ORIGINS OF THE LAW
In this section we’ll be going over some of the statutes that Moses came up with to keep his merry band of wanderers in line. These statutes are the nitty gritty of how to implement the Ten Commandments.
Technically, the ‘Law’ is the Ten Commandments as written on the stone tablets. These were stored in the Ark of the Covenant, which we’ll get to later. The ‘statutes’ are the actual mandates and corresponding punishments that cover a myriad of situations.
Many people argue these statutes were dictated directly to Moses by God and were on the tablets Moses broke during the golden calf fiasco. If you take a look at any Bible and consider how many stone tablets it would take to write all this down, it’s pretty obvious two tablets wouldn’t cut it.
Even Jesus refers specifically to the ‘Law of God’ and ‘Statutes of Moses’ as two distinctly separate things. I figure if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.
Also, it’s important to note that all these laws and statutes were meant only for the Israelites – to keep them separate from the other people who occupied the land. So technically, if you’re not a Jew, none of this applies to you. You’re off the hook.1
Most people, when they cite these laws, act like they were written for everybody, everywhere, for all time. That’s just not the case. They were written for the children of Israel, period. If you’re not a Jew but would like to abide by them, fine. If not, that’s fine too. You’re under no obligation, and neither is anybody else.
And, as it turns out, these were not entirely original laws. Moses borrowed liberally from the many codes and statues of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Sumerians and others that had been governing the peoples of the near and Middle East for centuries.2
Leviticus and Deuteronomy are two books full of instructions on how to perform various sacrifices and rules about what’s okay to eat, how to treat people, who can have sex with whom, what to do about leprosy and much more. It’s pretty tedious.
There’s a lot of repetition in the two books so I’m going to be mixing and matching a lot of it, taking a little something from Leviticus and then a little something from Deuteronomy hoping you don’t get bored. I’m going to be skimming the basic content while highlighting some of the passages I found to be more interesting, questionable, or downright outrageous.
Leviticus and Deuteronomy are very much like a lot of the Bible narratives; the same story told from two differing perspectives.3
Sacrificing to various Gods was a practice common to many civilizations long before Moses came along. Apparently sacrifice was the only way to appease God, no matter whose God it was. And these Gods needed plenty of appeasing. Pretty much everything you did, good or bad, required some sort of sacrifice. Besides that, there were numerous festivals literally built around ritual sacrifice. I won’t go into all the details but if you really want to know about it I recommend you read these two books.
For the record, sacrifice requires you give up something prized or of value in order to get something of higher value. What they gave up were things like sheep, cattle, oxen and, in some cultures, the first born child. What they got back was a happy God.
In a way it makes perfect sense from an ancient man’s point of view. These people were accustomed to having a powerful ruler over them. If you wanted something from him, of course you’d have to pay for it, and likewise, if you did something wrong you’d have to pay for that too. It’s only natural that if you wanted something from God, the biggest ruler of them all, you’d have to pay for it. The concept of a loving God who wants nothing more than to bestow all the fruits of the kingdom on you would have to wait until Jesus came along.4
Moses wanted to make sure his people did their sacrifices in the right way and with plenty of respect since, after all, their God was the best God, right? So he laid out very strict rules about how and what to sacrifice.
Regardless of what the sacrifice was for, there was one thing you could count on; lots of killing and plenty of blood. Depending on how wealthy you were, oxen, cattle and lambs were all fair game. For poor people it was doves and grain. And you couldn’t offer up just any cow or lamb in the field either; it had to be a spotless male without blemish. In other words, you had to give up your best to God.
They didn’t just kill it either. They’d cut it up, gut it, drain the blood and wave the various parts around the altar. Very often, burning the various parts was part of the ritual because God liked the smell. I guess God likes a good barbecue as much as anyone. He loved the smell of burning flesh.
It’s hard to imagine how messy this would be when they really got going. When you consider how many people there were and all the things that required sacrifice it would have had to have been a non-stop operation.
I mention this not to gross you out, but to show how established the notion of sacrifice, killing and blood were ingrained in the mindset of the people of the time. Particularly the Hebrews. Fifteen hundred years down the road this premise would become the cornerstone of the Christian religion.
This notion of not being good enough and needing to sacrifice in one way or another to become worthy is, unfortunately, still in the mindset of a huge number of people today.
One of the first things Moses did was anoint his brother Aaron as the High Priest. Anointing is a symbolic thing where they pour oil on your head and declare you to be whatever it is they’re declaring you to be. In this case it was the High Priest. Later it would be mostly about declaring someone king.
Anointing was a really big deal. You needed to be ‘anointed’ into your position for it to be valid. The Hebrew word for someone who is anointed is ‘messiah’. When you hear the word ‘messiah’ it literally means ‘anointed one’. Keep this in your back pocket for a while. We’ll get back to it later when we talk about Jesus. But for now it meant only the descendants of Aaron could be priests.
