There are many commandments and teachings of God that people have only come to understand in modern times. Among those are God’s toilet rules for disposal of waste.
In the Roman world, residents used chamber pots. When the pot was full, they emptied it in the streets and alleys. In Pompeii, the sidewalks were raised with high curbs along the streets so that pedestrians could cross on stepping stones and avoid having to walk in human excrement.
Even in America the disposal of waste was an issue. An epidemic of yellow fever in Philadelphia, which was the nation’s capital at the time, was related to cesspits which eventually contaminated the aquifers that supplied drinking water.
Among the laws of hygiene for ancient Israel were rules for disposal of excrement. In Deuteronomy 23:12-13 we read “Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover your excrement.”
We tend to romanticize what life was like in early times without thinking about how complicated it was to take care of waste. The smells in Pompeii and other ancient cities must have been pretty revolting. However, the bigger problem was disease spawned by using the simplest method of getting rid of waste by throwing it out the window. Following God’s toilet rules may have taken time and energy, but it was essential for the health and well being of ancient Israel.
— John N. Clayton © 2019
Data from Archaeology Magazine, May/June 2019.