76 things banned in the Bible, most of which are punishable by death

Milan - detail from facade of Duomo - Expulsion from Paradise. Image: Shutterstock.

An oldie but goodie single-purpose Tumblr listing things banned in Leviticus, the banny-est of all scriptures. The sex stuff you can imagine (no bonking animals, dudes if you are a dude, divorcées, your grandmother, or your own children), but here are some particularly weird non-sex items in the list:

• Eating any animal which walks on all four and has paws (good news for cats) (11:27)
• Picking up grapes that have fallen in your vineyard (19:10)
• Mixing fabrics in clothing (19:19)
• Cross-breeding animals (19:19)
• Eating fruit from a tree within four years of planting it (19:23)
• Trimming your beard (19:27)
• Getting tattoos (19:28)
• Not standing in the presence of the elderly (19:32)
• Mistreating foreigners – “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” (19:33-34)
• Using dishonest weights and scales (19:35-36)
• Blasphemy (punishable by stoning to death) (24:14)
• Selling land permanently (25:23)
(HT: James Ball)


  1. You can quote these all you like to Jews, but Christians will tell you about supersessionism, and that the laws of Christ supersede the Jewish laws. This was done because it was far easier to convert the Romans by not having hundreds of strict laws — who would join a religion that didn’t let you marry your sister?

    Of course, Jesus apparently hated teh gays very very much, so supersessionism doesn’t apply to Leviticus 18:22.

    1. Exactly, but it’s more like, “Who would join a religion that made you chop the tip of your dick off?”

      But yeah, Christians weaseled their way out of Jewish Law about 10 minutes after Christ died (or rose from the dead or ascended to heaven, or whatever the heck the proper measure is).

      1. you don’t need supersessionism, just look at how the two parties who are entering into the contract are specified and you’ll easily see to whom the terms of the contract apply and to whom they do not.

    2. I hear ancient Jews were required to marry their sisters, under certain circumstances.  Well, widowed sisters-in-law, anyway.

          1.  ah…

            I had to read a Lot more of that bio, but I got your point. I’d forgotten about that marrying his brother thing!

      1. Not all widowed sisters in law, just the ones without child. The widow without child was supposed to marry the next eldest single son and lie with him until she had a child. They then divorced and she cared for the child as if it was that of the original husbane.

        That was Onan’s sin, pulling out and spilling his seed on the ground (I wrote group??) because he was scared that anyone who actually tried to have a child with the woman who had been married to a number of his brothers would die. Apparently noone had told him how STDs happen (if that was what he was actually scared of).

    1. I don’t think that’s a weird rule either, but “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” doesn’t exactly jive well with all the self-described Christians who spent the last four years screaming “WHERE’S THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE? NO, NOT THAT ONE, THE REAL ONE!” Not to mention Arizona.

    2. some things that surprising to us now were progressive at the time. some obvious things were not obvious to them. some seemingly strange things were better than the alternatives of the day.

    1. Dang it, you beat me.  I’ve broken three: mixing fabrics, eating off a tree less than 4 years old, and trimming a beard.

  2. Not Leviticus and not punishable by death (only amputation of the offending hand), but one of the most bizarre has to be Deuteronomy 25:11, which bans a wife from intervening in her husband’s fight by grabbing the other guy’s nuts.

    Apparently ball-breaking wives were a problem back in the day.

    1. While the punishment is too severe (as it is on most of these rules), I have to agree on principle… now, the verse doesn’t make it clear exactly what the stakes are… if he’s about to die, feel free to go for the junk, but if it’s just a bar fight, that’s just not cool.

  3. No matter how much fun we make of god, the bible, and religion in general, we still give it credence. Maybe if we stop talking about this nonsense it and those foolish enough to believe it will just go away.

  4. Ha!  It would be hilarious to see the faces of all those sanctimonious holier-than-thou zealots who whilst on this Earth spent most of their energy hating on and spoiling the freedoms of other people…as the first awakening after death gave piercing revelation of the eternal fire they would be tormented with for being such punk-ass chumps…

    It’s almost too bad Hell is merely a human construct.  Almost.

