Childbirth, non-kosher food, sex, death, disease—they’re all considered impure in the book of Leviticus. In this episode, join Tim and Jon as they discuss the levitical laws of purity and impurity and how they create a way for humanity to share in God’s own life and form a surprisingly beautiful backdrop for Jesus’ miraculous healings.
The wisdom here is that I am constantly living at the border of life and death. I’m a mortal creature. And being impure is not morally wrong, but it reminds me that I’m a mortal creature and that I live outside of Eden. I live in a world that is not the way it’s supposed to be or that it could be … What is morally wrong is entering the holy space in an impure state.
In part one (00:00-10:50), Tim and Jon review the structure of Leviticus. Leviticus anchors the Torah, situated in the very center of the five-book collection. We’re currently studying Leviticus’ central movement, the second of three movements, which means it’s at the center of the center of the Torah.
The second movement begins with the inauguration of the levitical priesthood and the tabernacle, God’s sacred dwelling and the place where Heaven and Earth meet. However, the priesthood has barely been consecrated when Aaron’s sons decide to offer unauthorized fire before Yahweh, defiling the holy space.
Why is this second movement both physically central and so significant to the plot of the Torah? It’s because for the first time since the garden of Eden, Yahweh has made a way to dwell with humanity again.
In part two (10:50-28:04), Tim and Jon discuss how we can respond to this section of Leviticus as readers. The takeaway is not that we should go set up our own tents for God to dwell in. All of the Torah is instruction for how to respond when Yahweh speaks to us, and each story is a case study exploring that theme.
After Aaron’s sons fail to obey Yahweh and instead defile his holy space, Yahweh gives Israel a set of laws to help them judge between what is holy and common, pure and impure. These laws can be some of the strangest for us to read, as they center around food, childbirth, sex, and skin disease. And if we read them only at a surface level, they will remain strange to us. When we reconsider them as part of the key themes of the Torah and imagine how ancient Israelites would have viewed these laws, we will find a beauty and significance to these laws we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Holiness has to do with proximity to Yahweh. The Hebrew word for holy is kadosh, which can describe a person, place, or thing that has been brought into proximity or dedicated to the service of Yahweh. Holiness refers to the unique, one-of-a-kind status of Yahweh, who is the source of all life, goodness, beauty, and light. However, Yahweh is generous, and he wants to share his own life with others, so God creates another being to share his life. Humans are considered “common” (chol) because they are made from the earth, but we have the unique opportunity to transcend our common origins and become holy.
To consecrate something is to take what is common and make it holy. The reverse process, to profane something, is to take what is holy and defile it.
In part three (28:04-44:35), Tim and Jon discuss the difference between purity and impurity. These are categories reserved for common things, not holy things. Someone or something common can be either pure or impure, similar to how a person can be sick or healthy. To be pure is to exist in an ideal state, healthy and whole, but it is not the same as being holy. Impurity is similar to a contagion—something that you can come in contact with that makes you impure.
Every culture has their own set of taboos around purity and impurity and their own ways of dealing with things that are impure. For instance, most contemporary people consider it unacceptable to eat a meal in a bathroom—it’s not clean. These laws of purity and impurity were the ancient Israelite way of regulating what was pure and how to purify something that had become impure.
Within the story of the Bible, humans are capable of becoming one with the life and presence of God and living forever. But that’s not the state we’re in now, and ritual impurity is any sign of death, decay, and life outside of Eden (it’s not about a person’s sin). Israel’s laws regarding purity and impurity kept life and death—their own mortality—ever present before them. Because Yahweh is the creator and sustainer of all life, anything dying or exhibiting signs of decay can’t be in his presence. That’s why reproductive fluids were considered impure in ancient Israel. Those fluids were representative of life. To be “leaking life” in the presence of the creator of life was to bring symbolic death into his presence.
In part four (44:35-01:05:32), the guys further explore the heart behind Israel’s purity laws and the way they enrich our understanding of who Jesus is.
Impurity and holiness are both “contagious.” If you come in contact with someone impure, you become impure too. And when you make contact with God’s holiness, you too become holy. This is why Jesus’ fearlessness with the people he healed is so significant. He touched dead bodies and raised them to life. He touched people with skin diseases and healed them. A woman leaking menstrual blood touched him and was healed, and he entered the homes of non-Israelites who were eating non-kosher food. Any of those things would render a normal Israelite impure, but instead Jesus’ contagious holiness transforms impurity to purity, making people fit for the presence of God.
Christian traditions like Lent or fasting find their roots in Israel’s purity laws. In fasting, we enter a state of symbolic impurity for a time (ancient Israelites would dress in sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes as if they were dead) and abstain from certain pleasures to increase our appreciation for holiness, atonement, and redemption. It allows us to be aware of our mortality and more deeply grateful for being able to share in God’s life.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Tyler Bailey. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman and Ashlyn Heise.
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Purity and Impurity in Leviticus
Series: Leviticus Scroll E5
Speakers in the audio file: Jon Collins, Tim Mackie
Jon: Hey, we're reading Leviticus, Israel has created the tabernacle, the place where God and humans can live together out in the wilderness in new Eden spots. But in the very last story we read, the priests fail to follow God's commands. They do what is good in their own eyes bringing in their alternative liturgy, and they're struck down dead in the most holy place. The place where there should be life is now death.
Tim: Yahweh's living room has been vandalized [00:00:30] with death. And so what are we gonna do? Well, what Yahweh says is, "I need some priests who will learn the importance of holiness versus commonness, and purity versus impurity."
Jon: And this is why the next part of Leviticus that we'll read are a bunch of purity laws. Now purity laws are going to seem kind of strange to us modern and Western thinkers, laws about bodily fluids, touching dead bodies, skin disease, it feels like a random list of icky things. But for the ancient [00:01:00] thinker, these were symbols of life and death.
Tim: I am constantly living at the border of life and death. I'm a mortal creature. Becoming impure is not morally wrong. But what it reminds me is that I live outside of Eden, and I live in a world that is not the way it's supposed to be, or that it could be.
Jon: In your translations, you might find the words “pure” and “impure,” it could also be translated clean and unclean. What is common versus [00:01:30] what is uncommon?
Tim: Humans, their origins are in what is common, we come from the dirt. But humans are invited to transcend those dirty origins, and in some way, participate in the life and presence and relational communion with the holy one, the source of all life.
Jon: This is BibleProject podcast. I'm Jon Collins, along with Tim Mackie. And let's talk about—
Tim: Sex, food, childbirth, and skin disease. When you see how they're deeply woven [00:02:00] into the vocabulary and themes of the Torah that have been on recycle over and over and over again, all of a sudden, all these features of these chapters just begin to pop with significance.
Jon: Thanks for joining us. Here we go. Tim.
Tim: Hey, Jon.
Tim: Here we are, rocking the book of Leviticus …
Tim: ... as one does.
Jon: The book of Leviticus. It's the [00:02:30] third book in the Bible. It's the third book in a five-part collection of books called the Torah. And we've been walking through the whole Torah this year. And here we are, we're actually in the middle of the Torah.
Tim: We are. Yeah.
Jon: We're in the middle of Leviticus.
