Sexuality in the Torah

26 06 2008

There are a few passages, specifically in the Torah which appear to condemn outright what it is to be a homosexual and homosexual relationships. The passages are

Genesis 1:27 So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (NRSV)

Genesis 19 — The story of Sodom and Gomorrah

Leviticus 18:22 You will not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination

Deuteronomy 23:17-18 None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute; none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute. You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a prostitute into the house of the Lord…it is abhorrent.

Seems pretty clear right? The interesting thing is that what appears clear at first glance, especially when we read with fresh eyes and without our own cultural prejudices and through the lens of the New Testament, what becomes clear is not quite what we had thought we knew … God is nothing if not a God of surprises.

In Genesis, we see God deliberately creating humanity as two equal people with different genders…male and female. He also blessed them with the gift of procreation so that they may perpetuate the race, and indeed were told to go and produce offspring. This sense of equality was almost unheard of in ancient near-Eastern myth. When we look at Genesis 2, we see that God created woman from the rib of the man. He created a companion for Adam because the one thing that was not good in all of creation was that the man was lonely, and as Scripture says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Humanity was made to live in relationship…this living in relationship, as a community of two or a family of more, is one way where we show the divine image of the Triune God, for God as Father, Son and Spirit is a relational and a communal deity.

Looking at this text through the lens of the New Testament, especially through Paul who in his letter to the Galatians said, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” we find that all boundaries are broken…ethnic, social status, and gender. Paul is emphatic in saying that in a communal, Christ-centered relationship, there is no distinction between the members, not even of gender. Any such distinction needs to be read through the lens of Galatians, not reading Galatians through the lens of perceived roles of a couple of community. Moreover, because humanity is meant to live in relationship with each other, to cut off a segment of the population because such pairings are called unclean goes against Pauline theology and Gospel principles.

When we look at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is well known the men of the city wanted to rape and sexually abuse the male strangers among them who were staying with Lot. Anywhere the sin of sodom is mentioned in the bible, especially in the prophet Ezekiel, we find that Sodom’s sin was not the sexual acts per se (though rape and abuse are always wrong), the sin was pride, arrogance, and a lack of hospitality. In no case does the sin of Sodom equate with same-sex affection. When we are talking about Sodom, we are talking about gang-rape and violence and humiliation, not people loving each other unconditionally and expressing that in a physical way.

Leviticus is the most clear of the passages in the Torah about same-sex relations, and indeed all of Leviticus 18 is devoted to laying out the norms of the Israelites for sexual relations. Leviticus says what it says because at the time, the division of gender roles was thought to be polluting to the male. But …. if in Christ there is no male or female, then what’s to pollute? I find it ironic that conservative evangelicals and all fundamentalists are ready to do away with the entire holiness code except for this passage regulating same-sex behaviour. (The bestiality and incest statements are universally denounced, by the way. For the most conservative among us, you will not find anyone advocating for the promotion of bestiality and incest at this end of the communion table, so that does not apply to this discussion AT ALL). Sexuality is a powerful force within humanity, and I believe that having the ability to regulate what is and is not proper is nothing more than an exercise of power by those already in control of religion and society. “Enforcing” this verse is simply a means to that end. To understand Leviticus and the context with which it was written, we must look at Deuteronomy, where Moses is giving his last words before God’s people enter the promised land.

Deuteronomy starts a point that we will pick up in the next post in the New Testament, and that is about temple prostitutes. First off, unless I am mistaken, the terms in Hebrew that are used to refer to the prostitutes are KADESHA and KADESH, a derivative of the Hebrew word meaning “holy.” It does NOT refer to what happened in Sodom, rather it would refer to a common practice in ancient near-east and later Greek and Roman temples, where male and female priests would offer themselves up for sexual favours in exchange for an offering to whatever god or goddess was receiving supplication.

