Strangest Levitical law

Take a few minutes to read through some of the laws in either Leviticus 11-15 or 17-26.  Is there any law that seems the strangest to you?  Now, try to put yourself in the sandals of Ancient Israelite.  Why do you think that particular law was required for the people of that time?

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About Jeremy

I work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA. I teach part-time classes from time to time, through Loyola University in New Orleans, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary College. I also just finished a doctoral degree in Biblical languages through the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
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19 Responses to Strangest Levitical law

  1. Victor Harewood says:

    As I examined the laws from Leviticus 17-26, I discovered quite a few strange laws. However, the law that appeared the most odd to me was Leviticus 19:27, “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” In all honesty, I can’t seem to justify exactly the purpose of this law from the perspective of an ancient Israelite. The only concept I would imagine would this law may serve as a branding. Many of the Israelite laws are clearly Israelite-centric as they viewed themselves as the chosen people. Many of their practices require that one must first be an Israelite. Therefore, one reason might be that if a man does not round off the hair on his temples or mar the edges of his beard, it would be easier to differentiate him as an Israelite from an alien since it is likely that many people within the same region might resemble each other in regard to physical characteristics. It might have served as a way for one Israelite to identify another considering that many laws require the fair treatment of one’s fellow people.

  2. Paige Hinrichs says:

    I never realized all the odd laws that are in the Old Testament. One of the weirdest ones, in my opinion, is found in Leviticus 21:17-23, which says that anyone who has a blemish is not allowed to bring an offering to God. By “blemish,” the passage continues to explain that anyone with a hunchback, a broken limb, a limb that’s too long, crushed testicles, or even a dwarf cannot go near to offerings. I find it pretty offensive that the Old Testament segregates people with these malformations, when the Bible (as a whole) preaches about loving everyone,etc. I am not sure why this law would have been enforced, but a possible explanation is that any of these malformations were seen as acts of witchcraft,etc. or given to an unholy person by God. Either way, its pretty messed up.

  3. Chris Bauer says:

    I think one of the most interesting laws in Leviticus is in 19:33. This law says that if there is an alien that resides among you, you must treat him as a citizen an “you shall love the alien as yourself”. This law seems to have very quickly been disregarded. Even in antiquity the Jews did not get along with other cultures and thus they weren’t welcome. We see this in the New testament when the Samaratains are treated horribly and disliked. This law seems so simple, but it also seems to be the least followed all the way up to our present time.

  4. Taifa Goff says:

    The law that stood out to me is Leviticus 18:19, it reads “You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.” This law seems strange to me, because who would want to uncover a woman during her menstrual cycle? I tried to put myself in the Ancient Israelite’s position, and I still don’t understand why this law has to be written down, instead of just simply understood. What man would intentionally uncover a woman during her cycle? I don’t have the answer and I can’t even imagine how the women of this time period felt if they were uncovered during their “uncleanness.” Maybe things were’nt so private as they are today and a man just took his chances with a woman. I don’t know, either way I think that’s pretty gross.

  5. Alexis English says:

    There are several strange laws throughout Leviticus, but one of the strangest I found was in Leviticus 19:19 which states “You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.” The only reason I can think of as to why this law would be required for the ancient Israelites is the concept of purity. Sacrifices were often made to God, and most of the time they were animal sacrifices or offerings of fruit from the ground. So I suppose the only sacrifices that could be accepted were those that were pure, not animals bred with different kinds or fruits that were a product of different seeds. As for the garments, I would guess that the clothing of the person offering the sacrifice must also be pure, so they would have to be made from only one type of fabric in order to be presentable.

  6. Heejoong "PK" Kim says:

    One law I found quite amusing was Leviticus 19:20 where it states “If a man has sexual relations with a woman who is a slave, desginated for another man but not ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, since she has not been freed.” After reading all the laws about sexual relations, I think this is one law that does not end in death. It’s very hard for me to think as an Israelite with this law. Having sexual relations with a slave sort of implies prostitutions, act of using someone as a property. However, the consequence is not death, unlike other sexual violations which involves have sexual relationships with family members. The only middleground I can find is that maybe in the past, having sex with family members was more common and was considered a lot worse than prostitution.

  7. Ruth Carter says:

    While reading, I found that, unlike the 10 commandments, which are universal laws that hold meaning to this day, a lot of the laws in Leviticus seemed almost arbitrary when compared to modern thinking and modern laws. Another thing I noticed was that the laws were very extensive to the point of being redundant. Unlike the 10 commandments where it is stated simply “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” Leviticus goes over every possible instance someone could commit adultery and gives a specific punishment. One of the laws I found to be strange was actually one that dealt with adultery. In Leviticus 20:14, the scripture states,” If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity, they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you.” I thought this law was unusual because it states that both the man and his wife and mother in law would be burned instead of solely him and the mother in law. First of all, being burned seems a bit steep compared to modern times, but while reading, I couldn’t help, but ask, what if the wife is unaware of the adultery? Would she still be burned? That does not seem fair or just to me. I can’t imagine a man’s wife would allow him to lay with her mother, but perhaps in antiquity she would not have much say. If this was the case I still don’t think the punishment is fair. While putting myself in the shoes of an ancient Israelite, I suppose I could understand the people’s stance on getting rid of anything related to the situation to avoid any shame on the town, but as the wife in this situation, I would still have to say it is pretty unfair.

  8. Alex Hall says:

    I find it interesting that in Leviticus 12:1-5 it states that the “time of blood purification for shall be thirty-three days” after the birth of a male child, and that the “time of blood purification shall be sixty-six days” after the birth of a child. It doesn’t fully make sense why there would be a different length of time for blood purification because in both cases a child was born (the same act occurs.) The only reason that I can think of as to why the period of blood purification is shorter for a male child is because the Israelites were a male dominated patriarchal society, and consequently might value male babies over female babies.

