Homosexuality and the Bible (Part 2 of 4)


Some months ago, I had the opportunity to be present at a radio interview concerning a Christian group known for its anti-homosexuality stance and a Christian who fights for issues of social justice and against homophobia. The anti-homosexuality group has placed their position together in an article titled, ‘The Abomination of Homosexual Theology.’ The article, written by Stephen Green, can be found here: http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/?page_id=893

What follows is my second of four posts in response to that article.

Detailed Analysis of Problems under the Thirteen Subheadings used to elucidate Lev 18.22 and Lev 20.13

(Part 2/4)

Having set out some broader objections to Green’s article, we can now enter into the details of what is problematic in each of the thirteen sections into which Green divides his piece. The overall arrangement of Green’s subheadings seems to fall into the following format (slightly different from my earlier division):

I. Sections 1 – 5 (Purpose of Leviticus);

II. Sections 6 – 10 (Pittenger and Arthur’s arguments are introduced in section 6; attempted rebuttal of Arthur in 7 – 8; Pittenger in 9 – 10);

III. Section 11 (to’evah);

IV. Sections 12 – 13 (to whom does the section apply).

After a brief introduction consisting principally of links to LV 18 – 20 (KJV), especially Lv 18.22 and Lv 20.13, and a link to words translated by KJV as ‘abomination’, the author clarifies that the assumptions of his argument rest on opposing ‘homosexual behaviour’ (which he equates with the behaviour of Biblical Sodom) to ‘God’s institution of heterosexual love and marriage’ in Mk 10 and Mt 19. However, Green does not give a warrant for using the said opposition between heterosexual ‘love and marriage’ and ‘homosexual behaviour’ as his method of interpreting the scriptural verses. If he did give such a warrant, he would still need to justify why he is not comparing homosexual behaviour to heterosexual behaviour, homosexual love to heterosexual love, and same-sex unions to heterosexual unions.

Because his post is not on the sacramental nature of the institution of marriage, I will not enter upon medieval debates regarding its inclusion among the sacraments only in the 12th century CE, nor will I say anything of the complications raised by the practice of polygamy in Biblical accounts of the Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob for Green’s ideas about heterosexual love, marriage, and (presumably as well) heterosexual sex.

The article then develops under thirteen subheadings, the chief points and problems of each I set out below.

1. Purpose of the Book of Leviticus. Green states that the book is chiefly concerned with the duties of Levites, ‘the tribe which came from Moses’, and ceremonial observances of the Israelites; ‘we have what we should today consider as elaborate regulations for the conduct of sacrifices… private and public health, the Sabbath,… etc’.

First, Levites are descended from Jacob’s tenth son Levi (counting backwards from Benjamin). The Levites were ‘tithed’ by Jacob to the service of the God of his fathers Isaac and Abraham. Moses, his brother Aaron, and their sister Miriam were members of the tribe of Levi. Levi was not the tribe which came from Moses, but the other way around. Aaron, however, was the ancestor of the Kohenim, the priestly caste within the tribe of Levi are his descendants.

Second, Green is relying on an anthropological argument to set out his case by referring to practices geared towards public and private health. The anthropological origins of his views are not clearly traced out by Green, nor does he extend an anthropological analysis to the verses in question. In this, Green may only be setting up a straw man to knock down: his real argument is that the prescriptions are not elaborate regulations for ritual worship, but precepts for everyday observance. Aside from the latent supercessionism (the idea that Christianity has replaced Judaism, its Temple worship, and its system of precepts) in his wording, Green seems apparently ignorant of how much of these Levitical laws are still observed by Orthodox Jews today, both those descended from Levi and those not descended from Levi (‘Beni Yisrael’ — historically traceable to Judah and Benjamin, though some Jews from India and Ethiopia claim descent from other tribes, notably Dan). In other words, observant Jews recognise the wider applicability of these laws to regulate their lives.

2. Purpose of the ‘Moral Chapters’. The principle content of this section consists of quotes from Leviticus framing the holiness code as an injunction not to do what was done in Egypt, and not to do what is done in Canaan. While the author simply quotes verses separated widely from one another without drawing attention to their distance within the text proper, the chapters within the book of Leviticus are indeed framed this way. As Green sums up, ‘Around this framework, the Lord provides a table of affinity to rule against incest, prohibits bestiality, sodomy, adultery and child sacrifice and in chapter 19 moves into more general laws governing society in other areas.’

