Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Riddle of Rachel- Pt. 1

Rachel Held Evans seems to be creating quite a stir recently.  Rachel has been the object of some controversy with the large Christian retail chain- LifeWay. And has enjoyed considerable notoriety by misrepresenting them.  

She has also been the object of a great deal of amusement and ridicule in the Christian as well as the secular media.  And, I like amusing… so let’s address this riddle of Rachel.  Indeed, let’s have some fun and hold up this enigma of Rachel Held Evans for examination.

Now, Rachel appears to have been on some sort of a mission for her latest book.  She appears to have been challenged to assess various O.T. laws for her book.  To assess laws particular to women. 

Assessing them by slavishly practicing them for a year.  To see if there was any redeeming value to those laws.
And according to a recent interview on national radio  Rachel didn’t appear to find those laws all that redeeming or even pointing to a Redeemer.  And naturally, the non-Christian interviewer seemed only interested in the titillating aspects of her mission.  Interested in her hypocrisy as well as her dubious reasons for actually continuing to be a Christian.

Yet, Rachel seemed more interested in speaking of her ‘placing of God on trial’.   Speaking of her upholding the ‘onerous’ sexual cleanliness laws for a year.  Of not having sex with her husband for “12 days straight”/menstrual cycle as per Leviticus 15.  Of living in an ‘isolation tent’ and of travelling with a ‘butt isolator’ during this period.

Seemed more interested in speaking of the ‘terrible loneliness and embarrassment’ that she experienced during that part of her cycle.  Loneliness and embarrassment because she wanted to put the LORD to the test (and no doubt tested her husband’s fidelity as well).  

A test of ancient “feminine rules and roles”.  A test that appears to have yielded no answers to her feminist riddle.  And a test that just seemed to accelerate Rachel’s anti-patriarchal diatribe.

But Rachel’s feminism should hardly be so hostile to the patriarchs. Should hardly be so hostile to the Jewish patriarchal system, since it actually is a system with a strong bent toward patronizing women!  A far less hostile system than the expanding Sharia system.  And a far friendlier system than her feminism.  

But let’s only address one aspect of Rachel’s specific riddle here.  Let’s avoid the roles and focus on the rules in question.   Let’s address her riddle regarding the ‘redeeming value’ of those ancient menstrual laws.  And only address this aspect because I have already addressed them as ‘pointing to a redeemer here .

And let’s get beyond a rather shallow interpretation of those laws.  Let’s see if we can advance the discussion as Rachel actually requested.  Examine the text of Leviticus 15 a little better. And examine the context a little better.

Let's advance the discussion with an internally consistent interpretation. A comprehensive interpretation less intimidating, less embarrassing and far more redeeming than Rachel’s.  Something far more God glorifying than Rachel seems to have discovered. Advance the discussion with something that Rachel was ‘unable to discover’ in her current lamentations.  Advance this with an interpretation that radiates something considerably “more loving”- as was her want.

So, at the risk of seeming heretical, let’s consider quite a different interpretation.  An interpretation contrary to that of Orthodox Jewish tradition.  Indeed, an interpretation quite contrary to those overzealous Pharisees who promoted similarly unlawful stuff.  Who promoted unlawful stuff like Corban (Mark 7:11, 12) and ‘neglected the weightier provisions of the law’ (Matt. 23:23). 

And let’s name and frame this riddle of Rachel’s.  Let’s name this riddle as Rachel might like to name this riddle.  Let’s name this riddle, ‘What hath Men to do with Menses?’

And let’s see if we can frame it positively. Frame it as promoting healthiness and holiness rather than framing it as Cleansing Unhealthiness as NASB has unfortunately titled this chapter.  Frame it as “more loving” rather than “less unloving”.

But first, allow me to inform our readers- that men were also subject to the same admonitions in this Levitical text.   Rachel is just starting with the text that she thinks applies to her.  Rachel starts in the middle of this text rather than the beginning of this text.  Again, this admonition was not exclusive to women.   

This text starts by claiming that men are “unclean” due to a “bodily discharge”.    
 And insists that men were unclean for seven days following the cessation of their “bodily discharge”.  Not only that, but men were also instructed to offer a “Sin Offering and a Burnt Offering” following this period.  And that women were to keep their hands off their men during this period (v.7).  So quit yer’ whining about discrimination there, girls.  Guys have to follow the same rules.

Yet the text progresses to something quite different happening with respect to “seminal emission” (Lev. 15:16).  Regardless of whether this seminal emission is voluntary or involuntary (wet dreams are also covered in Deut. 23:10).   In this text it seems that “seminal emission” is in a distinctly different category than this “bodily discharge” alluded to in verse 3.

It seems that the period of uncleanness for “seminal emission” is only until the following evening.  And not only that, but no offering is required for this “seminal emission”.  Again, “seminal emission” is NOT like the distinctly different discharge alluded to previously.

And this distinctly different discharge applies to women as well.  As this text progresses there is clearly some distinction regarding a discharge of blood “NOT at the period of her menstrual impurity”.  A distinction of “a discharge BEYOND that period”.   That for this distinctly different discharge “she shall continue AS THOUGH in her menstrual impurity” (v. 25).  And it is for this distinctly different discharge for which an offering IS required.  Again, we see distinctly different categories being addressed here.  

Distinctions which are strangely not being observed by Orthodox Jews or by Rachel.  And as we shall see, they seem to be observing radically different time periods as well.  

Anyway, as regards the discharge- what might that distinctly different discharge be?

Well, the text suggests that internal (poop) as well as external (puss) discharges could possibly be in mind here (v.3).  With this euphemistic text even being so bold as to mention “spit” (v.8).  And these discharges are distinctly different- yet it is highly unlikely for this text to be speaking of such innocuous discharges… especially following such an extensive text speaking of something as serious as leprosy.  

And unlikely since it is understood from this text that the man is only required to wash in the evening for a “seminal discharge”.  Quite unlikely that a man would be considered unclean for seven days following a pee.   And unlikely since the man would soon be bankrupted by bowel movements.  And bankrupted much more quickly by providing offerings for his wife’s movements (they go to the washroom about 30% more). 

Remember also, that a Sin Offering and a Burnt Offering is in order here. So something else must be in mind here. Something of a less innocuous dischargesome kind of sinful discharge.  

And something of a less innocuous discharge for women as well.  A discharge of far greater import.  Something of debilitating import.    

Something of far greater import like STD discharges.  Discharges which were even prevalent during this Levitical period.   Discharges as historian-Morton relates were of far greater import, like “destructive ulcers” and “morbid outgrowths” exuding “genital excresences”.  
Excresences which are contagious and debilitating.  Excresences that read like a WHMIS label. Excresences causing blindness, infertility and death.  Unhealthy stuff.
Excresences derived from unfaithfulness to one’s sexual partner.  Excresences of infidelity.  Excresences common to a licentious and polygamous culture.  Unholy stuff. 
Excresences of sinful import. 

Import requiring a Sin Offering for the cleansing of self and a Burnt Offering to make atonement with God.
Offerings promoting repentance.  Offerings promoting faithfulness.  Offerings promoting something “very loving”.  Offerings in which God continues to say, 

For aI desire steadfast love1 and not sacrifice, bthe knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”-Hos 6:6 ESV.

For God is the author of faithfulness.  The standard of fidelity. 

The standard of Love that we are to imitate.  The background of Rachel’s riddle.
The background which we shall bring to the foreground.