Allusions In Sara Bareilles’ “Eden”

Finding Biblical allusions within some of my favorite music really illustrates to me the depth and breadth of its influence on all kinds of culture; it simultaneously has both a personalizing effect, while also truly highlighting the scale of influence that the Bible has achieved. This was evidenced to me by the song “Eden” by Sara Bareilles; I was aware of the Biblical allusions within the song long before this, but the chance to really delve into the lyrics revealed a greater depth to it than I had first realized. The song is rife with allusions to the narrative of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, and it is heavily laden with imagery and details that call to mind that story.

“Illustrate the remnants of the life I used to live here in Eden
Rolled a lucky pair of dice,
Ended up paradise
Landed on a snake’s eyes, took a bite and ended up bleeding”

Titian: Adam och Eva.The beginning of the song seems to indicate a huge transitional shift in the narrator’s life; while things were once idyllic in a so-called “paradise,” they have since found themselves in a much worse position. Obviously the reference of living in “Eden” is meant to draw forth that image of a wonderful and enviable place in life, whether it is a physical place like the garden itself or a state of being. “Rolled a lucky pair of dice, ended up in paradise” can be seen as a reflection on Adam and Eve being summoned into existence and their placement within the Garden of Eden; they were not called into being by any virtues or accomplishments of their own, but rather it can be seen as a kind of luck that they were put in that extremely favorable position by God. “Snake’s eyes” here is likely referring to the aforementioned dice, but it’s also a clever allusion to the serpent within the garden. “Took a bite and ended up bleeding” calls to mind Adam and Eve each taking a literal bite from the fruit of the tree that had been forbidden to them and experiencing their subsequent fall from grace and exile from Eden.

“The truth is all those angels started acting the same
And I know there’s no going back now ’cause
Life in Eden
Life in Eden changed
”

This section of the chorus further illustrates the allusions to the Bible. The reference to angels is a rather non-specific way of alluding to the Bible. The remainder of those lyrics further allude to the Adam and Eve narrative, as “there’s no going back now” draws a parallel to their exile from Eden and God’s command that they would never be able to return. So in that way, “life in Eden changed,” both within the Bible narrative and within the narrative that the singer is conveying.

“Walking in the garden was a serpent-shaped heart and he told me
What is broken cannot show, and less than beautiful is worse than unholy
Idolized my innocence,
Stole it from me in the end
Now I’m wide awakened and still paying for the poison they sold me”

rh-adamevecastout1This verse has some stunning allusions to the narrative. This can be seen as an interpretation of the serpent convincing Eve to eat the fruit. “What is broken cannot show, and less than beautiful is worse than unholy”: this can be seen as the serpent’s manipulation with Eve, telling her that the fruit would open her eyes and allow her to see good and evil as God does; in that way, he convinces Eve that she will be able to perceive what is “broken” but currently hidden from her, and that it is better to be “unholy” and break that command from God rather than being less than fully aware of the world around her. In that way, the serpent idolized the innocence of Adam and Eve and schemed to steal it from them and cause them to be banished from the garden. The reference to being “wide awake” alludes to the fruit bringing awareness to Adam and Eve, as their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked and hid from God as he was walking through the garden. Adam and Eve were punished with their exile and the loss of that paradise, which can be seen in the reference to “still paying for the poison they sold me.”

“There was a time when I was taking all bets
 that
This place was even better than as good as it gets and now
Looking back from the outside in
I think I was choking on the air in Eden
Choking on the air in Eden”

This alludes to Eve taking the risk (or “bets,” as seen here) that it would be worth it to eat the fruit and convince Adam to do the same. They were misled and had the perception that eating the fruit would further heighten paradise for them, seen in the line “this place was even better than as good as it gets.” They had paradise, but they still sought to improve upon it for themselves. “Looking back from the outside in, I think I was choking on the air in Eden” can be seen as Eve reflecting on the events after they were banished. She is looking back, as they are in a much less favorable position, and realizing that she was “choking” in the sense that she still desired more than paradise. It was their own hubris and desire for more, aided by the serpent’s words, that led to that downfall.