In Biblical form and source criticism, these chapters are generally referred to as the ‘Holiness Code’. Green rejects this label, apparently because of its association with ‘the homosexual set at Cambridge’ in the 1930s. The author is thus setting himself up against established academic study of the scriptures, while attempting to present his own position as academic. Interestingly, in these chapters forbidding sexual acts, rape is not mentioned as such. A curious omission.

3. Rituals of Worship, not Personal Behaviour? This two paragraph section first sets out a quote from a ‘pro-gay minister’, in which the minister claims chapters 18 and 20 are about worship, not personal behaviour. The second paragraph then makes an ad hominem attack about how ‘apologists for sodomy rarely quote actual scripture’ and declares that the pro-gay minister ‘sets himself up over scripture by pronouncing that the conduct forbidden in the two chapters “seems” morally wrong.’ Green thus appears to contradict his initial position describing the book of Leviticus as primarily concerned with how sacrifices are conducted, but does not yet clearly develop how a book which is geared towards the Levitical priesthood becomes the norm for all Israelites.

The chief content of the second paragraph of this section, however, is a brief foray into the Hebrew terms translated as ‘customs’ and ‘manners’. Aside from some problematical translations in this section (e.g. the plural of ‘commands’ is listed by the author as ‘mitsvah’, rather than ‘mitzvot’ and likewise with ‘statutes’; while the singular noun ‘torah’ is mistranslated into a plural ‘laws’), the author’s main point seems to be that translating ‘chuqqah/ chuqqot’ as ‘customs’ or ‘manners’ does not capture the nuance of the Hebrew. In this, I agree with the author, and oppose the minister. The word in question is derived from a root meaning ‘to carve’ (and in other contexts, ‘to strengthen’), and thus ‘statutes’ is the preferred translation. The argument for not translating chuqqah as ‘customs’ is sustainable.

Green cites the example of Jer 31.35-36 for an alternate translation of the word ‘chuqqah’ as the poetic ‘course of the stars’, although a more proper translation is the ‘rule (or ordinance) of the stars’. (I and the author number the verses differently by one verse; my scriptural sources number the verses in question as Jer 31.34-35.)

4. Laws and Morality Derive from Religion. From this section onward several major problems with the author’s interpretations begin to reveal themselves.

‘A nation’s religious observance forms part of its religious world-view, and determines its morality and from that its law-code.’ D’accord, but Torah is revealed. First, Torah is revealed, and so the order of logic must be: law shapes world-view and religious observance, not the other way around. (And this may well be the fear of conservatives who oppose the extension of marriage to monogamous same-sex couples: the legalisation of such unions will shape people’s attitudes towards homosexuals and homosexuality in general. Yet the evidence seems to be the opposite, particularly in the recent US election in which three States voted to extend marriage rights on the basis of public attitudes to the question.)

Green then mentions temple prostitution, and follows this with a quotation from Deuteronomy forbidding a father from allowing his daughter to become a prostitute. The existence of temple prostitution is historically questionable, and will be dealt with in more detail in section 7. For here, I will bolster Green’s argument and say that so long as we don’t know what the sexual ecology of Canaan was like, we cannot tell how the sexuality or sexual relationships of religious functionaries was vis-a-vis non-religious occupations of the time. In plain language, if we are accustomed to our monks being celibate, we may find the fact that Zen monks could marry scandalous; but until we understand the sexual ecologies of Japan and Western Europe, we cannot say that Zen monks are monastic rent-boys. This bolsters Green’s argument because he makes the case that ‘whoredom’ spreads throughout society, and I am situating sexuality in an ecology or fuller context of a society’s behaviours.