Tim: Yes, that's right. Yeah, it's a five-scroll collection, but it really is a big triad. You have Genesis, the first scroll, which matches in many unique ways to the other end of the Torah, the Deuteronomy scroll. And then in the center, are [00:03:00] the three scrolls, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, which are bound together in a tight unity that makes it one big unit of three parts with Leviticus in the center. And then Leviticus has three parts. And the center of the center of Leviticus is the section that we're in right now.
Jon: Yeah, Leviticus has three parts, which we're calling three movements. The first movement was chapters 1 through 7, looking at five offerings, as we call them. And this is all part of the tabernacle ritual.
Jon: And [00:03:30] the second movement is then the center of Leviticus. And there's three, kind of, sections of the center movement.
Tim: Yeah, it begins with a narrative, what we call Leviticus chapters 8 through 10, which is about the inauguration of the tent, the tabernacle, at the center of Israel's camp, and the ordination of a priesthood that will serve in and around that sacred tent. It happens over a period of seven days. And here the priests are [00:04:00] set apart, chosen to be the representatives of all the Israelites before God, serving in the Heaven-and-Earth spot, which is the tabernacle.
So they were ordained and set apart and on the eighth day, so the first day on the job is the eighth day, and they start their work of, you know, offering sacrifices, which symbolize Yahweh's gift of a substitute life that will cover for the sins and impurity of the people, that's atonement. [00:04:30] They begin to surrender themselves and all Israel to God through sacrifices and offerings. But then the two sons of Aaron, decide with poor judgment, that they wanna rewrite the liturgy that they were just told to obey, exactly. And so they take the place of their dad by offering unauthorized fire inside the tent, which is only for their dad to do right now.
And they do it and the same divine fire that showed up [00:05:00] to bless the people and to, like, signify the union of God with his people—
Jon: Yeah, like inaugurate the whole thing.
Tim: Yeah, yeah. And that resulted in blessing and joy. That same divine fire now consumes the two rebellious sons of Aaron.
Jon: And by consumes them, you mean, kills them?
Tim: It kills them. Yeah. But the fire eats them.
Tim: And that's a part of the way that this story links back to Genesis 3, which is all about the eating that leads to death. And so here, the fire eats them and leads to death.
Jon: [00:05:30] And the reason why this is so intense, and the reason why this is at the center of the center of the center is because this is God, for the first time since the garden of Eden, creating a space where humans and God can dwell together and can work together in order to bring blessing to the world.
Jon: That's the story of the garden of Eden; it was lost …
Jon: ... now here's the story being represented to Israel. God is doing it, though, within the customs [00:06:00] of this ancient world of sacrifices, priests, rituals, he's using all of that in order to help them understand a reality that he is making happen, which is to use them to then bring blessing to the world.
Tim: That's right. And even a step above that. The biblical authors are using this material from their family history as a part of a much [00:06:30] bigger mosaic that makes up the Hebrew Bible that leads to the need for an anointed representative who will do for Israel and for all humanity, what nobody has yet been able to do. And the name of that anointed representative in the Torah and prophets goes by a variety of titles and images. One of them is the mashiach, the anointed one, and the first anointed one in the Bible is—
Jon: Happened right here.
Tim: Happened in this section of the book.
Jon: Yeah, Aaron.
Tim: [00:07:00] Yeah, Aaron.
Jon: Aaron anointed as the high priest to be the true human who then can enter into God's presence. And in this case, because there's still a rift, creates purification and atonement for all the people so that all the people can then be encamped around God's presence.
Tim: Right. And Aaron sons were anointed too along with him. And so these are two uniquely anointed ones, set apart to give their lives wholly in obedience [00:07:30] to God's instruction and commands, to live by Yahweh's order all as the image of one on behalf of Israel, but then as the image of future hope, of a renewed humanity that lives by the wisdom and order of God. And so these, it's not just an average Israelite, you know, who like forgets not to light a fire on the Sabbath or something, and he lights a fire. "Oops, I forgot." You know. It's like, these are two of the high priest’s sons on the [00:08:00] first day on the job.
Tim: And so that severe neglect of Yahweh's word warrants a severe response. And so they die.
Tim: Those sons die by God's hand.
Jon: And what they're doing is also fitting in with a pattern of humans choosing to discern between good and bad, holy and profane on their own terms, instead of letting God give that to them.
Jon: This is the story of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowing good and bad. And then [00:08:30] it's also hyperlinked to the story of Noah and his sons.
Jon: And Noah getting drunk, and them trying to do something.
Tim: Yeah, one of the younger sons inappropriately trying to usurp his father's authority, or honor, in the tent.
Tim: And so what's interesting is both the Adam and Eve failure story, and that story of what Ham did to his dad in the tent, are both being hyperlinked to in this story.
Jon: [00:09:00] And to be clear, this story is where Aaron's two sons go in to begin the vocation of the priests and atone for Israel and they go rogue strange fire and we learn that they were drinking on the job they were eating, they were eating fruit.
Tim: (laughs). Well, yeah, what we're told is, they go into the tent and do something there that they were not authorized to do.
Tim: But only their dad was. And then after they die, their dad does not protest.
Jon: [00:09:30] Yeah.
Tim: Which is a narrative signal that he recognizes that …
Jon: Yeah, they did something—
Tim: ... they did something wrong, and they got what was coming to them. And then God says to their dad, "All right, new rule, never get drunk before you come to do your priestly service. Just don't do it." And then second—
Jon: I'm gonna put this one in writing.
Tim: So one, so that you can do your job but then second, because you need as a priest to have all of your intellect on [00:10:00] like the highest level of alert so that you can make separations between what is holy and dedicated to Yahweh, and what is common, and between what is pure, and between what is impure, and so that you can become a teacher to Israel of all these things.
Tim: And so that opens us up into this next section of the book that we're gonna talk about right now.
Jon: [00:10:30] It's easy to just think of this as ancient rituals that you need to try to understand. And they're just [00:11:00] things that they did that because of that time in human history, here's what they're doing. But all of this is meditation …
Jon: ... on the bigger—
Tim: The bigger story. It's Torah, which means instruction.
Jon: This is instruction, for us to sit with and to realize, what does it mean to be the image of God?
Jon: What does it mean for God to partner with us? And what sense do we need to prepare ourselves? And in what sense [00:11:30] do we actually need a representative to go before us to prepare us?
Tim: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It's crucially important. When you read the section of the book, you shouldn't walk away thinking, "Okay, where do I need to go like, put up a sacred tent and like find some goats and—"
Tim: No, that's as ridiculous as reading the flood narrative? And where God says to Noah, "Okay …”
Jon: Build an ark.
Tim: “... so start building a boat, make it the size." And none of us would say, "Hmm, how do I respond to the story of Scripture, right? How do I respond to what God might want [00:12:00] to say to me through this story?"
Jon: Yeah. Right.
Tim: None of us would walk away thinking, "Okay, well, I need to go build a boat in my backyard."
Jon: Yeah. Let's go get some gopher wood.
Tim: No. It's a narrative that instructs me about how to respond to God when, in my own life circumstances, it becomes clear there's something God wants me to do. And so all of these stories give me case studies, positive and negative, and everything in between. And Noah was one, but this story of the sons of Aaron is another one. And the story of God offering these [00:12:30] commands about purity and impurity laws are a part of the story.
Jon: So that's what we're gonna talk about today.
Jon: The purity and impurity laws; they come after Aaron's sons die in the holy place and have to be exiled.
Jon: And now, it's like this is the ultimate crisis. The solution that God put in place has just completely fallen apart.