  5. I’m assuming that prohibitions such as picking up fallen grapes and making clothes of multiple fabrics were to prevent cheating. Fallen grapes may be overripe or otherwise flawed, and multiple fabrics could be used to make something appear more valuable than it really is. The food prohibitions likely go back to people commonly catching disease from certain classes of animals (which would be interpreted as divine retribution). Selling land permanently makes me wonder what the ancient standard for land ownership was versus society – could you not sell it because it wasn’t yours to sell, or something else entirely?

    Some more historical context would be useful.

    1. I don’t know about the ancient middle east specifically, but in many older civilizations the King technically owned all of the land.  That may be why people were not allowed to sell it. 

    2. An interesting contradiction:

      Foreigners must be treated with the hospitality afforded to the native born. But selling them into slavery is also permitted. Since Israelites can’t be sold into slavery and foreigners must receive the same treatment as the Israelites, wouldn’t they be prohibited from being sold into slavery?

          1. Basically, yes.  This is an early improvement in the breadth of the concept of “citizenship”, but they still didn’t care what happened to non-citizens.

    3. Actually the grape thing was because fallen fruit were meant to be picked up by widows and orphans. This was a way to care for the weak/unfortunate. 

      Many of the rules were constructed to teach people how to act in a neolithic age when owning was somewhat of a new concept, for example the no selling land rule. Land belonged to god and was only sold for a number of years, like renting for a really long period of time (though I can’t remember what happens when that period ends), owning land is a complicated thing which needs to be regulated in order to keep society whole.

      Another kind of rules have to do with how to treat agriculture and livestock the right way for your health but also the environment and society. For example, every 7 years you need to let the land “rest” so as to not deplete it. This also goes for mixing things, you wouldn’t want someone to contaminate a breed, and I’m guessing this has something to do with the fabric rule in some backward way.

      1. Technically, it is understood that only mixtures of wool and linen are prohibited – polyester blends are still cool so far as the rabbis are concerned.  But wool suit with linen stays in the collars are forbidden. The Orthodox still have clothing inspectors so you can take a suit before buying it to have it checked and approved. If it is just the threads on the buttons, then no big deal, you can get removed and resown with the proper thread.

      2. Exactly right.  Every one of the laws has some logic to it.  Some are about social justice.  Some are about being different from the Babylonians.  The ones about eating clean food make sense to modern people.  Others take some explaining, but they made sense in the context of the ancient Near East.

        The ones about mixing things (which, oddly, includes the proscription on gay sex) have to do with ideas about order present in creation.  God created linen and wool, not 50-50 blends!

        Some scholars even think that this idea might have paved the way for the Enlightenment.  Most ancient religions treat the world as mysterious and spirit-ridden, but Judaism (and its offspring) saw the world as a logical, orderly creation which was available for study.

    4. Don’t pick up fallen grapes, or harvest all the way to the edges of your fields so that poor people, widows, orphans, etc. can forage for food.  This law (and lots of others) are social justice-oriented.

    5. The food prohibitions likely go back to people commonly catching disease from certain classes of animals

      That’s a common theory, but as far as I know there’s no evidence for it. How do you explain why different religions ban different foods? Since when is beef particularly unhealthy compared with other meats? And how does putting cheese on your meat make it less healthy than eating the two separately?

      1. Getting to the conversation kind of late but Jews/Muslims don’t eat pork for an entirely different reason than Hindus don’t eat beef – pork is “unclean’ (i.e. will make you sick, specifically trichinosis) whereas cows are “holy”.  The supposition is that it relates back to survival via milk production and using waste to fertilize land – you can only eat a cow once but you can get milk & dung from one for a long period.

        The not putting cheese on meat comes from a prohibition on boiling a baby goat in the milk of its mother, I’ve heard multiple reasons why that specifically was banned (because the act relates to a Cannanite ritual, because of cross-contamination & foodborne illness, that it’s a mistranslation and the *in the milk* is supposed to relate to being weaned off its mothers milk, i.e. you shouldn’t eat really young animals). 

    6. I think it has more to do with maintaining the social structure of the time. Ownership of and access to land was the organizing principle of many historical societies, and in most cases an elite individual or class (feudal lords, tribal leaders, clan chiefs) owned all the land and simply rented it out to other people to farm in exchange for payment or a substantial share of the crops.