Green goes on to write, ‘It is the same [i.e. evil spreads] with respect for human life. A nation practising human sacrifice hardly views innocent human life with respect or sees each person as made in the image of God. In paganism, human life becomes expendable and sex becomes promiscuous, which is why such societies have been short lived from the moment they embarked on such a course.’ Green then Ezekiel for support of the position that once respect for monotheism is lost, so too is respect for life and decency; and the rhetorical question is posed about whether western society today is in such a position — a rhetorical question used to make the authors assertion seem more plausible; but assertions don’t make arguments. Before moving on, I would note that the late Pope Joh Paul II’s linking of respect for life with sexual morality follows a different rationale; Green seems to have taken superficial readings of the Pope’s position as they percolated into wider social or Protestant discourse without seeing the underlying links to consumerism and the objectification of the human person attending to consumerist culture, a feature the Polish Pope was very concerned to address in his philosophical dialectic, seeking to steer a middle path between large-scale communism and corporate capitalism during the late Cold War, pre-911 period.

The problems with that statement include a generalisation about societies which practice human sacrifice; an assumption about the relation of humanity and the divine image; and a sweeping homogenisation about paganism and its approach to human life and sexuality.

The claim that human sacrifice is incompatible with viewing ‘innocent’ human life with respect is anthropologically and historically indefensible. (What constitutes innocent vs guilty human life is left undefined, and one wonders whether Green thinks guilty human life should be respected or not.) While I cannot point to Ugaritic texts from Canaan and Phoenicia to demonstrate my position, anthropological evidence drawn from other cultures should be a permissible approach, given that I am attacking Green’s similarly generalist claims; my hope is to nuance Green’s tack into a less-genocidal assertion. Graham’s 1965 account of human sacrifice in Benin indicates that the victims were generally criminals, and thus the human sacrifice was a form of expiation for crimes committed against the people. Green seems to ignore the potential parallel that capital punishment according to the laws of Torah would follow a similar rationale in anthropological interpretation (Graham 1965:330 ).

Green ignores human sacrifice in Israelite history, whether the narrative of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and the story of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11. This omission is unsurprising, as Green seems to have ignored the story in Judges 19 – 21 which parallels the account of Sodom. Likewise, lay Christian (mis-)understandings of a Father-God who demands the sacrifice of his Son on the Cross can also be made to fit an idea that the rigours of religious justice require human sacrifice. In other words, Green opens himself up in a very dangerous way to accusations of blindness where his own faith is concerned, and inconsistency of approach.

(For those curious about how the Aztecs received the story of Abraham and Isaac, I would refer to Robert Potter’s “Abraham and Human Sacrifice: the Exfoliation of Medieval Drama in Aztec Mexico” in New Theatre Quarterly vol 2, Issue 8, November 1986:306-312.)

On the other hand, some cultures believed only willing and innocent victims were appropriate messengers to the gods. Euripides’ Iphegenia is willing; Soyinka (in a more modern Nigerian setting) portrays willing human sacrifice in ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’. For further reference, I would suggest Bremmer (2004). The Strange World of Human Sacrifice, which examines accounts of human sacrifice from various ancient Mediterranean cultures, including Israel, Greece, and Egypt. For those interesting in more daring exploits during the empire, Obeyeskere makes some interesting observations in his book Cannibal talk: The man-eating myth and human sacrifice in the South Seas.

Of course, the rhetoric of innocent human life and human child-sacrifice is presented because it easily aligns with the forms of justification taken on other politically hot-button positions such as abortion. (If abortion can be made to equal child sacrifice and if sacrifice to Molokh entailed child sacrifice and was forbidden, then abortion also should be forbidden.) I feel that such a line of argumentation, while interesting in its own right, fails to be persuasive outside a community which has previously accepted certain assumptions of faith; regardless, this is not the place to detail what may be more or less persuasive when it comes to the legal question of medically induced abortion. (For one re-examination of the Molek cult, see Brian Schmidt (2002). “Canaanite Magic vs Israelite Religion: Deuteronomy 18 an the Taxonomy of Taboo” in Mirecki and Meyer. Magic and Ritual in the Ancient World.)

Green’s argument that nations practising human sacrifice do not see humans as made in the image of God needs some explaining. Quite apart from assuming a nation has an image of God — and images of God as such are forbidden to Israel — Green’s argument is also historically indefensible. At least three nations which practised human sacrifice, the Celts, Aztecs, and Greeks drew parallels between their conceptions of human and divine images.

