5

To modern readers, what the Lord instructed Moses regarding women in Leviticus 12 is frequently puzzling, if not outright misogynistic.

Leviticus 12:1-5 ESV

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. 5 But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days.

A woman who gave birth to a son was ceremonially unclean for 7 days, whereas a woman who gave birth to a daughter was ceremonially unclean for 14 days, according to the Law.

Why would God require a woman to wait twice as long after having a daughter to be ceremonially clean as she would after having a son?

6
  • 1
    You have to learn that these are not directly given by God laws, but laws created by the prophets or leaders like Moses. I can assume the reason for doubling the days for daughter is for adding up the daughter's own impurity days by the virtue of her menstrual nature. You must always interpret things in cultural context. The books are all written by men.
    – Michael16
    Apr 12 at 14:21
  • Eve departed from the word of God, first. Then , tempted the man. This must be borne in mind in regard to cleansing.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 12 at 17:15
  • @Michael: If it were so, how you could distinguish between God-given laws and man-given laws? Apr 13 at 7:22
  • @SaroFedele by discerning what text was appropriate for that specific culture context. All scripture is word of men, in it we find truth of God. We are not to blindly follow anything without discerning. God did not write anything, men did. The prophets were inspired by God.
    – Michael16
    Apr 13 at 7:48
  • @ Michael: an explanation that does explain nothing... Apr 13 at 10:42

4 Answers 4

2

Leviticus 12:5

(a.) Some possibilities.

Jacob Milgrom:

The reason for this disparity between the sexes is unknown. Some have conjectured that the postnatal discharge for a female lasts longer (Dillmann and Ryssel 1897; Macht 1933). Others suggest that, judging by Israelite law and practice, the disparity reflects the relative status of the sexes: the redemption price of the woman is about half that of a man (27:2-7; Abravanel on chap. 27, p. 176b; Wenham 1979). An old legend offers the etiology that whereas Adam was created at the end of the first week and was brought into “sacred” Eden on the forty-first day, Eve was created at the end of the second week and admitted into Eden on the eighty-first day (Jub 3:8-14; Midr. Tadshe 15; see chap. 15, Comment F). A biological distinction is proposed by Rabbi Ishmael: the male embryo is completely formed in forty-one days and the female in eighty-one days (m. Nid. 3:7). That this view was current in the ancient Near East is supported by Greek sources: Aristotle holds that the male is formed in forty days and the female in three months (Hist. anim. 7.3), and Hippocrates opts for thirty days for the male and forty-two days for the female (De natura pueri, chap. 17, cited in Preuss 1971: 452). Many would agree with the view that “the cultic inferiority of the female sex is expressed in giving the female birth a double ‘uncleanness’ effect” (Noth 1965), which M. Gruber (1987: 43 n. 13) has correctly rebutted: “greater defilement is not necessarily an indication of less social worth. Hence, a corpse defiles more than a dead pig, the latter more than a dead frog.” This point is explicitly made by the rabbis…(m. Yad. 4:6). [1.]

Mark F. Rooker:

…the fact that women are associated with the pains of childbearing that comes as the punishment for sin. [2.]

Jay Sklar:

Second, it must be remembered that some cultural traditions find their root in a specific historical circumstance. For example, the Israelites did not eat part of the meat connected to the thigh bone, because the angel of the Lord touched Jacob there (Gen. 32:32). It is entirely possible that the same has happened here: an earlier circumstance – not recorded for us – stands behind the different lengths of time, a circumstance which is no longer recoverable (and which would be impossible to guess). Finally, the Israelites themselves may not have had a specific rationale, but simply viewed this as expected practice (in much the same way that Westerners expect a man to take off his hat when entering someone’s home; cf. at Introduction, p. 48). [3.]

Mark F. Rooker:

Levine…suggests that the longer period after the birth of a daughter would reflect the fact that the daughter’s own fertility and association with blood is anticipated. In addition the longer time for purification for the daughter may be an intentional polemic against the practices and viewpoints of the pagan religions of the ancient Near East. By excluding the mother from the tabernacle for a longer period after the birth of a female, a distance is created between fertility and the worship of God. [4.]

