The Old Testament: Leviticus I –God’s Syllabus

Syllabi are important for any course.  These documents convey the dos and don’ts of the class, such as what you’re reading, what’s due when, and—perhaps most importantly—course policies.  These tell you a lot about the instructor—what are his pet peeves? What are her standards? Is the guy a pushover? Is she really tough? They also reveal a lot about the students—what pace is appropriate for their learning level—fast? Slow? Moderate?  They also tell you about their values—Are they prone to distractions (no cell phones in class)? Are they likely to miss class (more than four absences and you will fail, no excuses)? Are they likely to take credit for someone else’s work (if you plagiarize anything in this course you will fail).

There’s a reason they’re distributed on the first day: both teacher and student need to be clear on expectations.

Unlike Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus does not offer a “story.” This prepared me for a dry read; not so fast. Basically, Leviticus is God’s life syllabus. And he is one anal teacher when it comes to what he wants done when and how. His rules and regulations also suggest that the Israelites made a LOT of mistakes.

I wish I could sit next to a PETA member/supporter as he or she reads through Leviticus. There’s plenty to get animal lovers riled up.  Turns out, if you were a bull, lamb, goat, ram, sheep, ox, dove or a pigeon, you had better run when your master sinned. (And this likely happened often.) Though if you were female or had any kind of “defect,” you wouldn’t end up mutilated and your blood dispersed like perfume. It’s unclear what one learns by dissecting one of these poor animals, removing its kidneys, etc. and doing some anointing with its blood.  The main lesson seems to be: when you sin, watch as the priest takes something quite valuable to you, keeps the good parts for himself, and then sends you on your way, warning you not to mess up again and be right back here handing over another valuable piece of your livestock.

So perhaps the harsh penalty discouraged moral transgressions. Though for an era seemingly obsessed with cleanliness–and a majority of the laws are designed to distinguish between things clean and unclean—there’s a lot of blood.  A lot.

God also has very specific ritual steps.  Why is unclear, but you MUST adhere to them.

Then there’s the insistence of perfection in the sacrifices/offerings. All of them must be free of defects.  I understand that people had to sacrifice their best in order to atone, but it certainly sends the message that only perfection (in any context) is worthy.  Though if I were a lamb back then, I would probably find a way to develop a limp.

Thankfully, God is reasonable. There’s a sliding scale so that poor people can still atone—and they can even let their animals off the hook (perhaps the clause PETA supporters appreciate most) by substituting a portion of their flour and/or grain. Though you would have to miss out on the blood portion of the ritual.

But perhaps the most annoying aspect of this reading is learning who really benefits from all of this giving: the priests. Best parts of the animal: to the priest. Leftovers from the grain/flour not burned: priest keeps it.  I can see making sure the person in charge is well kept; but why not distribute the leftovers to the less fortunate, you know, the ones who need it?

As any teacher will tell you, when you are putting together the rules, regulations, list of readings, and assignments for a class, you need to make clear why each step is important.  Sure, perhaps there are some educators who hold themselves above question—I’ve been doing this a long time, I know what I’m doing; however, if the student is unaware of WHY they are being made to do something, the lesson doesn’t stick as well as it could.  In the long run, students just get bitter.  Not the best way to run a classroom. And since the mistakes are so prevalent, perhaps a better understanding of the definition for what is right and wrong might have been needed.

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: Follow his work at:
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