unauthorized fire)  is on about? I’d imagine bringing unauthorized *ANYTHING* into a temple would be against the law; that’s kind of what “unauthorized” means. 

  • heckblazer

    Originally “usury” meant charging interest, full stop.  The Catholic Church relented once it became clear they were encouraging extremely creative work-arounds and outright loansharking.  That the pope and bishops were frequent customers of bankers offering “it’s totally not an interest bearing savings account” probably helped that decision along.

  • Given that construction methods back then may have involved a lot of wood, I can see why banning fire from being where it shouldn’t was a pretty good idea.

    Also, you can wreck a farm easily if you burn the crops.

  • LoneWolf343

    Eating fat? Wow. Americans are regular heathens, aren’t they?

  • Kelex

    I’ve heard something along similar lines.  That the word translated in that verse as “to lie with” is actually closer to “rape” than just plain “sex.”  So it’s okay to force a woman, because…y’know, she’s just a woman.  of course, I haven’t verified that myself, so take it with a grain of salt.  But not the same salt you  include with your offerings to god.  That’s special salt.

  • heckblazer

    Interesting how Jacob violated  #35,  Marrying your wife’s sister while your wife still lives.  Though the subsequent rivalry between Rachel and Leah is a good demonstration of with it’s a bad idea.
    The laws in Leviticus basically come in two flavors, those about justice and those about ritual purity.  Fred pretty much accepts the ones about justice while feeling free to ignore the ones about ritual purity.  And that is perfectly justifiable as Jesus preached all about elevating love and justice above ritual purity, e.g. in the parable of the Good Samaritam where the two passerby ignore the mugging victim because if he was dead touching his corpse would have made them ritually unclean.

  • I’ve never even wanted to eat a kite. Why would anyone? All you’d be doing is gnawing on pieces of fabric and string or choking on splinters from the wooden frame. As Old Testament sins go, that one’s hardly a temptation for anyone without pica.

  • Nirrti

    Sooo….  Anyone who doesn’t read the EULA and just clicks on “Agree” is violating Leviticus 5:4.

    I’m so going to hell…

  • Nirrti

    And didn’t Abraham, the doggone patriarch of Judaism violate Lev. 18:11?

  • I’ve never even wanted to eat a kite.

    I got curious about the word as given in Leviticus. Apparently there is a bird species colloquially called kites. At least one branch are called buzzards, and IIRC buzzards tend to be those who feast on dead animals. So eating an animal that eats dead animals could have been major like ewww for obvious reasons (probably the same reason pigs are considered ritually unclean; disease transmission seems to be easier when eating some animal meat versus other animal meat in an era where you couldn’t guarantee meat would be completely cooked).

  • Well, insects don’t have four legs. I guess you’re not supposed to eat an insect that has lost two of its legs. Unless the legs are jointed. Which all insects’ legs are. So… eat as many insects as you want!

  • Wade

    Not mentioned is the scholarship that the book we currently call Leviticus doesn’t actually date back to the early days of Israel, but is rather more recent. In fact, there are strong arguments that significant portions of the Torah has been edited by various peoples. People with agendas, no less.

    Of course, some of the underlying lore does indeed go back that far! But do we know how much of the prohibitions do and which have been added by later editors?

  • AnonymousSam

    Don’t trim your beard or sideburns?

  • Woomod

    God has a thing for beards alright.

  • Abigail Nussbaum

    Holding back your employees’ wages overnight is a pretty big deal when your employees are day-laborers, as they commonly would be on a farm in Biblical times (and even nowadays, for all I know).  More broadly interpreted, this is a prohibition against delaying payday, still a pretty big deal – to the extent that it’s usually considered a crime.  In Israel, the legal name for it is still holding wages overnight, even though most people are paid monthly.

  • Kelex

    That IS a tricky one.  On the one hand, we’re told to “be not quick to anger,” (or words to that effect) so one COULD think that the sorrow-based salt would be preferable to the lord.  But on the OTHER hand, tears of sorrow are by far the more common, and we are to give our first fruits.  I believe the salt from tears of anger would be the proverbial “fatted calf” of biologically produced saline emissions.  But of course, that’s just MY interpretation of scripture, no more valid than any others.

  • Jenny Islander

    Another take on the “as with a woman” is, “If you’re really into sex with women, go have sex with women; don’t make men into pretend-women so that you can get around the whole ‘women can get pregnant, some women you just plain can’t have sex with, women can’t have sex at certain times’ part.”  IOW, “don’t be jail-gay.”  This would pretty much leave pronouncements on what we call homosexuality entirely out of Leviticus, as if it were not injurious to either social justice or ritual purity (gee whodathunk).  But in that case–did two bachelors set up house together in those days, with nobody getting a say in whether the cheek-kissing and handholding (IIRC) permitted in public went further in private?