Tim: Yeah, totally. It's as if they've been invited into Yahweh's house, and they just through [00:13:00] rebellion and neglect, and dead bodies into his living room.
Tim: So now the relationship is damaged. And Yahweh's living room has been, you know, vandalized with death. And so what are we going to do? Well, what Yahweh says is, "I guess I need some priests who will first of all not get drunk, and second of all, who will learn the importance of holiness versus commonness and purity versus impurity." [00:13:30] And then chapters the 11 through 15 of Leviticus are long speeches from God to Moses, to give to Israel, about holiness and commonness and purity and impurity.
Jon: These are chapters that there's some weird …
Tim: Oh, man.
Jon: ... ancient laws in here.
Tim: These for me, still today, even though I really think there's amazing wisdom here, these are the most difficult chapters of the Hebrew Bible for me to read.
Jon: Wow, great.
Tim: They're long, they're complicated, [00:14:00] and they are full of things that are so distant in culture and time from me. It's hard to read them sympathetically, still for me.
Jon: And there's a lot of discussion around cringey stuff.
Tim: Totally. Yeah. So in this section, here's a quick flyover. Chapter 11 is about distinctions between pure and impure animals. And this chapter, along with Deuteronomy 14 are the foundation of the kosher food laws.
Jon: That's what—
Tim: [00:14:30] Yeah, there's a foundation of the kosher diet …
Jon: That some people still follow.
Tim: ... of people of Israel, the Jewish people and Jews all over the world still today. Yep.
Tim: Kosher salt, there's a particular way out of the wisdom based on the chapters, there became developed in the history of Judaism all kinds of wisdom and guidelines about every type of food.
Jon: Yeah. Why can't you have cheeseburgers?
Tim: Yep, why, yeah. Because you're mixing milk and meat, for example.
Tim: So that's all, it begins life in chapter 11. Chapter 12 is the chapter about [00:15:00] how the reproductive fluids for a woman that come out of her body during childbirth, those reproductive fluids, render her ritually impure. We'll talk about that. And so there needs to be a period of waiting and washing and sacrifices to purify her from that impurity. Chapters 13 and 14 are all about how people, homes, and clothing garments can be rendered ritually impure through [00:15:30] skin disease, or mold, or fungus.
Jon: Hmm, yeah. These are things we don't want around.
Tim: Totally. Yep. Chapter 15 comes around. And it now talks about reproductive fluids again, but for men and women in the course of sexual intercourse, or in the case of a woman's monthly period, or for a man in the course of a nocturnal emission. (laughing).
But it's again about how bodily reproductive fluids, and we'll talk about this in what follows, [00:16:00] render person ritually impure.
Tim: So food, childbirth, sex, and skin disease. This is the subject matter of Leviticus 11 through 15. (laughs).
Jon: Yeah. So, well, that's why I said cringey.
Tim: Yeah, totally. So here's what I have found. If you just read them at the surface level, you'll get nothing out of it. And I got nothing out of these chapters for years. When you see [00:16:30] how they're deeply woven into the vocabulary and themes of the Torah that have been on recycle over and over and over again, all of a sudden, all these features of these chapters just begin to pop with significance. That's one level.
Another level that gains new insight, is to do some sympathetic cross-cultural imagining on our part. So what we need to do is imagine ourselves into an ancient Israelite setting for how [00:17:00] the biblical authors viewed concepts of holiness, and commonness, purity and impurity and how they, specifically how they viewed bodily fluids of blood and reproductive fluids. And so I think that's where we should start, actually, because for me, this has been a huge area of learning and insight, and also made these chapters really profound in what they're saying. So should we go there, some cross-cultural analysis of bodily fluids?
Jon: Oh, we're gonna start with body fluids.
Tim: Excuse me.
Jon: Should we start with—
Tim: We're going to start with [00:17:30] holiness and commonness and purity and impurity.
Tim: Let's go, start there.
Jon: Let's understand that first. Okay, great. What does it mean for something to be holy versus common? And what does it even mean to be holy? Talk about that. So start there. You've defined holiness, as being set apart to be in the presence of and in the service of God. So its proximity, and its connection and partnership?
Tim: [00:18:00] Yeah. Yes. Let's start there. And we went here already earlier in our conversation on Leviticus, but we need to kind of do it again.
Jon: We did it.
Tim: Yeah. So the word holy, in Hebrew is qadosh. It refers to a person, place or thing, yeah, that has been brought into proximity, or dedicated to the service of the God of Israel, who's the creator of Heaven on Earth, who is called, throughout the Hebrew Bible as the holy one, or in the book of Isaiah, the holy, holy, holy one, triple holy, the most holy one. So [00:18:30] holiness refers to the unique one-of-a-kind status of the one God of Israel, who it is claimed is the source of all life being goodness, beauty, light, the source of …
Jon: The I Am.
Tim: ... the I Am, exactly. And so their holiness refers to the unique one of a kind, holy other, above and beyond status of I Am. But here's the thing, what is also unique about this portrait [00:19:00] of the God of the Bible is that this is a God who is so generous, that wants to share being in existence in light and goodness and beauty with one who is other than God's own self. And this is the concept of creation in the biblical story. And so God creates an other who can exist in limited autonomy and freedom to just be, but that being is an invitation to become connected to the source [00:19:30] in the relationship. And so—
Jon: Is this the beginning of the idea of being common that humans are made of the dirt?
Tim: Yes. Exactly. Yeah. So in the biblical story, creation and then humans begin as one who is other than the holy one, that is common, or the Hebrew word is chol.
Tim: Chol, you have to clear throat, chol. So these are two fundamental categories. You could call them a status. Something in the biblical imagination, something is either holy [00:20:00] or it’s chol. It's either qadosh or chol, holy or common. Now, to be common is not bad. Something can be beautiful and good and be common. In fact, almost all the creation is.
Jon: And this word is often translated as “profane.”
Tim: It's translated as profane.
Jon: Which makes it sound bad.
Tim: It makes it sounds ... It could be because of the connotations in modern English. So—
Jon: Such as the King James …
Tim: That's right.
Jon: ... deal.
Tim: That's right. So kodesh and chol. So a flower, a tree, [00:20:30] a table, you know, is chol, common, and a human, humans are common. However, humans are unique in the biblical story because they are invited, their origins are in what is common, we come from the dirt, but humans are invited to transcend those dirty origins, and in some way, participate in the life and presence and relational communion with the holy one, the source of all life. And [00:21:00] so go through a process of what the biblical authors will call qadesh. So the root word is qadosh for holy, and then to qadesh means to become holy.
Jon: Yeah. And there's another word that's translated there, right, oftentimes, to make holy, is that “sanctify”?
Tim: Oh, so we have other English words.
Tim: Yeah. We have “make holy.” Commonly, in our English translations, is the word “sanctify”—
Tim: Or to consecrate.
Tim: Or to hallow.
Jon: To hallow?
Jon: [00:21:30] These are all fancy words we don't use in common English.
Tim: No, yeah.
Jon: No pun intended.
Jon: But it means to take something that is common and transform it to become holy.
Jon: Bring it in the presence of God at the service of God.
Tim: Yeah, totally.
Jon: And that's the destiny of all humanity.
Tim: Yeah, it's the culling of all humanity is to come from our material, common material origins, in the biblical imagination that's to come from the dirt but to be raised up and elevated to [00:22:00] status as an image of God to be creatures in whom Heaven and Earth, God's presence and our material dirty origins become fused as one, and that is the process of qadesh, being sanctified or consecrated.
