Leviticus – part six

Last week, we went through the various sacrifices in Leviticus 1-10 (and hopefully you also took the opportunity to read those chapters). This week, we change gear and look at the purity laws outlined in Leviticus 11-15 as we read through those five chapters.

To begin, let’s take a quick test to see if you’re ritually pure, according to Leviticus. Afterwards, please answer the poll question.

  • If in the last day hours you’ve eaten pork, ham bacon – any kind of meat that comes from pigs – you’re unclean. Same goes for rabbit, kangaroo, seafood other than fish, and a whole variety of other weird stuff that I don’t know why you’d even want to eat – like rodents, lizards, birds of prey, & insects that can’t hop. (Leviticus 11)
  • You’re also unclean for a day if you’ve eaten any meat that was combined with dairy products: that includes things like cheeseburgers, pizza, and chicken cordon bleu. (Deut 14:21)
  • Anyone touched a dead animal today? You’re also unclean for a day. (Lev 11:24-28) A week if you happen to be a priest.
  • Have you checked the state of your shower lately? If there’s any mould or mildew in your house, you’re unclean – and so is your house until you get rid of it, and a priest comes around and declares it clean. (I’m available, as long as there’s coffee involved.) (Lev 14:33-53)
  • What about skin diseases? There probably aren’t any lepers reading this, but a wide variety of skin diseases also made you unclean. (Lev 13)
  • At this point we start to lose our PG rating, but this stuff is in the Bible, so close your eyes if you’re easily offended. Ladies, if you’ve given birth to a boy in the last 40 days, you’re unclean; if it’s a girl, make that 80 days. (Lev 12:1-8) Or if ‘Aunt Flo’ has come to visit you’re also unclean. (Lev 15:19-24)
  • Gentlemen, if you’ve emitted any bodily fluids in the last day  that counts you out. (Lev 15:16) And for everyone, you’re unclean if you’ve had sexual intercourse today. (Lev 15:18)
  • And we might stop there before we get into bodily discharges as a result of urinary tract infections or sexually transmitted diseases. (7 days, in case you were wondering.) (Lev 15:13)

So, after reading all that, is there anyone who thinks that right now they would be ritually clean, according to the book of Lev? That is, do we have any obsessive-compulsive, vegetarian neat-freaks with an unnatural amount of self-control?

(Now many of you read this in the morning, so you’re thinking ‘how depraved does this guy think I get before breakfast?’ But Jewish days end at sunset. So if you think you’re ritually clean today, the clock started ticking whenever the sun went down in your part of the world.)

Let us know how you stack up by answering this (anonymous) poll:


What we’ve just done, by the way, is an overview of the purity laws contained in Leviticus chapters 11 through 15. Where God lays out in great detail the sorts of things that would make you unclean in his sight – and therefore unable to enter his presence in the tabernacle.

Now a lot of the things that caused uncleanness were unavoidable – and not all of them were sinful. After all, you can’t help getting a skin disease or your monthly period. It’s not sinful for married people to have sex, nor is it sinful to bury a dead animal. (And I think you’ll agree, they’re two things that should never occupy the same sentence.)

I suppose the avoidable things are the food laws, and therefore they gain most of the attention. Particularly in modern Judaism. What food is clean, or kosher (meaning ‘fit’ or ‘proper’), and what food is unclean. Read all of Leviticus 11 now to look at some of the details.

Lev 11:46-47 These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves about in the water and every creature that moves along the ground. 47 You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.

Why all these rules?

I suppose the question that’s been forming at the back of your mind as we’ve been going through all these rather strange rules and regulations is a very simple one: why? Why are some animals clean and some unclean? Why do some perfectly normal bodily functions make you unclean? Why all these weird rules? Is it just arbitrary, or is there a good reason?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that bible scholars are divided. I’ve come across at least six different attempts to explain the rationale behind these laws, and no one reason explains everything. Which is why people keep inventing new theories, I suppose. But I’m going to take you through those six attempted explanations this week; because I think most – if not all – have at least some bearing on the issue. And I think from each of them we learn something about God and something about being his holy people.

To think about

What reasons do you think God might have had for giving all of these – often quite strange – laws?

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