Saturday, July 1, 2006

Homosexuality & the Bible: The Truth, Part 2:
Levitical Law

To read earlier parts of this series, please click on the following links:

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 1:
Sodom & Gomorrah

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 2:
Levitical Law

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 3:
David & Jonathan

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 4:
The Words of Christ

Homosexuality & The Bible: The Truth, Part 5:
Paul's Letter to the Romans

In our first part, we covered how Sodom and Gomorrah were not about homosexuality at all, but about inhospitality, selfishness, and all-around evil people who liked to rape others. In Part 2, we shall cover the Levitical Law of the Torah, and some other passages usually described as "proof" that God hates homosexuals (or their "sin"), and why this use of scripture is bunk.
We must also take a moment to reflect on how and where this book came from, when it was written and by whom, and for what purpose: There seems to be a scholarly consensus that the book of Leviticus is from exilic times. The generally agreed-upon context is the permission given by Cyrus of Persia (in approximately 538 B.C.E.) to the exiled Judeans to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. We know from historical and archaeological evidence that Cyrus allowed a great number of conquered peoples in his empire to rebuild their homelands and local temples. (Think of him as the father of religious freedom.) In each of these cases, he required the newly reestablished leaders (in this case, the priests of the Hebrews) to publish its traditional law so that he would know how they planned on running the show in his empire. Leviticus is the result of the Judean priesthood's effort to do so, which is why Leviticus reads like a priestly handbook.

This context does not mean that historians think it was pulled out of thin air by exiled priests in the sixth century. It should be noted that the priestly writers probably brought memories, traditions, and word-of-mouth of what once had been, and what they thought should be again while they were writing this document up for Cyrus. It is also clear that the book was not written at one sitting by a single author, as Leviticus has every sign of being a composite work, despite some fundamentalist claims of it having been written solely by Moses.

It is best, then, to think of Leviticus as a complex book composed over an long period of time (the rebuilding of the temple alone took over 25 years) by a variety of authors. It should not be treated as an historically reliable description of how the temple actually operated, as those customs and traditions had been lost while the Jews were busy being conquered by a number of empires and spread out across a vast area before Cyrus' time. Leviticus offers insight into the priestly imagination of exilic and postexilic Jewish culture. It also tells us what the priesthood, or at least an influential part of it, thought temple ritual ought to be.
The book of Leviticus is basically a book for the priests in the tribe of Levi, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, specifically, the descendants of Aaron, Moses brother, the first priest of Israel. Broken up into sections, the book basically reads like this:
  1. Lev. Ch. 1-16, & Lev. Ch. 27: These books constitute the main standards and rules of the "Priestly Code," that explains in great detail the rituals and worship, including details of ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness. Further broken down by chapter:
    • 1-7: Laws regarding the regulations for different types of sacrifice
      • 1-3: Burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, and thank-offerings
      • 4-5: Sin-offerings, and trespass-offerings
      • 6-7: Priestly duties and rights concerning the offering of sacrifices
    • 8: The practical application of the sacrificial laws, within a narrative of the consecration of Aaron and his sons
      • Lev. 8: Aaron's first offering for himself and the people
      • 9-10: The case law lesson of strange fire being offered by Nadab and Abihu, and their subsequent execution by Yahweh for doing so
    • 11-16: Laws concerning purity and impurity
      • Ch. 11: Laws about clean and unclean animals
      • 12: Laws concerning ritual cleanliness after childbirth
      • 13-14: Laws concerning tzaraath of people, and of clothes and houses, often translated as leprosy, and mildew, respectively
      • 15: Laws concerning bodily discharges (such as blood, pus, etc.) and purification
      • 16: Laws regarding a day of national atonement, Yom Kippur
    • 27: Laws concerning the commutation of vows
  2. Leviticus 17-26, is known as the Holiness Code, and places particular, and noticeable, emphasis on holiness, and the holy. It is notably more of a miscellany of laws. Within this section are:
    • 17: Laws concerning idolatry, the slaughter of animals, dead animals, and the consumption of blood
    • 18 & 20: Laws concerning sexual conduct, sorcery, and moloch
    • 19: Laws concerning molten gods, peace-offerings, scraps of the harvest, fraud, the deaf, blind, elderly, and poor, poisoning the well, hate, sex with slaves, self harm, shaving, prostitution, sabbaths, sorcery, familiars, strangers, and just weights and measure
    • 21-22: Laws concerning priestly conduct, and prohibitions against the disabled, ill, and superfluously blemished, from becoming priests, or becoming sacrifices, for descendants of Aaron, and animals, respectively
    • 23: Laws concerning the observation of the annual feasts, and the sabbath,
    • 24: Laws concerning the altar of incense, the case law lesson of a blasphemer being stoned to death, and other applications of the death penalty
    • 25: Laws concerning the Sabbath and Jubilee years.