Green’s homogenisation of all non-Israelite religion under the moniker ‘paganism’ is too sweeping a generalisation. It may be rhetorically effective, if one wants simplicity, perhaps, but it covers variation within monotheism itself and within history. Not all pagan religions are polytheistic; neo-Platonism being a case in point; nor are all pagan religions ‘dead’, Hinduism and Yoruba religion being some of the most vibrant today. Given the economic rise of India, Green propounds an interesting explanatory framework for the decline of civilisation, though not its constant regeneration outside Christendom and the Dar ul-Islam. I would generously think his explanatory framework owes something to Augustine’s City of God, but perhaps it is not so rooted in the Christian tradition. Certainly, several pagan religions in India, the Jains in particular, might have something to say about Green’s assumptions regarding paganism, population growth, and respecting life. (In this context it is ironic to note that Catholic Italy has the smallest growth rate in Europe, while Hindu India’s population growth is well known.)

Green’s use of the quotation from Ezekiel is interesting given the relationship between the book of Ezekiel and the holiness code. (Lyons 2009. From Law to Prophecy is an interesting study on just this relationship.) It is odd, however, since Ezekiel’s reworking of the text of the holiness code omits Lv 18.22, and 20.23, the verses Green is concerned to uphold. Why does Ezekiel omit them?

The greater problem raised by Green’s approach in this section, however, is the conflict raised by using historical sources to elucidate what is considered a timeless revelation: Reliance on scholarship of historical Canaanite religion can sometimes entail an acknowledgement of other theories, such as the emergence of Israelite religion from a Canaanite milieu, or the separate writing and integration of texts which are ultimately edited together to form the Pentateuch (e.g. the identification of Deuteronomist, Priestly, etc sources in the Torah).

Historical scholarship aside, does a position in favour of revelation need historical contexts to bolster its claims? Or is perhaps Green, like Pittenger, also a proponent of process theology, which believes God’s own self changes through engagement with time? If that is the case, then Green and I are approaching scripture from fundamentally different starting points, and the question of what common ground we may share in theological language is raised; the answer to that question, however, cannot be ascertained on the basis of Green’s article itself.

5. Israel Respected Human Life and Marriage.

Green makes an interested move by linking to two ideas together, perhaps trying to build on his attempted assertion that the collapse of one follows the other in Canaanite decadence. In this section, Green attempts to assert that Israel was God’s model nation and therefore Israel respected innocent human life and ‘the bond of marriage’ in both religious life and daily life.

Aside from confusing the Beni Yisrael (the tribe or children of Israel) in the desert, the period of Judges, and the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the attendant result of Green collapsing 1000 years of history, it does not follow that Israel always was a model — as Ezekiel points out in the verse the author quoted above (written at the start of the Babylonian exile), and as the 16 or more prophets contained in Jewish and Christian scripture repeatedly bear testimony. Green also makes a curious separation between religious and daily life, a curious post-16th century concept pioneered in England, but not necessarily clearly present in many societies throughout the world, including Christendom, before then; perhaps Green is simply reacting to the assertion that Leviticus is merely a code for ritual? In that case, I can support him, though I would question how the two — religious life and daily life — can be separated, and what constitutes each as a separate sphere. Does the author mean to equate for ‘religious life’ ‘in the liturgical calendar of yearly festivals’?

A more salient critique is the essentialised nature of the bond of marriage Green seems to posit between Israel and Euro-American today. The bond of marriage which Israel (though notably not King David) respected in the Torah is arguably not the bond of marriage as conceived today. Rather, the bond of marriage conceived in the Torah appears to be a legal bond of property, lineage, and perhaps virginity (in the case of the High Priest) or the paternally controlled sexuality of daughters. In that case, the search for legal recognition on the part of same-sex couples in an effort to ensure assured transfer of property and paternity rights to their children seems quite in keeping with the scriptural view of the point of the societal bond marriage creates.

The section continues with a quote from Dt 4.6ff, which ends with the question, ‘What nation is there so great that has statutes and judgements so righteous as all this law, which I set before you today.’ Unfortunately for the form of Green’s argument, the statement appears quite valid for comparison with the Canaanite foil to Israel’s morality; however, as a historically situated statement (‘which I set before you today’), it is limited in comparison, and it is possible that other legal codes become more socially just in comparison to the Torah as understood at the time of Moses’ death. That may sound like blasphemy; but it is simply drawing Green’s method of scriptural elucidation to its logical end points. I don’t think he realised that possibility when he began using a historical method of arguing his point.

