Thursday, January 03, 2008


by Brandy Brooks

Ha-ha! Am I the first person who gets to declare herself unclean this month? (I'm looking for small accomplishments.)

This one isn't my fault, unless you call being born a woman a "fault" ... and sometimes it's hard not to get the impression from Leviticus that there's something wrong with being female. We're all around less valuable (see Lev. 27:1-7) and clearly dirtier somehow (see Lev. 12:1-5, where it takes twice as long to purify one's self from a female childbirth than a male one). What's with that?

As a modern woman, I am constantly wrestling with this issue in the Bible; despite occasional instances where the LORD specially favors or honors women, or where we are declared equal in the sight of the LORD, as a rule we're not considered equals - in marriage, in leadership or teaching, in value. This chafes, to put it mildly, especially on the intellectual/leadership level; I'm not being prideful when I assess my abilities in that area as equal to (if not exceeding) most of the men I know at my similar age and experience. So my girl parts make me less than they? Whatever.

I do recognize that there's a difference between men and women, but I don't get why the LORD seems to value one of us over the other. I want to say that this power dynamic is the result of the Fall, when relationships between men and women were damaged so early that we've never been able to figure out what they were supposed to be ... yet the LORD's statements seem to support this dynamic not as sinful, but as the natural order. Maybe I just need to be accepting of my place in this order, and stop feeling insulted by it; maybe the problem is that I keep making the comparison, when that's not the point - in the end, God does value me as one of His children, regardless of my price based on the sanctuary shekel.

I also feel like so much sin and excuse for injustice comes from the interpretation of women as less valuable, but it is hardly the LORD's fault what we humans choose to do with his Word; we have a knack for turning just about anything into an basis for sin.


Brian said...

Hi Brandy,

I just have a few, hopefully helpful, comments. You say:

We're all around less valuable (see Lev. 27:1-7) and clearly dirtier somehow (see Lev. 12:1-5, where it takes twice as long to purify one's self from a female childbirth than a male one). What's with that?

Have you consulted any commentaries or resources on why (in Lev 27) there are different amounts required to redeem oneself, or another? Here is what the New Bible Commentary (ed. by Wenham, Motyer, Carson and France) has to say:

...Special vows were entirely voluntary. What the low did insist on, however, was that people should not make rash vows or commitments and then fail to keep them.
This chapter, recognizing that people committed to hiliness and striving to live according to the preceding chapters may be tempted to make over-enthusiastic or unrealistic 'offers' to God, tempers such enthusiasm with cold realism. Vows must be entered into only in full awareness of their costliness. It was possible to redeem a vow, i.e. literally buy yourself out of its consequences, but these regulations show that this was an expensive option.
The basic effect of a vow or dedication was that the person or object was given over to God, which sould normally mean that he, she or it was at the disposal of the priests and the sanctuary. Thus, a person who dedicated themselves, or a member of their family, would perhaps assist priests in those aspects of their duties which would not involve direct contact with the holy sacrifices.
If the person so dedicated did not wish to serve in such a way, he or she could be redeemed by pahing a sum of money to the priests inlieu. The figures in vs 3-7 are substantial, not all just token values. They probably reflect the current market value that were put on the working capacity of slaves. That is, we should not imagine that human beings were given a cash value in themselves, but rather that the valuation was an estimate of the useful work they could have done.

_On average_ a man working in the fields would perform more work than a woman working in the fields, simply because men are _on average_ more physically suited to those tasks. I think that's the point behind that text, not that certain people are more valuable _as people_ but that certain groups are capable of more work output typically required in ancient Near Eastern agricultural-based societies.

For more info, see this:
The Value of a Vow - Leviticus 27

And if you want to drink from the firehose, see this:
Women in the Heart of God

Also, regarding the purity regulations, it's important to recognize that the rules regarding cleanliness and uncleanliness have nothing to do with 'dirt' and often nothing to do with sin. It's a ritual condition, the ultimate purpose of which was to reinforce the idea of 'we are set apart to be holy' and one of the ways to continually express allegiance to Yahweh.

There's a GREAT book called Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity by David deSilva, which discusses these 4 highly significant social context issues that you might find useful.

Ok, that's more than a few comments, but I still hope they're helpful.


Andrew said...

Hello Brandy,

Many assume that "unclean" means dirty or something negative. In many ancient commentaries and the Rabbinic Jewish view would give a very different picture.

Did you know that in Judaism you are 'unclean' when you touch the Torah or any book with God's words in it? In hebrew the idea is that there is a change of status and could happen by touching that which has died and that which is more "holier" than you. So, they explain that the extra time in a state of uncleanliness for giving birth to a female has to do with the inherent holiness of the female. It is "she" that gives life. And when a female gives birth to a is a very holy moment. Notice that many of the aspects of "uncleanliness" have to do with either "life" or "death". These are the aspects in life one must pause and realize where one is.

The men who came to support the ark that was falling off the cart reached out to keep it from falling. They were killed by God immediately. The thinking is that when you touch such the holiness of God, you cannot remain. They died for their state of holiness and could not remain on earth.

So, another way of looking at these aspects of women is their state of holiness. The idea is that uncleanliness is not negative, but a moment of profound mystery that God is communicating.

Every time a woman had her period or gave birth, it connected her very closely with the holiness of God who creates. She is active in the creative process. Men have similar uncleanliness due to their seminal emissions.

Sometimes it is an honor to be "unclean" especially when it was the natural way God created the woman and man.

When I have time, I will pull out my old undergrad thesis on this very topic. (I am on the road now).