Biblical Law is primarily contained in the third book of the Bible, Leviticus. Traditionally, the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, is ascribed to Moses, but scholars tend to agree that most of this material was written down circa 600 B.C.E., in the Sixth Century before the current era. As such, whatever teachings may have come down from the time of Moses, were codified in terms of the times in which the authors lived. Inasmuch as they were enslaved in captivity by the Babylonians from 603 to 536 B.C.E., this naturally put a particular spin on their writings. The result is that some of the laws can not be considered to be currently in fashion, and may in fact sound ludicrous.
The problem is in taking ancient law of any kind too literally. There are Maxims of Law, for example, which do not lend themselves to Justice, Order, and Law (and in particular Restorative Justice or Common Law). This point can, perhaps, best seen in an e-mail currently making the rounds of Cyberspace which demonstrate the perils of taking all Biblical Law literally. This e-mail is reproduced here as received:
Laura Schlessinger is a US radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that as an observant Orthodox Jew, she holds that homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned in any circumstance. The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet.
Dear Dr. Laura:
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to follow them.
a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
g) Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?
i) I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev. 24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)
I do look forward to your enlightenment regarding the questions that puzzle me. Then I shall pass them along to others who may appreciate your moral leadership.
(Name withheld by request)
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