How Well Do You Know the Rules of Leviticus?

Zoe Samuel

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

It's one of the most hardcore books in the Old Testament. Leviticus is where the ancient rabbis really lay down the law. Leviticus is mostly about rituals and laws, rather than beliefs. Much of the book consists of God explaining to Moses how He wants the Hebrews to live their lives. It covers an awful lot of rules about how to cook, what to wear, how to have sex and with whom, how to treat your employees (and alas, slaves), and a variety of other regulations from the mundane minutiae of life to some real life-and-death decisions.

It is generally agreed that Leviticus came into its current form over a couple hundred years during the Persian period; that is, after the Babylonian Exile, when the Israelites were liberated from bondage by Cyrus the Great. The Persian Period was a time of freedom under a relatively benevolent empire, the Achaemenid, with its power center to the east. 

The Israelites came up with the rules of Leviticus to stay on the right side of God, so they wouldn't have any more exiles, and also for their health. Many of the rules seem barbaric or harsh to us now, but a lot of them make sense allowing for the technology and the small nomadic groups of the time. How well do you know them? Let's find out!

What should you always include in your offerings to God?

God likes salt, so says Leviticus! You should always include it with your offerings of meat. This is probably a rule to keep the meat from rotting.

What happens to people if they fail to testify about a wrongdoing they witnessed?

This is a weirdly vague rule, considering how much death by stoning there is in Leviticus. It's clear that these people must be held responsible, but it's up to us to figure out how.

Under what circumstances is it not OK to make an oath?

Leviticus does not approve of making promises you don't intend to keep. That's why it is forbidden to make an oath when you have not thought about it properly.

If you're looking after your neigbor's stuff and you deceive them about it, what's the penalty?

Don't keep your friends' stuff or there will be a hefty fine! On top of the 20%, Leviticus also says you have to pay the "usual" penalty, whatever that is.

What does God do if you bring unauthorized fire before him?

Unauthorized fire or "strange fire" as it is commonly translated is a confusing term. Some say it means fire brought from outside the temple, instead of from the altar, and thus fire that has not been blessed.

What happens if you let your hair get messy?

Also, God will be mad at you. This rule may apply only to priests; the text is not entirely clear. Either way, brush and/or braid that hair (as appropriate!).

Why shouldn't you tear your clothes?

It's not clear how you will die, but it's clear that you will. Indeed, God will be angry with everyone, not just you.

What happens if you drink alcohol in a holy place?

Sorry, Catholics! Apparently the wine is really bad and this whole time it has been making God very upset.

What happens if you eat an animal that doesn't chew the cud and have a split hoof?

Being unclean is serious stuff; you have to have a ritual bath and be blessed in order to fix it. Eating the right foods is just one part of staying away from all things unclean.

How long after giving birth to a boy should you not go to temple?

This is the figure for boys; it is double for girls. Either way, women are not meant to go to temple right after childbirth.

If you sleep with your stepmother, what happens to you both?

This isn't just a really great way to make Thangsgiving awkward. In the temple religion, it also meant that you would both be put to death, though it doesn't say how.

What happens if for some reason you sleep with your mother?

The Bible is really, really strict about incest. This is one of its rules that societies today generally agree are a still really good idea.

What happens if you marry your sister?

Technically, as long as you never consummate, you don't get put to death. You just get kicked out of society forever.

For what sexual offense can you be "burned in fire"?

Technically this is not incest, but the Bible thinks it is very wrong. Societies since those days have generally agreed that only avoiding incest on technical grounds is indeed extremely wrong.

If you give your children to be sacrificed to Moloch, what is the penalty?

We're not here to tell you how to live your life or comment on whether death by stoning should happen in a civilized society, but otherwise? This rule is good life advice: don't give your children to be sacrificed to Moloch.

What's the penalty for making idols or "metal gods"?

This is one of the Ten Commandments in Exodus, so it's pretty serious. However, Leviticus doesn't specify the penalty.

Why shouldn't you cut the corners of your field?

Traditional reaping of corn was performed in a spiral, meaning the corners were left standing. This was for the poor, who were allowed to come and take the corners for themselves.

How soon are you supposed to pay your employee after they do the work?

No waiting around on an invoice for Leviticus! If you hire someone, pay them before the sun goes down.

What is the penalty for sleeping with a slave belonging to another man?

The text appears to assume the sex was consensual. The Bible is very unclear about whether it considered the rape of a slave by their master to be a legal issue; still, it's clear that you can't just do it to other people's slaves, which is a start.

What is the penalty for doing astrology?

Separate chapters cover this issue twice. Seeking omens is very bad, and you should be both cut off AND stoned for it. The text does not specify in what order this should happen.

What horrible outcome will result if you make your daughter become a prostitute?

Again, we don't like to judge, but this is also good life advice: don't make your daughter become a prostitute. Even if the land doesn't turn to prostitution, it's still a bad idea.

What should you do when an old person enters the room?

The Bible cares a lot about looking after the elderly. Showing respect by rising and offering a seat is thus encouraged.

What should you do when a person becomes poor?

This is from Leviticus 35:37. If someone is going through a rough patch, we are commanded to help them and support them financially and with food until they can get their financial feet under themselves again. In that time, taking financial advantage of them is forbidden.

What day should you never work?

Six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath day, to be consecrated to the Lord your God. The holy book has it right here; taking time off has been shown to make people more effective workers, as well as healthier.

Who can you be put to death for cursing?

This is also in Exodus. It's very important to respect and honor your parents, according to Biblical law.

Where can't a priest go?

Priests cannot be around dead bodies as they are unclean. That means the one rite priests would not do was a funeral.

Who can you not sell as a slave?

You can sell anyone as a slave except an Israelite. This is actually gentler than Exodus, which says you can sell your own daughter as a slave.

Who can a priest not marry?

Priests can marry in Leviticus, but not within any of these categories. This is likely to avoid complications in the lives of priests.

Where should you not cut your hair?

It's not clear what this means. Some people take it to mean they should have a long side-lock, but this is actually not an ancient tradition, being about 200-odd years old.

How should you treat a foreigner who is living in your country (i.e. an immigrant)?

The laws of hospitality are clear on this one. You have to treat immigrants the same as anyone else.

What can you not do to your body?

What one might call extreme tattooing was practiced by many neighboring nations, where the pagan rites involved a lot of markings. This is why the Israelite law leaned hard in the other direction. Some say this also prohibits any piercing, including of the ears.

How long should you wait between planting a tree and eating the fruit of it?

You have to let a tree mature before you eat from it. This is a rule that protects people in the long term, by forbidding them from giving in to short-term needs.

What should you not put in one field?

Leviticus does not like mixed seed any more than it does mixed fabric. It says that planting two crops will cause them to be defiled! These days we know there are some types of crops where actually, this is a good idea. However, if the text is advising us to weed our fields, then it's quite right.

What should you not consume, ever?

Leviticus says you should not eat fat or blood. This is "a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live." This rule is probably about cleanliness more than health, given the technology of the time.

What should happen to grapes that fall in your vineyard?

Charity is very important to Leviticus. If the grapes fall, you should leave them, as they are designated for the poor and for immigrants.

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