      The land was thus the source of leaders’ power, and codifying into religion a law that prevents them from giving any of it up just seems like one more way of maintaining that hierarchy. A more free market for land could have been seen as threatening and unstable.

      That’s my sense, anyway. And I think you’re probably right about the food-related ones – though I don’t really know why, say, pork would have made so many people sick as to become illegal. If anything, poultry carries more diseases like Salmonella, these days anyway. Shellfish makes some sense. As for nonsense like not trimming your beard? Who knows…

    7. Knowledge of historical context would be useful for those who use Leviticus to justify modern political positions…

    8. There is actually no really good explanation about the mixed-fiber prohibition. There’s the view that the Levitican proscriptions were to be applied to the Levitican priesthood, and that most of the Levitican proscriptions were designed to ensure that the priesthood and the faithful did not have any other deities before the deity of Abraham.

    9. I am not a Christian, but this is what I gathered from the time when I was:

      I’d say a lot of the weird laws are pretty symbolic – Leviticus is canonically dated just before the Israelites entered Canaan and the idea was to distinguish ‘God’s people’ from the other tribes and nations around them. You’re not supposed to mix fabrics or breeds or associate with unclean animals because the Israelites were supposed to be a ‘pure’ people and not mix their beliefs with those of the people around them (this is my guess, at least). The same goes for a lot of the different offerings you weren’t allowed to give or worship practices you weren’t allowed to have; that would be too similar to the practices of the people around you, and there seems to be quite a bit of evidence that people in the area would borrow from each other’s religions at the time. 
      The land was supposed to be a gift from God that was taken from the people who lived there before because they were so evil (this is not my logic). It was given to the people who had recently been slaves, so the idea was that nobody could become destitute permanently. Parts of the country belonged to the different tribes and then were subdivided into family areas. If you were in debt you could pay it off by selling your land or even yourself or your family into slavery, but that was only for a limited time. On the Sabbath year, you and your land would be yours again. Usury was also illegal between Jews, the idea apparently being to limit debt slavery as well as physical slavery. As the land was a gift, you were supposed to recognize God’s generosity by not reaping too intensively (giving a new tree four years to grow before harvesting and observing Sabbath years every seven years where you couldn’t harvest). You don’t harvest to the edges of your field or collect every last grain from your field either, as that grain was for poorer people to feed themselves. It’s basically the same principle as the Sabbath day – you have plenty of food, time, money etc., so be generous with what you have been given and take enough time to rest and give thanks.

      The idea of supersessionism is applied differently in different churches and denominations, but for many groups the idea is that the symbolic laws (dietary, cultural, ceremonial and certain practices like circumcision and Sabbath years) have been fulfilled (so the principles still apply while the laws themselves are outdated). Moral laws (such as the Ten Commandments) have not been superseded, so you can’t just ignore the parts of the Old Testament that you don’t like. One of the problems is that mixing fabrics and eating pork are seen to be superseded, but issues like homosexuality are more complicated (the New Testament seems to get more conservative rather than less when it comes to the family unit).

    10. Yeah. There is also the problem of lists in texts. Items may have been added or omitted for purely stylistic or mnemonic reasons resulting in general confusion.

    1. Still one of my favorite jokes of all time: when Lenny Bruce’s aunt saw he’d gotten a tattoo she said, “You can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery!” He said, “Don’t worry. When I die they can cut off the tattoo and bury it in a gentile cemetery.”

  6. The sex stuff you can imagine (no bonking animals, people of your same gender, divorcees, your grandmother, or your own children)

    Actually lesbian sex is totally unmentioned in Leviticus. You just can’t have the gay sex.

    1. When you’ve got an Old-Testament-style harem full of sex slaves it’s hard to keep them from accidentally touching each other once in a while.

  7. Umm…  Doesn’t #33 (Having sex with your sister-in-law (18:16)) contradict Matthew 22:24 (If a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him.)?  Or does the sex not count if conception is involved?

