Patheological Weddingsday – Leithart’s Myths of Purity

A sampling platter of the Old Testament Levitical Laws.

Readership: Christians;
Note: For the discerning, Leithart’s post has a familiar spirit.

In his post, Peter Leithart’s Side Effects (2020 October 8), Deep Strength brought to our attention a piece written by Peter Leithart at Theopolis.  Of note, our discussion of this article came to the conclusion that Leithart is channeling Boomer Theology, which is essentially Complementarianism.

I also observed that Leithart has a penchant for “sexual mystery” (his words) as something that should not be “dispelled”.  Not to rant about Boomers, but they have done a grand job at passing that “sexual mystery” down to succeeding generations.  Now, our 21st century ignorance of this knowledge has not made us any more righteous nor happy, but instead, it has made us more impotent and imbecilic when it comes to interactions between the sexes.  We now call this pathetic state, being Blue Pilled, among other, less polite monikers.

After looking around in my study notes on the Purity Movement, I found that Leithart wrote three articles about the Purity Movement at Patheos.  The fact that he wrote for theologically pathetic Patheos makes me even more uneasy about his doctrinal beliefs.

This post will examine the first one, entitled Myths of Purity (2017 October 12).  In this post, Leithart kicks around a few Biblical concepts about uncleanness.  His references suggest that he is quite well read, but his hermeneutics of these topics are banal.

Reformed Presbyterian Pastor, Dr. Peter Leithart.

Myth #1: Uncleanness is “dirtiness”.

“Though there is some overlap between “dirt” and “impurity,” the latter has a specific significance.  If we take Mary Douglas’s definition of dirt as “matter out of place,” then the overlap is stronger.  But Douglas’s definition assumes that impurity is a systemic issue, not a matter of “ickiness”.”

A couple problems already…

To add my own comment on this, impurity is a matter of “ickiness”, but it is more than simply physical ickiness.  It also includes visceral, social, sexual, and spiritual ickiness.  I covered these topics in two previous posts.

In my studies of these topics, I came to the conclusion that the main difference between being unclean and being defiled, is that being defiled is a rather permanent state of being unclean, meaning that the person or object cannot be made clean again through washing or other rituals.

Exodus 30:17-21 might be brought in as evidence to the contrary.  Priests had to wash their hands and feet in the laver before they went before the altar or entered the tabernacle.  That indeed suggests that dirt in and of itself is a defilement, and that the priests would have been unclean if they had failed to do this.  Yet there is nothing in the Levitical law that requires lay Israelites to wash before approaching the tabernacle.  Perhaps this was taken for granted, but the omission is significant.  It indicates that if uncleanness is dirt, it’s a special type of dirt.”

His argument is still not clear, but I can see that Leithart is schmoozing the two concepts of unclean and defiled as meaning the same thing — only the dirt is different!  (Maybe he supports the “magic dirt” hypothesis about immigration.)  Not surprising, because this is a common assumption.  A lot of people argued with me when I argued that there must be a difference between the two.

I’m no expert in Greek or Hebrew, so I can’t get into this much deeper with any certainty.  If any knowledgeable reader would care to dig into this any further, here is a list of words on BibleHub to get you started (and there might be more that I missed).  All these words are translated into English as unclean, defiled, debased, impure, polluted, unwashed, etc., and I’m sure every one of these words carries a unique nuance or special context that has been lost in the translation.  Why else would there be so many different words if it was all the same idea?  Are we to believe that these are all synonyms?

HebrewGreek
1351. gaal169. akathartos
1352. goel449. aniptos
2490c. chalal2840. koinoó
2610. chaneph3392. miainó
2930. tame3435. molunó
2931. tame4510. rhupoó
2932. tum’ah4695. spiloó
2936. tanaph5351. phtheiró
3799. katham
5079. niddah
5953. alal
6031. anah

Anyway, the point of Exodus 30:17-21 is that the priests were not to come into the sanctuary dirty.  Washing was necessary because in those days, traveling along the road to the temple invariably made people dusty and dirty.  According to my understanding of unclean and defiled, not washing would have left the priests unclean, but would not have made them defiled.