The next thing Moses did was assign the Levites to be keepers of the tabernacle, and later, by extension, the temple, and the Ark of the Covenant. It was a huge responsibility. Remember, Moses was a Levite and they’d stood up with him during the whole golden calf thing so this could very well be their reward.
So now, not only had Moses cemented his place as leader but he’d also surrounded himself with a loyal guard and established he and his brother as the sole authority when it comes to God.
One of the Ten Commandments that really was a stroke of genius was the Sabbath. From the very beginning God had made a big deal about him taking a day off after he created the heavens and earth. With the Sabbath, he mandates that the Hebrews take one day off every week. No work at all. None. Period. Basically sit on the couch and watch the world go by. Why would he do that?
In this case, it turns out God had a pretty good handle on human psychology. He knew man would work himself to death if given the chance. And not only himself, but everyone who worked for him.
But God (or was it Moses?) had seen enough of this and commanded that his people work no more than six days before taking one day off. This included the man of the house, his wife, his whole family, his slaves, everybody who worked for him, even his animals.
I’m sure we all know someone that, if given the chance, would work until he dropped. This Sabbath thing was a brilliant way to make sure that didn’t happen. You must take one day off a week. Non-negotiable. Does anybody still do that?
We seem to have gotten away from that idea in today’s day and age but it was, and still is, a great idea.
One of the first things God told Moses was to make sure he didn’t make big ornate altars. He was to make them out of raw rocks. unhewn stone. When I first read this I thought God didn’t want a lot of glitz and glimmer and wanted his people to be more grounded and humble. But later on, when we get to Solomon and the temple, we’ll see God likes his bling just as much as anybody.
God gave detailed instructions on how to build the Ark of the Covenant, which is a gold covered box that would hold the Ten Commandment tablets. Equally detailed are instructions about the Tabernacle, which is a big tent that held the Ark of the Covenant; and the priests and others who were to take care of it all.5
This is where we first hear the distinction between ‘clean’ animals and ‘unclean’ animals. What it comes down to is you can eat clean animals but unclean animals are off limits. You might remember I brought this up when we visited Noah and his ark.
At first glance you might wonder what’s the point. But when you look at it a bit closer it all makes sense. When it all washes out, the animals that are okay to eat are the herd animals, flocking birds and schooling fish, along with a few bugs. What you can’t eat are predators or anything that could be highly unhealthy if not prepared exactly right; like pigs, scavengers, rodents, bottom feeders and shellfish.
It shows that Moses had a pretty good grasp of the ebb and flow of his ecosystem and how to maintain it. Herd animals and schooling fish are good food and multiply quickly. Predators are essential to the balance of any ecosystem and they’re generally not the best food anyway. Bottom feeders, scavengers, shellfish, rodents and swine, even today, are pretty sketchy eating.
Even primitive people learned these culinary lessons early on. But you know how people get. Sometimes, without rules, they’ll do what’s not good for them anyway. Moses knew that and he got really specific and employed his favorite tactic; the fear of God.
This next section is where Moses really shows a forward thinking social agenda. It’s also an area where modern day fundamentalists are particularly adept at cherry picking.
First Moses said you couldn’t harvest your field right up to the edges nor glean the gatherings of your harvest or strip your vineyard bare. You had to leave these leftovers for the poor, homeless, widows and orphans, Moses’ early version of social welfare.
He said you couldn’t steal, deal falsely or lie. You couldn’t rob or oppress your neighbor and you had to pay the people that work for you what you said you’d pay them, when you said you’d pay them.
If you found something of your neighbor’s, you had to give it back. And if you didn’t know whose it was, you had to make an honest effort to find out. No ‘finders keepers’.
You couldn’t be partial to the poor or defer to the rich. You had to be honest in your dealings and couldn’t go around slandering people.
Also, you had to respect the sojourner (a foreigner working in your country) as you would a citizen of your own land. And, you had to love him as yourself. At the very least, treat the immigrant just the same as you would a natural born citizen.
Moses specifically said if your brother becomes poor you will support him as though he was a stranger or sojourner. You shall not sell him food for profit or charge him interest and you shall welcome him to live beside you. You shall provide for his welfare. Welfare being the operative word.
You couldn’t hate your neighbor in your heart and you had to reason frankly with him. You couldn’t take vengeance nor bear a grudge. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
When you lent your brother money, you couldn’t charge him interest.
You couldn’t sell one of your brothers into slavery.
If these laws would have been around in Jacob’s day then none of his sons except Joseph and Benjamin would have lived and this whole twelve tribes of Israel would have never seen the light of day.