    1. I think 18:16 only applies while the husband is still alive.

      Also, the duty to help your brother’s widow have kids if your brother didn’t already get the job done predates Matthew considerably, as it’s the basis for the story of Onan in Genesis 38.

      1.  It is interesting to note that Onan was only 8 years old when he died according to the rabbinic chronology. Do the math on the timeline, Onan’s father was Judah and he got married when Joseph was 17 and went down to Egypt along with his great-grandchildren when Joseph was 39. He married off Onan and the others at a very young age…..

    2. Old Testament and New Testament!  Jesus showed up and all the rules changed.  If they hadn’t Jesus wouldn’t be nearly the big deal he is.  It’s just be Judaism + Jesus, but it’s not that. Paul said that the old rules no longer apply.  (Christianity is really more about Paul’s explanation of the meaning of Jesus than it is about Jesus himself.  It should really be called Paulianity.  He’s really the one that defined the religion.)

  8. Fascinating that they had to rule on the fucking of relatives, orifice by orifice.  ‘Hey, can I fuck this hole; there’s no rules ’bout this one!?  ‘NO, not that hole either!  Just your wife, under certain conditions, and your personal slaves.’  ‘What ’bout animals?’  ‘NO, no animals!’ ‘Masturbation?  Can I pleasure myself?’  ‘Nope’.  ‘Well, what happens if I go ahead and do what I want?’  ‘We’ll kill you’.
    The blue-balled learning curve was precipitous.

    1. As far as I’ve read the “masturbation” ban was actually a misinterpretation of God’s displeasure with Onan—who was practicing the withdrawal method instead of knocking up his dead brother’s wife like he was supposed to.

      1. The sin of ‘wasting seed’ and later, contraception, having the same effect.   A misinterpretation… by the church? 

        What if Tamar just sneezed Onan out, and God just happened to be looking?

  9. It’s more fun if you treat it like a Facebook quiz.

    I got 35 out of 72! (mainly for the eating things)

    1. That one dinner that started with rattlesnake soup and progressed to braised weasel really messed with my totals.

    1. It’s in there: “Eating – or touching the carcass of – any seafood without fins or scales (11:10-12)”

      No worries, God always hated shrimp.

      1. I don’t know how unambiguous the Hebrew word for “scales” is, but one might be able to argue that the chitinous exoskeletal plates of things like shrimp and lobster count as scales.

        1. I was thinking the very same thing when I read the exerpt.  However, they have a distinct lack of fin which still puts them in the “god hates” catagory.

          1. Shark might be OK, but could be understood to be unclean because it’s an apex preditor (note that the ban on eating critters with paws includes wolves and big cats, and the blanket ban on eating carrion birds).  Sea snakes, once they make it to the ocean floor, crawl on their bellies, so, unclean. 

            Is there a rabbi in the house to clarify these rules???

  10. It shows a profound lack of understanding of the Christian faith to think that any of these things apply to Christians.

    The early Christians pulled a nice trick.  All these rules (especially the one about having to chop the tip of your dick off) didn’t make for good recruitment, so they decided that with Jesus came a New Covenant that overruled the previous one.  That means the old laws didn’t apply anymore.  Basically, under Jewish law you had to follow a bunch of weird rules to remain “clean” in God’s eye, but once Jesus came along, all you had to do was accept Jesus.  Once you did that, there was no need to obey all the old rules.  His life, death, and resurrection “cleansed” everything.
    Well, that’s not quite true.  The laws were divided into categories like ceremonial, judicial, moral, etc.  Some were said to be eternal, and others were made null and void the second Jesus showed up and died for our sins.

    Furthermore, since Jesus cleansed mankind, freeing man from the need to obey those laws, actually obeying them is akin to denying Jesus and his cleansing powers.  Not only are they saying that you don’t have to follow all of the crazy strict laws, but that it’s actually bad if you do!  It’s your Christian duty to NOT follow them.  Well…except for the eternal “moral” laws.The end result is that there is nothing hypocritical (from the Christian standpoint) about bashing gays and eating bacon despite whatever Leviticus says.

    It’s very unlikely that a modern person can simply open up a Bible and quote something to make Christians look bad.  The Bible isn’t new in the slightest and Christians have been working for thousands of years to come up with all sorts of explanations about why the apparent hypocrisy isn’t nearly as damning as you think.