“Not every type of gross material that we dirty “dirty” [sic] is unclean in the Levitical sense.  Deuteronomy 23:9-14 requires the Israelites to dig a latrine outside the war camp, because Yahweh dwells in the camp and moves through it.  Israel is not to leave any “thing of nakedness” exposed in the camp (v. 14).  Yet a soldier who uses the toilet outside the camp and covers it up, will immediately return to the camp.  He hasn’t been made unclean by feces or urination.”

This is standard protocol for field camps, both military and civilian.  Even dogs don’t doo doo in the dog house.

Concerning his last sentence, feces does make one unclean.  To make my point, stepping in poop might be funny (unclean), but stepping on a used maxipad is never funny (defiled).

Concerning verse 14, I don’t know what translation he’s using.  Only the Young’s Literal Translation uses the word “nakedness”, but it doesn’t say “thing of nakedness”.  All other translations use the words filthy, indecent, offensive, shameful, or unclean.

But overall, he’s making a distinction between unclean and defiled, which contradicts his earlier suggestion, and confirms mine.  Actually, I think he has not made any distinction between these terms as I have.

“Human beings contract uncleanness by emissions from the body (Leviticus 15), but not every emission from the body defiles.”

I can agree on that.  Leviticus 15 states that the emissions that are defiling are semen, menstruation, and purulence.

This image is incorrect. Turkey is unclean, according to Levitical Law.

Myth #2: God gave purity rules for reasons of health and hygiene.

“Nothing in the food laws suggests that foods are prohibited because of the dirty or unhealthy habits of the animal, or the unhealthy character of their meat.  The pig is off limits because, though it divides the hoof, it doesn’t chew the cud.  Sheep can be gross too, but they are not only clean but sacrificial animals.

Shrimp and shellfish are not prohibited because they are bottom feeders or because they are scavengers.  They’re prohibited because they lack scales and fins.  After the Maccabean revolt, Jewish tradition, exalted the pig into the model of the unclean animal but that is an historical “accident”.”

I don’t believe this is totally a myth.  Health and hygiene may not have been the express purpose of the Levitical regulations, but health and hygiene did come as a benefit.

“Nor are other forms of impurity related to health concerns.  Lepers are isolated and quarantined, it is said, to prevent the disease from spreading.  There are several problems with this.  Biblical leprosy is not the same as modern leprosy.  It is more like psoriasis than Hanson’s disease.”

I disagree.  In ancient times, it may have been difficult to distinguish between a case of dermal lesions and a terminal case of Hanson’s disease, especially in the early stage of infection, so they had to take precautions with all.  So all kinds of gross skin diseases were lumped into a general category of leprosy, or rather, suspected leprosy.

“Further, when a “leper” turns completely white, when he is completely covered with the white swelling of his leprosy, he is declared clean automatically (Leviticus 13:13).  If the laws are concerned with contagion, it’s odd that the leper is pronounced healthy when his body is entirely taken over by the disease.”

The text is definitely confusing, and he is not making it any less so.  I’m not a medical expert, but I imagine that leprous sores turn white when the infected tissue becomes necrotic and desquamates, indicating a remission of the infection.

Myth #3: Israelites in a state of uncleanness were pariahs and outcasts, excluded from the daily run of social life.

“Uncleanness prevents a person from approaching the sanctuary.  It doesn’t prevent anyone from living a normal life.”

No, uncleanness prevents a person from glorifying God in the sanctuary.  Going back to Exodus 30:17-21, if a priest delivered a sermon in his gardening clothes, it would be sacrilegious.  A high priest doing this should be dismissed.  In the Old Testament, God dismissed him personally, and permanently.

BTW, how many preachers have you seen deliver a message while wearing a T shirt and tattered blue jeans or jogging sweats? The Washington D.C. area has had them for the past 25 years.

“A woman wasn’t expelled from her home during her period, nor was she prohibited from contact with others.  She and her husband could continue to sleep in the same bed, though they were prohibited from having intercourse.

