Leviticus and Homosexuality – Part 8: False Historical Claims

Leviticus and Homosexuality – Part 8: False Historical Claims September 13, 2020

WHERE WE ARE

In this present post I will support my fourth reason for doubting the view that we should condemn homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus:

4. Leviticus is NOT an historically reliable account of actual events.

God, if God exists, is all-knowing and perfectly good, so any book inspired by God would not contain false historical information, and clearly no book inspired by God would provide historical accounts of alleged events that never happened or highly unreliable accounts of historical events.

 

FOUR GENERAL OBJECTIONS TO THE RELIABILITY OF LEVITICUS

In this current post, I will present four general objections against the historical reliability of the book of Leviticus.  In the next post, I will present several more specific problems with historical claims made by Leviticus.

1. Moses is probably a legendary figure; there probably was no historical Moses (see Part 7 of this series). So, the 80 verses that refer to Moses in Leviticus are probably all fictional, not historical, and thus present false historical information.

But God, if God exists, is all-knowing and is perfectly good, so God would know that there was no historical Moses, and thus God would not communicate false historical information about a fictional character as if that character were an actual historical person. Thus, if Moses is fictional, then the book of Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.

2. There are 32 verses in Leviticus that contain the phrase “the LORD spoke to Moses” (in the New Revised Standard Version) and 3 verses that contain the phrase “the LORD said to Moses”.  Because many of these messages are false, evil, or morally wrong, they clearly did NOT come from God.

“LORD” is how the translators of the NRSV translate the name of God (i.e. Jehovah or Yahweh).  According to Exodus, Jehovah is the creator of the world:

…for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Jehovah blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.  (Exodus 20:11, American Standard Version)

Since Christians believe that Jehovah “made heaven and earth”, Jehovah must be God, from a Christian point of view. There is only ONE creator of the universe and that is God, so if Jehovah “made heaven and earth”, then to be logically consistent Christians must infer that Jehovah is God.

So, whenever Leviticus states that “Jehovah spoke to Moses” Christians take this to mean that “God spoke to Moses”. But it is clearly FALSE that God said the things that Leviticus claims “Jehovah spoke to Moses” because many of those thing are FALSE or EVIL or MORALLY WRONG (as we shall see in this post and in future posts). God is perfectly good and God is all-knowing, so God would not say things to Moses that were FALSE or EVIL or MORALLY WRONG.

If according to a passage in Leviticus Jehovah said something that was FALSE or EVIL or MORALLY WRONG to Moses, then either (a) that passage is itself FALSE, because it is not the case that Jehovah said that something to Moses, or else (b) that passage is TRUE, because Jehovah did in fact say that something to Moses. But if Jehovah did in fact say something FALSE or EVIL or MORALLY WRONG to Moses, then Jehovah must not be God. If Jehovah is NOT God, then Moses is a false prophet who did not receive messages from God, and we can ignore the book of Leviticus as being just another book containing messages from an ordinary human being who was NOT communicating messages from God.

On the other hand, if the passage from Leviticus that claims Jehovah said something to Moses is making a FALSE claim, because it is not the case that Jehovah said that something to Moses, then the book of Leviticus is providing false historical information about Moses and about messages allegedly received by Moses from Jehovah. In that case, we have good reason to doubt the historical reliability of Leviticus, especially concerning messages that Moses allegedly received from Jehovah.

The more such FALSE claims that Leviticus makes about messages that Moses allegedly received from Jehovah, the stronger our reason to conclude that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God (because God is all-knowing and perfectly good and so would not inspire a book full of false historical claims, especially concerning religious and moral issues), and that even if God had communicated important messages to Moses, Leviticus is an UNRELIABLE source to use to determine the content of those messages.

3. There are at least 11 verses in Leviticus that refer back to the Exodus out of Egypt: 11:45, 18:3, 19:34, 19:36, 22:33, 23:43, 25:38, 25:42, 25:55, 26:13, 26:45. But there probably was no Exodus out of Egypt (see Part 7 of this series), so these 11 verses are all probably making false historical claims.

