(an outtake from Once More, From the Beginning. This is one of the bits that didn’t make it into the book.)
When we pay close attention to the auxiliary laws The Lord outlined for Moses after laying out the Big Ten, we get a touching glimpse of his more considerate side. He is remarkably consistent in suggesting that the blood, fat, skin, and feet of these carefully chosen beasts – the parts that we, in a less enlightened age, would consider refuse – would be quite acceptable as burnt offerings.
“Don’t feel you have to send up the tender breast and shoulder meat,” conceded The Lord, “. . . unless you really want to. You can simply wave it in front of me as a token of your good intentions, and then dispose of it as you wish. Say!” he suggested, “Better still, why don’t you let the priests eat it!”
If these instructions had not come from God himself, we might suspect in them the influence of some of the more epicurean members of the priesthood. His insistence on the addition of salt seems particularly suspicious.
He left nothing to chance, describing in most minute detail his taste in décor, so that the Hebrews could embellish their places of worship in the style most pleasing to him. Moses might have mixed up a few of the colors, and he was never entirely sure that he had gotten the number of loops in the curtains quite right, but he did his best to commit all this to memory.
God was also quite clear in outlining dietary laws for his people, stopping just short of suggesting specific recipes. (Actually, he did include a few cake recipes, but these were clearly intended to be sacrificed to him, so it’s understandable that he should want them to be to his taste.) It’s difficult to understand why he concerned himself with such minute details, but the world was a much slower-moving place back then. Perhaps he had a lot of time on his hands.
He suggested helpful quarantine and cleanliness regulations designed to prevent the spread of plague, leprosy and, it would seem, menstruation. In fact, most of the natural functions of the body – especially of the female body – required varying degrees of segregation and constant ritual purification. Even the always enthusiastically encouraged birth of children was subject to these measures, although women did get a discount on segregation days for bearing boy children. Perhaps it was feared that without this little incentive, they might develop a wicked tendency to prefer daughters, and that wouldn’t do at all!
He also expressed some very particular views on the topic of who might copulate with whom, and when. It seems to have been quite a preoccupation, in fact – animals and corpses were definitely out. As might be expected, he recommended that each priest, particularly, wed only a virgin (or virgins) of his own people, but it’s not quite so clear how many such virgins each man could wed before being considered something of a hog. And it’s obvious that the men were expected to do a significant amount of copulating outside the bounds of marriage. Otherwise animals and corpses would not have needed the protection of law.
It would be a mistake, though, to assume that the penalties for infractions were always excessive – at least, for men. One would think that one of The Lord’s chosen would have been severely chastised, for example, for raping a defenseless slave maiden. Not so. Of course, if the woman had been betrothed to someone else, the offender would be expected to contritely present the priests with a prime ram as atonement for this abuse of another man’s property, after which he would be forgiven his misdeed. The woman, on the other hand, only avoided being put to death because, as a slave, she had absolutely no power of refusal whatever. Lucky victim – she would be punished for her ordeal with only a severe whipping!
Wives, of course, were expected to remain faithful to their husbands no matter what the provocation. If a man even suspected his wife of consorting with another, he was to drag her before a priest, who would offer her a brew of holy water and dust from the floor of the tabernacle. (The Lord didn’t stipulate the proportions, so I assume that the individual priests had some leeway for culinary creativity.) If she was guilty, the beverage would cause her belly to swell and her flesh to rot. While uncomfortable, to be sure, she would be spared a long convalescence, as the penalty for adultery was death. If she was innocent, however, drinking mud was considered sufficient punishment for unwittingly having caused her husband to endure the agony of jealousy. Since no penalty was devised for an unwarranted accusation, a man might indulge his suspicions in this manner on a daily basis if he so wished . . . as long as the priest was compensated for his trouble and the desert wind blew sufficient dust into the tabernacle to meet the demand. Oddly, there is no mention of any corresponding test of fidelity for husbands.
God was careful to specify in elaborate detail the offerings he expected to receive from those who transgressed against his laws. Those who displayed repentance in this way would be conveniently forgiven all but the most heinous of sins. This certainly must have given the Hebrews plenty of incentive to work hard and long and achieve much, because with their track record of transgression, the constant offerings must have made a substantial dent in their household budgets in no time at all.