Her husband would become unclean, as would most of the rest of her family.  They would have to go through rites of cleansing, perhaps every night the woman was menstruating.  It would be an inconvenience, especially if there were several adult women in the house (think Tevye).  But there would be no ostracism, exclusion, or expulsion.”

Maybe it’s not a rejection, but a woman on her period is somewhat of an outcast. Using the analogy, a used maxipad is defiled.  A person or thing that touches that maxipad is unclean.

“There seem to be some exceptions.  Lepers are sent out of the camp (Numbers 5:1-3), along with all people with discharges and people contaminated by corpses, But the camp has a certain degree of holiness to it.  The ark is in the midst, and Israel is organized around it.  This isn’t a precedent for exclusion from daily life, but exclusion from the presence of God.”

This passage actually goes against his argument. And I’m not buying that last line.  God is present everywhere.  A person’s sin, not geographical location, is what excludes one from the presence of God.

“What about lepers after Israel entered the land? 2nd Kings 7 indicates that the lepers were put outside the city.  And this is perhaps implied by the law: A leprous house was dismantled and taken out of the city, so perhaps we can infer that a leprous person was also removed from the city.  Behind that, perhaps, is the notion of a city as holy space.”

Leithart’s cursory review could be misleading.  If we take the time to read Leviticus 13 and 14, which cover the Levitical regulations for leprous people, garments, objects, and homes, we find that razing the building was the very last resort to be rid of a house “plague” (presumably some type of mold or fungus).

“And, finally, we can’t be certain that the treatment of lepers in 2nd Kings 7 is just.  After all, they are being excluded from Samaria, not Jerusalem, and Samaria is a city populated by idols.  Perhaps the fact that the lepers are put outside the city is a sign of the injustice of the northern kingdom, which would only heighten the irony when the lepers save the city by discovering the abandoned Aramean camp.”

Now he’s passing retroactive judgment on the social justice of Samaria during the Iron Age, and using this as an excuse as to why #3 is a myth. Overall, it’s not convincing.  He doesn’t tie this little story back to the main topic of uncleanness.  The article ends there without any conclusion, leaving the reader confused and dissatisfied.

Conclusions

In summary of this post, Leithart has made several errors.

  • His writing style is that of an authority, but the substance of his writing does not carry the power of that authority.
  • He took snippets of ideas from several passages about uncleanness, but failed to explain any of them within context.
  • He fails to offer specific definitions to the concepts he builds his arguments on.
  • He extrapolated certain passages to mean something beyond what is implied in scripture.
  • As a result, he ends up making some pretty extreme statements that have little applicable value.
  • His arguments flitter across several ideas, and as a whole, fail to explain why the propositions are myths.

Leithart’s post is like a rough draft that got published before it was finished.  It was painful to read, and difficult to concentrate. Maybe he had some idea of what he was writing about, but he failed to make those ideas clear, and show how they could reinforce his arguments.  Thus, it creates more confusion than illumination.

If I could believe that Leithart is cunning enough to have adopted an old media strategy of abusing a topic in order to trivialize it, then my best guess is that this post is intended to convince readers that the Old Testament Law is no longer valid, or even ridiculous, or that maintaining purity is a fool’s errand.

<Looks again at Leithart’s photo>

No way.  Leithart’s post was only intended as clickbait, reading fodder, or to fulfill a quota.

Related

About Jack

Jack is a world traveling artist, skilled in trading ideas and information, none of which are considered too holy, too nerdy, nor too profane to hijack and twist into useful fashion. Sigma Frame Mindsets and methods for building and maintaining a masculine Frame
This entry was posted in Clothing, Culture Wars, Discerning Lies and Deception, Discernment, Wisdom, Glory, Personal Presentation, Sanctification & Defilement. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Patheological Weddingsday – Leithart’s Myths of Purity

  1. Taytytan says:

    Everything you said about this writer, could be applied to you. Also pompous, egomaniac, and lots of other words you probably would not understand

    Like

  2. cameron232 says:

    There is a great deal of symbolism in the dietary laws. This is described extensively in the Epistle of Barnabas, one of the earliest non-canonical Christian writings.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lance Roberts says:

    Leithart definitely has a problem with purity. He did a book review of a pornographic book (Lady Chatterly’s Lover) and use the f-word numerous times in it. After some pressure he munged the words with asteriks, but of course the real question is why he thinks it’s ok for a Christian to read pornographic books and use pornographic language.

