Leviticus 19 is just a long list of rules (*yawn*), so to make it fun, I’ve decided to organize them into categories. Because nothing spells fun like C-A-T-E-G-O-R-I-Z-I-N-G!

Note that the text doesn’t organize these at all. The rules are just all jumbled up so that prohibitions about sowing seeds a certain way are right up there next to prohibitions against prostituting your daughter, and there’s no indication of a severity ranking. Go figure.

Cultic Rules

  • Leviticus 19 - Leviticus 18 tattooKeep the Sabbaths – Listed twice, just in case you missed it the first time (v.3 & v.30).
  • Do not worship or make idols.
  • Peace offerings must be eaten the same day or the next day. Any leftovers remaining on the third day must be burned  with fire – No wonder they are so big on hospitality. They have to make sure all their food is eaten or it goes to waste!
  • Do not swear falsely using God’s name.
  • Fear God. This one is listed a number of times.
  • Don’t wear a piece of clothing made of two different types of material.
  • Don’t eat rare steak (“flesh with blood in it” v.26).
  • Don’t dabble in augury or witchcraft.
  • Don’t trim the hair on your temples or the edges of your beard.
  • Don’t cut yourself on account of the dead.
  • No tattoos.
  • Don’t prostitute your daughter. You might think that this is an ethical issue and not a cultic one, but the text gives as a reason for this law that doing so might cause “the land to fall into harlotry” (v.29), making it clear that the concern is social, not ethical. In other words, the concern is over the cultic pollution it might cause to Israel (and, perhaps, the concern is specifically over sacred prostitution in the worship of other gods), and not the moral issues of, you know, selling your daughter into prostitution.
  • Reverence the sanctuary (notice the singular).
  • Don’t deal with mediums or wizards.

Farming Instructions

  • When harvesting, do not reap the fields right up the border.
  • When harvesting, leave the gleanings – According to Wikipedia, these are the leftover crops that it is not economically profitable to waste time collecting, and they could then be collected by the poor.
  • Don’t strip your vineyard bare, and don’t gather fallen grapes (no word on whether the ‘five second rule’ applies). These should instead be left for the poor and for travellers.
  • Don’t let your cattle breed with a different kind.
  • Don’t sow your fields with two kinds of seed – God clearly is not a fan of companion planting.
  • When you first arrive in Israel and start planting trees, don’t eat the fruit for the first three years. The fourth year fruit should all be sacrificed to God, and the fifth year fruit is yours to nom.

Ethical Laws

  • Revere your parents – Even if they aren’t deserving of reverence? Even if they are abusive?
  • No stealing, no lying, and no dealing falsely.
  • Do not oppress your neighbour.
  • Do not rob your neighbour.
  • Pay up wages that you owe your employees in a timely manner.
  • Don’t curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of a blind man – Seriously? This was happening with enough frequency to warrant a mention??
  • Be fair in your judgements. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great” (v.15).
  • Don’t slander.
  • Don’t “stand forth against the life of your neighbour” (v.16).
  • Don’t hate “your brother.” Reason with him instead, “lest you bear sin because of him” (v.17).
  • Don’t take vengeance or bear a grudge.
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself” (v.18).
  • If you sleep with a female slave who is betrothed by not yet “ransomed or given her freedom,” and inquiry must be held (v.20). You (and the slave) won’t get the death penalty because she is still a slave, but you’ll have to make a guilt offering. Anyone else see an ethical issue here?
  • Honour old men – What, even if they’re jerks?
  • Don’t be mean to travellers. “Love him as yourself” (v.34).
  • When trading, make correct measurements. In other words, don’t scam people.

I find the cultic rituals rather silly, obviously, since they all rely on the presumption that God is real and that his preferences matter. The farming category seems like a bit of a cross over between cultic and ethical rules rather than anything that would actually be useful in farming.

As for the ethical rules, I’m on board with most of them. The ones about automatically respecting people just because of their age or procreative status irk me since I think that respect (above the basic amount that is deserved across the board) should be earned. Not to mention the icky-ness of the slave woman one. But other than that, I do appreciate the concern for feeding the poor (even if it is only letting them have the scraps) and being good to travellers, and dealing honestly and fairly with people, etc.

I guess my issue here is that it’s such a hodge-podge. If you were a moral blank slate, the Bible would be a terrible guide because it offers no moral distinction between the prohibition on getting a tattoo and robbing someone. I need to turn to the outside sources of logic and my own moral compass to say that there is a very important and fundamental difference between the ethical implications of getting a tattoo and robbing someone. So, at best, the Bible only works as a moral reflection or list, not as a guide.

You know, assuming it was ever intended to be used as such.