Friday, June 15, 2012

How's It Hanging?

As part of an ongoing attempt to redeem the image of this blog as a serious affront to theism I have decided to properly attack some scripture. I want to put paid to the accusations that this is not a “properly atheist” blog, and I decided to start out by grabbing some low hanging fruit.

What better place to find low hanging fruit of the biblical variety than Leviticus? Despite the fact that Leviticus is considered so nutty by many that ridiculing any passage from it might be thought of as an affront too easily wiped away, I still think it is a reasonable pace to start; even if I have no hope of scoring a true money shot with it.

Leviticus is important because it is one of the books of the bible in which god is really chatty. He just grabs Moses’s ear and won’t let go till he fills it up.

That reminds me. As a tangential aside I should point something out. The 1987 movie “Prick up your ears” is “ the story of the spectacular life and violent death of British playwright Joe Orton” , and not, as the name might suggest, gay fetish porn.

In choosing the passage from Leviticus for this initial adventure into hard-core bible bashing I decided against any of the abominable passages. However, I still wanted to get the nasty stuff right from god’s mouth. The variations available from Leviticus are astounding; I simply had to decide how I wanted to position my attitude.

I’m sure several of you will question my choice, but here it is:

‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the LORD. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy. ’ – Leviticus 21:17-23 NIV

This appears fairly straightforward. If the individual doing the offering looks deformed they can’t go behind the magic curtain. They can apparently get take out for “the most holy food of his God”, but they cannot sit at his lunch counter.

I could talk about Leviticus and the female gender, but I’m after hanging fruit here, and protected in the center of this passage I think I see some.

There is one deformity specified in the list that might slip by a casual examination. That one is the “damaged testicles”. How did god expect Moses to direct the priests to test for this? Were the people with potential offerings to drop their drawers and be subjected to some sort of prodding? Would a simple “turn your head and cough” work or would a thorough digital exam be needed to properly please the LORD?

That reminds me. As a tangential aside I should point something out. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in males age 20-39. If caught early the cure rate for testicular cancer is nearly 100%. There are many conditions that can cause lumps on the testicles that are not tumors. Vestigial remnants of the paramesonephric ducts occur as lumps on the testicles of 90% of men.

So how much damage is too much testicle damage for the LORD? Bruising and lumps? Pain? The idea of oozing sores is covered separately in the passage I chose so there must be some specific type of testicle damage the priests are supposed to look for.

Perhaps the specific nature of the damage was lost in translation?

The King James Version of the bible avoids the use of the word testicle. Reading it one might confuse the direction to call for a check of the potential priest’s umin and thumin rather than a more intimate examination.

“stones broken” – Leviticus 21:20 KJB

Young’s literal translation repeats the “broken” description from the King James version. What is a “broken” testicle? They might squish, but they don't fracture. This is a specific direction straight from the LORD, and I think it requires a literal interpretation, and you'd think a "literal translation"would help better with that..

Since testicles are the place where sperm is produced in the male body, are broken testicles simply those that cannot produce sperm? Is this a admonition to future Jews not to get vasectomies, and how did Iron-age peoples huddled in desert huts do sperm counts?

“broken-testicled” –Leviticus 21:20 Young’s Literal Translation

The Lexham, Easy to Read, and New Life bibles provide a bit of specificity as to the nature of the testicular injury, but they don’t really provide direction concerning the amount of damage. I would think the word crushed would not be a common modifier for the noun testicle, but it occurs eslwhere in the bible. 

"If a man's testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD." -- Deuteronomy 23:1 New Living Translation

Apparently if you have crushed testicles you are not allowed to eat with everybody else, or go hang out with them afterwards.

You would think that if crushing was such a displeasing testicular injury in the eyes of the LORD that he would have done a little safety training to prevent those type of injuries. Why not a commandment 11 like: “Thou shalt wear a cup when playing full contact sports, or sports involving a rapidly moving ball”.

And what is “crushed” ? I can picture some monk trying to minimize his injuries during the required examination: “No…that’s not a crushing…that’s just…uh…a bad pinch…yeah…just a bad pinch”. I know that when I was younger I would try and squirm out of being caught even when the accuser had the evidence right in their hand.

“crushed testicles” –Leviticus 21:20 Easy to read bible

“a crushed testicle” –Leviticus 21:20 Lexham English Bible

“sex parts have been crushed” --Leviticus 21:20 New Life Version

The Wycliffe bible cut’s through the crap and defines the unpleasing testicular status as being bruised. Unfortunately they replace the specific term testicle with “privy members”. What are privy members anyway? Are they members of some club that gets to use a special bathroom? I’m not sure the Wycliffe bible is even talking about damaged anatomy.