  9. Sarah Saladino says:

    The law of Leviticus that I found most interesting was Leviticus 19:23-25. This law says “When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall regard their fruit as forbidden; “three years it shall be forbidden” to you, it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all their fruit shall be set apart for rejoicing in the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat of their fruit, that their yield may be increased for you I am the Lord your God.”
    What I found most interesting about this law was the idea that upon arriving to a land the Israelites would plant things for food, but would not be allowed by law, to eat from their crops for five years. My first thought was “What were they supposed eat for the five year waiting period?”

  10. Dante says:

    The law that declares which foods can be eaten are funny, funny because of the way they are written. I believe that this laws were put into place in order for a certain agenda to be met. The people needed camels to travel, so making a law not to eat the camel was smart. I believe that the laws in Leviticus as well as the entire bible were made for that reason. It’s weird that people still look at these laws as dogma. I mean, would someone look at an old law book from 15th century Bosnia for guidance? Not likely.

  11. Amber Donewar says:

    I find the laws about purities and impurities the strangest, especially the “cleansing after childbirth.” I’m assuming they mean some type of baptism, but this is obviously before the “first” baptism. Then the bodily discharge? what? Really they cover all ground in the Bible don’t they? “If any man has discharge from his body, the discharge is unclean.” Blows my mind that its actually there in the Bible.

  12. Jessica Williams says:

    I thought it was a little weird that you couldn’t eat rabbits. Pigs make sense, because they eat nearly everything in their sight and they are really dirty animals – but rabbit stew is really good. :) I can’t really think of why they’d outlaw those.

    Other laws I found strange were the one that said that you couldn’t eat anything that moves on the ground, whether it moves on all fours or on its belly, etc. But doesn’t every land animal moves on the ground? A fox moves on the ground, a deer moves on the ground, a cow moves on the ground. I’m assuming this is supposed to mean insects and reptiles? Maybe there were other groups who worshipped other gods who ate this food, or maybe they sacrificed this type of food to other gods, and that’s why the Israelites were forbidden to do it.

    The woman being unclean during her monthly period and seven days after having a child makes a lot of sense, because I think even modern doctors advise not having sex for a while after women have a baby because of the changes with their bodies. And the period thing is just pretty nasty. Doing this probably prevented the women from having complications after having kids.

    The circumcision thing I think was mostly so that God’s people could be separated from everyone else physically as well as spiritually, because otherwise it kind of doesn’t make sense. That’s why I think that was required.

    Overall I thought these laws showed that the Israelites were pretty clean people.

  13. Marielly Abzun says:

    Some of the laws in Leviticus might seem outrageous in our lifetime but in Ancient Israelites’ time, strict laws and orders were definitely needed. Civilization was still a new idea that needed to be shaped with laws this strict. One law in particular that I found to be quite humorous was in 19:28 which was the law ensuring that no markings were placed on your body, whether they were “..for death or print any marks on you”. This law is quite humorous because in society today most of Americans have a tattoo and many of them are of religious quotes. This just goes to show how selective people can be when it comes to following the laws in the bible.

  14. Jeffrey Ramon says:

    The most hysterical law in Leviticus to me has got to be Chapter 20: 15-16. It reads ” 15And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. 16And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. It is so apparent that the animal is in the wrong for this sort of act, since it has a conscience and all. However, in taking a step back the slaying of both man and animal in the Ancient Israeli culture is logical. One, both man and animal are God’s sacred creatures. In this time period, I would bargain that animals are more sacred to God because the animals are what is offered as sacrifice to God. We do not see humans being sacrificed for God. Even Jesus was not sacrificed for God, he sacrificed himself for mankind. The animal is to be slain, on grounds that the animal in now impure from the human’s acts and is no longer sacred.

  15. Andrew McDaniel says:

    It seems that when reading over the food laws of Leviticus, the laws were not holy but rather good advice for the people. It seems like good advice for the day in which the book was scribed, but in the time we live in I feel we can throw most of these laws to the wind in understanding that the contexts of our times have drastically evolved.

  16. Melissa Raymond says:

    In general I found the laws about Animals in Leviticus 11 bizarre. I know it is hard to imagine how life must have been in such a different time period and culture, but these laws just seem absoultely ridiculous. For example, the laws about insects?? Who really cares?? All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be regarded as unclean? But there is a list of exceptions, bla bla. I truely wonder how these ‘laws’ were applied back then. Did people take this seriously, did they care?

  17. Naomi Stewart-Rubik says:

    The laws in Leviticus are very strange. It is shocking to see what they followed thousands of years ago. We break many of these laws today, such as wearing clothing made of more than one fabric, and markings on our bodies (tattoos). I feel as though some of the laws were unnecessary even back when they were first written. Their lives were so controlled, and many laws seem extraneous. Especially today, these laws are not practical for living.

  18. John Hickey says:

    Almost all of these laws i find very strange. If i were a acient Isrealite and i saw these laws, i would probably think nothing of them because i would have heard them all my life and they would be my customs. A lot of these laws i think were set because of there lives and the resources they had.

  19. Sean Hart says:

    In Chapter 20 v15 of Leviticus, it says a few things about bestiality and the consequences. Well, even now it seems strange for a man to make love to a beast. However, modern scientific research has shown that some animals actually enjoy sexual intercourse with humans. Its legal in some countries to marry an animal. The reason it is strange to me is why they would put him to death. Yes, it is weird, but isn’t the fact that he is in love with a beast punishment enough? Nowadays, those people are just generally, socially ostracized, which makes sense.

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