Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Worrisome Discharges: Bible Commentary on Leviticus 15 with poem by Walt Whitman, The Sum of All Known Reverence

Daily Readings
Psalm 42, Exodus 34, Leviticus 15, I Timothy 6

Daily Text: Leviticus 15

Worrisome Discharges
Leviticus 15 deals exclusively with fluid discharges from the genitals of men and women. In all cases they create ritual uncleanness and the requirements for cleansing are similar. That the ancients had, what we consider today, unreasonable fears concerning natural phenomena is patently obvious. However, the responses in many societies make the Jewish responses seem most rational [Plaut 185:850]. Pliny, the Roman Governor, for example, on menstruation wrote that “the touch of a menstruous woman turned wine to vinegar, blighted crops, killed seedlings, blasted gardens, brought down the fruit from trees, dimmed mirrors, blunted razors, rusted iron and brass (especially at the waning of the moon), killed bees or at least drove them from their hives, caused mares to miscarry and so forth” [185:849]. When one looks then at biblical requirements, none of this is expressed, only what needed to be done to bring about ritual purity is expressed.

On the other hand, male discharges were treated very similarly, whether those discharges were abnormal ones (vss. 1-15, zav) or seminal emissions (vss. 16-18). Bathing following a period of waiting at the end of these emissions was required for all, however, for the zav it was required that the water be living water, i.e., from a spring, stream, lake or sea. For all of the other cases it could be a pool or cistern, artificially created with stagnant water. This alone is evidence that these discharges were not considered harmful to others even though they could transmit ritual impurity. Whereas zav was an irregular male discharge, so zavah was an irregular female discharge. In these cases alone a sacrifice would be required to acquire ritual purity once again. In the case of regular discharges such as seminal emissions and menstruation no sacrifice was required.

The Sum of All Known Reverence
Walt Whitman


The sum of all known reverence I add up in you, whoever you are;
The apple-shaped earth and we upon it.
The endless pride and outstretching of man and of woman;
unspeakable joys and sorrows;
The wonder everyone sees in everyone else,
and the wonders that fill each minute of time for ever;
It is for you whoever you are—
it is no farther from you than your hearing and sight from you;
We consider bibles and religions divine—I do not say they are not divine;
I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow out of you still;
It is not they who give the life—it is you who give the life.
Will you seek afar off? You surely come back at last,
in things best known to you, finding the best, or as good as the best—
Happiness, knowledge, not in another place,
but this place—not for another hour, but this hour.
477:231:15

Collect for the Day
Gracious God, in the night of distress we forget the days of sun and joy. Even when we do not know your presence, preserve us from the dark torrent of despair. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. [476:759:42 Psalm prayer]

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