“If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.”
Leviticus 15:18 (NRSV)
I am fascinated by words and the ways in which our words and language embody our cultural understanding of things. Today’s chapter is the one which causes little boys to snicker, giggle, and poke each other in the ribs if they happen upon it during Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. It’s the ancient Levitical prescriptions for dealing with bodily fluids. In particular, it focuses on bodily fluids of a sexual and reproductive nature.
From a societal perspective, I’m sure these laws of hygiene served an important purpose for the ancient Hebrews. The prescriptive avoidance of what could be infectious fluids along with ritual cleansing, including bathing and washing with running water, served an obvious purpose from perspective of preventative medicine.
What fascinates me this morning is the spiritual and cultural connotation of the natural consequences of human sexuality and reproduction being called “unclean.” If I have sex with my wife (prescribed by God in the Garden of Eden) then we are both “unclean” until evening. You just know there had to be guys, even in ancient Israel, who utilized this to brag about their sexual prowess with their friends: “Hey Eli. Don’t touch me. My wife and I are ‘unclean’ ’til evening, if you know what I mean.” [wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more]. Boys will be boys.
When I was a boy, it was common for adults to refer to body parts and sexual references as “dirty.” Almost anything of a sexual nature was references as “dirty.” “Dirty” words. “Dirty” magazines. “Dirty” thoughts. “Dirty” stories. “Dirty” jokes. You get the picture. What a fascinating connection of dots. God’s ancient laws deem sexual emissions “unclean” and my parents seemed to deem all things sexual as “dirty.”
This morning I am thinking about how God’s “good” creation of sexual beings and his command to reproduce (e.g. have sex) transitioned into something “unclean.” I’m thinking about how our fallen nature leads society into all sorts of simplistic “black and white” thoughts and judgements just because it’s easier. I’m pondering how God’s prescriptive rules for the ancient Hebrews have led to all sorts of contemporary cultural and societal connotations from both a moral and spiritual perspective. I’m thinking about how hard it is for a boy to be told by authority figures for the first two decades of his life that sex is “dirty” and then those same authority figures expect that same boy to magically enter into a healthy sexual relationship in marriage when he becomes a young man.