Well friends, I promise I haven't been forgetting about doing the Shema Summer. I've kept up with the readings fairly well but my blogging has slacked significantly. When this summer began I vowed to try my hardest to only do reading at work so I could just shut my brain off in the evenings (in order to recover from last semester). That said, I grouped blogging in with reading and in the past week I've been pretty busy at work (orientation and what not). Now that that confession moment is over, I just want to quickly bullet point some ideas I've been thinking about while reading these passages. I won't go as in-depth as my other entries but I think I'll provide enough to just think about for a little bit.
First, as my friend Katie pointed out quite well, the concern for blood in Leviticus is more of a concern for life than anything else. Bloggy blog blog
Second, when taking Introduction to Old Testament, I found Leviticus one of the more fascinating books that we talked about. Something that really peaked my interest was the concept of holiness being similar to a concept of separateness and distinction. One of the theories that was remarked in class (as well as a brief discussion in another class I had that semester) was that Leviticus is not necessarily about setting up the best ways for one to live but setting up the ways to live that are separate, or holy, from the other ways to live. Consider that the Israelites receiving these commandments lived next to other world powers that had very different ways of life including economics, governmental structure, and religion. If, for example, one of these religions incorporated pigs as a part of their worship then it is possible that the command to not eat pig could be taken as a way to keep on the good side of that religion. Or maybe not on the good side, but just invisible entirely. Consider further the strict commandments about incest or homosexuality. In order to keep divinity within a particular family tree (a. la Egypt), wouldn't one marry someone in their own family? What about religions that incorporate homosexuality into their worship practices (most likely in the form of orgies)? Is the practice of homosexuality an abomination or is its use to worship a false idol an abomination?
Third, another interesting bit of information that I picked up in Intro to Old Testament was that Numbers 22:22 is the first instance of the Hebrew word "שטן" or "Satan" (in the NRSV it is translated adversary) being used in the entire Hebrew Bible. Think about this. It is not used for the snake in the Garden of Eden. It is not a part of the story of Cain and Abel. Satan is not the one being destroyed in the Great Flood. No, instead "the adversary" makes his first appearance not as an actual character but as a two-dimensional figure that represents an idea. An adversary. Someone who stands in the way; someone who impedes progress. Sometimes we think of Satan in these ways today too but it's important to notice how "Satan's" first appearance is not even as an actual character, it is not to battle against God in some way, and in fact Satan isn't even the focus of this story at all (it's Balaam). That said, the adversary kind of scares me in this passage just because he is so mysterious (and he's got a sword, so that adds to the scary factor).
Fourth, Moses goes nuts in Num. 31:13-20 when he finds out that the army didn't kill all the women. He accuses the women of "[making] the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord" because, you know, women in these times were in a position to force men to do whatever they pleased (Num. 31:16). This passage is violent, sexist, and disturbing. Simply put, it is unacceptable to do anything with this passage but wrestle with it and engage it critically.
Fifth, I couldn't think of anywhere else to mention this so I'll just throw it in here as a footnote to all of this. The conception of heaven and hell in early Judaism (note: this conception applies to these books so pay attention) was... well there wasn't one. Hell didn't exist and heaven wasn't a place where people went. No, heaven was a place where God was (or is, I suppose). People didn't go to heaven when they die, they went to Sheol. In fact, sometimes they went there when they were alive (Num. 16:33). Sheol is a place that is not paradise or torment. It's just... there. Your soul goes there and slowly fades into nothing. Picked this information up during my Intro to Old Testament class as well.
It's important to understand this conception of the afterlife because of how we conceive of the afterlife in contemporary Christianity. We tend to think of eternal life as a life of bliss and happiness. We also think of it as a place of renewal where our aching bodies are given new life (or, in some theologies, we don't have physical bodies but we're just spirits. The result is similar though because we no longer have to deal with our physical ailments). However, we tend to picture heaven as a place where our lives are extended rather than a place where we flourish as what we are meant to be (we're all guilty of this, some of us more frequently than others). However, the hope of extending one's life in the Old Testament, particularly these books, often takes the form of keeping the bloodline going. So just to recap: Christianity extends life through the afterlife, Judaism extends life through passing on the bloodline. Important.
Finally, the Shema is found in Deut. 6:4-9. Notice that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and might. Let's notice two things about this. First, the heart in this worldview is seen as the seat of intelligence, similar to how we think of the brain today. Second, notice how at first glance this is different from the Greatest Commandment in Matt. 22:34-40. Deuteronomy doesn't say anything about loving your neighbors! Not so fast. How does one love God with all their heart, soul, and might? By obeying God's commands and remembering that God is their God. Most of the stuff before Deuteronomy (as well as in Deuteronomy) are God's commands to God's people. Notice that most of these commands deal with ethical and moral conduct. Obeying God's commands to act ethically and morally with one another is the same as loving God.
Love God's people, love God.
For further reflection: Is it important that we are aware of the differences between our contemporary worldview and the worldview out of which these books were written in? What are some benefits of reading the text in either way? What are some disadvantages?
Do you think reading the Old Testament is important for Christians today? Do you think the Old Testament should be read on its own terms or through the lens of the New Testament?