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Chapter and Verse

Monday, 11th June, 2001

And of course I lost the mail.

Someone sent me a e-mail that I found quite intriguing. It was in the form of an open letter to a woman whose name I forget. I think she was a radio personality or similar. The reason was that she had quoted a verse from the Bible as her entire rationale for disagreeing with homosexuality. The verse said that it was an abomination, and thus she was against it. The mail cleverly utilised a whole slew of different quotes to humorously put this into context.

It was cleverly done, but it's well known that for every Biblical quote you use to get your point across, there will be another six that could be used against you. There are contradictions everywhere, often due to the different perspectives of the different people who wrote the different books, and if you use the quotes as your only ammunition then you're in trouble.

What really opened my eyes this time round was that I noticed that all the quotes used were from the same book of the Bible: Leviticus. I've read plenty of the Bible, though seeing as it's a few times longer than The Lord of the Rings, I've never read every part. Certainly I didn't know much about Leviticus, other than it was one of the Pentateuch right there at the beginning. So I hauled out a Bible and read through to see just how objectionable Leviticus could be.

It proved to be pretty objectionable. There's no storyline to Leviticus, no cast of characters; just a long list of rules and regulations that the Lord passed down to Moses. It's a very dry read. The first four chapters alone deal with nothing other than the techniques that must be used when offering up various kinds of sacrifices.

The only part applicable is that we shouldn't be eating fat or blood, for reasons that aren't clear. What is clear is that we should be treated as unclean if we do. I'm not sure exactly what is implied by being unclean, but Leviticus uses the term a lot and it presumably isn't very nice. Unclean in spirit or body? I'm guessing at spirit, and it means that every time I chow down on a black pudding, I'm getting myself in trouble with the Lord.

Chapter five sets the scene for the next bunch of chapters, working up to nineteen, twenty and twentyone, where the really juicy bits are. It decrees that we must report, presumably to a priest, any instance of swearing. This applies not just to swearing that we hear personally, but to swearing that we hear about, even if we weren't there at the time. So, if your little brother swears, you're required to go and report it to your priest. If you don't snitch, then the iniquity that God would shower down upon him for the act would be applicable to you also.

The dietary laws in chapter eleven shouldn't have come as a surprise to me. After all, Leviticus is Old Testament and therefore Jewish. I knew that Jews have specific pronouncements as to what they can eat and what they can't, but I hadn't realised that much of this applies to we Christians too. Well, it's all here laid down in black and white in Leviticus.

We already know that eating fat or blood will make us unclean. 7:21-27 tells us that we'll also be cut off from our people. Chapter eleven goes into major detail. Apparently we're not supposed to eat camel, which isn't much of a hardship in England, but similarly we can't eat coney, hare or swine. That cuts out rabbit and pig, making that bacon and egg breakfast you just ate an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. I'm particularly fond of rabbit too; it has an edge to the taste that I thought was worth coming back to. Obviously not if it'll wipe out any chances I had of salvation.

Chapter eleven goes on, listing twenty different types of flying creature that we can't eat, some of which I didn't know could be eaten anyway. Stork, heron, lapwing, bat... when was the last time you ate bat? There can't be much meat on those bones, surely? You'd have to kill off a handful just to get a sandwich out of them. 11:30 condemns the French, which is understandable, by decreeing that snails should be struck off the menu too, but 11:22 allows various of the creeping creatures. So no snails, but it's OK to eat locusts, beetles and grasshoppers. This puts a different perspective on the plague of locusts. It was just like hurtling a flood of M&Ms down the street, and I thought it was bad.

Then again I obviously am bad, seeing how many of these laws I've unwittingly broken. It's not all my fault, of course, as I can blame my parents for some of it. Chapter 18 decrees that I can't see any of my close kin naked, but my mother had me bathe with my sister way back when we were knee high to those edible grasshoppers. I didn't pay much attention at the time, but even while I was getting washed, I was getting unclean or so saith the Lord.

Chapter 18 is also the one that deals with the gay issue. 18:22 has it in black and white. Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. The following verse applies the same thing to bestiality. The Lord obviously has his knickers in a twist over these particular sins, as he elaborates a little more than usual. If you break these laws then the sin is applicable to your country also and to your land, defiling them too, and God will visit your iniquity on them and vomit out its inhabitants. 20:13 goes a step further and decrees that anybody guilty of this sin should be put to death.

To be fair and balance my facetiousness, much of this makes sense. Especially given geographical, historical and cultural differences, many of these rules and regulations must make plenty of sense, if you read them carefully. There are a few that I can't figure out at all, however.

Sleep with your aunt and all will die childless. Don't even think about cutting the corners of your beard. Don't you dare wear a garment made of a mixture of linen and wool. You can't sow varied seeds into your field either. My sister is obviously damned for all eternity, because she disobeys 19:27 flagrantly. It rules that she must not make any cutting in her flesh or print any marks upon it. I'm guessing that this applies to those numerous tattoos and body piercings that she is so proud of.

It gets stranger still. If any daughter of a priest turns to whoring, then she should be burnt to death. Quite why this should be a worse sin for the daughter of a priest isn't made clear. Curse at your father and mother and you'll be killed too, just like if you sleep with your neighbour's wife. In fact in that case she would be killed also. If you're a wizard you'll merit stoning, but you'll be dead all the same. There's plenty of crimes worthy of the death penalty here. The Lord wasn't even as strict as Dubya. Then again, as the famous verses of chapter 24:19-20 point out: the Lord believes in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Quite apart from being anti-gay, the Lord soon makes it clear that he's totally not politically correct. This is the part that surprises me the most of all the decrees in Leviticus. It seems that if you have a blemish of any sort, a physical blemish, then you are not allowed to approach the altar. It details various blemishes too, making it very clear that you're not welcome at the altar if you are handicapped.

You could be blind or lame, have a broken foot or hand, be scurvy or scabbed; but if you approach God's altar in that condition you will profane his sanctuary. It applies also if you're a hunchback or a dwarf, and of all things, if you have a flat nose. Quite why the Lord should pick on boxers, I don't know, but there you have it.

The big question of course is whether anybody on the planet is still clean in the eyes of the Lord after all these commandments. It's well within the bounds of possibility that Leviticus doesn't have a monopoly on statutes either, suggesting that the Lord is stricter still, but Leviticus is all I read yesterday.

Oh, and don't forget that if you committed one of these lesser crimes, or in other words if you're not going to be stoned to death, you can absolve your sin by making the appropriate sacrifice in the temple. Chapters one to four deal with burnt sacrifices, meat offerings, sacrificial peace offerings and atonement sacrifices. One of those should apply. Be careful to follow the rules though or you'll be back where you started, just like some religious version of snakes and ladders.

Watch out for those snakes, y'all.

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