Green salvages his historically-constrained position somewhat by proposing through a citation in Isaiah that the laws of Torah are universally applicable to nations other than Israel. ‘When thy [Israel’s] judgements are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.’ This verse is open to various understandings. Does it mean when Israel’s actually begins to follow its own laws, then the nations will learn righteousness? More to the point: how will the nations learn that righteousness? By observing how these laws are understood and applied in Judaism? Or by adopting them in bits and pieces and applying them haphazardly? Does Green posit a supercessionist understanding of Israel and The Nations in which Judaism’s understanding(s) of the Torah today is irrelevant? Or does Green recognise that just as Judaism has deepened its understanding of the Torah through historical experience, so too is that sect of Judaism which has become Christianity also deepening its experience of the body of scriptures it has inherited — but with the additional burden of a law of grace, not letters? If so, Green fails to also understand the concrete means by which the nations would learn righteousness through the Christian message, as set out in Jesus’ sermons: Christians are to be the salt of earth, they are to be a little leaven, and they are not to be a lord-tyrant or benefactor who imposes laws and judgements upon the people. The goal is to teach by example. History, of course, has intervened in Jesus’ vision for his disciples and their disciples, and the ensuing centuries have witnessed negotiation after negotiation between Roman, Germanic, and Slavic laws and those contained in the Torah. Is it any wonder the Rabbis limited to the responsibility of non-Jewish nations to the Noahide laws, while only Jews need observe the Mosaic Torah? My argument is that Jewish understandings of the statutes at hand are important to consider, especially if the position taken is that Christians study the Law is to grasp its spirit rather than its literal application (complete with capital punishments).

The author goes on to say that ‘this [Isaiah’s and Deuteronomy’s verses referred to above] is the context in which we read the two verses which refer to homosexual acts. Twenty-three and a half out of twenty-seven chapters of Leviticus deal with ceremonial observance.’ I find it supremely interesting that the two verses treating male-male anal sex are not read in context of other laws within the chapters of Leviticus itself, regardless of whether ’23 1/2 deal with ceremonial observance’. This is not Talmud Torah — it is not the study of how a law is understood through interpretation of the laws surrounding it; nor is it even 19th century exegesis, which would take scripture apart to look at those portions thought to be written in the same period by the same set of writers.

Green then states that the key element of these ceremonial chapters points forward to the Precious blood/ blood of the new covenant. Despite the clear and theologically wonderful typological interpretation Green just advanced, it seems to be a throwaway statement, and he does not make clear how it supports his argument about universal application. After all, he just averred that one of the four medieval methods of scriptural interpretation was valid — but fails to draw out what that would mean typologically for the verses within the Holiness Code. I will not make the supercessionist argument regarding his movement, with reference to blood of new covenant, towards application of Leviticus within Christianity, as I believe I have already pointed out when supercessionism complicates the understanding of a verse, and here typology is a method which must rely on Christian symbols only. While it may not be sufficient in and of itself to fully explicate a verse, it can be applied consistently across whole sections of scripture — although Green does not demonstrate how that is to be done here.

With the opening of the next section we move out of Green’s introduction to the book of Leviticus and his somewhat haphazard justification for its place in civil life today and into his more direct rebuttal of other authors.

6. Timeless General Morality.

Green now proceeds to the heart of his argument, namely that the holiness code focuses ‘almost exclusively on timeless matters of general morality’, and he mentions incest, niddah (sex with a woman from the first day of her period until seven clean days after), adultery, child sacrifice, male homosexuality, bestiality. (Note Green does not specify ‘male homosexuality’, merely ‘homosexuality’, as if the two are entirely identical, or even worse, as if male homosexuality and male homosexual behaviour(s) are identical. Such vagueness does not have a place in a commentary designed to clarify matters.) ‘The remainder of the chapter, 24 – 30 exhorts the Israelites not to “follow any of the abominable customs” (chuqqah to’evah) [of Canaan and Egypt] and not to “defile yourselves with them”.’ Why Green switches to translating ‘chuqqah’ as ‘customs’ after making such a deal of it earlier in the text is not explained; perhaps he is not referencing the Hebrew.

