The Old Testament Wrap –up VII: The Really Outdated Parts of the Old Testament

I play softball, and although my team has a great time, we don’t win a lot of games.  When we come up against a really good team, they will go a bit easy on us when their lead has reached double digits—why trounce all over a team just because you can?

And so, with this mindset, it feels sad to pick on a book written so long ago, but, given how often it is used against me, it’s worth mentioning the parts that really don’t hold up.  I’m not splitting hairs here.  These parts are the ones that most rational people perhaps acknowledge but, when pressed, will probably tell you: yeah, those are the parts I skip or pretend aren’t there.

The laws from Leviticus that don’t hold up (sans the gay part, which I already covered) are too numerous to mention, though a few that are worth mentioning:

  • Don’t get tattoos (19:28). Why aren’t people picketing tattoo parlors these days? Where is the incensed rage over inking people?
  • If a man sleeps with his daughter-in-law (which, of course he should not do), then BOTH of them should be put to death (20:12). No mention of him raping her designated as a an excuse for her;
  • If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death (20:9). Not that you should disrespect your parents, but death?
  • Don’t plant your field with two kinds of seed (19:19). I’m no farmer, but I’m sure this happens. A lot. What would God think about genetically engineered seeds by Monsanto?
  • After a man touches his discharge (not pus from an infection, mind you), he is to count seven days for his ceremonial cleansing. On the eighth day, he must take two doves or two young pigeons and give them to the priest at the house of the Lord, where they will be sacrificed (15:13). I’m all for cleanliness, but how many pigeons do you think our culture would go through in a year following this one?

These made sense back then—when cleanliness was a bigger issue—but we’ve advanced, yes? And if these pique your interest, I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) this Bible book.

And then there are the marriage laws in the Book of Ruth, which put the widow Ruth at a decided disadvantage.  Since women couldn’t own property, laws were created to keep property in the family.  So, the relative who was in line to inherit the property would acquire marriage “rights” to the widow. This nearest relative was known as the “kinsman redeemer.”

There’s a happy ending to this story, for the man who falls for Ruth, Boaz, jumps through a number of legal hoops to secure her hand. I’m trying to picture how much fun this would be in Judge Judy’s court, where modern people could fight over who has the right to marry the widow in the family.

But even more startling in light of our way of looking at the world—and other human beings—are the Rape laws discussed in Deuteronomy (and here I will quote what I already mentioned in a post on this topic):

If a man approached a betrothed woman in a city and sleeps with her (presumably by force), they would BOTH be stoned.  Given that they were in a city, she clearly could have yelled or put up more of a fight.  Screams would have brought help.  And since she didn’t call for it, she must have wanted it (22:23-24).

So it appears to be lucky if you were a woman who was raped in the countryside, for there, few people would be able to hear you if you screamed, so then the man who raped you would only be stoned (22:27).

But perhaps the real prize comes if the rape involves an unpledged female and he is caught in the act.  If so, he had to pay her father fifty shekels of silver, was forced to marry her, and then—the true penalty!—never be able to divorce her (22:28-29).  Ah, that will teach him a lesson! Why care about divorcing her if he can just go out and rape more women?

Now, I don’t have a problem with this (any of this) being in the Bible—these ideas are clearly a product of their time. So, although it might be easy to point a finger at such an old text and say see, things were messed up back then… the real issue, then, is not in the Bible.  The issue is when things like this are glossed over in favor of other ideas that—to some people—are not outdated (like a stance on homosexuality, for example).

Therefore, the issue is how the Bible is used by some people.

I know a number of people who hold strong beliefs, have deep faith, and follow the Bible, to a certain extent.  To them, the Bible provides a worthwhile guideline to live a just and happy life. To do this, they abide by the common sense aspects of the Bible (by today’s standards). In general, doing this makes them better people.

This is a wonderful use of the Bible.

However, if you are using the Bible to support a stance, especially one that undermines or oppresses a person or people, you are being hypocritical.  Picking and choosing which of God’s laws others are to abide by suggests that you have greater wisdom than God.  YOU understand which ones should apply to people and which ones should not.  The way around this, of course, is to abide by ALL of God’s laws, as dictated by the Bible. This includes some of the above mentioned details. I understand—and respect—why an individual or a family or even a community would choose to do this. As a country, however, are we willing to do that?

Consider this analogy: do we only abide by PART of the Constitution or are we held to all of it? Sure, you can argue that people in power skirt some of these laws. Fine. For the rest of us? We must abide. And if a portion becomes obsolete, we amend it.

Instead of using bits and pieces of the Bible to control the actions of others, can’t we do what happens near the end of the Old Testament?  Can’t we reduce all the positive ideas to a simple guiding principal mentioned in Micah: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?

I look forward to The New Testament.

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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