The Laws of ritual impurity dictated that a person was unclean for a certain period of time if they touched something or someone unclean or ate impure food. These included the following from the book of LEVITICUS:
11:8, 24 the carcass of an unclean animal;
11:39-40 a clean animal that has died or been killed by wild animals;
17:15 eating the meat of a clean animal that has died or been killed by wild animals;
11:32, 34, 15:12 anything that touches a dead body or any food that comes into contact with an article that has touched a dead body;
15:19-28 a menstruating woman, anyone who touches her and anything on which she lays or sits, a woman with a discharge of blood;
12:2-5 women after childbirth;
13:23 anyone with an infectious skin disease;
13:47, 50-51 clothing with infectious mildew;
14:34-44 a house with an infectious mildew;
15:2 a man with an abnormal discharge;
15:16-18 anyone or anything in contact with semen;
19:11-14 a corpse and anyone who touches it.
The Israelites had been slaves for sometime between 80 and 140 years at the time of the exodus. (Not 400 or 420 years as most scholars teach. The 420 year stretch was from when Abraham entered Canaan until the Israelites exited Egypt. ‘Scholars’ have no business interpreting the Bible unless they are led to do so by the Holy Spirit or it is merely personal study. It is the place of YHWH’s ordained teachers, evangelists, prophets, and apostles to do so as He leads and to reveal or teach it.)
Slaves have little opportunity or motivation to practice even basic hygiene. Coming also out from Egypt where, according to the Eber Papyrus, a medical book from 1500 BC, a typical prescription was the application of the urine of a faithful wife to cure pinkeye, they probably had little understanding of cleanliness either. To splinters, ancient Egyptian doctors applied a salve of worm blood and donkey dung. The Eber Papyrus states: ‘It is good for a wound to rot a little,’ and lists ingredients for prescriptions such as beetle shells, mouse tails, cat hair, breast milk, and human semen. It is therefore not surprising YHWH implemented strict laws of hygiene and cleansing.
Consider a menstruating slave woman without benefit of elasticized underwear, disposable sanitary pads, a washing machine, packaged soap, or running water. Recently into Australia there came an influx of refugees from Afghanistan. These people had to be taught by the immigration officers how to use a toilet and toilet paper rather than squat publicly in the street whenever the urge took them. The women would let their menstrual blood simply run down their legs on to clothing, bedding, furniture, and footpaths.
The medical and hygiene practices of the ancient and not so ancient cultures resulted in the deaths of millions from infected wounds, childbirth fever, and epidemics. Only recently I have been reading about Bloody Mary and her mother, Katherine of Aragorn, wife of Henry VIII. If these ladies fell ill or pregnant, their physicians had to make a diagnosis without touching them, in fact from across the room, for they were anointed and could only be touched by their husbands. Out of bounds was talk also about their menstrual cycles. Scoffed at was the Moors use of a calendar to calculate a baby’s due date. The physicians of the day warned against the eating of fruit, vegetables, and raw foods. England in the Middle Ages was a meat-eaters paradise. And of course they did not wash more than once or twice a year! And no wonder: water was often severely contaminated by sewage. Obviously the people of that Age did not read the Bible much or take note of it if they did.
Into the ancient Egyptian system was born and raised Moses. According to ACTS 7:22, he was educated in all the learning and wisdom of the Egyptians. Yet he contradicted his university level training to faithfully record YHWH’s promise to the Israelites:
EXODUS 15:26 If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of YHWH thy Father; and do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am YHWH that healeth thee.
YHWH our beloved Father promises complete freedom from sickness and disease. Again though Moses the promise is reiterated in DEUTERONOMY 7:14-15:
Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you or your cattle. And YHWH shall take away from thee all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee; but will lay them upon all them that hate thee.
No sickness, no infertility, and no miscarriages. The Laws of ritual purity were first and foremost to train the Israelites in basic sanitation, then prevent the spread of infections or epidemics, and to protect each individual from catching a disease, carrying one, or giving it to another. YHWH had instigated protective quarantine.
The laws prevented new mothers and their babies from becoming infected by any of the billions of germs carried by everyone, which became known as labour or childbirth fever. Following childbirth and menstruation, the cervix or opening to the uterus is more open and susceptible to the influx of infectious organisms, particularly if the woman fails to wash and wear clean clothing. They also prevented infections being caught by others coming into contact with her bloody discharge. Furthermore, the period of separation or ‘uncleanness’ gave the mother an opportunity to bond with her new baby, and have a rest from the sexual attentions of an overzealous husband.
It is a recent discovery that contact with dead bodies can cause septicaemia or blood poisoning through a small break in the skin. Doctors who performed autopsies, then used the same unwashed hands to examine patients, caused numerous deaths, including their own, until the invention of the microscope, rubber gloves, and the simple implementation of hand washing.
In Biblical times there were no bathrooms as we have now. Daily washing was not practiced. YHWH had to specifically instruct His people to wash before day’d end in the case contamination. To become unclean by some means was not particularly sinful–there were no penalties attached. But to neglect the bathing and washing of clothing at evening WAS sinful. It resulted in the person being cut off or separated from Israel. If a person did not know they had become unclean, it was sufficient when they became aware, to make a sin offering as well as to wash.
Living in our time of daily showers and hand washing whenever necessary, it is seldom that we would transgress the laws of ritual purity. Note that a newborn baby is not considered unclean as it touches its mother. There is a spiritual symbol here. The menstruating woman and new mother are both called unclean because the events bring to mind that each new baby, as beautiful and desired as he or she may be, is born in sin. In addition, this ‘uncleanness’ brings to mind the result of the curse put on Eve to multiply her pain, worry, sorrow, toil, and conceptions on relation to pregnancy and childbirth (GEN. 3:`6). This pain an sorrow is no doubt a reflection to that felt by Father at Adam and Eve’s betrayal in Eden.