Overall, this song displays a wealth of allusions to the narrative of Adam and Eve, and it does a compelling job of drawing parallels between that narrative and the events the singer is describing.

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What does the ostrich mean in Job and what is its significance?

My perusal of Job led me to a rather interesting observation: ostriches. That’s right, the Bible led me to mull over a large, flightless bird. There’s a first time for everything, right?

job_friendsJob is spent with much of the book concerned with Job’s lamenting his misfortunes and his companions countering him along the way, before Elihu and then God himself rebuke them for their errors. In the midst of all that woe-is-me lamenting, I couldn’t help being completely thrown by the mention of an…ostrich? Really? We’ve seen repeated themes with animals before, such as in the animals that were acceptable or unacceptable for the Israelite people to eat, as well as animals which were used as a larger representative example in some passages. However, the ostrich seems to stick out as a rather unusual inclusion in the midst of that.

The mention is included with God’s rebuke to Job, as he is highlighting the errors of the things Job has said and how he might correct his mindset (Job 39:13-18):

“The wings of the ostrich wave proudly,
but are they the pinions and plumage of love?
For she leaves her eggs to the earth
and lets them be warmed on the ground,
forgetting that a foot may crush them
and that the wild beast may trample them.
She deals cruelly with her young, as if they were not hers;
though her labor be in vain, yet she has no fear,
because God has made her forget wisdom
and given her no share in understanding.
When she rouses herself to flee,
she laughs at the horse and his rider.”

As it turns out, this is not the sole mention of ostriches in the Bible. A sampling of the others includes:

119Needless to say, it doesn’t exactly paint the most flattering portrait of ostriches. As with the other passages about different animals found in God’s admonishment to Job, the ostrich seems to be set forth to teach a symbolic lesson. There is much focus on the dichotomy of wisdom versus folly and righteousness versus wickedness in Job’s lament, and the ostrich seems to highlight the folly that is warned again. It is portrayed as a foolish bird, having been made to “forget wisdom” and “given…no share in understanding.” That folly is also shown in how the ostrich is said to flee from danger but laugh at the horse and rider as it does; it suggests a foolishness and obliviousness to the true danger it faces. Scientifically, this seems to have a solid basis, as the ostrich has been known to outstrip horses when it comes to pure speed. However, as Bible Hub states, we see another example of this foolishness due to the fact that “…it is sometimes so foolish as to run around in a circle, and then, after a long chase, it may perhaps be caught.”

There also seems to be a measure of callousness imbued in the ostrich, as there is emphasis placed upon its treatment of its eggs and how the eggs are left on the ground, where there is the potential for them to be crushed or trampled. Scientifically, there does seem to be a compelling basis for this as well. First, we must establish what is meant by the ostrich leaving its eggs. In the article, The Ostrich in the Bible, we see this observation: “Some translations render the word “leaveth” in terms of a forsaking. But the word here, ‘azab, though it can carry that meaning, acquires that meaning based on context — it carries the meaning of leaving behind, and no one would argue that the ostrich does not leave or place its eggs on the ground and leave them now and then (without “abandoning” them). In fact, we’ll see in a moment that this is a good description of their behavior, and indeed, even “forsaking” fits a certain behavior they have.” As it turns out, both interpretations carry a certain amount of truth.