There’s a section that talks about not sacrificing a child. In more than one instance God talks about redeeming the first born son by sacrificing a lamb instead. Apparently it was a common practice among certain folks back then to kill the firstborn in the name of their God. You’ll remember Abraham was ready to sacrifice Issac no questions asked. Moses put a stop to that.
Moses again showed his knowledge of the land when he commanded his people to observe the Sabbath of the land, which means you could plant a field for six years but every seventh year you had to let it rest. No tilling, no harvesting what grows by itself, nothing. Even then, he knew the soil needed to replenish itself or it would eventually wear out.
And when you planted a tree, you couldn’t eat its fruit for five years. Moses was quite the horticulturist.
You couldn’t curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind. A deeper meaning might suggest you can’t mess with people when they don’t know you’re doing it. Without being overly Kabala-esque, hidden meanings abound in these laws if you’re willing to look for them.
A prime example would be when Moses laid down a couple of interesting laws. One being you couldn’t sow two kinds of seeds in the same field, the other being you couldn’t yoke an ox and a donkey together to plow your field.
Sure, oxen and donkeys are nowhere near the same size nor do their temperaments allow them to work well together. And sowing two crops in the same field is just asking for a nightmare at harvest time. But any capable farmer would already know this and, since they were wandering around the desert, they weren’t planting any crops anyway.
So why did Moses feel it necessary to write something like this into law?
This is a particularly glaring example where we see Moses hiding a deeper metaphysical message beneath the surface of what, at first glance, looks like an innocuous mandate. Moses is pointing out that you should not yoke yourself to another of incompatible abilities or temperament. We could even take this further to include intelligence, world view, spiritual development and much more. Be careful where you choose to plant your seeds and who you yolk up with.
The real point is, it behooves us to examine these laws on a deeper level. There is much more here than meets the eye.
Also, tattoos were a no-no, as was cutting yourself or shaving your beard. Many people think these rules are about keeping themselves separate from the Egyptians but it seems more likely that it’s more of a health issue.
Remember, these people were wandering around the desert during the early Bronze Age. Basic hygiene was not even an issue. Chances are they were using a sharpened flint to shave with. A tattoo would be done with an unsterilized piece of metal or even a stick, with ink made from some plant extract or crushed stone. The chances of infection were astronomical. This was a time when a simple cut could easily become infected, causing permanent damage or death. Moses recognized this early on and put a stop to it.
For good measure you were supposed to have tassels on the four corners of your garments and not wear a garment made of two types of fabric. Why? Who knows? Deeper meaning? Undoubtedly.
There is a very specific law concerning a son who is rebellious and won’t obey his father and mother; he shall be stoned.6 I say this just for you literalists who cherry pick your laws. Don’t forget to stone your rebellious sons.
There’s a whole section about not going to mediums, wizards or diviners. You were supposed to go only to God, via Moses, or else you’d be stoned or burned. It’s obvious Moses didn’t want his people going to every psychic or palm reader for advice.
But when we read deeper into the Bible these mediums, prophets and oracles pop up all over the place and are given great credence. Even the story of Jesus’ birth rests on three wise men and the divination and astrology they used to figure out where he would be born.
The sad part is a lot of people throughout the ages have used this to justify countless atrocities, Joan of Arc and the Salem witch trials to name just two.
Moses goes into great detail about who can have sex with whom, or ‘uncovering their nakedness’ as he liked to put it.7
He seemed to be very concerned with banishing incest and any sex within families. Up until now, this was very common, even with the Hebrews. If you remember, Abraham, Issac and Jacob all married relatives. Moses even prohibited a man from marrying two sisters. Good thing this law wasn’t around when Jacob married Rachel and Leah.
It seems like Moses was trying to purge his people of some of the things that had gotten them in trouble in the past. Also, being of the house of Pharaoh, maybe he’d recognized how incest degraded the gene pool. He even made specific reference that his people should keep themselves separate and not do as the Egyptians or Canaanites8 had done.
There’s also a reference about a man lying with another man as with a woman that has been a bane on many a life. I’m going to leave that for now and cover it extensively in a section dedicated exclusively to homosexuality.
If a man found out his wife wasn’t a virgin when they married, all the men in town got to stone her. If a man was found having sex with another man’s wife they both got stoned.
There is a really strange, and I do have to say, extremely superstitious way to find out if a woman had cheated on her husband. I’m not going to go into it but if you want to see some of the stuff they were doing back then that the fundamentalists have seemed to completely neglect, follow the footnote to check it out.9
If a man raped a woman in the city they both must be stoned. Why her, you ask? Since she was in the city she should have cried out for help and she would have been rescued. That always works, right? So obviously, if she didn’t scream, she wanted it. But if she was in open country, she was off the hook because no one could have heard her anyway. But the guy still got stoned, right? Well, not necessarily.
Both these circumstances are only in effect if the woman was betrothed to another man. She is his property and the rapist defiled the man’s property.