Green then introduces and critiques the credibility of Rev Dr Norman Pittenger by labelling him as part of the ‘homosexual set at Cambridge University in the 1930s’. For further reference, which Green does not provide, Pittenger’s academic work highlighted the contextualisation of homosexuality in the holiness code. (To no good effect, as Green himself is doing the same thing.) Green then jumps to Rev Robert Arthur who takes a similar approach to Pittenger and argues the holiness code prohibits those acts — incest, niddah, adultery, cutting the pe’ah (the curly locks of hair that some Hasidic Jews still wear), tattoos — which were involved in the worship of Molech. Arthur’s (and in part, Green’s) argument may not be entirely sustainable, as the existence of Molech as a Canaanite deity has been questioned in scholarship by Smelik (1995). (“Moloch, Molekh, or molk-sacrifice? A reassessment of the evidence concerning the Hebrew term Molekh.” Scandanavian Journal of the Old Testament: An International journal of Nordic Theology, vol 9, Issue 1.)

In combination with Green’s statement ‘if the forbidden practices were also involved in pagan worship rituals, that seems merely to have provided a good reason to raise them’ at the start of this section, the weight of evidence implies Green believes homosexual activity today would equal idol worship. In section nine, Green will clarify this is not the point he is making. Nonetheless, due to the rhetorical impact of such a strategy, I would argue that if we knew that heterosexual intercourse was used in the worship of pagan gods (and the Victorians seem to have believed it was), presenting the argument that heterosexual intercourse today or in any community outside Israel is therefore idol worship cannot be sustained, and indeed would be absurd. Such absurdity is particularly apparent to those who subscribe to a worldview which prioritises intention in worship over generic external visible acts. If anything, the evidence would merely demonstrate that sexual activity, like any human activity, can be imbued with whatever particular meaning the society in which the individuals engaging in that activity wish it to have. Lived context is critical in assessing meaning.

An interesting case in point concerns how blithely Green skips over the issue of niddah. Avoiding intercourse during a woman’s menstruation was not skipped over for much of Christian history, and can be found in the writings of Nicodemos the Hagiorite in the Ottoman period. The Levitical rules on niddah even impacted regulations concerning when women were able to receive the Eucharist, much as regulations concerning nocturnal emissions forbade men from Eucharistic reception. More important, it is a statute still tacitly observed in Orthodox Judaism. One could make the argument that whether two men engage in anal intercourse (as this seems to be the specific sexual act with which Green is concerned) is of as much relevance as whether a man and woman engage in vaginal sex during the woman’s period.

The most salient problem with this section, however, is Green’s belief in a timeless, unchanging morality which leaves no room for greater insight into social justice, no possibility for the prophetic idea in which peace and justice will kiss. Green’s approach contradicts both Christian and Rabbinic ideas that God wants humanity to continually progress in moral philosophy. It is essentialising, not revolutionising, and does not allow the faithful to be taken deeper into the text, the text in which a person might live. For the Rabbi’s progress in the text was ensured by God ‘hiding’ certain ideas within the text in the grammatical particle ‘et’ and ‘gam’; the possibilities of further meaning could be brought forth by interpretation when the people had reached a certain level of social justice and perspective. Green’s ideas, however, would seem to allow no evolution of halakha, and evince no awareness of the exegetical possibilities of ‘et’ or ‘gam’.

7. Depravity of the Canaanite Culture.

After having introduced both Pittenger and Arthur, Green first seeks to rebut Rev Arthur’s arguments; Green attempts to rebut Pittenger’s arguments in the section Green calls ‘Logic Suspended’. Seeking an authority to bolster his claims, Green cites a certain Timothy Wilkinson without introduction. It is assumed that the audience will know who this Wilkinson is, and what his publications may be. Green cites Wilkinson primarily to introduce the categories of kurgaru, assinu, naditu, sinnishat zikrum, and qadishtu temple functionaries. According to Green and Wilkinson, what all these functionaries have in common is some sort of departure from a dichotomous gender categorisation: castrati, homosexual men, ‘ritually neutered priestesses’ (this is left unexplained by Green; does it refer to female circumcision?), ‘lesbian transvestites’, and ‘female temple prostitutes.’ Green also references copulation with cows and infant sacrifice during liturgies devoted to Ba’al, and quotes the assertion that ‘marriages and families were shattered by [the Canaanite priests’] practices, and unwanted children of these unions were often slaughtered on altars to Baal or Dagon.’ (Curiously, Molech seems absent from this picture.)