The ostrich does indeed make its nest on the ground, but that itself is not an uncommon practice amongst some birds; rather, it is behavior unique to the ostrich that seems to add to this perception. Ostriches live in family groups, and when it comes to reproducing, the article has this to say: “Each hen lays between two and eleven creamy white eggs in a communal nest which can be nearly 10 ft (3 m) across and is simply a hollow in the ground formed by scraping and body weight. When egg laying is complete there are usually ten to forty or more eggs in the nest; the most ever recorded was seventy-eight. Only about twenty can be incubated, however, so the dominant hen will reject any surplus eggs by pushing them out of the nest.” So we see that ostriches do literally leave their eggs on the ground, but there is also a basis for saying that they will forsake their eggs under certain circumstances. If the nest is disturbed by predators or other creatures, the ostrich reacts in the extreme because when the ostrich comes and finds that her nest is discovered, she crushes the whole brood, and builds a nest elsewhere.” This behavior seems to carry on after the eggs are hatched, because “When the chicks emerge into the world, it is the male who cares for them.” Even as the chicks grow, the behavior can still continue: “Under certain environmental conditions…the family group may break up when chicks are a few weeks old, the adults renewing sexual activity and becoming highly aggressive towards all juveniles. Chicks fledged in small numbers outside the breeding season are frequently treated as outcasts and live solitarily.” So through these circumstances, we can see how the ostrich would serve as an example of foolishness and parental neglect or callousness. This can even be seen as symbolic in the way that, just as the men were urged to be righteous and wise, part of that went hand-in-hand with dealing kindly and favorably with the fatherless people and other people who could be taken under their care.

The ostrich sets forth an interesting example for Job and his friends. Indeed, as this article on Naturalis Historia points out, “All together God would appear to be accentuating the characteristics of the ostrich that Job and his friends would not expect to find in a world with no waste or suffering and thus the ostriches behavior appears, to man, to represent a creation paradox.” Combined with the portrayal of it as a foolish or potentially even callous creature, it seems to offer a symbolic warning against those same traits in humankind. This is supported by the repeated warnings against folly and wickedness and the urging to strive to be righteous and wise.

Ostriches: the most maligned of the flightless birds. Penguins, watch out, you could be next.

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Everything the Light Touches Is…Oh Wait, That Light’s a Burning Bush (Allusions in The Lion King)

Who would have possibly thought that babysitting would lead to a Biblical allusion blog, huh? Nonetheless, it was in the midst of a bunch of kids that I really began mulling over the allusions that could be found in the Disney film The Lion King (protip: kids LOVE talking about biblical parallels within their cartoons, they can’t get enough of it).

Within the context of the film, I really began to see some striking similarities between Simba’s story and the narrative of Moses. That’s right, folks, it’s not just for Hamlet parallels anymore.

The resemblance is uncanny, don't you think?

The resemblance is uncanny, don’t you think?

Moses and Simba were both raised as royalty within their respective hierarchies. Although Moses was adopted into the Egyptian royal family, whereas Simba was the continuation of the line of rule by blood and succession, that link of status remains nonetheless. Similarly, both Simba and Moses were driven into exile by a murder. Simba was framed for the death of his father by his uncle Scar, whereas Moses killed an Egyptian after witnessing him beating a Hebrew man (Exodus 2).

During their exile, both Simba and Moses found support systems and built up friendships and relationships (Simba with Timon and Pumba, and Moses with the Midianites), giving them a sense of belonging and “found family” even in the face of exile and leaving the only homes they had ever known. Those groups themselves can be seen as a similar parallel. Timon and Pumba, despite their initial fear of Simba, soon take him under their wing and teach him how to survive on their terms in a new place. Despite Moses being a foreigner to them, Moses is welcomed into the fold of Midianites as well; he becomes a shepherd for them, marries the daughter of a priest of Midian, and builds a life with them in a new home.

maxresdefaultSimba and Moses were also both led to a greater calling in their lives by a heightened figure of power. Simba, upon reaching adulthood, is confronted by the spirit of his father, Mufasa, and tasked with taking up the destiny and responsibility of returning to his home and freeing his people from oppression. This parallels Moses and his encounter with God, who took the form of a burning bush in order to commission him with returning to Egypt and leading his people out of slavery and into their own freedom (Exodus 3). Both protagonists expressed reluctance to their respective callings, claiming that they weren’t worthy of the task and it shouldn’t fall to them to take on such a goal. Through this, we are given an understanding of the fact that both characters consider themselves to be rather unremarkable; Simba has willfully and consciously turned away from the responsibility to rule that was impressed upon him as a child, as he associates those memories with the death of his father and the inherent guilt tied into that, whereas Moses is said to be “slow of speech and tongue” and therefore fears being put in the spotlight and given the task of taking on a position of leadership. This sets up an intriguing parallel of reluctant, seemingly insignificant characters rising to a great task and prevailing.