    Personally, I’m no Christian, but I do think many Christian thinkers were quite bright (Thomas of Aquinas, St. Augustine, etc.).  Trying to quote Leviticus as proof of the hypocrisy of Christians is akin to trying to prove theories of gravity wrong by dropping a feather and a stone at the same time and showing that the feather does indeed take longer to hit the ground than the stone.  There’s an explanation for it that falls entirely within the bounds of the existing theory.  (Although, it pains me to equate religious doctrine with scientific inquiry.)

    1. Trying to quote Leviticus as proof of the hypocrisy of Christians…

      Quick question: Did either the Xeni’s post or the linked post do that, or even mention Christianity at all?

      The linked post does imply that’s it’s hypocritical to quote Lev 18:22 if you don’t also expect people to follow the rest of it, but I think we can all agree that that makes sense.

    2. Good post.

      I suppose I’m going to be “that guy,” though, by pointing out a thing.

      Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin, not “chopping the tip of your dick off.” Foreskin restoration is evidently a thing. You cannot, to my knowledge, restore the actual tip/glans of one’s dick, should it be chopped off.

      Anyhow, to maybe further the discussion….

      It was Pauline Christianity that really pushed the idea that Christ’s sacrifice and message was a new covenant with God, superseding the Law and the Prophets. James, brother of Jesus… someone who, you would think, actually _knew_ the guy (unlike Paul)… did not say that one could simply abandon the Law and claim to follow Jesus’ message.

      Hence you get that whole “faith without works is dead” thing from James. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+2&version=NKJV

      It’s interesting to see how the assimilation and standardization of Christianity within the Roman culture created an entirely different beast than what Jesus seemed to have in mind.

    3. Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

      If that’s not a license to suck cock, I don’t know what is.

    4. “It shows a profound lack of understanding of the Christian faith to think that any of these things apply to Christians.”

      Right, and most Christians have a profound lack of understanding of their own faith, because they think the whole Bible (definitely including the Old Testament) still applies. Your ordinary pew-filling Christian has no idea that Jesus’ New Covenant supersedes the rules in the OT. In fact, the more extreme the Christian fundamentalist, the more likely he is to fetishize the Old Testament.

      Christians, especially the fundies, are quite willing to selectively quote Leviticus against homosexuality and tattoos. I wish someone *would* let them know that, under the rules of their own religion, by the words of their own Lord and Savior, those rules no longer apply.

  11. Maybe I read it wrong but it seems to indicate that all familial relationships are banned except with your daughter. 


  12. It is very interesting to read the bible as a historical artifact since it can help us “modern” people understand the past and those societies…. although, it seems that, as usual, people who believe in nothing prefer to criticize EVERYTHING.
    Good thing real christians are more worried about their relationship with God AND their neighbor than whether or not the law was made to exonerate us from any law.  Those non christians focused on criticizing the beliefs of others should follow the “golden” rule and do onto others… this is not, after all, simply a Christian belief; most civilizations prescribe to it one way or another… 

    1. Good thing real christians are more worried about their relationship with God AND their neighbor than whether or not the law was made to exonerate us from any law.

      Then why are Christians constantly lobbying to keep their neighbors from having human rights?

      1. Right, cause only people who go to church on Sundays do bad things.  Ever look up he meaning of STEREOTYPING? As I said a real christian really honors others as themselves, at least the one I know do. I just think we should be careful not to label Christians as the worst people on earth, in the end individuals act badly, not a whole religious affiliation.

        1. I’m afraid that “real Christians” is going to be defined by the majority of people who call themselves that, and they are not benevolent.

          1. As opposed to the way “real Muslims,” “real Scientologists,” “real Hindus” or hey, even “real Atheists,” and”real Agnostics” define their un/beliefs and are always friendly to those of other non/faiths?
            It turns out the one thing every group seems to have in common is the way they exercise their dogmatic muscles and how dealing with individuals from other groups is seldom a friendly affair.

            The only thing that proves is that you’re human and subject to the same emotions and mentality that drive other individual of any group.  “*They’re*” the bad guys! They don’t think like I/we do! Let’s get ’em!”