Jon: And then would you say it's also the destiny of all of creation to undergo that as well?
Tim: That is how Genesis 1 frames it. The seventh day points forward to the crowning of all creation as a place where Heaven and Earth and God space [00:22:30] and human space are one in the seventh day.
Jon: So being common is not bad per se …
Tim: It's not bad.
Jon: ... but it's not the ideal either.
Tim: Yeah, it's a beginning point.
Jon: It's a beginning point.
Tim: Everything begins as common. Maybe we can maybe think of some parables, you know, here. So these won't necessarily be good ones. Ah, this is an interesting one. So my boys are young, eight and ten. And we have in our house, our house isn't huge, but on the main floor the kitchen, [00:23:00] living room, dining room are all kind of one extended big space. And then off to the side are a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom. And right now, their bedroom is in the upstairs attic. We have like an old, finished attic. You have to kind of crouch at certain points. But the downstairs bedroom we've converted, for years, all the years they've been growing up as their playroom. Which means it's just a constant mess of Legos and Star Wars action figures. So this thing started about three years ago, where when they go in there to play, they [00:23:30] close the door.
Jon: This is our space.
Tim: Yeah. And particularly when they close the door, and we can hear them through the door acting out stories. And they're in there in their imaginative world.
Tim: And the ... I mean, it's hilarious. Often, I'll stick my little phone camera underneath the door …
Jon: Oh, just to try to see it.
Tim: ... and just to record them, 'cause they're like, literally, they're acting out movies and stories and, anyway. But what we've noticed is, when I open the door to tell them, "Hey, like dinner's gonna be ready in 10 minutes." [00:24:00] They both freeze and just look at me. They stop.
Jon: Like we they caught.
Tim: And then I close the door, and then they start acting again. And so—
Jon: The door is like a portal.
Tim: Yeah, it is. And when the door is closed, it's like a holy space. It's dedicated to their imagination.
Jon: To their playacting.
Tim: And it becomes another word for them.
Tim: But the moment that door is opened, it's like, reality breaks in. And once they hear and see, you know, Jessica and I are, you know, making dinner or something, [00:24:30] and they can see us, you know, from the angle, and it just somehow breaks the illusion.
Tim: And it's no longer holy.
Tim: So there's something about that space is uniquely dedicated to their imaginative story worlds. And when it's sealed off, it's like protected and—
Jon: Closing the door purifies the space.
Tim: Yes. Totally. And it separates it as a dedicated space, separate for that. We'll get to purity in a second.
Tim: But just once I close the door, it's separated as a holy space.
Tim: And they don't act that way [00:25:00] out in the kitchen.
Tim: They don't act that way out in the living room.
Jon: That's fascinating.
Tim: Yeah, it is. So, for the moment, that's what it is. Now, if I were to consecrate the living room and to say, "Boys, I want you to see this as a part of your imaginative world now you can take over the living room." That would be a consecration or a sanctification of the living room.
Tim: The space is now—
Jon: You'd have to bring the Legos out there.
Tim: Yeah, yeah.
Jon: You'd have to like, make sure it could be closed off.
Tim: [00:25:30] Yeah, totally. And again, put up some sort of screen or drape or something.
Jon: Yeah. Put up a drape.
Tim: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, okay. But here's the thing. Let's say, Jessica and I were to get like a little camp stove and decide we're gonna set up kitchen and dinner in the playroom tonight, and we just like waltzed in there and started making pancakes on a little camp cooking frying pan or something. That would be defiling. The word would be “defiling” or “profaning” their holy space. [00:26:00] And it's a verb connected to—remember chol is the word for common.
Tim: Chol, and to defile or profane is challel. It's the same—
Jon: To make common.
Tim: The same letters. To make, to treat, as common. So when you see the word defile or profane in the Bible, what it means is you're taking something that's dedicated to the space for one in the Bible, for Yahweh, but you're treating it like it's an everyday common space that belongs to you.
Jon: So to be common [00:26:30] isn't necessarily bad. It's a starting place. But to take something that has been set apart as holy.
Tim: And treat it as common.
Jon: Treat it as common.
Tim: That's not good.
Jon: No bueno.
Tim: Yep. So the existence of these categories establishes an order.
And where the value or like unethical issues at play is not whether or not you're holy or common, it's how you cross the boundaries between holy and common. So Aaron's sons were set apart as holy, but then [00:27:00] they just introduced their own ideas and how to do the liturgy, and they just tramped into the holy space. And so they made what was dedicated for Yahweh their own, and so defiled or treated it as if it were their own, and so made it common. So that's all this language of “to sanctify, consecrate, to hallow” is to take something common and make it holy. And then the reverse process to take holy and treat it as common is to profane it or defile it.
So these are fundamental [00:27:30] categories to the biblical authors. In other words, there's no book of the Bible that explains it the way we're trying to explain it right now. It just is taken for granted.
Tim: Which is how you know it's one of these cultural assumptions.
[00:28:00] So that's first step.
Tim: Okay, that's holiness, commonness. If something is common, it can exist in one of two conditions, pure or impure.
Tim: So and here, my chart might help here.
Jon: No one else gets to see this, but—
Tim: No. So holiness, think of holiness as being this category off to the right.
Jon: Ah, yes.
Tim: Okay. And then when something [00:28:30] is in a state of being chol or common, it can exist in one of two states. And think of this as like a condition.
Tim: The way we might think of like a health condition.
Jon: There is only one way to be holy.
Jon: There's two different states of being—
Tim: Pure and impure. Yeah. And so it's very analogous to our concepts of sickness and health, which is why the biblical authors use sickness or health as very common metaphors to describe purity and impurity.
Tim: So the word “pure,” in [00:29:00] fact, pure has become the word that I prefer in almost all of our English translations, it's the word “clean.”
Jon: All right, clean and unclean.
Tim: Clean versus unclean.
Tim: Which I understand why it's a venerable tradition, a way of translating these Hebrew words, but I think it doesn't quite get us all the way there.
Tim: But pure and impure also have their own baggage that are not helpful in English too.
Jon: All right.
Tim: So the word pure or clean is the word “tahir,” to make pure, and then to be impure [00:29:30] or to be uncleaned as tame. Taher and tame.
Jon: Tahir and tame.
Tim: Yeah. So essentially, to be pure is to exist in an ideal state as a common object, person, place or thing in ideal state, healthy, whole.
Jon: So you're not consecrated yet? You're not like in the presence of God, being the priest, being the image of God.
Tim: This has nothing to do with being in the holy space.
Jon: This is just like if your life in the world [00:30:00] as the common man, you're a dirt creature. But things are good. You're not sick.
Jon: Your body's working.
Tim: Yep, correct.
Jon: That's a pure …
Tim: Yeah, you exist in—
Jon: ... tahir state.
Tim: You exist in a tahir state.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. But to exist in an impure state means that you have come into contact with a force, or a substance or an experience that has brought you to the boundary between life and death. And [00:30:30] when you touch things associated with death, you go from being pure to contracting impurity. Impurity is a lot like a contagion, something you contract by touching it or eating it, or experiencing it. But as we're gonna see in these chapters, the things in ancient Israel's culture that were associated with death and mortality, were certain animals, reproductive bodily fluids, skin diseases, fungus, and mold.
