Okay, let’s just start out by addressing the elephant in the room here, shall we? Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Yes, that one. The one that gets trotted out by every conservative to strike fear in the hearts about omg teh gay.
First off: this comes in the middle of a laundry list of sexual sins. Some of these are, well, sensible. Incest and bestiality are prohibited, and I think we can all get behind the wrongness with those acts, right? Okay, good. There are some other things, too, though. Like not taking a woman as a rival to her sister. Or not having sex with a menstruating woman. Or adultery. Things that are notably absent from much of the hand-wringing about sin. Yet here’s the thing — nothing about Leviticus 22 calls it out as more important. It’s just there, in a list. So either you’re recognizing that some things change (like we know menstrual blood is not unclean) or they don’t, in which case the conservative right needs to start changing their behavior and rhetoric on a lot of things right quick. (Good luck selling the no polyester thing to your base, folks.)
Moving right along. Three things strike me about the laws enumerated here. (Which I am not going to do individually because I’d be here for days and you would all get bored and hate me. If anyone is reading this. Hello, is this thing on?)
The first is the concern for the poor. There is a distinct emphasis on making sure to leave enough for the poor and alien. Not to gather every last bit and cling tight to it. It’s hard to imagine that, to me, in a world where everything has a price.
The second is the emphasis on justice. Not just punishment for specific sins (though there’s no shortage of that) but justice as an ideal. Again, a lot of it seems, to me, to speak to a high value being placed on community over the individual. A community needs justice to function well.
The third is the way it is setting people apart. Because so much of what is listed is about — your neighbors do these things. But you do not. You are a people set apart. You are not like them, and more than that — do not go to them. Do not seek them out. Stay within yourself.
I’m also struck in the last bit by what seems to me to be an odd emphasis on perfection. For the priestly class, at least, it is a mark of character. I can see this idea, how it’s trickled down into our culture; the idea that what is without reflects what is within. It disturbs me, because it’s inherently problematic. It’s understandable how ancient peoples may have thought this, absent any other possible explanation for deformity or illness. But we know better. We have learned. So why does this persist, even in diluted form? Things to ponder…