Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale - Leviticus: Chapter 4 - Blood Atonement

So we have established, both in Exodus and now in Leviticus, that God is very bloodthirsty. Not only is he not averse to slaughtering plenty of the enemies of his chosen people, he is also very keen on blood sacrifices. He likes animals to be sacrificed to him on various altars in his house of God: the Tabernacle. Now we find that, if you sin or otherwise offend God, he will forgive you so long as you give him another animal sacrifice.

So God has a lot of rules. He handed them all down to Moses and there are more to come later in Leviticus. First though we are told that, if you break those rules, you can atone for your sin by slaughtering a blameless animal. The first three chapters of Leviticus were about voluntary but clearly expected sacrifices. These are not voluntary. You break God's rules you must pay the price.

But, because he is a noble God, he will accept lesser sacrifices if you are less noble. There are different animals according to who you are and how many of you there are. A whole congregation of people breaks God's rules? He wants a young bullock as atonement. The priest has to dip his finger in the blood of said bullock and sprinkle it around in the Tabernacle before God who clearly likes this sort of thing and indeed has a strong stomach because his house of animal slaughter must have stank. Perhaps it stank all the way to high heaven. Maybe that's where the saying came from.

If you are a ruler who breaks the rules - it's not made entirely clear what rules we are talking about here, probably some arcane rule about not walking on the cracks in the pavement or not wearing your hat at the right angle or something like that - then you have to sacrifice a young male goat.

And if you are a common person who commits this sin then you have to sacrifice a young female goat.

All of these animals of course have to be unblemished. Goes without saying.

And what happens if you don't do this? If you break God's rules and don't slaughter a goat because you have noticed that the whole grisly spectacle is ridiculous? Is there a system for dealing with this omission? It's not really said. It is said that after the great and silly ritual of blood scattering and terrible waste of unblemished food that God will forgive you your sin. But you might surely conclude that you would rather keep your nice unblemished goat or bullock and incur the wrath of your friend in the blood stained tent.

Don't worry though. We haven't spotted a legal loophole. Leviticus is on it. In the next chapter we get a long list of things you must not do. Or else.

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