Saturday, April 05, 2008

Final Reflections on Leviticus: Reinforcement of the New Priesthood

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

Leviticus sees the legal reinforcement of the priesthood-as-ruler-of-society order that God began instituting in Exodus. Notably, there's been no serious problems encountered yet - mostly because pretty much nothing actually happens in Leviticus; it's just one set of rules after another.

I found more to like in the rules this reading then I did in the past, particularly in the reformulation of the Ten Commandments, but there's still a lot of assumptions I can't agree with - about the legitimate ownership of women, the subjugation of foreigners and slaves, etc, etc. All that aside from the notion of a legal system that has pretty much two blanket punishments - ritual banishment for uncleanness, and painful death for pretty much everything else - all covered over with a generous coating of gore from one bloody sacrifice after another. And this grand system is to be handed over to a hereditary priesthood, who are paid in kind for performing the sacrifices. (As with any business, it's the ones at the top, like the high priest and his immediate family, who are going to benefit the most from this; assuming more priests come along later, they're going to be given much grubbier tasks, like hauling the bloody remains of the sacrifices out of the camp, and cleaning the blood off the altar.

Perhaps because there is virtually no interaction with actual people other than God and Moses, Leviticus is blessedly free of the cynical view of the faith of non-priests which was starting to form in Exodus. After the brief respite, I expect that this will return in full form in Numbers and Deuteronomy, which pick up where Exodus left off but without, disappointingly, the more optimistic overtones of liberation theology as Moses leads the slaves from Egypt.

On a final note, Leviticus is a lot more interesting now that I'm not reading it as a newly indoctrinated born-again evangelical, convinced that each and every word is supposed to be a message from God and from which I can draw relevant lessons for my personal life. A somewhat more critical approach to the text preserves sanity as well as humour, and helps understand something about how the authors of this book saw their relationship with the divine, and whose interests that relationship is seeming intended to serve.