Dr. William Morrow – St. Philip Anglican Church Lenten Series Session 4: ”Sexist: Women, Death, and Disorder” (Leviticus 12; 15; 18-22)
Below are my notes from last night’s presentation:
Two ways of processing reality:
We in the West prefer the Cartesian mind of the Dialogical side.
The mind that created Leviticus is closer to First Nations people than white North Americans, preferring the analogical side. Leviticus was written by a deeply analogical mind and is therefore challenging for a dialogical mind to grasp.
Binary Categories in Leviticus 19
Honour/Dishonour Honour the Sabbath v. 3
Purity/Impurity Against mixtures v. 19
A characteristic of holiness thinking is to produce lists of commandments (“thou-shalts”) and prohibitions (“tho-shalt-nots”) that presuppose the opposition of basic values. One of these values is positive and one is negative. For that reason, this kind of thinking is sometimes said to be based on polarities or binary oppositions that express a contrast in values. For example, the command to honour the Sabbaths in Leviticus 19:3 presupposes at least a couple of binary or polar opposites:
Sabbath/Other days of the week
Similarly, the instructions to avoid unacceptable mixtures in Leviticus 19:19 presupposes the binary pair: Purity/Impurity
Some major binary oppositions operative in holiness thinking are:
Holy/Unholy (Profane); Whole/Unwhole; Life/Death; Order/Chaos; Yahweh/Idols; Clean/Unclean; Purity/Impurity; Justice/Injustice; Israel/Nations
Binary Categories in Lev 19
Holy/Unholy (Profane): vv.2,8; Honour/Dishonour (Shame): vv. 2,32; Parent/Child; Sabbaths/Other days of the week: vv. 3, 30; Yahweh/Idols: v. 4; Acceptable/Abominable: vv.5-7,29; Obedience/Disobedience: v.8; Generosity/Meanness: vv.9-10; Justice/Injustice: vv.11-12,13-16,20-22, 33,35,36; Truth/Falsehood; Love/Hate: vv.17-18; Purity/Impurity: vv.19,29; Allowed/Forbidden: vv.23-25; Legitimate Intermediaries/Illegitimate Intermediaries: vv.26,31; Life/Death: vv.26,28
Binaries inLeviticus 21-22
Life/Death; Holy/Unholy/ Whole/Blemished; Clean/Unclean/ Priest/Layperson
Major Holiness Polarities:
Holy/Unholy (Profane); Whole/Unwhole; Life/Death; Order/Chaos; Yahweh/Idols
Subjects of Purification Sacrifices as Persons-at-Risk
Corpse Contamination Numbers 6
Skin Diseases Lev. 13-14
Unusual Genital Discharges Lev. 15
Birthing Woman Lev. 12
Why are these people at risk? What is the function of the sacrificial system in relationship to them? What does this tell us about the theology of Leviticus?
Popular religion of Leviticus world = world filled with demons. In mythical world everything has a cause and the causes are personal. Leviticus is reacting against a belief in demons.
Popular demonic figures in surrounding culture:
Lamashtu fearsome demon of the underworld who killed unborn babies.
The Queen of the Night
The Moon God as Demon – sent leprosy
Plague Demon – sent disease
In the ancient world there were particular human experiences that were believed to make one particularly open to malevolent powers.
Structure of Lev. 15
Men: anomalous flow 2-15
normal flow 16-18
Women: normal flow 19-24
anomalous flow 25-30
These situations all needed ritual remedies.
Women had to wait longer after menstrual flow than men after seminal discharge.
Leviticus 12 – after birth of a boy purification period is shorter than after birth of girl.
Why is birth a purification issue? Childbirth = most common cause of death for women in ancient world. Childbirth was a rite of passage that was full of anxiety. The mother’s life is most endangered at the very moment she was able to bring new life into the world. Terrible contradiction here that must have been deeply felt for ancients. A woman giving birth was a woman at extreme risk.
When a woman gives birth there is a huge loss of blood and water – the stuff which gives life is flowing out of the mother. Connects Leviticus 15 and 12. There is something symbolic about losing life-stuff. When you touch a corpse you are touching something that has lost its life-stuff.
Leviticus does not explain why its particular regulations are important.
Possible explanations for the longer purification ritual for female than male birth:
Males may just be more valued than females.
The baby girl is potentially losing vaginal fluids as well as the mother.