Perhaps the burning bush also sounded like James Earl Jones.

Perhaps the burning bush also sounded like James Earl Jones.

Despite their initial hesitance, they both eventually take up that calling and return to free their respective people from oppression. Simba does this by deposing his uncle Scar and reclaiming his place as king over the land; Moses does not ascend to a position within the monarchy, but rather, through an ordeal of plagues and pleading with the Pharaoh, he is finally allowed to free his people and leave Egypt to seek their own land and prosperity.

Through these narratives, we see a strong correlation between the events and themes of the two. In the end, both protagonists rose to a higher calling in order to lead their people out of suffering and provide a better future for them. In this way, the framework for much of Simba’s narrative can be see as heavily alluding to the early years of Moses’s life and deeds.

Explication of Psalm 52

“To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.”

1 Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
2  Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
3  You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
4  You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.
5  But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
6  The righteous shall see and fear,
and shall laugh at him, saying,
7  “See the man who would not make
God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
and sought refuge in his own destruction!”
8  But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
9  I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.”

Doeg-the-EdomitePsalm 52 is a lament from David, set forth after the portion of the narrative which deals with Doeg, Saul, and Ahimelech. Although Ahimelech’s loyalty to David and his recognition of David’s virtue ensured that David’s life was spared from Saul, there is still tragedy inherent in the story, as 85 priests were murdered for refusing to give David up to Saul. David exalts the Lord for sparing his life and leading him out of danger with Saul, but he is also filled with anguished over the deaths of the priests and Doeg’s murderous actions. David expresses his pain and anger towards the actions and betrayal of Doeg, setting forth all of the ways in which his actions will bring about retribution from the Lord, and it ends with an affirmation and reiteration of his own faith within God. In that way, we see both a marked contrast in the faith of Doeg and David, as well as in the favor or disfavor in which they will find themselves in the eyes of God because of their actions.

Psalm-52-word-balloons1It also has elements of a historical psalm, as it is a reiteration of an earlier account found in 1 Samuel. 1 Samuel 21 and 22 tell the tale of Doeg and Ahimelech. After David fled to avoid being killed by Saul, Ahimelech granted him bread and a sword, but Doeg had been detained in the area and recognized David. Word reached Saul that David had been discovered in the area, and Doeg gave him the news of David’s presence and of the provisions granted to him by Ahimelech. When Saul questioned Ahimelech, Ahimelech defended David, stating that there was no one else as loyal and faithful as David amongst them. Displeased by this loyalty to David, Saul ordered the guards to kill the priests; when they refused, he instead gave Doeg the command, who then killed 85 priests. Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech, escaped and took news of the slaughter to David, who took the guilt of those deaths upon himself and told Abiathar to stay with him for safety. So in that way, we see a recounting of an early narrative account, although with this poetic psalm we add emotional and personal nuances from David’s perspective.

Verse 2 contains personification, as the phrase “your tongue plots destruction” grants a more individual agency to Doeg’s tongue in accusing it of plotting and scheming. This verse also offers up a simile, as David describes Doeg’s tongue as being “like a sharp razor” in his betrayal and deceit.

Verses 3 and 5 give us examples of an anacrusis, as the phrase “selah” is interjected within the psalm, seemingly without reason. Selah is thought to be a liturgical or musical direction for the choirmaster, so removing it from the psalm would not directly impact the message of the psalm itself.psalm-52

Verse 8 contains beautiful imagery, as David compares himself to a green olive tree, nourished and blessed by his favor with God.