    He is good on some other topics but you have to really pay attention.

    Like

  4. Ed Hurst says:

    Whether turkey is kosher is a huge debate even today. It was unknown in the Bible, so it’s not a simple answer to extrapolate from the Pentateuch. It represents a much bigger issue, in that Jesus discounted the Talmud and everything that arises from it. Judaism is not at all Old Testament religion. Too many commentators assume they are the same, so it leads to a very muddled commentary.

    Like

  5. ramman3000 says:

    “Leviticus 15 states that the emissions that are defiling are semen, menstruation, and purulence.”

    I think I may have pointed this out here before, but contact with certain fluids was only unclean if it came from a Hebrew. If it came from a foreigner, it was not unclean. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, the things that were unclean/clean were not inherently and essentially so. In other words, ritual purity does not refer to being physically dirty.

    Like

    • ramman3000 says:

      Here is what I wrote before:

      “There are two kinds of impurity, ritual impurity (or ceremonial uncleanliness) and moral impurity. These are related, but different.”

      “Ritual impurities are human conditions that render an Israelite/Jew unclean. It is a temporary (and contagious) condition that removes one from sanctity (the presence of God). It had two purposes: (1) regulate the boundary between human and divine; and (2) keep the boundaries between Israel and (Gentile) nations. It is not associated with sin. It requires various cleansing rituals. By contrast, moral impurity comes from certain kinds of sin, specifically idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed. It requires severe punishment, exile, or death. Like ritual impurity, it removes one from sanctity.”

      “Ritual purity applies only to Jews, moral purity applies to everyone. The Gentiles are not a party to God’s covenant with the Jews, so the rules do not apply to them. So touching the semen of a Jewish man makes a Jew unclean, but the semen of a Gentile does not. The Jews were set aside and held to a higher standard. Gentiles cannot be ceremonially unclean.

      On one hand, the ceremonial laws cannot pertain to Christians. It is impossible, unless they first convert to Judaism and become part of the Old Covenant. Paul warns against doing this! On the other hand, the moral laws regarding sin apply to everyone.

      So, one cannot understand what the OT says about purity, defilement, and uncleanliness unless one understands this.

      “I’m no expert in Greek or Hebrew, so I can’t get into this much deeper with any certainty. [..] All these words are translated into English as unclean, defiled, debased, impure, polluted, unwashed, etc., and I’m sure every one of these words carries a unique nuance or special context that has been lost in the translation. “

      I previously wrote:

      “The word for “unclean” of the leper in Leviticus 13:45 is the same word used to describe the rape of Dinah in Genesis 34.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jack says:

        @ Ramman

        “Ritual purity applies only to Jews, moral purity applies to everyone. The Gentiles are not a party to God’s covenant with the Jews, so the rules do not apply to them. So touching the semen of a Jewish man makes a Jew unclean, but the semen of a Gentile does not. The Jews were set aside and held to a higher standard. Gentiles cannot be ceremonially unclean.”

        A Jew who touches the semen of a Gentile is not unclean? This sounds… Off. Where did you get this idea?

        Gentiles could not be ceremonially unclean simply because they didn’t follow Jewish customs, not because they were Gentiles. But that is essentially the same thing. Gentiles don’t follow Jewish customs.

        It should be noted that the whole purpose of Judaism was to attain some form of righteousness or atonement (not sure that’s the right word) apart from Christ, at the time before Christ made His sacrifice. This is why OT laws did not apply to Gentiles – because Gentiles were not seeking after God. If a gentile decided to seek after God by following Jewish customs then he was a convert, and no longer a Gentile.