Perhaps the boy’s circumcision gives him a protection that the girl does not have.
There is a well-attested thought in ancient Judaism that circumcision has a prophylactic quality.
The Meaning of Sacrificial Blood – Leviticus 17:10-11
sacred / profane
temple / wilderness
life / camp / death
order / chaos
positive / negative
The farther you get towards the negative pole, the greater your risk of being cut off from God. God is wholly expressive of the positive realm of being. God is pure unadulterated life.
The community wants to live as closely and authentically in communion with the pure and life-giving spirit as it can, but knows it is at risk of not doing that. God has given the sacrificial and ethical systems to enable the community to live in close communion with God, to arrest and set right the deadly negative drift towards chaos.
There is no yin and yang here. There is life and death and you want to be alive, you don’t want to be dead. If the positive and the negative poles get too close together, the community gets burned. Same thinking is written in to the prophets who are saying, the negative and positive poles have come too close together, sparks are going to fly and you are going to get burned.
Rationale for Lev.18:19-23 why is there no prohibition of same-sex relations between women – no polarity
Jesus and Purity thinking
Jesus eats with ritually impure people- Mt. 9:11
Jesus lets women touch him and he touches them – Mk. 5:34; Lk 7;38
Jesus touches lepers- Mt. 8:3
Jesus touches the dead Mk. 5:41
Jesus disputes the category of unclean foods Mk. 7:19
Peter abandons distinction between pure and impure foods
Jews and Gentiles share common meals
Some Christians think nothing of eating in Hellenistic temple restaurants
Some Christians think there are no special or holy days
Women are prominent in positions of leadership
How could the early church do these things?
One of the meanings of the Ripping of the Veil of the Temple: Jesus has broken down social boundaies
Jesus and the Doctrine of the Excluded Middle – Problem with systems of binary thinking:
Everything is either A or not-A, there is no in-between – There is God and there is the Created Order – the Incarnation screws up the doctrine of the excluded middle.
Holiness as a Christian value – I Thessalonians 3:13; I Thessalonians 4:7
It is not that clear what difference Jesus makes to purity thinking of Leviticus. Nowhere in NT does it say what Jesus does to the purity system. Creates an on-going problem in Christian discourse.
Race/Ethnicity – race is a purity category
Class – on basis of wealth is a purity issue
Sex/Gender – big issue of purity
Jesus has done something about purity. But the church remains unclear about what it is Jesus has done.
If we are going to create community we need to understand what the community can hold and what it must differ about. People can have different ideas about what Jesus did to the purity system and still be equally faithful to the gospel.
Why should we read Leviticus? If we don’t understand Leviticus we can’t understand what is gong on in some of the Gospel
It is worth reading because of:
The Dangerous God – it is risky to approach God without some kind of intermediary because we are all hopelessly compromised. The farther in you go in the temple the riskier it gets because the closer you are getting to God.We need guides, helpers, intermediaries to make preparation to walk into sacred space. We are warned against taking the path without adequate guidance and help. How can we approach God in a healthy way? It takes a lot of intentional thinking, spiritual direction and companionship.
The Danger of the Incarnation – Richard Rohr Everything Belongs, p. 141
Yes a truly positive theology of sexuality is dangerous stuff, but so is the Gospel itself. Just as we have often domesticated that Gospel to make it into a means of social order and control so we have avoided the scandal of the Incarnation to avoid God in his most dangerous disguise: the material world.
People who have learned to life from their center in God know which boundaries are worth maintaining and which can be surrendered although it is this very struggle that often constitutes their deepest ‘dark nights.’ (Richard Rohr Everything Belongs, p. 24)
Boundary making remains intrinsic to faith.
Leviticus is about making distinctive community. Leviticus community is absolutely devoted to the Spirit of Life. It is a community that takes death seriously but knows there is a divine solution for its death problems. It understands the movement from sacrifice to the renewal of life, which sounds strangely like an anticipation of the Easter story
Leviticus sees every aspect of life as one that God can relate to. Nothing is outside the purview of God’s concern.
God is pure life, we are not wholly purely alive we are a mixture of death and life, sin and holiness, we live in a world where various activities place us at risk of losing our relationship with God. We touch death metaphorically in many ways. God knows that we as human beings live continually at risk, yet God has made provision for us to approach and relate to that pure life that is God, regardless of the condition in which we might find ourself.