Hennie J. Marsman:

Arie Noordtzij refers to the belief that giving birth to a girl entailed greater difficulties and dangers to a mother and hence would require a longer period of impurity. To this Karl Elliger adds that the longer period of impurity for mothers of baby girls can be explained as a remnant of the ancient belief that women were more susceptible to demonic influences than men. John Otwell proposes that a woman might have been considered unclean after childbirth because she had been (too) closely involved with the creative work of God. The period of impurity would be necessary to de-energize, ‘and that period would need to be twice as long for the birth of a child which might become capable in its turn of bearing children as for a male child’. Clarence Vos points to the possibility of a number factor. Apparently odd numbers were often applied to males and even numbers to females in ancient times. ‘If this factor was in the Hebrew mind and if the number seven had to be reckoned with, then there was hardly any alternative than the “seven-fourteen” scheme of Lv. 12’. The additional 33 days might have been chosen to arrive at 40, the number representing an ideal month. Yet Vos himself acknowledges that due to the ‘slippery’ nature of the problem ‘we do well not to build too much upon it’. Gruber relates the period of impurity of the mother to the weaning of babies. The ancients were aware of temporal infertility as a result of breast-feeding. If sons were preferred over daughters, a parent might be inclined to wean a baby girl at an earlier stage than a baby boy, in order to increase the chance to conception. Gruber concludes that ‘it is reasonable to suggest that Lev. 12:1-5 is meant to counter the notion that the first thought after the birth of a daughter is when to try for a son and that it is meant to provide an extra margin of time for mother and daughter to establish breast-feeding’. [5.]

Jonathan Magonet:

There is a phenomenon that sometimes affects a new-born girl following the withdrawal of the maternal hormones — namely…bleeding. I consulted a Professor of Obstretics and Gynaecology, the author of several textbooks on the subject, who confirmed that perhaps one in ten baby girls may bleed in this way, and even if no blood appears there may well be a discharge. ...It is therefore altogether possible that with the birth of a baby girl we have the equivalent of two ‘women’, each with an actual or potential…discharge, to be accounted for. Since this uncleanness has to be ritually dealt with and the baby cannot do so, the mother with whom the child was formerly united and from whom she has emerged, symbolically bears the uncleanness so that the period is doubled. [6.]

(b.) The uncleanness of the mother.

Mark F. Rooker:

With regard to the uncleanness of the mother after the birth of the son being only one week as opposed to two, the difference of this length of time may be found in the text itself. The length of uncleanness after the birth of a son is interrupted by the command to carry out the circumcision on the eighth day. If the mother were considered ceremonially unclean on the eighth day after the birth of her son, it would be conceivable that she would not be able to witness her own son’s circumcision. [7.]

(c.) Conclusion.

Jay Sklar:

It is impossible to prove which of the above explanations – if any! – would have resonated most with an Israelite. As a result, we simply do not know why the length of impurity differs between boys and girls. Whatever the case may be, the text now proceeds to the final purification rites, which, as mentioned above, make no distinction at all between boys and girls (vv. 6–8). [8.]

Richard S. Hess:

Nevertheless, the ambiguity does not allow for conclusions that use this passage as a proof text for a patriarchal society in which boys have greater value than girls. There is simply too little known about the reasoning behind the procedures applied here. Further, as the following section suggests, the actual restoration of the mother to the sanctuary involves the same sacrifice, whether her child is male or female (also Hartley, 169). [9.]

Notes:

[1.] Jacob Milgrom, The Anchor Bible: Volume 3: Leviticus 1-16 : A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary, (New York: Doubleday, 1991), pp. 750-751. Cf. Mishnah Yad. 4:6: "The Sadducees say, “We cry out against you, O ye Pharisees, for ye say, ‘The Holy Scriptures render the hands unclean,’ [and] ‘The writings of Hamiram [Homeros] do not render the hands unclean.’” Rabban Yohanan b. Zakkai said, “Have we naught against the Pharisees save this—for lo, they say, ‘The bones of an ass are clean, and the bones of Yohanan the High Priest are unclean.’” They said to him, “As is our love for them so is their uncleanness—[we have ruled them unclean so] that no man make spoons of the bones of his father or mother.” He said to them, “Even so the holy Scriptures: as is our love for them so is their uncleanness; [whereas] the writings of Homer, which are held in no account, do not render the hands unclean.”" {Mishnah Yad. 4:6, trans. Danby, p. 784; Cited in: Jacob Neusner, Development of a Legend: Studies on the Traditions Concerning Yoḥanan Ben Zakkai, (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970), p. 60.}; Mayer I. Gruber: "In his Leviticus (trans. J. E. Anderson, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965]) Martin Noth remarks, “It is part and parcel of the subject-matter, but all the same remarkable, that in this case the woman herself, and not her husband, appears with an offering” (p. 98). Noth's sense of radical amazement seems not to be shared by the allegedly misogynic Hebrew exegetical tradition. Noth states unequivocally (p. 95) that “the cultic inferiority of the female sex is expressed in giving the female birth a double ‘uncleanness’ effect” (see v. 5). As noted already in m. Yadayim 4:6 and t. Yadayim 2:19, greater defilement is not necessarily an indication of lesser social worth. Hence, a corpse defiles more than a dead pig, the latter more than a dead frog. David I. Macht points out (“A Scientific Appreciation of Leviticus 12:1-5,” JBL 52 [1933]: 254-55) that a distinction in the length of the period of impurity of the mother after the birth of a girl or a boy respectively is attested in many places in the ancient and modern world. In some cultures, he points out, it is the birth of a boy which is followed by the relatively longer period of impurity. An up-to-date, objective, crosscultural study of this issue is clearly in order." {Jacob Neusner, Baruch A. Levine, Ernest S. Frerichs, eds., Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel, (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004; previously published by Fortresses Press, 1987), Mayer I. Gruber, “Women in the Cult According to the Priestly Code,” n. 13, p. 43.}; For a more skeptical viewpoint see: Gordon J. Wenham, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Leviticus, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 187-188.

[2.] Mark F. Rooker, The New American Commentary: Volume 3A: Leviticus, (Nashville: B&H, 2000), p. 183. Cf. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1983), pp. 286-87; John E. Hartley, World Biblical Commentary: Volume 4: Leviticus, (Dallas: Word Books, 1992), pp. 167-167; A. S. Hartom, M. D. Cassuto, “Leviticus,” In: Torah, Prophets, Writings, (Tel-Aviv: Yavneh, 1977), p. 39.

[3.] Jay Sklar, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Volume 3: Leviticus, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014), pp. 178-179.

[4.] Mark F. Rooker, The New American Commentary: Volume 3A: Leviticus, (Nashville: B&H, 2000), pp. 183-184. Cf. Baruch A. Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, (Jewish Publication Society, 1989), p. 250.

[5.] Hennie J. Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel: Their Social and Religious Position in the Context of the Ancient Near East, (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2003), pp. 232-233. Footnotes: 217. A. Noordtzij, Het boek Levitikus (KVHS), Kampen 1940, 131. 218. Κ. Elliger, Leviticus (HAT, 1/4), Tübingen 1966, 158. 219. J.H. Otwell, And Sarah Laughed: The Status of Woman in the Old Testament, Philadelphia PA 1977, 176-7. 220. Vos, Woman in Old Testament Worship, 69-70. 221. Cf. W.H. Roscher, Die Zahl 40 im Glauben, Brauch und Schrifttum der Semiten, Leipzig 1909; J.B. Segal, ‘Numerals in the Old Testament’, JSS 10 (1965), 10-1. 222. Vos, Woman in Old Testament Worship, 70. 223. M.l. Gruber, ‘Breast-Feeding Practices in Biblical Israel and in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia’, JANES 19 (1989), 68.

[6.] Jonathan Magonet, “‘But if it is a Girl she is Unclean for Twice Seven Days…’: The Riddle of Leviticus 12.5,” In: Reading Leviticus: A Conversation with Mary Douglas, Journal For the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 227, ed. John F. A. Sawyer, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), p. 152.

[7.] Mark F. Rooker, The New American Commentary: Volume 3A: Leviticus, (Nashville: B&H, 2000), p. 183. Cf. John Calvin: "The question now arises, why the time of purification is double for a female child? Some ascribe this to a natural cause, viz., because the hemorrhage is then of longer continuance; and in truth it was a part of chastity and continence, that husbands should not then come near their wives. But inasmuch as the object of this ceremony was different, viz., as an indication of the curse on the whole human race, we must look more attentively in this direction. I know not whether the view is sound which some take, that the mother is more defiled by female offspring, because there is more disposition to vice in this sex. Perhaps, it is more probable, as some think, that it was because the woman was the beginning of the rebellion, when, being deceived by the serpent, she destroyed her husband with her, and drew her posterity into the same ruin. But it seems more correct to me that the punishment in regard to males was lightened and diminished by circumcision." {John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses, Arranged in the Form of a Harmony: Volume First, (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1852), pp. 501-502.}

[8.] Jay Sklar, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Volume 3: Leviticus, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014), p. 179.