“bruised in (the) privy members” – Leviticus 21:20 Wycliffe Bible

The New century bible may be more specific than the Wycliffe bible in maintaining that the issue is anatomical, but by replacing testicles with “sex glands” they raise a whole new set of issues. How are they to test the prostate? Churches that use the New Century bible must have very invasive ceremonies.

That reminds me. As a tangential aside I should point something out. Prostate cancer is a significant cancer in men over the age of 45. In 2005 over 230,000 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed in the US, and over 30,000 men died of prostate cancer. Early prostate cancer usually presents no symptoms, yet early diagnosis is an important factor in survival from this disease.

“men who have damaged sex glands” –Leviticus 21:20 New Century Version

The Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition bible eliminates talk of this issue altogether. Leviticus 21:20 ends with the word rupture, but there is no mention of where or what a rupture is. This translation also describes having “a pearl in his eye”. I’m a bit confused about what this means, and without more background on this translation any interpretation of it on my part would be premature.

“If he be crookbacked, or blear eyed, or have a pearl in his eye, or a continual scab, or a dry scurf in his body, or a rupture” –Leviticus 21:20 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition

What should have been clear instruction is lost.  Because the passage lacks any moral, social, or philosophical structure it is impossible to determine why god was so interested in the testicles of the men in "all the generations" that would follow his direction.  Filtered through what appears to be prudish re-wording we loose our grasp on even the simple noun I have focused on.  If testicles were important to god, and god said testicles, then why is this not clear in every bible translation?

Leviticus, and other collections of awkward statements from the old testament, are often dismissed by stating that Jesus relieved "us" from living under the "covenant" or "old laws" or whatever.  One of the reasons I chose this particular passage is that it is clear about when it would expire.  That time is never, or more specifically: "For the generations to come".  If Jesus removed the requirement to fondle the testicles of potential priests in the hopes of uncovering damage he did so despite the specific expiration date Jehovah set for those requirements. 

It is important to point out that this passage comes directly from Jehovah's mouth.  The bible is full of begats, and historically questionable history, and other things; all of which were written down by scribes whose scribblings were divinely guided by the hand of Jehovah.  This passage I chose is one where the very words of Jehovah are captured. 

Contrast the authorship of these words from Leviticus with 1st Corinthians.  Paul is speaking in 1st Corinthians and Jehovah is speaking in Leviticus.   Who, I ask you, is a more authoritative voice?

The Jehovah's witness who came to my door yesterday was able to whip out 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 like he had it on speed-dial.  When I asked him about Leviticus 21 he stumbled. 

"Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men  nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." -- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV

I would think the issues of precedent, authority, and divinity would be important ones for discriminating readers of the bible.  The bible is more often a source of justification for views rather than a moral code from which to formulate views. Usually this is a good thing; especially when dealing with Leviticus.

As an atheist my interpretation of the bible is suspect from the get-go.  I am expected to believe before my interpretation can be respected.  Finding something that questions belief is proof that one's interpretation is suspect.  One can go round and round on this.  The only safe way for a thinking Christian to read the bible is to lie about reading it.

I encourage all thinking Christians to really read the bible.  Critically reading the bible is a great first step for thinking caring theists to begin the wonderful conversion to Atheism with.


5 comments:

postmormon girl said...

Excellent snark. I remember having to really do some mental contortions while studying the Old Testament; it's really not a nice book at all.

adult onset atheist said...

That old testament sure does contains a whole lot of not-nice stuff; especially Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Other books have been taken out of the bible. Why not these?

Thanks for the compliment on the enhanced snark content.

postmormon girl said...

People don't really seem to understand that atheism/agnosticism isn't as radical a form of thought as they think it is. When I left Mormonism, my mom's biggest issue was that I wasn't involved in any religion. She couldn't understand the concept of being a good person without some sort of belief in a higher power. She kept begging me to pick a church, any church, and just go.

adult onset atheist said...

The basic humanist message –that people know right and wrong by being human- is a radical Atheist idea. The rational idea that morality is strengthened by knowing why things are right and wrong is another radical Atheist idea. Compassion, empathy, caring, and love -these are truly radical ideas; if these required a god there would be no Atheists.

The “need to believe” is a strong myth in the Mormon church. The last time someone referred me to Alma 32 was just yesterday. Supposedly Alma 32 tells of the riches that are granted to those who believe, but there is so little of substance in it. “Believe and you shall feel yourself believing” is the message bloated with” verily”s .

Anonymous said...

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