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The Legislation of Leviticus 12 in Light of Ancient Embryology

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image of Vetus Testamentum

Interpreters have provided numerous unsatisfactory reasons for why priestly literature stipulates that women endure a longer impurity after the birth of a girl than they endure after the birth of a boy. This article situates Leviticus 12 within a wide range of medical discourses, found in Hittite, Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian literature, in order to illuminate the priestly rationale behind this legislation. It demonstrates that these differing periods of ritual impurity relate to ancient medical beliefs that females developed more slowly than did males. These different articulation rates were believed to result in different lengths of postpartum lochial discharge, which meant that the new mother suffered different lengths of ritual impurity based on the sex of the newborn child.

Affiliations: 1: McMaster University


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