[9.] John H. Salihamer, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Richard S. Hess, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Revised Edition: Vol. I: Genesis~Leviticus, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), p. 688.

Καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν.

~ Soli Deo Gloria

1
  • 1
    +1 Very good answer. I personally side with Gruber - fits most neatly with the character of God - but we simply don't know. Apr 18 at 7:29
0

This is answered in Why are women unclean longer after giving birth to a girl? - Mi Yodeya.

It's similar to @Michael16's comment on the Question: "I can assume the reason for doubling the days for daughter is for adding up the daughter's own impurity days by the virtue of her menstrual nature.".

0

In Leviticus 12, why does a woman remain unclean longer if she gives birth to a daughter than if she gives birth to a son?

The Mosaic Law did many things for the newly formed nation of Israel. Of these, purification and cleanness were of utmost importance in maintaining. But the purification and cleanness were not just in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense as well.

The apostle Paul mentions in Romans 7:7

Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” ESV

The Law brought to light the sinful nature of mankind. So how does this apply in Leviticus 12?

The topic of "Clean, Cleanness" in the Insight on the Scriptures, highlights this period of uncleanness:

Giving birth also meant a period of uncleanness for the mother. If the baby was a boy, she was unclean for seven days, the same as during her menstrual period. The eighth day the child was circumcised, but for another 33 days the mother was unclean with regard to touching anything holy or coming into the sanctuary, though she did not make unclean everything she touched. If the baby was a girl, this 40-day period was doubled: 14 days plus 66 days. Thus, from birth, the Law distinguished between male and female, assigning to the latter a subordinate position. In either case, at the end of the period of purification she was to bring a ram less than a year old for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. If the parents were too poor to afford a ram, as was the case with Mary and Joseph, then two doves or two pigeons served for the cleansing sacrifices.​—Le 12:1-8; Lu 2:22-24.

The topic of "Highlights From the Book of Leviticus" from the Watchtower May 15, 2004 issue helps to tie this together:

12:2,5 —Why did childbirth make a woman “unclean”? The reproductive organs were made to pass on perfect human life. However, because of the inherited effects of sin, imperfect and sinful life was passed on to the offspring. The temporary periods of ‘uncleanness’ associated with childbirth, as well as other matters, such as menstruation and seminal emissions, called this hereditary sinfulness to mind. (Leviticus 15:16-24; Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12) The required purification regulations would help the Israelites to appreciate the need for a ransom sacrifice to cover mankind’s sinfulness and restore human perfection. Thus the Law became their “tutor leading to Christ.”​—Galatians 3:24.

Both male and female were sinful and unclean. During intercourse, this sinful nature was passed on to the offspring. The female was once again unclean during pregnancy (as well as during menstruation) and this would be a reminder that she was passing on this sinful nature. In giving birth to a female child, the mother would be reminded that this sinful nature would be perpetually past on through her daughter.

[Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

0

Ray Butterworth is correct in his post. The doubling of length of being unclean covers both mother and daughter but with a son only for her duration

3
  • 3
    Many users will not read the dreaded 'wall of text' if it is not structured into paragraphs. It is demanding on both eye and mind to be faced with a continuous stream of letters. Paragraphs aid assimilation . . . . point by point, topic by topic, argument by argument.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 12 at 17:17
  • The Carolingians looked down on the Merovingian as the ´carnal ones´, well worked out in movie Matrix, but historically a false narrative, because the first Christian leader in Europe was a Merowingian. Be sure, not to follow religious simplification! Jesus did not come to fulfill a ´lesser law but ´the law of God´, so I don't agree with blaming Moses for the Leviticus, when the scripture nowhere claims, that women and men were equal in the sense of modern ´equality´. Apr 13 at 11:57
  • Your answer doesn't directly address and answer at all.
    – Michael16
    Apr 15 at 2:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.