November 14, 2007

God Wants Animal Blood

I'm continuing on with my cover-to-cover reading of the Christian bible, and it is time for another bit of commentary. At the time of my last post on the subject, I had finished Genesis and Exodus and was midway through Leviticus. My pace has slowed, as I haven't had as much reading time as I'd like. I've finished Leviticus and Numbers and am now into Deuteronomy (although I will refrain from commenting on Deuteronomy just yet).

I was really fascinated by Leviticus. It shows that the Ten Commandments about which one hears so much from contemporary Christians were merely the tip of a massive iceberg. What I mean to say is that the law supposedly given to humankind by the god of the bible is far more extensive than the commandments. Christians who want to claim a biblical source for modern American law should certainly refer to Leviticus, for it would provide far more support for their claim than the Ten Commandments. What Leviticus and Numbers make abundantly clear is that we are supposed to obey all of god's rules for us and not merely the ten with which most of us are more familiar.

So what exactly are these other rules we are supposed to obey? Well, most deal with slaughtering animals on sacrificial altars and procedures for making the unclean clean again. There are many others, but these are the themes which pervade these books. The price for disobedience is also quite clear.

From Leviticus 24:15-16, we learn that blasphemy is to be punished by death. Specifically, the blasphemer is to be stoned to death by his or her community. From Numbers 15:32-36, we learn that gathering wood on the Sabbath will also get one stoned to death. There are many more similar examples, but these impressed themselves in my memory the most.

Of course, this is probably a good time to stop and address some criticism my commentaries are likely to encounter. When confronted with scriptural evidence that there are many laws, clearly stated as such, for which the penalties are often banishment or death, which virtually no modern Christian even attempts to follow, one should expect a predictable Christian response. The wording will vary, but the response will be along the lines of how the Old Testament no longer applies because god's covenant with Moses and his predecessors was replaced by Jesus and the New Testament.

Fair enough. I'll ask two things of the Christian making this claim, and I'll ask them not in a challenging manner but as a plea for assistance. First, please help me locate the part of the New Testament that will make it clear to me that Leviticus, Numbers, and whatever other books to which this claim applies were invalidated by Jesus. I'm not saying you are wrong - I'm nowhere close to even starting the New Testament yet - I'd just like to know where I'll find this part so I can be more careful about how I'm reading the Old Testament now.

Second, is the god depicted in the Old Testament books I have read so far (Genesis through Numbers) the same god that I will encounter in the New Testament, or are these two different gods? If it is the same god, then it would seem that reading the Old Testament is worthwhile because it will teach me quite a bit about the character of this god, even if the covenants change. On the other hand, if we have two different gods here, then I should probably stop reading the Old Testament, as it is really telling me nothing useful.

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