Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oh boy. Leviticus 12

Apologies for the long silence. There are just times when the words don’t flow. And times when the words don’t flow and the next writing task is a big challenge.

Working through the whole Bible, we come to one of those odd passages. Actually, one of the oddest passages outside of prophetic visions in the Old Testament. It’s Leviticus 12 (link), where the rules of purification after childbirth are given.

This is an odd situation. There are a few things to hold to as we look at this:

1. Do not confuse the need for “purification” with the need for “forgiveness.” While there are overlaps in the vocabulary, not everything in the Old Testament that needed purified meant that sin had occurred. This passage should not be taken to indicate that childbirth is sinful.

2. Then we get to the real touchy part of the chapter. Why in the world are the purification rites different for a son than for a daughter? Let’s break this down:

A. The first option is the view that sons are more valuable than daughters or more approved or that it’s more sinful to have a daughter. This view must be rejected outright. One can find in Scripture support for differing views on roles and responsibilities for men and women, but no place can be found that devalues one gender in contrast to another.

B. The second option is a view that looks at the partnership between purification of the mother and purification of the child. Old Testament law held circumcision of male children as a component of their purification. Since the male child could be circumcised, he went through part of the purification and the mother does the rest. Daughters did not undergo a similar rite (anatomy forbids it—there is no cause or justification for the wickedness that is practiced against women/girls in some places in this world) and so the mother thereby had to spend the whole time of purification. Overall, this view may have some value.

C. The third option is this: in many societies, especially those with a more primitive lifestyle, males are more valued than females. Now, a qualifier: primitive is not intended as insulting here. It simply means not advanced. As in places where life is a hardcore struggle for survival and one kills and grows all of your own food, not shops for most of it.

In those societies, it is tempting to provide baby girls less care than baby boys. The first few months of life are crucial, especially in those more primitive situations. Left to our own devices, we tend to focus on providing for those who can do for us, provide for us.

By mandating that a mother spend eighty days in purification for a daughter instead of the forty for a son, the Law establishes a pattern that provides an extra measure to insure care for daughters. Rather than being an “anti-woman” type of measure, this is actually very “pro-woman.” This is another possibility of how to interpret this passage.

So, what do we do with it?

We could make an argument for longer maternity leaves based on it. I’m not sure that’s the valid Biblical viewpoint here, but it is a potentially viable idea. We certainly do not live in the theocratic society of the time, and so cannot make it the law. Nor would we want to--

How does this work for us?

I think the key is in the third option above. Even if that’s theologically tenuous, we should see here a passage of Scripture that reminds us that all life is valuable. Boys and girls. Men and women. We must fight the tendency in any society to pick and choose our favorites and degrade others. That must cut back across gender lines, racial lines, ethnic lines, cultural lines…the Gospel of Jesus Christ is radically incompatible with prejudice. Radically incompatible with foolish judgment. Radically incompatible with a culture that kills off the inconvenient.

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