Squashed

A blog of politics, law, religion, and the tricky spots where they collide.

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Does the Bible condemn Homosexuality?

A few days back, I wrote that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality and offered to go verse by verse through the Bible to back that point up. Bellatoris has taken the bait.

Leviticus 18:22

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

Leviticus 20:13

If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

The first red flag is the book this comes from. Leviticus. There’s some great stuff in Leviticus—but also a lot of stuff about ceremonial cleanliness that we generally considered overruled, inapplicable, or only symbolically relevant.

The second concern is that word “abomination.” It’s loaded. But let’s look at the other things the King James Bible translates as “abomination.” Here’s one:

And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray…

Eagles are also abominations. In other words, they are considered ceremonially unclean. So perhaps Leviticus is saying that lying with a man as one would lie with a woman is ceremonially unclean, much like eating pork.

Let’s expand this that first verse a bit. We see that it’s in a list of other people you’re not supposed to sleep with. Following that is a list of other sexual things you’re not supposed to do. A lot of them involve adultery or relatives. Some involve “Also thou shalt not approach unto a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is put apart for her uncleanness.” So no uncovering the nakedness of menstrating women. (Perhaps we should get a constitutional ammendment to make sure nobody does that one?) But let’s go to the next chapter to see how we should interpret all of these verses. What do we get in the next chapter?

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.

Okay … that’s a strange way to say it—but giving the fruit trees a bit of time to establish themselves before harvesting them isn’t a bad plan, agriculturally speaking. What else?

'If a man sleeps with a woman who is a slave girl promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed.

Hmm…we’ve got some awkward gender stuff going on here. It’s going to take a bit more reading to see how that one is applicable today.What else?

“‘Keep my decrees.
” ‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.
” ‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
” ‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

I should, at this point, note that I’m not trying to say that Leviticus is an absurd book and that we should ignore it. It’s tempting—because it’s a difficult book—but there’s a lot of good stuff in there as well. Just before the mating different kinds of animals verse, we get “love your neighbor as yourself.” I don’t want to mock the scripture.

But I do mean to point out that if you’re going to take the verse about lying with a man as with a woman at face value as if that’s all there is to say about the matter, you’ve got to take a lot of other stuff with it. So what relevant things do we know about the society?

First, it’s an incredibly patriarchal society. We’re not talking academic blame-the-patriarchy sort of hidden bias patriarchy. We’re not even talking 1950s bang-the-secretary style patriarchy. We’re talking the kind of patriarchy where the scripture and the law aren’t even meant for the hearing of the women. “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” Unless this is an exhortation by the author for lesbians to continue being lesbians, the you is implicitly male.

"If a man lies with a woman during her monthly period and has sexual relations with her, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them must be cut off from their people."

Um…yeah. So there’s a bit of, let’s say, anxiety about gender. And if you go through the other neighboring verses, you learn that you’re not supposed to sleep with your aunt or sister-in-law because it would dishonor your uncle or brother. And then we have this revealing verse:

And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them.

Confusion? Perhaps that’s what some of this is about. Remember that verse about mixing the fabrics or sowing a field with multiple crops? Now we can see why homosexuality would be a major problem. The society has a very structured gender hierarchy—and homosexuality crosses some boundaries. If a man is like a woman, women are suddenly people to. The verse is more about reinforcing the patriarchal system than it is about the committed, same-sex relationships we see today. If we read these verses in a context where women are considered equal to men (rather than merely property), what’s left? A curiosity—like the mixing of fabrics. It’s a measure that symbolizes that Israel is set apart from her neighbors. If the verse is applicable today, it is not applicable as a broad prohibition on all homosexuality.

Bellatoris offered three other verses—but this may be enough for now. I’ll discuss the New Testament verses later. [Edit: The promised discussion is here.]

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