There is a wealth of parallelism within this psalm:

  • Verse 1 shows antithetic parallelism in its contrasting of the evil of Doeg to the enduring love of God
  • Verse 2 shows synthetic paralellism, as the second line completes and complements the extent of Doeg’s deceit and treachery
  • Verses 3 and 4 show synonymous parallelism, in that they reiterate the idea by contrasting Doeg’s lies against the truth with different phrasing
  • Verse 5 also shows synonymous parallelism, as it continues with that notion of how Doeg will be punished by God in expounding detail
  • Verse 7 demonstrates more synonymous and synthetic parallelism by adding on to the idea of the ways in which Doeg turned away from God and sought to achieve things through his own actions
  • Verses 8 and 9 exhibit synonymous and synthetic parallelism, as they follow that similar vein of offering praise and exultation to God, building upon the original notion with each passing line

Psalm 52 follows that trajectory of a lamentation, from his initial agony towards Doeg’s actions and a warning against what those actions will reap from the wrath of God, following through to David’s own supplication, confession of faith, and praise. In that way, we see David take even this tragedy and betrayal towards the priests and use it to offer up praise to God, as his own faith remains steadfast and strong.

Allusion: “Samson” by Regina Spektor

For my blog this week, I decided to delve into some of the Biblical allusions that can be found in the song “Samson” by Regina Spektor. The song itself seems to tell the tale of a failed relationship, recounting instances where they encountered pitfalls and the circumstances that inevitably made it impossible for them to remain together. However, it also happens to be laden with imagery from and allusions to the story of Samson and Delilah, which can be found in the book of Judges. The narrator of the song never explicitly refers to herself as Delilah, but she does dub the subject of the song to be her “Samson,” and the other allusions are prominent enough that many connections can be drawn between those references and the original narrative of Samson and Delilah.samson-and-delilah-1

There are several lyrics throughout the song which reference hair and the cutting of it:

  • “Your hair was long when we first met”
  • “Samson went back to bed/Not much hair left on his head”
  • “Oh, I cut his hair myself one night”

These lyrics of course allude to the story of Samson and Delilah, in which Samson’s long hair was the source of his superhuman strength thanks to his vow with God, which he lost after Delilah learned his secret and cut his hair in order to betray him to the Philistines.

“Oh, we couldn’t bring the columns down/Yeah, we couldn’t destroy a single one”: Again, we see an instance in which the columns are likely describing the challenges in a relationship with the couple invariably couldn’t overcome, which led to their eventual separation, but it also has more concrete ties back to the narrative. In the narrative, Samson, after his defeat at the hands of the Philistines and having his eyes gouged out, was summoned to entertain the Philistines. After praying to God for strength one last time, he used that aforementioned strength to tear down the pillars supporting the house, which killed everyone inside, including Samson himself.samson-brings-down-the-house

The line “Samson went back to bed,” simple though it is, also alludes to the tale. Within the narrative, Delilah always sought to discover Samson’s secret, and each time he revealed a potential secret to his strength (though the first three were false), she would wait until he was asleep in order to summon the Philistines to come attack him.

Even the less overt lyrics can be tied in to the tale of Samson and Delilah. “You are my sweetest downfall”: yes, it can be taken as a tragically forlorn reflection on a failed love, but in terms of that narrative, Delilah was quite literally Samson’s downfall. She was the one who conspired and planned to undermine his strength and turn him over to the Philistines in exchange for a reward.

“And the Bible didn’t mention us, not even once”: this is an interesting subversion amidst the other allusions, because it seems to point out that in terms of the relationship described in the song, they won’t be remembered – it isn’t a huge historical event which will be passed down in a tome such as the Bible, unlike the doomed story of Samson and Delilah, which is indeed preserved forever within the Bible.