Absent from this section is the evidence for an appeal to dead relatives to overcome Mot through incest; likewise evidence is lacking in the paragraph about huge sexual orgies. The idea of sexual orgies permeating the ancient world seems to have been a peculiarly Victorian obsession, and the scholarship of the past twenty years, when sexuality has come under academic scrutiny, is questioning those obsessions. Green makes a vague reference to the likelihood of sexually transmitted infections, though the rationale for this reference is unstated. (Ecologically, STIs which lead to infertility place constraints on population size; however, Green likely comes from a context in which sickness is considered God’s punishment, and STI’s are excerpted from an overall ecology and medicalised as such a sickness.) I would note that despite all the injunctions against ‘passing through fire’ (interpreted by Green as child sacrifice, though it could be a simple as literally passing a child above flames to ‘baptise’ it) and various forms of sexual license, rape not explicitly forbidden in the holiness code.

The dated nature of Green’s sources becomes obvious when he does quote his sources. For example, Green brings in Unger, 1964 as an authority. Why is Green using publications from the 1960’s, instead of more examining more recent archaeological discoveries and scholarship? Halley’s Bible Handbook, the source of a genocidal argument I point out below, is also from 1964. The insupportable nature of such partisan writing of the mid-twentieth century and earlier is clearly demonstrated in Hillers (1985), who gives an excellent critique of how writers in the past have used Canaan as a foil for exalting Israelite religion (and as a consequence, its present-day derivatives in Northwest European Christianities). Green himself will use sources who do exactly that, particularly in section 8.

Among the most frequently discussed problems in Canaanite and Biblical studies is the social meaning and translation of the term ‘Qadishtu’. The word shares the same root consonants as the word for ‘holy’ in Hebrew (q-d-sh), and for that reason some early translators thought persons bearing the title must be consecrated in some manner, or be associated with temple worship. However, the root meaning of qadosh, holy, is to be set apart. Some might say ‘set apart for a special use’, but one could just as easily say ‘set apart from the community’; because the implications of the setting apart vary by materiality and time period, a simple translation as ‘set apart’ is preferable.

No person is to be set apart from a family in Israel (with the implication of being ‘cut off’ from the children of Israel), which would be the case if someone were a ‘qadishtu’ or ‘qadisha’. Particularly salient in this regard is that the priests of Israel were and are still today based on family lineage; only they and the Levites served in the temple. (Samuel the prophet was a Levite from the territory of Ephraim, so being dedicated to the temple from childhood did not interfere with this kinship structure, as the Levites belong to the Temple by virtue of their birth.) The possible exception to this general rule of not separating out a person for special religious service may be the case of the Nazirite, and the Nazirite vow. The role of the nazir and the manner of becoming one was strictly set forth in scripture and could be annulled by family members who have authority of the person making the vow. Additionally, the nazirite had to bring a sin offering at the close of his or her vow, indicating some sort of social anomaly had occurred. Sampson, who was a Nazirite from birth, was born to parents who had been living as Nazirites when he was conceived, so again, he ‘inherited’ their functionary status, and should not be considered set apart in the way that a qadishtu would have been. (Note that ‘n-z-r’ also has the connotation of being set apart, and differs slightly from the ‘q-d-sh’ sense of set apart.)