  • B

    bird nerd mode = on

     There are quite a few bird species called “kites” including the insanely beautiful Swallow-Tailed Kite, native to North America.

    Usually “buzzard” refers to Buteos (in Europe) or vultures (in North America).  Kites are neither Buteos (large broad-winged hawks like the Red-Tailed Hawk) or vultures.  Some of them are apparently called “buzzards” though.

    Pretty all raptors will eat dead things given the chance, though. 

    bird nerd mode = off

  • B

    Or it just means that God doesn’t want men to have sex with men and women shouldn’t have sex with women, because that was the cultural belief of the people who wrote it. :shrug:

    The fact that it ended up included in a book of sacred writings doesn’t mean we’re obliged to follow all the cultural beliefs of people who lived over 2,000 years ago. 

    For one thing, IIRC they had very strong negative feelings about mildew, fungi I consider annoying but not really something I think has a religious dimension.(The Bible was the only book my Mom would let me read in Church growing up, and for some reason I was really fascinated by Leviticus.)

  • Benly

    So, hey, the jointed-legs thing is a case of people who aren’t invested in the rule not paying attention to it.  What it means is that it’s kosher to eat the kind of insects that have a huge visible knee for leaping like grasshoppers and crickets. There are rabbinic discussions of why these are kosher and (for example) ants aren’t, but it’s not a random incoherent babble, it’s just that when you tell people “this part of the law no longer applies to you” it turns out they get pretty lazy about their translations. If you read the actual text (at least in Jewish translations) that bit of text is more straightforward: it’s not “animals with four legs”, it’s “animals that go on all fours”, that is, animals that crawl, and the bit with the joint explicitly goes on to say “such as locusts and their ilk, and grasshoppers and their ilk”.

    Personally I’m not a fan of the “But look at all the other silly rules! What kind of silly person would pay attention to such rules?” school of argument, but what do I know? I’m just a Jew.

  • Lot and his daughters stepped all over 25-34, no?

  • What would seem to be most in-character for Old Testament Yahweh to prefer would be salt from the tears of sorrow spilled by the enemies of the LORD. 

  • Or you could just hit up ol’ Lot. He’s got plenty. 

  • Possibly the distinction is that they didn’t want people to think of insects in general as food because its kind of gross (which seems to be the reasoning behind half of these), but locusts are pretty much what you’ve got after a swarm of them wipes out your crops.

    Locusts can be cooked in bread and its said to be quite tasty.

  • christopher_young

    Interesting how Jacob violated  #35,  Marrying your wife’s sister while your wife still lives.

    Jacob was in the clear. He lived umpteen generations before Moses, so God hadn’t thought that one up yet in his day. Jacob would have been bound by the Seven Laws of Noah; arguably, so are Americans.

  • Tonio

    I had assumed that the phrase embodied the sexist idea that intercourse is inherently about man as dominant and woman as submissive, and that the Torah’s authors were really objecting to men being in a submissive position.

  • Tonio


    #41 appears to specifically ban Rob Halford.

    Heh. Modern scholars interpret the phrase as applying only to his solo work and not his albums with Judas Priest.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You could probably fold 25 – 34 into something like, “don’t bang your relatives. yes, even that one.”


  • Tonio

    The laws in Leviticus basically come in two flavors, those about justice and those about ritual purity.

    That could almost explain the fundamentalist obsession with homosexuality and Catholic teachings on sexuality in general. The former in particular seem to have never even read the New Testament. Of course, from my outsider’s perspective, I see no point in even having codes that are based in anything other than justice or in one’s interactions with others.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Ahem…bishops: Number 6? For that matter, 72.

    70 would be pretty hard for funerals.

  • Benly

     There’s a couple of reasons beyond “it’s gross”, actually. A big one is the issue of diet – what an animal eats is actually one of the primary determinants of whether it’s kosher or not. Predators other than fish and some poultry birds are all treyf to eat, and carrion-eaters are super unclean. A lot of insects will eat any damn thing, but locusts and grasshoppers eat almost exclusively plants. They are also really, really conspicuous about it, so that even ancient people knew it.

    Another I heard suggested by my rabbi years ago but don’t know the historicity of is that since grasshoppers move around primarily by hopping rather than crawling, they’re not seen as crawling around in feces the way “creeping” bugs will tend to do.

    Regardless, locusts and the like were a moderately common food of the time and place, so I don’t think “grossness” is a huge part of it.

  • Ross Thompson

    70.   Entering a place where there’s a dead body as a priest

    Well, that makes sense. If they’ve put a dead body in a position of authority like that, staying the hell away is a really good idea.