Jon: [00:31:00] When you come in contact with those things it makes you—
Jon: I started thinking of purity as a sense of just wholeness of like, the body is working …
Tim: Yeah, yeah.
Jon: ... you're not sick. That makes sense.
Jon: But then you threw in, like, I could be impure, because I touched an animal that's …
Jon: ... in this category.
Tim: Yeah. That's right.
Jon: So it's not just like how my body is, but it's also like what I've come in contact with.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So think of purity as a status …
Tim: ... that's a lot like [00:31:30] health. And if you've, I mean, we're living in the middle or tail end, Lord have mercy, of a global pandemic. So we kind of, these categories are really familiar to us.
Tim: Where I'm healthy, I might feel great. But maybe I've been around somebody …
Jon: Oh, yes.
Tim: ... who has the virus. And so for a period of time, I have to seal off. And I treat myself and act and the others treat me as if I have the virus.
Tim: It's very [00:32:00] similar to these concepts here. Yeah, it's not just about you being healthy. To be pure is to exist in a state where you are healthy in an ideal state, and you haven't come into contact with anything.
Jon: So in some way, you could think of this as ancient sanitary practices.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. That's how it would appear to us.
Jon: It appears that way.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: And some of them you're like, "Oh, they were onto something there." Some of them are like, "Who cares?"
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Like [00:32:30] touching reproductive fluids.
Jon: Yeah. Like, like, that's not gonna harm anyone.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So this is a good example to say, all cultures have these, what you might call them like taboos.
Jon: Yeah. Right.
Tim: Taboos. And there's a lot of overlap. In fact, there's a Hebrew Bible scholar, Mary Douglas, who most of her scholarly career was dedicated to trying to do cross comparisons in anthropology, across cultures present and ancient as a background for illuminating the purity and impurity [00:33:00] laws of Leviticus. And I never thought books on that topic would be interesting to read. But she's such a good writer, that, her first, most important work was called Purity and Danger, which just makes me wanna pick it up. But I understand, you learn so much.
Jon: We talked about this years ago, we made the holiness video.
Tim: Oh, yes. Okay. Yeah, yeah.
Jon: And you brought up this really wonderful taboo that we have. It doesn't make any sense.
Tim: Yes. Okay. So that's important to say, some of them make [00:33:30] intuitive sense in different ways to different people.
Tim: But usually, some of them seem irrational if you don't inhabit the home culture of the taboo.
Jon: Right. Because a lot of our taboos around sanitation make sense. Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.
Tim: Yep, yeah.
Jon: Makes sense.
Tim: Totally. Eating a meal in the bathroom would feel weird to us culturally.
Jon: So this is what I was gonna bring up.
Tim: Okay. Yeah.
Jon: Is that you said, "Look, like it's a taboo. You don't go and eat in the bathroom."
Jon: "That place is dirty."
Jon: "When you're done with that you wash."
Tim: [00:34:00] Yeah.
Jon: You have your little washing ritual to enter the real world.
Jon: So you wouldn't bring food in there. And you brought up but isn't it interesting we brush our teeth in the bathroom.
Tim: Yeah, totally. And then leave the toothbrush, sometimes, out on the counter permanently—
Jon: Yeah, just hanging out …
Tim: Hanging out.
Jon: ... in the unclean space.
Tim: And you're telling me that if you flush the toilet with the seat up …
Jon: Oh goodness me.
Tim: ... little water particles aren't floating up—
Jon: Fecal matter on your toothbrush.
Tim: Floating in and coming on your toothbrush.
Jon: [00:34:30] But we don't care. Because we don't think about it.
Tim: For sure that is happening.
Tim: Like for sure that is happening.
Tim: And we don't think a thing of it.
Jon: Yeah, totally.
Tim: You know?
Jon: And now like hundreds of people are like, "I'm not keeping my toothbrush on the counter anymore" (laughing).
Tim: You know, we got, we have little caps, little plastic caps …
Jon: Oh, yeah. People do that.
Tim: ... we put over the heads of our toothbrush.
Tim: Yeah, yeah.
Jon: I am very laissez faire when it comes to germs. And I think—
Tim: Actually, let's flip it though, because also, it's [00:35:00] irrational to think that somehow we wouldn't eat in the bathroom. That's irrational. Because somehow we think the kitchen is more clean than the bathroom.
Jon: Well, that makes sense.
Tim: There is saliva, all the stuff. I'm just saying, like my kitchen sink and the way my kids treat it is no more clean than my bathroom. They'll spit in it. They'll bring in they'll be digging in the backyard, and they'll come rinse mud off of …
Tim: ... some nail they found. And like you know—
Jon: When you really think about it, we can't protect ourselves from all the germs.
Jon: But [00:35:30] we have rituals that help us think that we are and also help us.
Tim: So the point here is that every culture has its own taboos around cleanliness. And some of them are usually grounded in what we might call physical realities. But often there are irrational elements too.
Jon: Yeah. Often, they're just …
Tim: They're symbolic.
Jon: … gut reactions that at the end of the day are symbolic.
Tim: They're symbolic.
Jon: Yeah. Because you wash your hands after you use [00:36:00] the toilet. But you know, it's dirtier than a toilet seat? A public keyboard.
Tim: Yes, of course. Oh, yeah. People pick their nose, pick their ears rub their eyes and then go—
Jon: Or someone who hasn't washed their hands.
Tim: Go to the library and use the internet.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: Or a public doorknob (laughing).
Tim: That's right. I'm like, totally. Yeah, that's right. And COVID era has taught many of us to be …
Jon: Let's ramp it up.
Tim: ... more [00:36:30] aware of these things than ever before.
Jon: It's true. Yeah.
Tim: Yeah. Okay. So that same irrationality, inherent irrationality, it should humble us when we read these chapters of Leviticus and we say, "Okay, I get the thing about not touching corpses of dead animals. I get that, that that would render somebody impure. But what of reproductive fluids? Like what’s that about?” That's normal to us.
Jon: And that's easy to get to, I suppose. I mean, it's kind of icky.
Tim: Yeah. But I think what we have to get underneath we have to say, "Okay, the way every culture [00:37:00] slices the pie is gonna be different."
Jon: Yeah, I think the animal thing is probably the hardest to sympathize with.
Tim: Yeah, yeah. Sure.
Jon: But even there, there's an intuition of some animals are icky, gross, unsanitary.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: Okay. But underneath all of this this is an opportunity for let's just jump to the conclusion before we just get into the weed of this.
Tim: Yes. Yeah, yeah.
Jon: This is an opportunity for ancient Israel to, on a daily basis, in everyday life have their imaginations shaped [00:37:30] by this idea of life and death. That they're kind of on the boundaries.
Jon: Like life is on the boundaries between life and death. And at any given moment, you are in one of these states. And why is that important?
Jon: Why is that a significant thing to obsess over ... I mean, they're obsessing over it.
Tim: Yeah, yeah. No, they're obsessing. Yeah. That's right. So maybe let's think of it this way, within the biblical story all the way back to Genesis 1 and 2, especially with the garden of Eden, Genesis 1, Yahweh is the source of all life. [00:38:00] All life order, beauty, goodness.
