WHERE WE ARE
In the previous post, Part 8 of this series, I supported 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.
In this present post I will provide more specific examples of historically false and dubious claims and assumption in the book of Leviticus. False or dubious historical claims in Leviticus give us two reasons to reject the view that commandments or rules in Leviticus should be accepted as having some sort of divine authority: (1) if Leviticus contains a number of historical errors, then it is an UNRELIABLE source of the words of Moses and Jehovah, and (2) if Leviticus contains a number of historical errors, then the content of Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.
CONTRADICTIONS BETWEEN LEVITICUS AND OTHER BOOKS IN THE TORAH
Dr. Steven DiMattei has identified and explained 74 different contradictions between passages in Leviticus and other passages in the Bible. Of those 74 contradictions, 66 contradictions are between passages in Leviticus and passages in other books in the Torah (i.e. Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), books that are traditionally ascribed to Moses. In nearly every case, these contradictions cast doubt on an historical claim or assumption made by the book of Leviticus. Thus, Dr. DiMattei gives us dozens of good reasons to doubt the historical reliability of the book of Leviticus, and also to doubt the divine inspiration of Leviticus.
In many cases, the contradiction is between laws or regulations put forward by God or Jehovah. God, if God exists, is all-knowing and perfectly good, so God would NOT put forward contradictory or conflicting commandments or laws or regulations. Because according to the Bible Jehovah is supposed to be the creator of heaven and earth, Christians who believe in the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible must infer that Jehovah is God, because God, if God exists, is the one and only creator of the universe.
So, any time Leviticus claims that “Jehovah commanded that we do X” and some other book in the Torah claims that “Jehovah commanded that we do Y”, and the command to do X contradicts the command to do Y, then Christians must infer that at least ONE of those commands did NOT come from Jehovah, and thus that at least ONE of those two biblical passages asserts an historical claim that is FALSE. (As a skeptic, I take such contradictions as evidence that there was no Jehovah at all, and no communication from Jehovah to Moses, and that the contradictions arise because the “history” in Leviticus and the other books of the Torah is actually legend and fiction, stories that were made up centuries after the alleged events.)
However, I am not going to go through all 66 of the contradictions between Leviticus and passages in other books of the Torah. I am going to focus on just a few examples, and will attempt to focus on examples that are more directly about alleged ordinary historical events. What Jehovah said or did not say on a given occasion is not a matter of ordinary observation involving vision, hearing, touch, taste, or smell. I will focus primarily on contradictions between Leviticus and other books in the Torah that relate to ordinary historical claims or assumptions.
Is the mount of revelation Horeb OR Sinai? (Ex 3:1, 17:6; Deut 1:6, 4:10, etc. vs Ex 19:11, 19:18, etc.; Lev 7:38, 26:46, etc.)
According to Leviticus, God’s revelation to Moses happened on Mount Sinai:
37 This is the ritual of the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the offering of ordination, and the sacrifice of well-being, 38 which the Lord commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, when he commanded the people of Israel to bring their offerings to the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai. (Leviticus 7:37-38)
46 These are the statutes and ordinances and laws that the Lord established between himself and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai through Moses. (Leviticus 26:46)
According to Deuteronomy God’s revelation to Moses happened on the mountain of Horeb:
3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the Israelites just as the Lord had commanded him to speak to them. … 5 Beyond the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this law as follows:
6 The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. (Deuteronomy 1:3-6)
9 But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children— 10 how you once stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, “Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth, and may teach their children so”; 11 you approached and stood at the foot of the mountain while the mountain was blazing up to the very heavens, shrouded in dark clouds. 12 Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. 13 He declared to you his covenant, which he charged you to observe, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them on two stone tablets. 14 And the Lord charged me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy. (Deuteronomy 4:9-14)
Both stories are fictional in my view, but at the very least, the contradiction between Leviticus and Deuteronomy casts doubt on the historical claims made in chapters 7 and 26 of Leviticus.
Did the Israelites have meat to eat in the wilderness OR not? (Ex 12:38, 17:3, Lev 8-9; Num 32:1 vs Ex 16:2-3; Num 11:4-6)
Based on both the numerous commands to sacrifice animals and the reports of such sacrifices in Leviticus, it appears that the Israelites had plenty of domesticated animals to eat while they were in the wilderness:
14 He [Moses] led forward the bull of sin offering; and Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the head of the bull of sin offering, 15 and it was slaughtered. (Leviticus 8:14-15)
18 Then he [Moses] brought forward the ram of burnt offering. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, 19 and it was slaughtered. (Leviticus 8:18-19)
22 Then he [Moses] brought forward the second ram, the ram of ordination. Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, 23 and it was slaughtered. Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. (Leviticus 8:22-23)
1 On the eighth day Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. 2 He said to Aaron, “Take a bull calf for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, without blemish, and offer them before the Lord. 3 And say to the people of Israel, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering; a calf and a lamb, yearlings without blemish, for a burnt offering; 4 and an ox and a ram for an offering of well-being to sacrifice before the Lord; and a grain offering mixed with oil. For today the Lord will appear to you.’” (Leviticus 9:1-4)
But according to the book of Numbers, the Israelites had to go without eating meat in the wilderness:
4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:4-6)
One might be tempted to explain away this apparent inconsistency by saying that the Israelites were exaggerating in their complaining: they did have some domesticated animals, but the quantity of animals was low and so they did not have many animals to spare. However, it does appear that the circumstances portrayed in Leviticus in terms of domesticated animals are anachronistic:
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)
So, even if the Israelites did have some domesticated animals with them in the wilderness and were able to eat some meat in the wilderness, they probably did not have enough domesticated animals with them to support all of the sacrifices that are described and required in the book of Leviticus. This supports the view of most OT scholars that the book of Leviticus was written long after the time of Moses, when the Israelites had become established in the promised land.