  • bmk

    I think Funny or Die condensed this into its purest form in “Marc Shaiman’s ‘Prop 8: The Musical'” (

    To this day, every time I come across an example of this, I mentally start singing and clapping, “We pick and choose!”

  • About the, “as with a woman,” thing.  I know absolutely nothing about ancient Hebrew thoughts on sexuality, but I wonder if it’s specifically about penetration.

    In ancient Greece and Rome a man being in a sexual relationship with another man was no big deal, in certain contexts it was completely expected, but a male citizen (as opposed to a slave) being penetrated was scandalous and wrong and reflected poorly on the one being penetrated and so on.  Fun sexy-times between male citizens were supposed to involve non-penetrative sex.

    Definitely not exactly the same thing since the biblical prohibition would include male slaves, but I wonder if it could come from the same kind of focus on penetration.

  • Ross Thompson

    Lot and his daughters stepped all over 25-34, no?

    It says nothing about father/daughter sex, so…. no. I’m pretty sure he’s guilty of breaking #63, though.

  • Robyrt

    I read things like #42 and #48 as prohibiting exploiting your workers and the poor who are gleaning from the edges of your fields, and also in the same vein of sustainability as #58 (eating fruit from a young tree) or #71 (slaughtering a cow and its young on the same day). Although Christians aren’t required to follow any of these commands, they sound pretty solid overall in an easily digestible list like that.
    The trouble I have with the “Love your neighbor as yourself” interpretive lens here is that it doesn’t provide any way of distinguishing between #39 and #33 and #40, which is exactly the point at issue most of the time people are talking about Leviticus.

  • Kirala

    It says nothing about father/daughter sex, so…. no.

    I figured that was covered under #34 – a man’s daughter would, by definition, be the daughter of a woman with whom the man had had sex.

    However, while I notice that one is prohibited from sex with one’s aunt (biological or no), there is no prohibition from sex with one’s niece. Why…?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart


  • LouisDoench

    OK,  I know we’re all having a good laugh at the silly Leviticus and all that but just skimming through I found…

    38.   Giving your children to be sacrificed to Molek (18:21)

    WTF? That kind of sticks out like a sore thumb don’t it? Why so specific? Is it ok to sacrifice my children to anyone besides Molek?

    Just don’t sac your kids to anybody, ok?

  • Ross Thompson


    I figured that was covered under #34 – a man’s daughter would, by
    definition, be the daughter of a woman with whom the man had had sex.

    Hrm. I was thinking of that forbidding being in a relationship with them both at the same time, and Mrs Lot was  pillar of salt at the time. But I’ll cheerfully concede the point.

  • Tonio


    However, while I notice that one is prohibited from sex with one’s aunt
    (biological or no), there is no prohibition from sex with one’s niece.

    Perhaps they interpreted the former as undermining male authority over women.

  • Lori


    Practically everyone but the Mormons violates #14;  

    Actually, there are quite a few tea teetotaler branches of Christianity who don’t, but your basic point is correct. Many people who get all righteously indignant about anyone (supposedly) breaking #39 themselves break #14 on a regular basis.

  • God might have wanted to keep the Abraham option open.

  • Lori


    Incidentally, I kinda want a hoopoe. I’ve never even seen one but the name makes it sound adorable. 

    I wouldn’t call them adorable, but they are pretty cool looking. I like a bird with a ‘do.

  • Abigail Nussbaum

    Quite a few of the Biblical laws are very specific to their era and place, and intended to counter the phenomenon of religious “drift” – a tendency to adopt the religious customs of neighboring tribes.  This was a time, after all, when religious affiliation wasn’t as codified as it is today – you weren’t a Jew or a Christian so much as you followed certain customs, and might combine them with the customs of your neighbors.  At several points, the Bible makes very specific and, to us, strange prohibitions that are a reflection of those neighboring customs.  Immediately following the ten commandments, for example, there’s a prohibition on worshiping naked, which is a response to a local custom.

  • WTF? That kind of sticks out like a sore thumb don’t it? Why so
    specific? Is it ok to sacrifice my children to anyone besides Molek?

    Molek (or Moloch) figured largely in Jewish cultural tradition at one point and IIRC Jewish leaders were rather horrified at the very different and seemingly rather barbaric traditions around Moloch.

    The wikipedia entry reveals that the Canaanites, in addition to orther peoples, performed that kind of child-sacrifice. This might explain why the Torah effectively legalized permanent discrimination against Canaanites later on. (ISTR certain religious prohibitions against associating with Canaanites, for example)

  • TheFaithfulStone

    Eating – or touching the carcass of – any seafood without fins or scales

    Wait, does that mean God has banned catfish?  Because I won’t worship a God who bans catfish.