Tim: The holy one. Second thing—
Jon: In his light, we have light.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So anything that is existing in a state of death or mortality or dying of, in, and here, I'm trying to inhabit the imagination of these laws here, of having some sort of physical malformation …
Tim: ... a body that's in the state of disorder, decaying, rotting flesh, a sign that I am a [00:38:30] mortal being that is dying, this is all a state of being that is not the way that it's supposed to be if I'm in proximity to Yahweh. If I'm in proximity to Yahweh …
Jon: There should be holiness.
Tim: … I'm gonna share in his holiness, in his goodness, in his beauty, and his life.
Jon: Which should mean health and—
Tim: Yes, it will mean eternal life. So on one side of the spectrum, is Yahweh's life and holiness, and a state of order. And on the [00:39:00] opposite end of the spectrum is death, chaos, impurity, et cetera. And so every Israelite saw themselves as somewhere on that spectrum, never static, always moving towards one end or the other by what they ate—
Jon: But it's binary, whether you're pure or impure, right?
Tim: Correct. Yeah, that's right.
Jon: So it's not like a spectrum.
Tim: Oh, I understand. Okay. Yeah, I got, I got it. It's binary, and you're either—
Jon: You're either being thrust into an impure state.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: And [00:39:30] then there's rituals to get you back. So there's this constant day to day, you're like, "Okay, I'm in, I'm in a pure state." And then boom, all of a sudden, I have to, like, deal with a dead body.
Tim: That's right. This is so important, and this is crucial for understanding this whole thing. This was a Jewish scholar Jonathan Klawans in his book Sin and Impurity in Ancient Israel. This is where I first learned the concept and you know, it's not his concept. It's right there in Leviticus, "Being ritually impure [00:40:00] is not sinful. It's not bad."
Jon: It's not a moral failure.
Tim: It's not a moral failure. You enter a state of ritual impurity when you bury your uncle.
Jon: Yeah. What you should do.
Tim: Yes, yeah, totally. You become ritually impure every time a husband and wife have sex, which is part of the blessing, right? It's celebrated in the Song of Songs. And it's a place where, through Yahweh's mercy and generosity new life can be. [00:40:30] Whenever a child is brought into the world, there's a lot of bodily fluids that render the mother and, and the midwife and anybody else involved, ritually impure. When you hold the baby that's newborn and the fluids on it renders somebody ritually impure. When you have a skin disease and a boil that breaks out and begins to spread, that renders you ritually impure.
So nobody's done anything wrong here. These are all fluids, substances, or experiences that bring us [00:41:00] to the border of life and death. And what's, the strange one might be childbirth, because you're like, "It's life being born."
Jon: That's just life, yeah.
Tim: But childbirth is an experience …
Tim: ... fraught with the danger of death.
Tim: It's a life event that brings both mother and child to death's doorstep.
Tim: In a way, a successful childbirth and a healthy mom and child, you know, after labor is a miracle. It's a deliverance from death. Think of how they would have imagined it, and [00:41:30] it still is today, a deliverance from death in many ways. So what we're talking ... And reproductive fluids, think of it this way. These are fluids that in the ancient imagination, these were the fluids, if they mix together male reproductive fluids and female reproductive fluids they mix together, the male reproductive fluid in Hebrew is called zera, the word “seed,” which also is the Greek word for seed is “semenos,” which is where we get our English word “semen.”
And then on the flip [00:42:00] side, so that's the seed. And then in English, we have all of these words for like the egg, you know that egg produced in the ovaries, but the word ovary comes from the Greek word “ovum,” which is egg. Is the egg maker.
Tim: Yeah. All of our language about this is agricultural imagery about seed and eggs. But it's all about the genesis of life.
Tim: And so if you're leaking these fluids—
Jon: That's [00:42:30] showing that there's a problem.
Tim: Yeah. So this is why a man who leaks these fluids from his body outside of sexual intercourse or a woman, and of course or monthly period, leaks these fluids, it's viewed as a sign of dying. It's like you're dying. You're leaking your life substance.
Tim: And so it makes you ritually impure. It's not wrong. But it is a sign that I'm a dirt creature, and that my body is dying.
Jon: It's not wrong in the sense that it's not a moral failure.
Tim: It's not a moral failure. Yeah.
Jon: But it points to [00:43:00] a sense that there's a corruption.
Tim: Yes. What it shows is that I'm living outside of Eden.
Jon: There's something wrong in which I'm inhabiting.
Tim: Yeah. Within the biblical story, because we're reading this, Leviticus, within a scroll of and a story that began with Genesis 1:1, what I was told was that humans are capable, if somehow our way of existing could be transformed, that we are creatures capable [00:43:30] of becoming one with the life and presence of God and living forever. But that's clearly not the state that we're in. We are right now outside of Eden in the state of death and dying, and anything that's associated with death and dying, reproductive fluids, out of place childbirth, even though it's a new life coming into the world that brings both mother and child close to death, skin disease, and then certain animals. Those are all signs of the disorder and decay and mortality [00:44:00] of our lives.
Jon: So it's [00:44:30] so important to come to terms with that reality.
Tim: Yeah, yeah.
Jon: One way to frame this is it's so important that there's a whole ritual around it.
Jon: And there's whole new categories and making sure you understand when you're in and you're out. All this kind of like shape our imagination towards reckoning with the state.
Tim: Correct? Yep, that's right. So [00:45:00] all of these rituals and taboos were a daily reminder. And for us, they function as Torah, instruction and wisdom, because they become narrative images that give insight into what it means to live outside of Eden. So all of our lives is permeated with reminders that we are not in Eden. And in the biblical imagination, you know, and its ancient cultural context, it's all the things, these laws.
Jon: And so it will be cool to jump in and look at some of them. But tell [00:45:30] me about that. What's the wisdom? What's the Torah, the teaching?
Tim: Ah, okay. All right.
Jon: Like, what am I supposed to take about these things into my life? Am I supposed to be hyper aware of the frailty of creation? Like, and am I supposed to create some sort of rhythm that allows me to—
Tim: Yeah, well, let's first do, so to go from an impure state. If you're in an impure state, it's important to know it's not morally wrong.
Tim: It's temporary. It's as long as the condition lasts. [00:46:00] And then when you want to go from a state of impure back to pure, these are called purification rituals, or cleansing rituals.
Tim: They involve taking a bath. Waiting a period of seven days. And then offering a khata’at offering in the tent, which is a purification offering.
Jon: This is so funny, living through the pandemic, because we have all three of those.
Tim: Yeah, we do, totally.
Jon: We like wash our hands.
Tim: Wash your hands. Totally.
Jon: We like quarantine. And then we like [00:46:30] provide the test that says we're pure (laughs).
Tim: Yeah, that's it. That's exactly it, totally. And then the reverse process to go from a state of purity to impurity is the verb “pollute.” Yeah, pollute, or to make something impure. So what's the wisdom here? So the wisdom here is that I am constantly living at the border of life and death, I'm a mortal creature. And becoming impure is not morally wrong. But what it reminds me is that I live outside [00:47:00] of Eden, and I live in a world that is not the way it's supposed to be, or that it could be. So to come out of the impure state into a pure state means that I am ready to go enter the holy place. It's not wrong to be impure, what is morally wrong in Israel's culture is to enter into the holy space when I'm in an impure state. When you're in impure state, you're cut off from the holy space.
Jon: You don't go into the outer courts to do sacrifices.