I find it interesting to see allusions to such a narrative within the Bible tied in with a song about doomed love and failed relationships. While Samson accomplished many grandiose feats of strength and conquest, it’s intriguing to see that more intimate tale of betrayal and downfall portrayed through a song and how it has influenced modern music and pop culture.

Is God presented as an inconsistent character and protagonist in regards to the relationship with the Israelite people?

Okay, everyone, it’s time to indulge the nerdy side of my English major brain that has spent far too many hours analyzing literary elements. I know, isn’t that just the most exciting prospect ever? Try to contain yourselves, please.

As I read Deuteronomy, a prevailing undercurrent in the text seemed to emerge to me: God as a character and a protagonist seemed really inconsistent in his actions and motivations, especially when viewed through the lens of his relationship with the Israelite people. We see an incredibly repetitive refrain of vacillating between favor and punishment, veering wildly between the two. The notion of accurate transcription and preservation of the original message is always an issue that has the potential to arise, but it does not seem to be the issue here. We are presented not with Moses as an unreliable narrator, but rather we find evidence that God’s own characterization seems somewhat inconsistent in the provided text.

To highlight these extremes, we can look to quite a collection of passages within Deuteronomy:

The God of the Old Testament seems to be much more wrathful in general, but this is highlighted especially with his relationship with the Israelite people. Hot and cold doesn’t even begin to sum it up, basically. At one moment, they are blessed and protected by God and their covenant with him; the next, he is threatening to destroy them and raise up a new group of people because of his displeasure with them. God comes across as a volatile protagonist who displays emotions and whims that are more fitting of a human than an omniscient, all-powerful being. We are given this image of an intolerant, wrathful God, who errs on the side of extremes with his attitude towards the Israelite people. It is also strange to see God reacting to Moses’ imploring and counsel; for God to be seen as an omniscient and omnipresent being, it seems strange that he would sway to the pleas of a flawed mortal.

moses5The entirety of Deuteronomy 28 deals with the consequences of obedience and disobedience. If the people disobeyed, it wasn’t as simple as falling out of favor with God. No, it was a promise to systematically torture and punish them with all manner of horrors, and then wipe them out. It even says that God would take delight in punishing and destroying them if they disobeyed him. I don’t know about you, but having that kind of threat hanging over my head wouldn’t make me feel like much of a Chosen People. Good to know God wasn’t a big believer in overkill, huh? In 30:1, Moses promises that God will return his favor to them and gather them together to be blessed again if they turn back to him. Later on it says he will take great delight in blessing them and making them prosperous. It all seems to be very hot and cold with the character of God presented in this text.

Harkening back to 10:17, that isn’t very consistent with the image of a God who is “not partial and takes no bribe.” Showing favor to a chosen people to begin with shows partiality, and the promise to destroy them so thoroughly if they disobey further highlights that bias. He commands the people to pursue justice and banish bias in regard to their decision-making and handling legal matters, yet in passages like 5:8, he says he will punish later generations for the sins of their ancestors. That doesn’t quite fall in line with the image of a God who is impartial. In fact, there is more contradiction on the guilt and punishment within Deuteronomy. As Contradictions in the Bible points out, there is a promise in 5:9 to visit “…the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.” However, 24:16 asserts that “Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, and sons shall not be put to death for fathers. They shall each be put to death through his own sin.” So which will it be? Is each individual responsible for their own sin, or will their iniquity be visited upon their children and future generations? It seems to be another inconsistency revealed through God’s motivations and relationship with the Israelite people.

Moses even implores the people to “be careful” to obey all of the commands passed down to them, which sounds more like a warning than a religious plea. Moses himself would not be allowed into the Promised Land, and he understood the consequences of not obeying those commands.