    2.  I think if my eternal damnation was on the line, and I was a real Xtian, I’d be DARN worried about what rules I needed to follow. If God really meant no tattoos, I’d want to know for sure…
      But I agree that the Bible is an interesting historical artifact…

  13. eating blood is one of the best things you can do in drastic times. blood for all creatures is a renewable resource. it may cost your cow, horse, or dog a moment of pain but it will keep you alive the same as eating its muscle. tap yourself for the dog, the others can eat grass. believe me when i tell you that it is the only way to survive into 2013

        1. Ahh, the calendar farce. You know – if all the believers in the world splitting and unleashing whichever pissed off demon/deity to come back to smite us, would just lock themselves away on a small island – maybe Pitcairn – and never return, the world would be a much smarter place.

  14. Some of these are very liberal! :) The concept behind the ban on harvesting to the end of your field was that poor people should be able to snack on the fringes of your farm.  The concept of don’t permanently buy land or Jewish slaves was to put a cap societal inequalities.  Every 7 or 49 years debt was reset and ignored!  (Also, what happened to religious people hating usury?)
    Anyways, it’s Leviticus is very priestly, meaning about going to God and the big message is that we are dirty sinners that can not approach God or be forgiven without the shedding of blood.  

    More importantly, it’s totally out of context to list Leviticus rules when it is removed from the context of the 10 commandments before Leviticus and after Leviticus.  Even, today there’s nothing strange about those 10 commandments  unless you decide loving God more than stuff is uncool.  And that’s the central issue I think: we are sinners that don’t want to love God more than whatever we love right now.

  15. To fully understand the Levitical rules you must remember that the Jews had just fled form a Police State; Egypt’s laws had put them at the bottom of the heap, and now they were creating a new society. Some Jews had decided that ‘anything goes’ – see the episode of the golden calf – so the political leaders had to announce a completely new social and legal code to keep them together as a population.

    The ‘Giving of the Laws’ was an unprecedented event; every one else had legal and social codes that were impossibly old, the Jews were creating a new set of laws and social rules from nothing but their own experiences as slaves, mixed with the legal scholarship that Moses and any other Jews who had served in the Egyptian bureaucracy had learned.

    All in all, they didn’t do a bad job; they created a stable society that’s lasted 2500+ years….

    1. I don’t buy the slave angle. Yes, the Jews were in Egypt but there is exactly zero evidence that they were ever slaves. 
      As for as I can tell, the “Exodus” reads like a military campaign in many ways similar to the campaign of the Hyksos. 

  16. It’s an interesting list to be sure, but it doesn’t provide any cultural context whatsoever.  Each of those laws had a reasonable premise behind it which fit into the lifestyle of the people at the time.  Sure they seem foolish by today’s “more enlightened” standards, but so do some the laws most emerging communities put in place; look up silly early American laws sometime for a good laugh. ;D

  17. “the foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born” (19:33-34) 
    Quoting that sounds like quite possibly the single easiest way to make a right-wing evangelical go thermonuclear with rage.

  18. And if you prefer the New Testament, Robert Browning noted:

    There’s a great text in Galatians
    Once you trip on it entails
    Twenty-nine distinct damnations
    One sure if another fails.

    Probably Galatians 5:19-5:21:

    Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

  19. I’m no expert, but a lot of these rules look very similar to Islamic rules.  Can anyone enlighten / flame my ignorance?

  20. When I was in college we had something called The Purity Test, a 500-question list of various activities (mostly sexual, but it also included things like shoplifting) that was intended to determine how “pure” you were.

    It wasn’t long before those of us who had copies of it started using it as a list of suggestions. I’m not sure why we never thought of using the Bible for the same thing.

    1. Oh yeah, you rebellious youth could be mean to foreigners and harvest all the way to the edge of your fields.  Plus, you would have that one guy who insists on breaking the gay sex one.

  21. The list is still much shorter and less ridiculous than current modern legal codes in “free” countries.

  22. it’s the laws that are missing that are the most troubling. a lot of incest is banned, but if you’re in a sexual daddy/daughter relationship that’s just dandy. just don’t pimp her out. 

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