Friday, April 04, 2008

Fire and Brimstone, Plus Another Reminder that Women are Worthless: Leviticus 26-27

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

Actually, not quite worthless: the "value of a female" is less than a pound of silver; the value of a man is nearly twice that. God says these are "equivalent values" which you're to give to the priests whenever you want to "dedicate" someone's life before the God, but what they're equivalent to is unclear. Does God place such a relatively low value on human life? If you can't afford the standard payment, God adds, you can go to the priest and negotiate a lower one. How nice of the priest.

Aside from that and the invention of the tithe , chapter 27 is pretty weak and feels like an addendum. Leviticus ought to end with chapter 26, which is a lot more thunderous and exciting. God seems to realize he's careening toward the page limit for this book and decides to provide some final warnings to the Israelites about obeying all the laws he's provided. He promises peace and prosperity if the people obey. He also sneaks in a bit of a retraction: in Exodus God promised to drive out Israel's enemies before them, but now in Leviticus, he says they're going to have to do their own killing. His only consolation is that the killing will be easy, which doesn't exactly resolve any ethical quandaries that might crop up; "five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword."

God says all that is necessary about the rewards, but what really gets him excited are the varied punishments he plans to rain down on Israel in the event they intervene. It's quite a rant; he goes on and on, verse after verse; just as you think it's coming to an end, God remembers a possible punishment he hasn't brought up yet, and he's off again.

God starts by threatening to bombard the Israelites with "sudden terror, wasiting diseases and fever," failed crops, and - worst of all! - failure in battle. The Israelite army will become so cowardly that they will run on any occasion, even when there is no enemy. Then, God says, "I will breka down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze." If that doesn't work, "I will send will animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, [and] destroy your cattle." And if that doesn't work, God will have Israel invaded by enemies, and send plagues, and collapse their food supplies all at once.

Not done! Next comes cannibalism, destruction of sacred places and altars, destruction of cities, destruction of the entire land, further invasions, complete "desolation" of Israel, complete conquest by enemy nations, and so on. When it comes to fire and brimstone sermons, God makes Pentecostal preachers look like liberal Anglicans.

God leaves the door open for some redemption, of course, but he's surprisingly vague on this subject. If the Israelites confess their sins and are "humbled and pay for their sin," God promises, he will "remember his covenants" with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. And once he's remembered them (was he planning on forgetting them?), he will "not destroy Israel completely." That's pretty much it. Repent and you will face something less than complete annihilation.