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Seminar to address biblical category of the “unclean”

Dr. Dennis Plaisted, professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, will present a seminar on Monday, January 22, 3 p.m., Holt 305. The seminar is free and open to the public.

Bible Chapters 11-15 of the Book of Leviticus set forth conditions under which various people, animals and things are to be considered "unclean". For instance, many animals were not suitable for food because they were unclean. People with certain types of skin disease were considered unclean. Women were unclean for a time following childbirth, as well as during menstruation. These regulations have baffled interpreters of the Bible for centuries. According to Leviticus itself, the Israelites were to observe the cleanliness regulations so that they would become holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44).

However, this stated purpose does not explain why the particular people and things that are considered unclean are so considered (rather than other people and things). Many explanations have been offered, but interpreters remain divided as to which of these proposals, if any, is correct.

Plaisted, after surveying and critiquing many of these proposals, will present his own account of the regulations. His thesis is that the people and things that are considered unclean are so considered because they are products or closely associated residues of the Fall. Thus, for example, corpses are unclean because they are products of the Fall, since death is regarded as a consequence of Adam and Eve's sin (Genesis 2:17). For each type of uncleanness, Plaisted will argue that it is connected to a specific result of the Fall.

According to Plaisted, labeling such things "unclean" creates a deeper aversion towards the sin that gave rise to them, and this comports well with Leviticus' own statement of the purpose of the cleanliness law-that the people were to distinguish between the clean and the unclean so that they would be holy just as God is holy.

January 12, 2007