There, now. Do you feel you have an understanding of Leviticus? I hope so; that took more time and space than I thought it would, but it is important to the understanding.

The passages we will be dealing with today are as follows:

Leviticus 18:22: "Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination."

Leviticus 20:13: "If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they should surely be put to death...."
It should be noted that our passages come from a portion of Leviticus particularly concerned with the "Holiness Code," or, guidelines and rules for remaining holy in the eyes of Jehovah. The Jews had wandered all around the desert before coming to rest and make a settled life in the so-called promised land, and thus had seen a great number of cultures, how they operated, and had a lot of years and time, both as slaves and as self-exiled nomads, to decide what practices they liked, what they didn't like, and what they thought their God might like from them. At least one writer (though most likely two, as the two references are separated by a good bit of text), while they were writing down what laws they thought they should follow as they were rebuilding their temple, thought that the practice that was common in much of the known culture then, specifically male prostitution in the context of worship to deities, wasn't something they wanted to encourage. Whether this is because they didn't think their male prostitutes would be all that attractive, or because they found the practice icky, we may never know.

In Lev 18:22, the term abomination (to'ebah) is used. It is specifically a religious term, usually reserved for use against idolatry; it does not reference moral evil per se, although one could certainly argue that "morality" and "holiness" are inseparable (except that they are), the term is less about a code of conduct as it is for a code of remaining in tune with Jehovah.

Leviticus 20:13 states: "If a man also lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they should surely be put to death....". The passage is surrounded by prohibitions against incest, bestiality, adultery and intercourse during a woman's period. But this verse is the only one in the series which uses the religious term abomination; it seems also to be directed against the aforementioned temple prostitution that was a common practice in the surrounding cultures.

Either way you slice it, though, the book of Leviticus wasn't directed as a code for the people to live by, but how the people should worship. It also is filled with passages that tell the people to refrain from eating shellfish (in which the same term "abomination" is used), so for a person to use this passage as a reason for "condemning" homosexuality while stuffing their faces with shrimp, clams, and lobster, is a hypocrite. An abomination is also mentioned in reference to touching a pig's skin (those abominable football players!!!). I think we can all agree, culturally, that the book of Leviticus isn't something today's culture should be looking toward for moral values and religious doctrines, as most of the rules and regulations would stop American culture in it's tracks, not to mention damn 90% of us to hell and beyond! So even if you are to extrapolate just these two passages and use them for "refusing" a specific act or practice and term them to be "morally" sound as a guide to life, you must take the whole package. You can't pick and choose. You cannot, in full faith and conscious, use the verses to condemn something that wasn't being referenced to begin with. Now, if your local Baptist church starts a male prostitution ring while condemning the youth groups game of tough-tag football, then you may have some Levitical land to stand on. But until the Sunday pot-luck stops including shellfish; when men stop sleeping with their wives when they're having their period; when football becomes an abomination; and when you are allowed to own slaves again (just not sleep with them), then you can use Leviticus as your guideline for life.

Until then, you can shut the hell up. :D
Part 3 will be an in-depth look at David, the man after God's own heart, and his relationship to Jonathan, and why it may or may not have been a homosexual relationship. We may also touch briefly on the passage in Deuteronomy, but that will basically boil down to what most of this did. We'll see how it goes.

Until next time...
I continue to be a noncensoring blogger, so feel free to leave your comments, thoughts, and suggestions. I promise in turn not to bite.


The_Gay_Dude said...

Happy go read your Bible LOL

DaBich said...

Jason said "Until then, you can shut the hell up. :D "

LOL, I love your sense of humor. Great reading here, and I appreciate your views.

Kelly said...

Okay, there's no possible way I could read your post (too long, too religious, too scary, etc.), but I have a comment:

What's with the doggy butt for your new icon picture? I'm assuming that's Hawthorne, but I don't think he'd be happy with that pose.

Jason Hughes said...

Thanks Dude, Dabich, and Kelly.

BTW, Kelly, Hawthorne would probably agree that it's not his "best side," but it was such a cute baby picture of his, I just had to share... :D

The_Gay_Dude said...

Happy go read your Bible LOL