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TATTOO CULTURE >> Leviticus 19:28

Tattoos and Leviticus 19:28;
What Does the Bible Really Say?

Many people of faith will often quote scripture, and it is usually Leviticus 19:28, which is in the Old Testament of the Bible, when stating that people should never receive a tattoo as it is specifically prohibited. A closer examination of the passages in question is in order because of discrepancies in historical accuracy, translation and interpretation.

One popular edition of the King James Bible reads: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord." - Leviticus 19:28

A historically and linguistically correct translation of Leviticus 19:28 could of course never have mentioned the word "tattoo". Tattoo is a specifically Polynesian word that entered the English language after the voyages of Captain James Cook to Tahiti in the eighteenth century - which is when tattooing became popular again in the West. Interestingly, tattoo and taboo are the only two Polynesian words to enter into English language usage.

Another, presumably older translation of Leviticus 19:28 reads, ""Do not cut your bodies for the dead nor put marks upon you. For I am the Lord." - Leviticus 19:28

It is widely believed among Biblical scholars that Leviticus 19:28 refers to an ancient practice in the Middle East of people cutting themselves and rubbing in ash when in a period of mourning after an individual had died. It was a sign of respect for the dead and a symbol of respect and reverence and a sense of profound loss for the newly departed; and it is surmised that the ash that was rubbed into the self-inflicted wounds came from the actual funeral pyres that were used to cremate the bodies. In essence, people were literally carrying with them a reminder of the recently deceased in the form of tattoos created by ash being rubbed into shallow wounds cut or slashed into the body, usually the forearms. This rite would have been part of a culturally accepted process of grieving.

The sanctions prescribed in Leviticus against mourning the dead mark a significant change in peoples belief system about an afterlife. Once it is established within the church that life does not end with death; but is the beginning of a new and perhaps better afterlife; literally in God's Heaven, then there is no purpose in mourning the death of an individual who is a "believer". In the Christian belief system, that individual is not dead, but in Heaven and it is presumed that all believers in Christianity will ultimately be united. The death or passing of an individual from the mortal or worldly plane becomes not a source of mourning but rather a source of rejoicing for believers in the Christian faith.

For those individuals who claim to follow Scripture to the letter, it is interesting to note that other passages in Leviticus proscribe individuals from cutting their hair or trimming their beards, wearing clothes that are made of a mix of textiles and growing certain crops beside each other; ie, the "mingling" of seed. It is safe to assume that the practice of shaving would have been a heinous violation of Leviticus.

At the same time it must be said that Leviticus contains the seeds of laws and statutes, that if followed, are the basis of a fair and just community. Below is one translation of Leviticus that is worth reading in its entirety.

See: Religious Tattoo Designs

Leviticus, chapter 19

  1. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
  2. Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.
  3. Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.
  4. Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.
  5. And if ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, ye shall offer it at your own will.
  6. It shall be eaten the same day ye offer it, and on the morrow: and if ought remain until the third day, it shall be burnt in the fire.
  7. And if it be eaten at all on the third day, it is abominable; it shall not be accepted.
  8. Therefore every one that eateth it shall bear his iniquity, because he hath profaned the hallowed thing of the LORD: and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
  9. And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.
  10. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.
  11. Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.
  12. And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.
  13. Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning.
  14. Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.
  15. Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.
  16. Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.
  17. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.
  18. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
  19. Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.
  20. And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.
  21. And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering.
  22. And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.
  23. And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of.
  24. But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the LORD withal.
  25. And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the LORD your God.
  26. Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times.
  27. Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
  28. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
  29. Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.
  30. Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.
  31. Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
  32. Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.
  33. And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
  34. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
  35. Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meter, yard, in weight, or in measure.
  36. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.
  37. Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD.

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TATTOO CULTURE >> Leviticus 19:28

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