Tim: You can't come [00:47:30] near. That's right. There's a law in the book of Numbers that says before Israel set out in its wilderness journeys they made sure to get anybody who had a skin disease or had touched a dead body or impure fluids, in the last seven days, and they had to go to the border of the camp.
Tim: They couldn't travel inside the camp itself, they had to go behind. And that was their way of honoring this, that when Yahweh is in our midst, we remove whatever is associated with death, to be far away from the hotspot [00:48:00] of the source of all life. So to be in an impure state is not morally wrong, but it is a sign that I am cut off from the source. I'm as far from life as you can be. And so to enter into a pure state is to go one step closer to being fit to be in the holy presence. And it means that I'm restored to a status of health and life.
But to be pure doesn't mean you're in the holy place, it means that you can now go into the holy place if you want to. [00:48:30] And then that, to go from a pure state, to entering into the holy place, that becomes sanctification or consecration. So it's then here's our spectrum, you go from being impure to becoming pure. And then once you're pure, you're eligible to become holy. But holiness and purity are not the same thing.
Jon: Right. Okay.
Jon: To become holy, you need to be in a pure state.
Tim: Yeah. Sorry, that's not the question that you asked me, though. I'm just realizing.
Jon: No, but that's important to get at the question, which is, yeah, [00:49:00] what is the wisdom here? When I'm reading these purity laws, am I thinking about what are ways for me to mark some sort of boundary of like … Here's one thing that came to mind. I've been noticing, and a lot of people have noticed this, and we don't know what to do with it, is that social media is toxic. (laughs).
Tim: Yes, it is. Yeah.
Jon: It's so great, it's so fun to like, know [00:49:30] what people are up to and to share ideas and the social media that I find myself drawn to specifically is Twitter because Twitter is a very five social media. It's like, "Give me your ideas. Give me all your hot takes."
Tim: Apart from any relational commitment …
Jon: Yeah (laughs).
Tim: ... there's no energy required to be nice to somebody.
Jon: It's just like, "Here's my thought."
Tim: That's funny.
Jon: "Here's the thought. Here's the thought. Here's the thought."
Tim: I've never thought of it that way.
Tim: It's perfect for enneagram fives.
Jon: It's enneagram fives.
Tim: Instagram is perfect for enneagram fours, [00:50:00] I guess.
Jon: Yeah, totally. Exactly.
Tim: Anyway. Okay. All right.
Jon: Exactly. But you spent any time in there, and there's just this toxicity of people just not being nice and taking sides and being grumpy and pointing fingers and kind of just starting to be mean and, anyways, it actually changes my mood. It affects me.
Tim: You notice it?
Tim: Probably your wife notices it.
Jon: And I'm noticing it more and more.
Jon: That like, I like it. I'm drawn to it, but then I like just to get [00:50:30] grumpy. And so it’d almost be interesting for me to think about that as one of those boundaries. I go into there, like it's, in a way, I'm now entering into a state that's like broken.
Tim: Yeah, sure.
Jon: And it's gonna affect me.
Jon: And I might need some sort of ritual to kind of cleanse myself of that …
Tim: Yeah, sure.
Jon: ... in a way.
Jon: Like to get some separation. And by having a ritual, or having that mentality, it helps me really respect what I'm actually after.
Tim: Yeah, that's [00:51:00] good. Another type of analogy that's more closely tied to like a physical food or body. And this is so relative to your social location. But in my relational network of families and in the culture of my home, sugar has become something that's a real subject of like critical reflection.
Jon: Refined sugars?
Tim: Refined sugars. Yeah.
Tim: And so, Jessica has, my wife's been on a mission over the last decade to really make [00:51:30] refined sugars unpalatable to us by not having them around and not using them.
Tim: And so I've come to the strange place where—
Jon: It starts to feel kind of unclean.
Tim: I used to love whenever I was doing a house project back on the weekend, you know, the little house project. And I would go to the hardware store, and I would just love to get a Snickers and just like power up on a Snickers bar to come back and like whatever, fix the locks on the doors or something. And yeah, this happened to me last year, at some point [00:52:00] where I had the Snickers on my way home from the hardware store. And I just felt sick. And I almost didn't enjoy the last half. I was just like, ah. And it was, and then I was talking with Jessica about it because usually I would not tell her when I would do this.
Tim: And so I told her about the Snickers experience. And she was like, "Yeah, your body is actually becoming unaccustomed to this thing that's not good for it. But it takes a while." Anyway, that was such an interesting experience where I [00:52:30] was like, I grew up on these.
Tim: I love these. And now it makes me sick. And I don't want it now. So anyway, each person could tell their own story, and I'm not trying to throw any judgment on Snickers bars.
Jon: But refined sugars have become a category in your mind that now when you have them you kind of feel like you're in another state.
Tim: I do.
Jon: You've entered into a new state.
Tim: I feel ... Yes, exactly. And I'm like, "This is not the version of myself that's gonna bring my best to the world."
Tim: And I think that's the category here …
Jon: I see.
Tim: ... that's an [00:53:00] experience that maybe we can relate to.
Jon: Yeah. And I think it's interesting to think about, you know, there's a connection between obsessing about being in that state, when you go into vocation to do things that are "holy," connected to God, in God's presence. It seems like there is real wisdom there, which is, if you're gonna like go preach on Sunday morning, it'd be good that you're in the right kind of mind frame.
Tim: Oh, sure. Okay. Yeah, no, I guess, one hopes this [00:53:30] out of their spiritual leaders, if you're a part of a, you know, church community that they—
Jon: Not that they weren't eating sugar, per se, but … the things that like—
Tim: Yeah. That they're like, healthy, well-adjusted people.
Jon: Yeah. You kind of, you end up expecting it, I suppose, in a way. Yeah.
Tim: Yeah. Which is a dangerous assumption. But …
Jon: Yeah. (laughing).
Tim: ... 'cause, well, because people are people, you know. Yeah. Within the biblical story, and within the melody, there's this desire that God has to share his own life and creative power [00:54:00] and the possibilities that come with it, and the responsibilities that come. What else is the theme of the image of God except God wanting to share divine power and life with one of his creatures, but it's going to call that creature to a level of responsibility and wisdom about what are the conditions that lead to true life and flourishing for a human.
Tim: And so these impurity laws, were, [00:54:30] again, it's not morally bad.
Jon: Right. It's not morally bad to check your status on Twitter.
Tim: And that's why like, you know, touching reproductive fluids, if you're a midwife, you know, giving birth. That's not like the Snickers bar at all, actually. Because it's not right ... It's not bad for you to touch a newborn baby covered with bodily fluids.
Jon: It's not spiking your blood sugar.
Tim: No, no, it's not. But it is a fluid that reminds you that this life came out of [00:55:00] a moment and experience where this all could have died, all this beautiful life of the mother and the child could have died. And so for a period of seven days, or in Leviticus 12:33 or 66 days, this was such a holy moment, I was such at the border of like a critical moment of life and death, that I am going to sit apart for big chunks of time, to mark this moment, [00:55:30] as a moment where I came near to death.
Jon: And by sitting apart, that's just means you're not doing the sacrifices and—
Tim: Well, what it means is I'm gonna abstain from going near to the holy place for a period of time.
Jon: So what's the wisdom there, though, because we wouldn't say like, "Hey, don't go hang out with your community."
