Friday, March 28, 2008

More Christian Sex, and Priestly Profits: Leviticus 15:16-33

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

Ancient Jewish sex, anyways. I figured this deserved its own chapter as a tribute to Dave's Fabulous Christian Sex Challenge®.

Once again God displays an impressive grasp of human biology. The section, interestingly, starts with a discussion of what a man should do after "having an emission of semen" when a woman is not involved. Unsurprisingly, conservatives don't bother bringing up this verse when looking for rationalizations for proclaiming that masturbation is a heinous mortal sin, since the implication of this verse would seem to be that it's alright, or at least that it sometimes happens. The man is made unclean for the rest of the day, which is the same prescrpition, intriguingly, for having sex with a woman. In both cases, God specifies that the "emission of semen" is the component of the act which makes everyone involved "unclean" for a day.

Always a big fan of equality, God specifies that women's "flows of blood" make them unclean as well. These are particularly unclean, however; a menstruating woman is not only unclean but makes anything she lies on or sits on, unclean as well. She also has to bring a sin offering to the priest, of course, because she has to "atone" for her sin.

Aside from the misogyny involved, there's an interesting twist to this sacrifice. Recall that sin offerings, according to the Levitican instruction manual, are given whole as food to the priest. Each woman therefore gives one dove or pigeon to the priests for food on a fairly regular basis. There are a little over 600 000 non-Levite men over twenty years of age and capable of fighting at this time (according to the census records in Numbers). If we add in the Levites and some teenagers, then assume the physical sex ratio is about one to one, that probably means there's at least three-quarters of a million women donating about one pigeon a month to the priests. This particular rule alone therefore nets the priesthood about nine million birds a year. I'm not sure whether the Israelites had enough captured birds available to handle this. If they did, it makes the priesthood the leading consumer in that industry, as well.