        Today, the protocols in Leviticus are worthless to bring one closer to God for those who believe in Christ. This is why following OT laws have little benefit to Christians today. I suppose that these laws might still have some benefit for those who don’t believe in Christ, but this is essentially modern Judaism.

        “The word for “unclean” of the leper in Leviticus 13:45 is the same word used to describe the rape of Dinah in Genesis 34.”

        It gets even more complicated. This same word is also translated as “humbled” in other translations and other passages. I wrote a post on this before.
        https://sigmaframe.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/humility-and-defilement/
        BTW, in my studies of the scriptures, I try to understand the concepts behind these passages, and not get hung up on words and translations.

        Like

      • ramman3000 says:

        “It gets even more complicated. This same word is also translated as “humbled” in other translations and other passages. I wrote a post on this before.”

        Your study was incomplete because it stopped at verse 3. The words ‘anah’ (humbled; v2) and ‘tame’ (defiled; v5) are both used in that passage. ‘Humbled’ is translated into English as defiled because ‘tame’ is used to describe the humbling, not because ‘anah’ means defiled intrinsically (it doesn’t). Furthermore, in this context, the humbling (‘anah’) is not voluntary and is decidedly negative, not submissive or humble in a positive sense.

        “A Jew who touches the semen of a Gentile is not unclean? This sounds… Off. Where did you get this idea?”

        I’ll have to find the reference in my library. I do not have a digital reference. Bear with me while I search for it. Until then….

        It’s not off. It is just that the reasons for the rituals is almost completely lost in the Western mind. We largely treat them as archaic relics of the past and do not understand their purpose under the Hebrew’s covenant with God. Indeed, most Christians deride the rituals as Pharisaic legalism, completely missing the point.

        The purpose of ritual cleanness was to regulate barriers: the barrier between God and Jews, the barrier between the priests and Levites, the barrier between the Levites and the other tribes, and the barrier between Hebrews and Gentiles. Being set apart is an essential feature of the rituals (see Romans 12). The closer one was to God, the more restrictions applied to them. Gentiles, being far from God, are simply not capable of being unclean (or causing uncleanness) because few (if any) restrictions apply to them. Being outside the covenant, they lack the privilege.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. ramman3000 says:

    Here is a brief word study. I’ve divided the words into two categories. The first are words that always (or almost always) directly mean defilement, uncleanness, or impurity. The second are words that can mean defilement in context, but do not of themselves mean defilement.

    Direct

    ‘tame’ (Verb), ‘tame’ (Adjective), and ‘tum’ah’ (Noun) are related words meaning unclean or defiled in a general sense. It generally only means uncleanness, albeit in numerous variations. Together they occur 260 times in the OT, easily the most common word translated as unclean or defiled.

    ‘gaal’ (verb) and ‘goel’ (noun) are the same word (גֹּאֶל). They refer to defilement generally. The target of defilement may be the Lord, a person, group of persons (i.e. priesthood), or food. It can carry the general sense of freeing, repudiating, or redeeming, according to context. Together they occur 12 times in the OT.

    ‘chaneph’ (Verb) means to defile or profane by polluting. It usually has a target, such as the land, house, earth. It carries the sense of godlessness. It seems to be used primarily as a figure of speech. For example, the land is defiled by the godlessness of the inhabitants. The word is used 11 times in the OT.

    ‘niddah’ (Noun) refers to impurity, most often literally menstruation. When used figuratively, it does not literally refer to menstruation itself, but the implied impurity. This word is probably impossible to translate properly into engage, but I think a loose analog that uses the same metaphorical mode is when we say “media whore” and don’t literally mean whore, but want the implication. The word is used 29 times in the OT.

    Contextual

    ‘chalal’ (Verb) refers to piercing or boring. As typical with Hebrew, the word is used generally and often metaphorically. While it can refer to defilement, it does not mean defilement as such. It is easy to see the word play in referring to sexual defilement and piercing, but this is lost in translation. Like ‘desire’ in Genesis 3:16, this word cannot be easily sliced-and-diced. The word is used 143 times in the OT.