Since these claims are all, or nearly all, statements made by Jehovah (according to Leviticus), that means that Jehovah is making false historical statements, according to Leviticus. So, either it is the case that Jehovah made these historical claims or it is not the case. If Jehovah made these claims, and the claims are false, then we must conclude that Jehovah is NOT God, because God is all-knowing and perfectly good, so God would not repeatedly make false historical claims. But if Jehovah is not God, then we must conclude that Moses was a false prophet and that we should ignore the commandments and teachings found in Leviticus.

On the other hand, if Jehovah did NOT make these historical claims, then the author of Leviticus has repeatedly put false claims into the mouth of Jehovah, claims that Jehovah never made, and this means that the book of Leviticus is highly UNRELIABLE, and we cannot trust that what this book claims to be messages from Jehovah were in fact messages from Jehovah.
In either case, it would be unreasonable to rely on Leviticus as a source of divine messages or divine commands.

4. Old Testament scholars generally agree that the practices of sacrifices made by priests that are spelled out in Leviticus are anachronistic, that they were NOT from the historical period of the time of Moses, but were from a later historical period. In that case, the book of Leviticus is entirely or almost entirely fictional.

The practices of sacrifices described in Leviticus do NOT fit with the circumstances of a nomadic tribe that was wandering in the desert:

One thing is certain, these are not the customs of the time in the desert, but rather, an entire code of conduct for priests and Levites who serve at the temple in Jerusalem. The sacrifices and offerings demanded for great feast days can only come from a farming people. The very size and types of sacrifices and festivals mentioned presuppose a large population raising many herds and crops in the promised land. (Reading the Old Testament by Lawrence Boadt, p.188)

Based on this view, the book of Leviticus is entirely, or almost entirely fictional.  This view is not limited to Lawrence Boadt, but is a widely held view among Old Testament scholars:

Thus a widespread scholarly view holds that the sacrifices detailed in Leviticus 1-16 were introduced only after the [Babylonian] exile, and that the stress in Leviticus on purity and atonement reflects the mood of the post-exilic community in Judah.  (The Old Testament World, 2nd edition, by Philip Davies and John Rogerson, p.152)

The Babylonian exile began 597 BCE, and “in 539 BCE exiled Judeans were permitted to return to Judah.”  ( “Babylonian captivity”  in Wikepedia).  Reasons for this view, according to Davies and Rogerson include:

  • “there is hardly any evidence in the Old Testament outside of passages such as Leviticus 1-16 that the sacrifices as prescribed were ever offered.” (The Old Testament World, p. 151)
  • “there is no reference to them [the regulations for sacrifices found in Leviticus] in other parts of the Old Testament.”  (The Old Testament World, p. 151)
  • “the very existence of the Tent of Meeting [where the initial sacrifices allegedly took place in Moses’ time] is problematical.”   (The Old Testament World, p. 151)
  • According to the Old Testament, Manoah, Saul, David, Solomon, and Elija “all offered sacrifices, whereas none of them was a priest.”   (The Old Testament World, p. 152)
  • These non-priestly sacrifices were “primarily burnt offerings” and there is no mention of “sin offerings” in those stories.   (The Old Testament World, p. 152)

In the textbook A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (2nd edition), four OT scholars agree that

Scholars commonly conclude that these texts [the Priestly (P) tradition which was used by the author of Leviticus] reflect an exilic or post-exilic situation, though recent attempts at an earlier dating have been made.  Generally, these texts may reflect understandings and practices built up over the time of the first temple (957-587 BCE), but they were given decisive shape during the exile…with subsequent redactions likely. (A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd edition, p. 131)

King Solomon dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem by James Tissot (or follower) c. 1896–1902

The “earlier dating” that they refer to was proposed by Jacob Milgrom. Although Milgrom argues for a pre-exile date for P, he agrees that Chapters 17-26 of Leviticus were based on the “Holiness Source” or H, and that H came from a priestly school that developed “at the end of the eighth century BCE.” (Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics, p.175).  So, Milgrom’s view is that Leviticus was composed sometime after 700 BCE, at least five centuries after the time of Moses.

Thus, based on the consensus of OT scholars, Leviticus was composed long after the time of Moses, and therefore is entirely or almost entirely fictional.  Therefore, the historical information in Leviticus is entirely or almost entirely FALSE, and it is thus an UNRELIABLE source of historical information.

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