Tim: But it is a unique experience of God's power, actually, in the Christian liturgical tradition, this is essentially what the practice of Lent is about. And it just so happens that while we're sitting here recording this we are in [00:56:00] the period of Lent, in the year 2022. Yeah, but it's a way of withholding yourself from certain pleasures, not because they're bad, but because the immediate satisfaction of a pleasure is a part of a larger problem with the human condition, which is meeting our desires and pleasures in our own wisdom and our own timing in ways that are destructive to ourselves and other people, not every desire, and not all the time, but often. [00:56:30] And so I'm gonna choose one pleasure.
Jon: Choosing fasting, in a sense is wisdom from these laws.
Tim: Yeah. Yes. And fasting is associated with grieving and mourning and death. In fact, you would often dress up like you're dead. Shave your head, put dust on yourself, wear sack cloth.
Tim: Fasting is a way of existing in a state of impurity for a chosen period of time. And what it does is it forms me to—In one regard it is so precious, when I get to be in [00:57:00] a state of purity, but also, it increases my appreciation for the time or place of holiness.
Tim: So for Christian Lent, it's the days, weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday, which is the ultimate holy event of God's life invading Earth. So I guess, in a way, that it's what Lent is about, it shapes you in a kind of people who are hyper aware of my own mortality, but also makes you more appreciative of the holy time and space [00:57:30] when it graces you. Thanks for asking that question. I appreciate that.
Jon: Yeah, that's cool. That makes me wanna do Lent actually. I never do it. I mean, I've done it once or twice, but like—
Tim: Yeah sure. Yeah. No, it's cool. Yeah, I know that for some people, the liturgical calendar, the experiences may be something from their family of origin or whatever.
Tim: But the intention of these liturgical traditions is to retell the biblical story with your body [00:58:00] and your time and your calendar, your whole self. The purpose of Lent is to annually have a season of time where you remind yourself that you're dying and that part of the reason that we're dying is we constantly meet our desires, in our own way, and in our own time, it's killing us. So we withhold our desires from ourself.
Jon: Now with Lent, there's, you're not actually really separating from the community. Where here there's a separation, there's a like, "You're impure, go to the outside of the camp."
Tim: So, yeah, [00:58:30] it's a little different in that way. Here's the thing, we need to bring different parts of our experience based on your social occasion and merge them all together, to try and imagine ourselves into this ancient Israelite context. But for them, these were all one thing to exist in a state of impurity because of a skin disease or because I was touched by my own reproductive fluids or whatever. But it was, right now I'm gonna set apart, I've been in touch with something that brought me close to the force of death. I'm gonna sit aside for seven [00:59:00] days. And—
Jon: This could have been the attitude you bring to quarantining yourself during the pandemic.
Tim: Oh, yes. Okay.
Jon: Right? Like it makes it a—
Tim: Anticipatory, you mean?
Jon: Uh, just the, the category of just like …
Tim: I see.
Jon: ... I'm not gonna just go quarantine because I'm supposed to, health reasons. Like I'm actually gonna allow this to be a sacrament of sorts.
Tim: Oh, a time of mourning.
Tim: A time of grieving or a time of recognizing …
Tim: ... my own mortality.
Jon: I'm actually separated from [00:59:30] everyone I'm gonna recognize mortality and frailness.
Jon: And this is the world that I'm living in and this is really marking that more.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Tim: Yeah. One last thing. Being impure is contagious. In other words, if you're around somebody who's in a ritually pure state, you can make them impure by touching them.
And so being ritually impure is contagious. Holiness, which is the opposite end of the spectrum, is contagious. So [01:00:00] when people come into contact with the holy foods of the temple, that holiness get transferred to them. But you know, it could be dangerous, for example. But being in a pure state is not contagious. When you're in a pure state, you could either get leveled up to holiness by contacting it, or you can get leveled away from holiness towards impurity by touching it. And so impurity and holiness are the two contagious states.
So what is fascinating, and here just, this is a good, like, get your friends together on a Friday [01:00:30] night, and read the Gospel of Luke out loud, and you just watch. Luke has intentionally placed in all of his healing narratives the people who would be populating the list of Leviticus 11 through 15, uniquely. Jesus touches dead bodies. He touches people, a woman leaking menstrual blood. He touches people with skin diseases, he goes into the homes of non-Israelites who would not be eating kosher. [01:01:00] It's truly remarkable. Luke has intentionally shown Jesus as the holy one of God, which he's called. In Luke-Acts, he's called the holy one of God. And he is God's contagious holiness moving out, one by one, just checking off the list of people from Leviticus 11 through 15.
Jon: Those things that would make someone impure …
Jon: ... when Jesus comes in contact with it.
Tim: Yes, touching them. Luke always highlighting he touches them, [01:01:30] which would render a normal pure Israelite impure. But in the case of Jesus, his contagious holiness actually transforms them, it turns the impure thing into pure, which makes them fit for the presence of God. So this is a cool way how these chapters might seem so extreme and bizarre, but they actually illuminate how Jesus saw the world.
And why he moved towards the kinds of people that he did. It's because he knew these chapters well. And [01:02:00] they informed his view of the world. And he didn't think they were bad. Jesus didn't overturn the systems. But what he did was use his holy power to bring people into a state of purity, to bring them into the proximity to holiness. So that's a cool way that these connect to Jesus. These chapters in Leviticus are a part of the unified story that leads to Jesus.
Jon: Yeah, that's cool.
Tim: And that's a part of how.
Jon: And that makes me realize that if I am going to start to imagine my own modern purity rituals, it has to be grounded in this reality [01:02:30] that to be in relationship with Jesus is to be made pure.
Jon: Lent is interesting, because once a year leading up to his death, you imagine, like, "What if I didn't have that?"
Jon: "He's gonna die."
Jon: And not until Resurrection Sunday, do you celebrate. No, that's not the reality.
Tim: Yeah, totally.
Jon: But we don't have to live in that day in and day out.
Jon: We get to live in this reality of being connected to purity that's contagious. And holiness is contagious.
Tim: Yeah. Contagious holiness. Yeah. [01:03:00] That can make even the parts of my life that had been touched by mortality or suffering, or death, can, yeah, transform them make them whole and pure.
Jon: Not to be confused with chol, which is common.
Tim: Which is common. Yeah. Okay.
Jon: All right.
Tim: Yeah, there, there you go. There's just no way to tie that up in a bow. But—
Jon: And we didn't read any of them.
Tim: Yeah, we didn't actually read any of these passages. Well, listeners of the podcast, you have some helpful categories now [01:03:30] that can help you go read them with greater understanding.
Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of BibleProject’s podcast. Next week, we're exploring the very center of Leviticus, which is the very center of the Torah, the Day of Atonement.
Tim: When death has been introduced into the very heart of the tent, which is the source of all life, we need to deal with the problem there. We need to deal with the pollution that's taking place in the tent. And that's what the Day of Atonement is all about. This [01:04:00] chapter is in the section that's at the center of the center of the center of the Torah. We know we're close to the heartbeat of the message of the Torah when we enter into the tent on the Day of Atonement.
Jon: Today's show is produced by Cooper Peltz, edited by Dan Gummel and Tyler Bailey. Our show notes by Lindsey Ponder; Ashlyn Heise and MacKenzie Buxman have provided the annotations for our annotated podcast in our app. BibleProject is a crowdfunded nonprofit. We exist to experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus. And we can do [01:04:30] this along with you all for free because of your generous support. Thank you so much for being a part of this with us.
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