Are sacrifices to Yahweh permitted on any altar OR only the altar before the Tabernacle? (Ex 20:24 vs Lev 1-9, 17)
Strictly speaking, this is a contradiction concerning what Jehovah said or did not say to Moses. Such events are not ordinary historical events, since even if we had a videotape of Moses during the time he was “communicating” with Jehovah, the fact that there is no other person near Moses and that we hear no voice speaking to Moses would NOT prove that it is FALSE that Jehovah was communicating with Moses, since Jehovah is an invisible spirit and can presumably communicate telepathically to Moses.
However, these alleged communications from Jehovah to Moses presumably impacted the actions of Moses, and impacted what Moses would allow the Israelites to do in terms of the worship of Jehovah. The actions of Moses, if Moses existed, and the actions of the Israelites in worshiping Jehovah would have been ordinary and observable historical events (if they actually occurred). So, commands and laws communicated from Jehovah to Moses, would presumably have a direct impact on the actions of Moses and what Moses would tolerate in terms of the actions of the Israelites in their worship activities, which would be observable events.
According to Leviticus, animal sacrifices were only to be conducted at the tabernacle of the Lord and the priests (Aaron and his sons) must be involved in presenting the sacrifices:
1The Lord spoke to Moses:
2 Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them: This is what the Lord has commanded. 3 If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or slaughters it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, he shall be held guilty of bloodshed; he has shed blood, and he shall be cut off from the people. 5 This is in order that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and offer them as sacrifices of well-being to the Lord. 6 The priest shall dash the blood against the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and turn the fat into smoke as a pleasing odor to the Lord, 7 so that they may no longer offer their sacrifices for goat-demons, to whom they prostitute themselves. This shall be a statute forever to them throughout their generations.
8 And say to them further: Anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, 9 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to sacrifice it to the Lord, shall be cut off from the people. (Leviticus 17:1-9)
According to a passage in Exodus, animal sacrifices did NOT need to be conducted at the tabernacle of the Lord, nor presented by official priests (i.e. Aaron and his sons):
22 The Lord said to Moses: Thus you shall say to the Israelites: “You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven. 23 You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24 You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. (Exodus 20:22-24)
Strictly speaking, the contradiction here is between what Leviticus claims Jehovah said, and what Exodus claims Jehovah said. The two statements attributed to Jehovah are inconsistent with each other. As a skeptic, I view this as evidence that there was no Jehovah, and that both accounts are fictional stories. But setting that aside, assuming that the stories are not entirely fictional, there is also the implication of two different practices in the worship of Jehovah.
Assuming that Moses actually existed, either Moses insisted that animal sacrifices be conducted at the tabernacle by official priests, or he did not. The passage from Leviticus implies that he did, and the passage from Exodus implies that he did not. Those are contradictions about ordinary and observable historical events, assuming there was an actual Moses. Thus, this contradiction between Leviticus and Exodus casts doubt on the historical accuracy and reliability of Leviticus.
From the point of view of OT scholarship, the practice of animal sacrifice apart from a specific tabernacle or temple and apart from an official priesthood was the historical norm at the time of Moses, and the establishment of the more restrictive concept of worship described in Leviticus comes from an historical period centuries after the time of Moses. The Exodus passage above is thus is closer to historical truth than the above passage from Leviticus.
Does Yahweh choose only the Aaronids as priests OR all the Levites? (Ex 28:1, 28:41, 29:1-9, 40:12-16; Lev 1-8; Num 3:1-9, 25:10-12 vs Deut 18:1-8)
Dr. DiMattei provides some helpful background for understanding this contradiction:
The redacted text of the Pentateuch as it now stands bears witness to an internecine rivalry that existed within the tribe of Levi, that is within the priesthood itself. At least two priestly groups that we know of wrote texts aimed at legitimating their right as sole officiating high priests and mediators to Yahweh. These two priestly schools and the texts they wrote have come to be identified as the pro-Aaronid Priestly source, whose main religious and cultic ideology is found in the books of Leviticus and Numbers, and the (rest of the) Levites whose religious views are found in the book of Deuteronomy, as well as a couple of passages from the Elohist source.
