Well, I was going to let it sit until a future date, but then, in writing the last post, something came up that truly troubled me, and I decided to jump ahead to an issue that I originally meant to leave for much later: sex with a menstruating woman.
Those who have had dealings with me before elsewhere, and perhaps a few times in this blog, will know that I sometimes will say something like "Well, that's a contradiction, but not an important one." You know, like one verse says 700 horses, and another says 7,000? That doesn't bother me, and I know there are problems like that in the Bible in quite a few places. Well, in wrapping up the last post, I came accross a problem that I could not simply shrug off. It's found here.
Seriously, there's a big difference between "unclean seven days" and "cut off from among their people." While the latter phrase is perhaps a bit vague, it's clearly something harsh; probably a person who is "cut off" is exiled from Israel. This isn't like other sins where it says nothing about punishment in one place, and in another lists a big one; those cases are just a matter of omission in the former verse. Saying one punishment here and a different punishment there, where both punishments are very different? That would be a serious problem, and I have to admit, I was stumped and ready to admit defeat on this point.
I wasn't going to gloss it over. At first, I thought I'd admit that it disturbed me and open it up to suggestions from readers. I figured I'd toss in a lame half-hearted attempt at partial reconciliation that didn't even really convince myself. Perhaps both punishments were to be performed? You know, "Leave town...and don't touch anything on your way out!" It doesn't make much sense, though.
Then something occurred to me that doesn't answer the issue, but I still think is thought-provoking: If a man broke this commandment, how would anyone know? Seriously. "Morning, Abiathar, how's things with you?" "Not so good, last night I had sex with my wife while she was menstruating. That's not a problem is it?" Well, it's not likely that you'd tell anyone, and if you didn't tell, who would ask? Still, there must be a purpose for this law anyway, and as such, there needs to be a reconciliation between these verses.
So as I prepared to gather my thoughts and post an admission of defeat, I read the verses again. And it hit me: read carefully "...lie with her at all..." vs. "lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness..."? The second verse uses two phrases that are both euphemisms for sex; why does a sentence need two euphemisms for the same thing?
I realized in this case, it is not the same thing. This is key. The little phrase "at all" is making it clear that we are not talking about a euphemism here. This is a case of a guy literally lying with his wife, and some of her menstrual blood happens to get on him in his sleep! No sex is involved, but he is still unclean. The latter case is a man who intentionally gets menstrual blood on him in an act of sex. It's that intentionality that makes the difference; being unclean and being sinful are not the same thing. In the end, there is no contradiction, only confusion brought about by unfortunate use of euphemisms. I wonder if it's clearer in the Hebrew? I'll have to check next chance I get.
So, the remaining issue (no pun intended)? Why is menstrual blood unclean? I don't know. There's no particular reason I can think of. Perhaps it's just another Mosaic Law oddity?