If the woman was virgin but not betrothed then the rapist had to pay her father and marry her. You might recall I mentioned this before and how times have changed. Remember Dinah and her brothers?
Incidentally, nothing is said about what happens if a man raped a woman who wasn’t a virgin. Apparently that was okay.
Also, a woman can’t wear men’s clothing and vice versa. Sorry, it’s an abomination. Check your wardrobe, all you crossdressers out there.
If someone is beating up a guy and his wife goes to help her husband and grabs the attacker’s private parts, you have to cut off her hand. Talk about harsh. She must have wanted that too, right?
There’s also some stuff about divorce and inheritance. It always is up to the man. This was back in the day when a woman was just property for the man to do with as he pleased.
The Year of the Jubilee was another of Moses’ brilliant ideas that has fallen by the wayside. A Jubilee year comes every fifty years and in that year everybody gets back whatever land they’ve sold off in the previous 49 years.
This was a big deal because when the children of Israel finally conquered the ‘Promised Land’, each tribe got a portion of the land which they divided up among each family in the tribe. Possession of the land was a finite thing since each tribe only got so much, which meant each family only got so much.
So, whenever you sold some land you set the price according to how long it was until the next Jubilee year. If it was many years, the price was higher and if it was a few years, the price was lower because, no matter what, you were going to get your land back in the year of the Jubilee. It really was more like a lease.
You know how people are, if given the chance, it wouldn’t be long before a few rich families owned all the land. Even today, we see it all over the world. Moses recognized this and put the Jubilee in place to keep that from happening. Brilliant.
This idea of a Refuge city is an interesting concept. Moses designated six cities as Refuge cities.
The point was simple; If you killed somebody, but not on purpose10, you could run to one of these cities and have refuge from the ‘avenger of blood’. This avenger of blood was usually the oldest male in the family of the guy you killed. It was his duty to kill you to make things right. An eye for an eye kind of thing. But if you made it to the City of Refuge this avenger couldn’t touch you until you got a fair trial. If he got you beforehand, you were toast.
It seems Moses understood the power and need for vengeance one might feel when a family member is killed. He knew how the avenger could easily be acting irrationally out of blind anger and he was cutting him a bit of slack. But only a bit. It gave the ‘avenger of blood’ a little time to act impulsively if he had the mind to, but it also ensured the man-slayer, if he could get to the City of Refuge in time, would have the opportunity to let justice take its course.
Was Moses thinking back to when he first murdered that Egyptian and the avenger of blood was hot on his tail?
I’ve only scratched the surface here but what I noticed when I first read the Bible was we, as a people, have found it very convenient to cherry pick the statutes we resonate with and seem perfectly willing to ignore the ones that don’t serve us. Literalists have made up some very convoluted theological reasons why that’s okay. In one breath they’ll say it’s okay to shave your beard but in the next breath they’ll say something like, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that’s that.”
For most of western history we’ve had no problem persecuting gays, burning witches, regaling social welfare or demonizing immigrants while being perfectly content to get tattoos, shave our beards and wear clothes with no tassels and made of cotton and polyester.
I encourage32 you to read Leviticus and Deuteronomy and see for yourself what hypocrites we are.
Moses finishes off with a whole tirade about how everything will go well with you if you obey these statues and how things will go horribly wrong if you don’t. That’s pretty much the whole message of the Bible; be good and you’ll get good; don’t do good and won’t.33
1 Bible pounders never mention this
2 The Code of Hammurabi being one of the main ones.
3 More evidence to support the Documentary Hypothesis.
4 The Good News.
5 The Levites
6 Deut 21:18-21
7 I just love that
8 There’s poor Cannan getting dragged down again.
9 Numbers 5:11-31
11 And most other religions
12 Depending on your proclivity
13 Most literalists hate taking things in context
14 Forty years is an Aramaic idiom meaning ‘a long time’. References to ‘forty’ does not literally refer to a specific number.
15 Exodus 12:37 says about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children came up out of Egypt. According to most scholars we can assume each of these men had at least a mother and/or father, a wife and/or children, etc. So we can conservatively estimate each of these guys represent four people.
16 See ‘Teachings of Jesus – Chapter 10’
17 The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English
18 The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English
19 The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English
20 Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
22 Forgeonline.org March 21, 2019 Ed Oxford “Has ‘Homosexual’ Always Been In The Bible?”
23 Forgeonline.org – March 21, 2019 Ed Oxford “Has ‘Homosexual’ Always Been In The Bible?”
27 Forgeonline.org – March 21, 2019 Ed Oxford “Has ‘Homosexual’ Always Been In The Bible?”
29 https://allthatsinteresting.com/pederasty By Katie Serena Published Dec 7, 2017 Updated Feb 12, 2018
31 Google NAMBLA or Gabriel Matzneff for starters
33 Law of Attraction 101