    ‘anah’ (Verb; עָנָה) means a number of things. It means to be humbled, submitted, afflicted, weakened, depressed, oppressed, or bowed down either forcibly or voluntarily. This does not carry the sense of defilement in the ceremonial or unclean sense. It refers to the defilement of Dinah when she was raped, because in this context the Hebrew word ‘tame’ is also used. The word is used 83 times in the OT.

    ‘alal’ (Verb: עָלַל) means to abuse by overdoing or thoroughness; severely. Like ‘anah’, it doesn’t mean defilement on its own. The word is used 19 times in the OT.

    ‘katham’ is only used once and appears to carry the sense of staining, as in a dye.

    ‘tanaph’ is only used once and appears to mean dirtiness (literally) or intrinsic corruption (figuratively).

    Analysis

    “In my studies of these topics, I came to the conclusion that the main difference between being unclean and being defiled, is that being defiled is a rather permanent state of being unclean, meaning that the person or object cannot be made clean again through washing or other rituals.”

    The differences between these concepts are not at the level of word selection, but the context in which the words are used. In most cases, you are not going to gather a lot of value by taking specific meanings from the words used.

    “A lot of people argued with me when I argued that there must be a difference between the two. [..] I’m sure every one of these words carries a unique nuance or special context that has been lost in the translation. Why else would there be so many different words if it was all the same idea? Are we to believe that these are all synonyms?”

    Context determines whether they are synonyms or not, not the words themselves. The most common words—’tame’ (and related), ‘chalal’, and ‘anah’—are all used generally. This is especially true of ‘chalal’, which cannot be defined as any one word. That the Hebrew language is full of puns and double-meanings makes it quite expressive, but also impossible to pin down specifically.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ramman3000 says:

    The following quotes come from Chapter 6 (‘Who is and Who Isn’t a Jew’) of “Paul was not a Christian” by Pamela Eisenbaum. I strongly recommend buying this book, even if you disagree with its conclusions.

    Jack said: “A Jew who touches the semen of a Gentile is not unclean? This sounds… Off.”

    The first thing that must be corrected is the notion that Jews viewed Gentiles as inherently unclean.

    “Jews did not regard Gentiles as inherently “unclean” (Dunn, ‘Jesus, Paul, and the Law’, 142). In most of the literature of this period, Gentiles were not regarded as defiled or in a permanently degraded state of impurity; neither were they a source of defilement to Jews. This is a simple observation, but it requires repeated emphasis because, in my experience, people tend to receive this information with disbelief; at the very least, it strikes them as counterintuitive. So here it is again: Gentiles were not susceptible to ritual impurity, and Jews did not contract impurity by contact with Gentiles. [..] contact with Gentiles is never mentioned [in the Torah] as a source of such impurity (Hayes, ‘Gentile Impurities’, 21)”

    Ritual purity laws applied to the Jews because the Jews were uniquely chosen by God under a covenant. To wit:

    “Because Gentiles are not party to the covenant, they have never been sanctified or consecrated to God, and thus they are in no danger of a close encounter with the divine, so to speak, so they cannot be at risk of ritual impurity (see: Hayes, ‘Gentile Impurities’; Klawans, ‘Notions of Gentile Impurity’)”

    In particular:

    “That Gentiles are not susceptible to ritual impurity is strikingly illustrated by texts from the Mishnah in which the rabbis explicitly note that bodily fluids like menstrual blood and semen that flow from Gentiles are clean, following Torah law, while the same bodily discharges from Israelites are unclean. That is to say, the former are not susceptible to impurity, which makes them intrinsically pure; the latter are susceptible to impurity and thus required to follow the laws of purity. (see: Mishnah Miqwa’ot 8.4)”

    I’m sure I could find many more applicable quotes, but those are some of the highlights that I took from the book.

    Like

  8. AngloSaxon says:

    The guy just looks really weird. I wouldn’t listen to him based on that face alone.

    Like

  9. Pingback: Patheological Weddingsday – Leithart on Purity and Holiness | Σ Frame

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