5 Confusing Biblical Rules (and What They May Mean)

By A.J. Jacobs

For my book, The Year of Living Biblically, I spent 12 months trying to follow every rule in the Old Testament. Even the obscure one-like stoning adulterers (I used pebbles) and never shaving your beard (I did a lot of itching). My challenge: to reconcile the Bible's easy-to-grasp wisdom with some of its seemingly baffling laws. The following are a few of the more arcane rules I found along the way, with possible reasons behind them.

1. THE RULE: "...she shall put the rainment of her capitivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that thou shalt go in unto her and be her husband..." (from Deuteronomy 21:10-14)

THE TRANSLATION: If you capture a beautiful woman during war, and you want to marry her, you must first have her shave her head and trim her nails. Then you must live with her for a month without touching her. After that, she's all yours.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATION: Think of it like gun control-it's a mandatory waiting period. If you still want to marry a bald, short-nailed woman after a month of no sex, then maybe it truly is love.

(Image credit: Flickr user Willam Cho)

2. THE RULE: "Even these of them ye may eat: the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind. / But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you." (Leviticus 11:22-23)

THE TRANSLATION: You can't eat bugs. Well, except for locusts, beetles, and grasshoppers-those you can eat all you want.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATION: A ban on eating bugs isn't all that hard to argue with, but why the loophole for locusts et al.? It's believed that this is actually an example of the Bible's pragmatism. If locusts swarmed and devoured all the crops, the Israelites would have nothing left to eat-except the locusts themselves.

3. THE RULE: "...thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed; neither shall a garment of mingled linen and woolen come upon thee." (Leviticus 19:19)

THE TRANSLATION: Don't wear clothes made of mixed fibers. Wool-and-linen blends are particularly bad. Polycotton is probably OK.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATION: The Old Testament was obsessed with separating things. (Don't wear mixed fibers; don't mix milk and meat.) According to many biblical scholars, the idea was to drill the notion of separation into the ancient Israelite mind. This way, they would remain separate from the pagans and not intermarry-a sin even worse than mixing wool and linen.

4. THE RULE: "And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days; and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even." (Leviticus 15: 19)

THE TRANSLATION: Stay away from a woman if she's menstruating. She's impure, and if you touch her, you'll become impure, too.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATION: While many people say this rule is misogynistic (kind of like the theological equivalent of cooties), some scholars and devout Jews defend the practice. They say it has to do with reverence for life. When a woman has her period, it's like a small death. A potential life has vanished, and this is a way of paying your respects.

5. THE RULE: "A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth. He winketh with his eyes..." (Proverbs 6: 12-13)

THE TRANSLATION: No winking. This is just one example, but the Bible contains no less than four anti-winking passages.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATION: Many believe that the Bible's "wink" referred to a tacit approval of evil. As in "I saw what you did, but I won't tell." But let's face it; the wink is a creepy gesture, no matter how you cut it.

[Editor's note:] All Old testament verses are taken from the King James translation of the Bible. They are presented here solely for the purpose of historic investigation and in no way reflect the religious views of the magazine.


The above article was written by A.J. Jacobs. It is reprinted with permission from the Scatterbrained section of the November-December 2007 issue of mental_floss magazine.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' entertaining website and blog for more fun stuff!

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The month waiting before sex with a woman captured in war makes sense from a lineage perspective. I'm somewhat dubious of explanations purely in terms of mental health.

But after a month, you'll know whether or not she was already pregnant from before her capture (and whether the child is from someone not of the clan), or whether she is not with child. Whereas if the victor started having sex with her from day one (regardless of whether he was raping her or whether she was consenting, though consent when you've just been captured as a spoil of war is understandably not really happening to start with) he wouldn't be able to tell whether the baby was his or someone else's until the baby was born and started showing a family resemblance.
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dude; rule 1: i get.. it's just "true love"

but rule #4.. c'mon that's gross yes but it feel's 10x better when your "makinglove" :]

and the wink.. CREEPERRRRRR
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@Charlie Bluefish

That's the problem. There is so much room open for interpretation, yet there are so many yahoos out there that "know" the true answer. That's why there are so many sects inside these religions, they can't come to an agreement with their difference of opinion, when both sides declare themselves as being right.

@Ben Eshbach

Actually religion is found to be a defense mechanism for those who suffer from delusions caused me mental illnesses or childhood trauma to help them cope with the unexplained that only they can see. We have better ways of helping those people today, but that's all they had back then.
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4. THE RULE: “And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days; and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.” (Leviticus 15: 19)

I might be wrong, but wasn't 'issue' another word for offspring? So we're talking about a week to recover after a miscarriage.
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