The Torah was written, in part, to provide a standard by which the Israelites would separate themselves from the societies around them. They were not to have cult prostitutes (neither male nor female) and they were not to engage in rape on the battlefield once they conquered their enemies, as was a common practice in those days. In short, the Torah condemns same-sex sexual acts in the context of forceful subjugation of the folks on the “receiving end” of the business, but has absolutely nothing to say about same-sex affection in general. In every instance that same-gender sex is described, it is within the context of forced domination and submission, and not love. When it comes to such things as love between two people of the same gender, all of the Hebrew Canon is mostly silent (with the exception of the examples of David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi, but that is ANOTHER entire discussion).

Finally, we will look at what Paul has to say about same-gender relationships. There is no need to look at the Gospels or the other writers of the New Testament, because quite frankly, they had nothing to say either …. but as we all know, Paul had issues.



8 responses

26 06 2008

There is so much to say here, but I am pondering.

However, you are so right… Paul had issues!

27 06 2008

Actually, Paul had less issues than people think. The passage in Roman’s used to condem is an obvious addition, more than likely written after the collection of letters had been assembled. If the passage condemning same sex practice is removed, you will see that the text then flows naturally.

Trying to convince literalists that many passages found in the bible are redacted is almost impossible. Bibleodoloty is dangerous, and hinders truths.

27 06 2008
Erika Baker

You don’t have to remove the offending part of the sentence, even if it was added on later.

For anyone interested in a truly liberating gay Catholic perspective, James Alison has a wonderful essay on Romans 1 here:

27 06 2008

Anthony: I couldn’t agree more, but our Evango-Fundie friends aren’t interested in any of that heretical form criticism or Biblical scholarship stuff. It is still in the Bible, later addition or not, and “we” all know the Bible is inerrant, so nothing, sadly, changes.

Thanks R.B. for this glimpse into your thinking.

27 06 2008

In the 70’s, theology exposed androcentrism, and patriarchy. Out of both liberation and feminist theologians we are now spotlighting heterosexism.

Only a heterosexist would attach authority to this passage and suggests it has something to do with same sex attraction or commitment. “So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27)

The quote is about creation NOT pro-creation. God created humankind, male and female. I don’t happen to see, in the text, evidence of “So God created heterosexual humankind in “his” image……heterosexual male and female [“he” <— androcentric addition] created them.”

27 06 2008
John-Julian, OJN

There is so much fascinating stuff to discover in depth study of the biblical texts, that it must be massively boring for those who simply take some single English translation as authoritative.

The bible scholar, Dr. Bart Ehrmann, writing (back in 1994) said that at the time of his writing 5,366 different Greek texts of the New Testament (from the 2nd to the 16th century) survived — and that (except for some tiny fragments) NO TWO OF THOSE TEXTS ENTIRELY AGREE.

Consequently, any Bible that we read in English is NOT “the written word of God”, but the product of some person’s interpretation of one or more of these 5,366 texts. In fact, no one can honestly and clearly prove that s/he has THE right text or THE right translation — the best any scholar can do in most cases is an informed guess — and that guess is always contaminated by the scholar’s own personal and cultural prejudices — just as you have shown, RB.

And, by the way, you write “…male and female priests would offer themselves up for sexual favours…” It was even more than that: in most cults, every devotee of the god (not just priests) was expected to put in a certain duration as a temple prostitute as part of their religious obligation — that is why the religious prostitution in the temples always took place in the dark (so one couldn’t recognize one’s partner). The point being that same sex prostitution was common for the whole pagan populace — which is why Paul attacked it.

You’re doing a great job here, RB. Keep it up!

27 06 2008
Reverend boy

Thanks for all the comments! Even though I am preaching to the converted, as DP says, I find that the extra points given (special thanks to Anthony and Br John-Julian above!) help expand our understanding.

As far as reckoning with the evango-fundies, well, they won’t be persuaded. 40 years after the ordination of women across the body of Christ, we still have people who think it is inherently wrong, so I expect that there will for at least another generation or two, be much resistance to the full inclusion of GLBT folks in the body of Christ.

I actually like most of what Paul has to say. Frankly, this this my favourite year in the lectionary cycle because we get to look at Romans for much of now until Advent!

In any event, next post we will talk about sex with Paul.

29 06 2008

not knowing anything about what passages are in which bible

isnt there something about stoning women who are adulters…..

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