Promised-LandAll the while, the Promised Land seems to be held above them as incentive for their obedience. God had already said that the older generation who had disobeyed him would not be allowed to enter into the Promised Land, so there was that threat of losing out on the promised home for them if they did not carefully keep all of the statutes set before them. The Promised Land itself is yet another interesting facet of the view of God as a character and protagonist. As Contradictions in the Bible points out, we have seen in earlier in Genesis that God presented the vow of the Promised Land as part of that unconditional covenant with them. Yet in Deuteronomy, such as in 4:1, 4:40, and 12:8-9, the Israelite people are reminded that they have not yet reached the Promised Land and they must be careful not to err or be disobey so they will be able to inherit it. So which is it, according to God’s word? Is it an unconditional promise, or is it something that can be taken away if God was displeased with them?

All in all, it seems to present a rather inconsistent “character development” of God as the protagonist and within his relationship to the Israelite people. His vacillations between blessing and punishment, favored or shunned, and so much more present him much more as a figure led by humanistic whims and emotions and motivations than an omnipotent being.

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What was the significance of “uncovering the nakedness” of another person and how does it evolve the Israelite narrative?

Within Leviticus, there were many moral and civil statutes set forth for adherence by the Israelite people. One such lengthy passage in Leviticus 18 dealt with terms of unlawful sexual relations, and one facet of those statutes especially caught my eye. Yep, you guessed it, yet another peculiar turn of phrase from the Old Testament. Color me shocked, everyone!

leviticus-184-5Anyway, Leviticus 18:6-18 repeatedly addressed the issue of “uncovering the nakedness” of another individual, especially as it related to the terms of relation held to the other person. It goes on at length with a whole passage, stating the degrees of relation: “‘None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the Lord. … And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.’

First, we must understand the true implications of what “uncovering the nakedness” means. As the article in Enduring Word sets forth, it encompassed much more than just the notion of nudity itself: “This phrase (used 17 times in this chapter) is an euphemism for sexual relations. It has less to do with nudity (especially casual nudity) than with sex. However, the term uncover nakedness is broad enough to include the idea of inappropriate activity short of actual sexual intercourse. It would also include molestation and inappropriate fondling.”

This passage has both legal and moral implications, as God forbids them against committing such acts with relatives or in-laws. Legally speaking, wives were seen as the property of the husband, and likewise with unmarried daughters to the father, so committing such acts with them was also a breach of legal contract, as well as a misstep of morality.Chart of Leviticus

The prompting to avoid relations with any range of one’s relatives, from sibling to parent to in-laws and many in between, also offers an interesting take, since it sets forth statutes that somewhat contradict past occurrences in the text thus far. We have seen instances of intermarriage, such as Abraham’s marriage to Sarah when she is his half-sister, not to mention countless others. Logistically, this does make sense, as the Israelite people had become so expansive in numbers, and thus it was much easier to avoid intermingling relations within families. In terms of modern science, we understand that this helped keep the gene pool from becoming to restrictive with a great deal of intermingling amongst relatives. Once again referring to the Enduring Word article, it states: “There was both a moral and genetic reason for these commands. ‘Surveys in different parts of the world where inbreeding occurs have shown that it is accompanied by an increase in congenital malformations and perinatal mortality, for which recessive genes and environmental factors respectively would be responsible.'”

The article The Boundaries of Godly Sexuality even contains a chart to show the relationships which were set forth as forbidden by God, as well as the punishments that were to accompany any infractions of them. As this article also asserts, these relationships were not limited to blood relations, so it isn’t solely limited to genetic relevance. This begins to show the evolution of the boundaries of marriages and relationships within the Israelite people, as well as the statutes set forth for them by God as their narrative continued.

It also suggests an evolution of the Israelite narrative in terms of their relationship with God. As he has led them out of Egypt and is now in the process of fulfilling his promise to them, there is also an evolving relationship as he sets forth more statutes and guidelines for them. It fosters his connection to the Israelite people, as well as establishing many of the tenets and societal norms that would come to define them in the Old Testament.

Basically, ruling out inbreeding amongst people is always a really good thing. There’s a positive takeaway, right?

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