Study Guide

Leviticus Morality and Ethics

Morality and Ethics

If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. (NRSV 17:10-11)

And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. (KJV 17:10-11)

If you hop a TARDIS back to ancient Israel, don't order your steak rare. According to Leviticus, blood is life and life is sacred. The right thing to do with blood is to offer it back to giver of life, namely, God.

Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not follow their statutes. My ordinances you shall observe and my statutes you shall keep, following them: I am the Lord your God. (NRSV 18:2-4)

Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the Lord your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. (KJV 18:2-4)

Don't walk like an Egyptian. Or a Canaanite. Or Igor. Just read Leviticus and walk this way.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (NRSV 18:22)

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. (KJV 18:22)

Fun fact: this verse says nothing about women having sex with other women (source). According to one leading commentator, the law existed so men with more than one wife could have a threesome.

The lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (NRSV 19:1-2)

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy. (KJV 19:1-2)

These verses are the beginning of what many scholars call "the Holiness Code." The reason: chapters 19 through 26 use the word "holy" a whole lot. Whether this proves that a different person wrote this section is a subject for debate, but one thing is certain: sometimes it really doesn't take a whole lot of smarts to come up with a scholarly theory.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (NRSV 19:18)

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord. (KJV 19:18)

Many people think that it was Jesus who first came up with the Golden Rule, "love thy neighbor as thyself." If a biblical Cliff Clavin tells you that, remember the traditional response: "Leviticus did it! Leviticus did it!"

You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord. (NRSV 19:27-28)

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord. (KJV 19:27-28)

Here's another verse guaranteed to make you popular on Reddit's atheism forum. This verse also provides incontrovertible proof that even God thinks hipsters are annoying.

You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. (NRSV 19:35-36)

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. (KJV 19:35-36)

Most people would agree that making fair decisions and using accurate measurements are basic principles of business ethics, but it takes real commitment to extend this to ephahs and hins.

You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I have said to you: You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the Lord your God; I have separated you from the peoples. (NRSV 20:23-24)

And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people. (KJV 20:23-24)

Zooarchaeologists have only begun to analyze animal-related remains from ancient Israel, but it seems that ancient Israel had far more goats than cows (source). Pig bones, though, are quite rare, which is consistent with keeping kosher or, if you believe the History Channel, the widespread of swine by ancient alien chefs.Ā As for honey, there is as yet no evidence of pottery shaped like little bears.

If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. (NRSV 25:39-40)

And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant: But as an hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee. (KJV 25:39-40)

Israelites can have foreigners as slaves. Enslaving a fellow Israelites is a big no-no, though it's easy to get around this law by bringing them on as office tent interns.

No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death. (NRSV 27:29)

None devoted, which shall be devoted of men, shall be redeemed; but shall surely be put to death. (KJV 27:29)

Fatal vows aren't just fodder for cheesy Lifetime movies. According to Leviticus, it's immoral to make a sacred vow to kill someone and later decide to let that person live. Consider this a sneak preview for the Book of Joshua, which some scholars believe was actually written by a Hellenistic Jewish scribe named Quentinis Tarantinon.

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