Jesus Blog readers,
I am tinkering with the following paragraphs about purity concerns in Jesus' context. Inevitably, I've found myself attempting to summarize a massive amount of literature dealing with Israel's Pentateuch reception and application. I'm looking for help. What would you add/subtract from the following? Where have I made missteps?
Many (perhaps all) of Jesus’ contemporaries who lived in and practiced day-to-day Jewish life believed that their God was transcendent. Not only was God separate from the created order, God was holy in a way that made God fundamentally distinct from the world of humans. In the priestly story of creation, the elements of the Earth are said to be good. But only God is holy. Thus we see a very ancient worldview distinction between that which is common and that which is holy.
Unfortunately, in this worldview, the common elements of creation are subject to disorder and eventual death. Humanity—while fundamentally good—is prone to disorder and dominated by death. Or, put another way, humans live in the reality of impurity. Impurity is a power opposed to life; it is an infection that results in, physical, ritual, and moral disease. God, on the other hand, is holy.
The narrative of Exodus—the story that provided the foundation of Israel’s collective identity—claims that God is holy and that it is dangerous for humans to be in God’s presence. God, however, provides a way for the Israelites to participate in God’s life-giving holiness. This is accomplished by Moses who follows divine instructions for creating a space for the transcendent God of Israel to reside on the Earth. It is then imperative for the priests to prepare the common people to approach this holy space. Thus certain rituals are established to cleanse Israel from impurity. It is therefore integral for God’s holy presence to reside in the land with the people.
 It is important to make a distinction between impurity and sin. Ritual impurity was inevitable and in most cases had nothing to do with human error. Childbirth, disease, contact with the dead, and bodily fluid caused impurity. Such elements of human life and death were not necessarily sinful but required purification through rituals. Moreover, these rituals (like baptism) were not difficult to accomplish. Moral impurity, on the other hand, was indeed connected with human error: e.g. worship of idols (Lev 19:31; 20;1-3); sexual taboo (Lev 18:24-30); murder (Num 35:33-34). In very basic terms, most of the rituals practiced in Jewish life related to the maintenance of life and death. Or, at least the elements that seemed most related to life and death (e.g. blood, semen, menstruation, food production). Much of the first part of Leviticus deals with ritual purification as it relates to Temple worship (the place where God resides on Earth). Much of the second half of Leviticus deals with broader issues of purity in every-day life (what scholars call the Holiness Code).