2019-02-20
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The Old Testament is known in large part for its long listing of laws. This is part of why so many Christians never read the entire Bible. They read Genesis and Exodus and then cheerfully skip over most of Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. Christians might then pick up reading when they reach the stories of the conquest of Canaan or the story of David, but few of them are willing to slog through the endless repetitions of what to do if an ox gores a man, woman, married woman, child or slave. Since most people ignore the books that lay out the laws the Israelites were meant to live by, Christians often lose track of a vital part of the story of the Old Testament. They hear the various prophets repeatedly tell the Israelites to return to following the Law, but those who never read Deuteronomy, Leviticus or Numbers have only the vaguest idea of what the Law actually comprises. Christians know that the Israelites broke the rules, but they do not know what those rules were.

Scholars are fascinated by the Law as laid out in the Bible because it gives them a glimpse into how ancient Israelite society functioned. Unfortunately, most modern Christians are not biblical scholars working to really dig into the Bible and the cultural context in which it was written. Instead, most Christians pick and choose which sections of the Bible to read. This means that they skip over the “boring” bits, but by not reading through the laws, Christians miss out on some downright entertaining instructions. 

No sharing chairs with a menstruating woman.

According to Leviticus 15, a menstruating woman is considered to be ritually unclean for seven days. As such, objects and people that need to maintain a status of ritual purity, such as priests, need to avoid her. Apparently, they also need to avoid sitting on any chair that she used.

Leviticus 15:19-21 states, “When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.” Any man who makes his wife mad while she’s menstruating better be prepared to do a lot of standing or just accept being unclean until he is out of the dog house.

No eating bats.

Leviticus lays out most of the purity code that the Israelites were to follow. The book contains a long list of what is and is not acceptable for the Israelites to eat, and that list makes up the backbone of what is and is not considered kosher for today’s Jews. Some foods are still eaten or avoided today, but there are others that seem downright bizarre to modern palates. Among these strange would-be foods are bats. 

Bats are listed among forbidden birds such as owls, eagles and vultures. It seems strange to modern people, but bats were a potential food source. In fact, there are still cultures that consume bats today. By forbidding a variety of birds and bats, Leviticus cut down on the Israelites’ potential food sources, but it also may have saved them from a wide variety of diseases. Bats are excellent vectors, animals that carry diseases without being effected themselves, and vulture’s meat is the immune system’s worst nightmare.  

Lethal force is only acceptable at night.

According to Exodus 22, a person is allowed to defend their house with lethal force if and only if the burglar broke in at night. If the thief came during the day, they are safe from death but will still have to pay for their crime. 

The logic behind Exodus 22:2-3 is suspected to be an issue of intention and practicality. It would be all but impossible to identify a thief who came in the middle of the night and see that they were punished for their crimes. A nighttime thief was also seen as being more likely to have ill or murderous intentions. As such, killing a burglar at night would have been seen as a form of self-defense. Someone who broke in during the day, however, could be identified and put on trial. They were also believed to be less likely to be a potential murder.

Lie detecting, curse-bearing holy water.

Ancient cultures had some strange ways of determining who was innocent and who was guilty. Some cultures would release chickens. The person was guilty or innocent depending on which way the chicken flew. People were forced to walk through fire, swim rivers or hope that the smoke made the right patterns to prove their innocence. Though the ancient Israelites clearly had a system that involved trials, hence proscribing bearing false witness, there were still a few odd “tests” floating around. One of them was using dirty holy water to determine if a woman had committed adultery. Numbers 5 states that a woman who was accused of adultery should be brought to the priests. They would “take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it in to the water…[The priest] shall make the woman drink the water…and the water that brings the curse shall enter here…if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people.
But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.” Dust bunnies that could detect lies would certainly be more useful than the lazy ones today that simply sit around under people’s beds.

Grabbing below the belt.

Modern boxers and M.M.A. fighters have rules that they have to follow. One of the classics is “no hitting below the belt.” This rule was apparently in effect in ancient Israel and needed to be revised to include bystanders. Deuteronomy 25:11-12 states that “If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.” Arguably the most interesting thing about this law is the implication that women interfering in fights by grabbing below the belt had become a problem. After all, no one makes a law against something that never happens.

There are some strange laws in place around the world today, but the Bible might take the cake for strange rules. Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers might seem like an endless list of laws, but when gems like these are hiding in the pages, no one can argue that the books fail to be entertaining or at least interesting.
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