These two priestly schools—the Aaronids and the Levites—had vastly different and competing views on religion, the role of the cult and its priesthood, Yahweh, ethics, how sin was to be expiated, and Yahweh’s covenants… . More surprisingly however, is that both of these priestly schools wrote texts whose purpose was to legitimate their position and beliefs through the creation of archaized narratives that retrojected into the past their religious views and divine right to rule as high priests, expressed through the mouthpiece of their god Yahweh. These narrative creations served to legitimate and justify each guild’s claims.
It is difficult to know with certainty the history of the Levites since the literature produced by this guild has its own agenda. Nevertheless, 1 Kings 2:26-27 recounts how Solomon banished the Levites from Jerusalem. Additionally, the rest of the Deuteronomic history from Solomon to Hezekiah makes no mention of Levites as priests in Jerusalem. Yet with the Levite led Deuteronomistic reform under Josiah, a Levitical priesthood emerged or reemerged in Jerusalem. What we know is that the 7th century BC Deuteronomic literature presents the Levites as sole officiating priests at the centralized altar in Jerusalem. Deuteronomy 10:8-9 and 18:1-5 present Yahweh as choosing the Levites to serve him and to officiate his cult. This was also the case in the Golden Calf narrative penned by the Elohist.
Yet other texts now contained in the same Sinai material, namely those written from the opposing camp, the Aaronids, present Yahweh claiming just the opposite: only the Aaronids are priests (Ex 28:1, 28:41, 29:1-9, 40:12-16; Lev 1-8; Num 3:1-9, 25:10-12). And, more shockingly, the Levites are demoted to the role of mere ministers of the officiating Aaronid priesthood (Num 3:5-10, 16:8-11, 16:17, 18:1-7).
All of these passages from Numbers are written by the Aaronids, and not surprisingly present Yahweh declaring as an eternal covenant (25:19) that only Aaronid descendants may serve as priests and serve Yahweh at his altar. The Levites, on the other hand, are appointed to serve the Aaronid priests! But they cannot officiate over the cult, perform sacrifices, expiate sins, nor enter the Holy of Holies.
In Leviticus chapters 1 through 8, Jehovah specifically designates Aaron and his sons to be his official priests. Here are a few passages from Leviticus:
1 If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. 4 You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you. 5 The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6 The burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts. 7 The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. (Leviticus 1:3-7)
10 If your gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, your offering shall be a male without blemish. 11 It shall be slaughtered on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar. 12 It shall be cut up into its parts, with its head and its suet, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; (Leviticus 1:10-12)
1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Take Aaron and his sons with him, the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; 3 and assemble the whole congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 4 And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. When the congregation was assembled at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 5 Moses said to the congregation, “This is what the Lord has commanded to be done.” 6 Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward, and washed them with water. 7 He put the tunic on him, fastened the sash around him, clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod on him. He then put the decorated band of the ephod around him, tying the ephod to him with it. 8 He placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. 9 And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden ornament, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses. 10 Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it, and consecrated them. 11 He sprinkled some of it on the altar seven times, and anointed the altar and all its utensils, and the basin and its base, to consecrate them. 12 He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him. 13 And Moses brought forward Aaron’s sons, and clothed them with tunics, and fastened sashes around them, and tied headdresses on them, as the Lord commanded Moses. (Leviticus 8:1-10)
But in Deuteronomy chapters 10 and 18, Jehovah designates the entire tribe of Levites to be his priests:
1 The levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, shall have no allotment or inheritance within Israel. They may eat the sacrifices that are the Lord’s portion 2 but they shall have no inheritance among the other members of the community; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.
3 This shall be the priests’ due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep: they shall give to the priest the shoulder, the two jowls, and the stomach. 4 The first fruits of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the first of the fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. 5 For the Lord your God has chosen Levi out of all your tribes, to stand and minister in the name of the Lord, him and his sons for all time.
6 If a Levite leaves any of your towns, from wherever he has been residing in Israel, and comes to the place that the Lord will choose (and he may come whenever he wishes), 7 then he may minister in the name of the Lord his God, like all his fellow-Levites who stand to minister there before the Lord. 8 They shall have equal portions to eat, even though they have income from the sale of family possessions. (Deuteronomy 18:1-8)
There are dozens of contradictions between Leviticus and the other books in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). Nearly all of these contradictions cast doubt on the historical reliability of the book of Leviticus and also cast doubt on the historicity of the books of the Torah in general.
If the book of Leviticus is historically UNRELIABLE or if it contains a number of false or dubious historical claims and assumptions, then we can draw two conclusions: (1) we cannot rely on Leviticus to present accurate information about what Jehovah communicated to Moses (even if Jehovah actually existed and if Moses was an actual person), and (2) Leviticus was NOT inspired by God. Both conclusions are good reasons to reject using the content of Leviticus as a basis for moral condemnation of homosexual sex.