May 3, 2012
This week Full Frontal Nerdity returns after an extended break. Apologies for the unforeseen absence, but I have a typically controversial topic as penance to kick things back off with.
How is homosexuality portrayed in the Bible?
There are a number of mentions in the Old Testament, and absolutely none whatsoever in the New Testament. So anyone who is wondering “What Jesus said” can be reassured that Jesus said absolutely nothing about it. So any placard waving evangelical types can rest easy that Jesus had no problem at all with same sex relations.
As my Christian friends tell me that Jesus died for our sins and therefore the Old Testament rules no longer apply, perhaps we can leave it there; but as I have already done the research on the Leviticus and Corinthians quotes – we’ll cover them off too.
Much of the debate is around the interpretation of biblical text, on top of the translation from Hebrew to Greek to English / French / German / etc that has been undergone over the years. Some of this can be laid to rest by considering the cultural norms of the society at the time of the document or later translation, and others by looking at the use of language in the surrounding passages.
Let’s start with Leviticus. This was a list of guidelines for the “modern Hebrew man” to live by at the time. Here homosexuality is mentioned twice, though it is the use of the word “abomination” that is so oft shrieked by preachers taking a stance of bigotry.
You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.
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 bloodguiltness is upon them.
Leviticus uses the word “abomination” a lot. It is not defining something as evil (as per the English meaning of the word) but as something ritually unclean, or against the social norms. This might explain why other acts such as eating shellfish, trimming one’s beard and wearing mixed cloth are also listed as abominations. Notably, all of these abominations are mentioned again in Deutoronomy, except homosexuality. That isn’t repeated in the rule book… So it is apparently not as important as mixing linen with cotton or having a prawn sandwich in the eyes of the Old Testament authors.
Leviticus 20 refers to the highest sins, for which there should be a death penalty. Numero Uno is idolatry. For context, those pin up calendars, worship of sport heros, etc., in biblical terms, are a capital offenses.
So far, I’m building up a picture of a synthetic fibre sports jersey and denim jeans wearing clean shaven chap who regularly heads to the crab shack after catching the game making up the seventh circle of Dante’s hell. In fact, I might go and take my ABOMINATION placard to the nearest Gap store to see if I can save a few souls by enlisting them to a one fibre dress code.
Let’s leave poor Chad (our damned sports fan) for a moment and return to our comparison of Leviticus to Deuteronomy. As we have discovered, homosexuality is a notable exception in the otherwise complete repetition between the two Books. In its place, there is the punishment of male temple prostitution by death. Potentially what was meant originally in Leviticus before translation and the modern trend for literalism. Otherwise maybe Deutoronomy is a deliberate change, regardless looking at the verses in the broader context – it does minimise the severity of the Biblical condemnation when compared to the other items in the rule book.
There are further mentions of homosexuality in Corinthians and Romans, which we’ll look at in the next issue of Full Frontal Nerdity. But just in case you still aren’t convinced that the book of Leviticus should be taken with a grain of salt, I’ll leave you with His words on menstruation…
And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean. And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even. And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean. And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even. But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness.
And if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness, and shall uncover her nakedness; he hath discovered her fountain, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall be cut off from among their people.
I’m no great fan of pigeons, but if it takes the sacrifice of two for every women’s monthly visitor – they might have gone the way of the dodo by now.