So how did the idea of temple prostitution come to be associated with this word? The source lies in a passage in Genesis 38. There, Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah (ancestor of king David) seeks to fulfil the commandment of Levirate marriage by bearing a child in Judah’s line. She therefore veils herself and meets Judah on the road, and Judah, thinking she is a prostitute (‘zonah‘ in Hebrew), sleeps with her. He left a security deposit behind, with the promise of a goat as payment, but when his servant went to deliver the goat, the locals of the area did not know of any ‘qadisha‘ nearby. Because Tamar is referred to as a ‘qadisha‘ by Judah’s servant, when Tamar had obviously presented herself earlier to Judah as a prostitute, the idea that a qadishtu or qadisha was therefore a prostitute associated with temples grew. Such a view seemed to be further supported by an observation in Herodotus about a custom he had heard practised in Babylon. Yet Babylon is not Canaan, and we have no evidence to support the claim that the two cultures were identical in either religious or cultural practises.

For further scholarship on this issue, I would refer the reader to Friedman’s Commentary on Torah; Tikva’s ‘In the Wake of the Goddesses’; Bodin, Stephanie Lynn (2008). The myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity. CUP; Assante, Julia (2003). “From whores to Hierodules: The historiographic invention…”; and Day, John (2004). “Does the OT refer to Sacred Prostitution?” in McCarthy and Healey. Biblical and Near Eastern Essays.

After naming the various temple functionaries, Green, under the guise of civic consciousness, then advances a very dangerous argument for genocide and pre-emptive interference through an extended quote from Halley: ‘Did a civilization of such abominable filth and brutality have any right longer to exist?’ In certain contexts, of course, the implication might be that Euro-American civilisation is descending into such filth, and thus should no longer exist; an internal revolt is called for. Happily, Green simply continues to quote from Halley, and writes, ‘Archaeologists who dig in the ruins of Canaanite cities wonder that God did not destroy them sooner than he did.’ This is a rather curious statement: who are these archaeologists? Are they all scientists? believers? both (as I admit being a believer and being a scientist are not necessarily antithetical)? What is the source of Halley’s assertion? Crucially, Green seems to ignore the civic implications of quoting a call for the destruction of a society.

At this point, Green seems to be speaking with a double tongue: His argument is either saying HaShem tells not to do what Canaanites do because this is simply God’s revelation speaking; -or- we take an anthropological argument and say these Israel must not do these things because they are identity markers for Canaan.

In fact, if an anthropological examination is what Green wants, the passage at hand can be read as a primer on kinship identity markers for the children of Israel/ Jacob. Chapter 18 tends to frame nearly all its rationales for forbidding certain sexual relations in terms of kin and lineage relations of some sort. This passage in Leviticus answers the basic human questions of who and what is ‘other’, and who is similar to me (‘family’)?). It also illustrates a more post-modern question, namely, what are the boundaries of my own body? It is noteworthy that ‘nakedness’ tends to be predicated only of women, or of men only through (their) women. The actual implications of ‘nakedness’ as shame or strength, property or self-possession (boundedness) is not explicated in the text. (As a side note, Ezekiel repeats most of these verses, but does not include verse 22 — against male-male sexual relations in that repetition.)

A look at the extended passage, Lv 18:6 – 27, consistently demonstrates this role that the scripture plays:

Verse 6 specifies its concern with ‘near of kin’: ish ish al kol sher b’sharo, (lo tiqervo l’galot ‘arveh.)

Verse 7 goes on to address the boundaries of the parents’ bodies: The nakedness of your father, and the nakedness of your mother, you shall not uncover: she is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness.

Verse 8 admits the possibility of second marriages (either polygamous or sequential): The nakedness of your father’s wife you shall not uncover: it is your father’s nakedness.

Verse 10. The nakedness of your son’s daughter, or of your daughter’s daughter, even their nakedness you shall not uncover; for theirs is your own nakedness.

Verses 12 and 13 are similar: You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s/ mother’s sister: she is your father’s/ mother’s near kinswoman.

Verse 14 has homosexual implications, which seem always glossed over, as the nakedness here is approached through a woman — though that need to always be the case: You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother, you shall not approach to his wife: she is your aunt.

Verse 17 now switches to outside immediate kin relations, although it relates how women are kin to one another: You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter; you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter [i.e. a woman and her grand-daughter], to uncover her nakedness: they are near kinswomen [to one another]; it is lewdness.

Finally, verse 19 again relates women and nakedness: And you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness, as long as she is impure by her uncleanness.

When we come to verses 20 – 21, the emphasis shifts; they are not concerned with nakedness. This may indicate a new section, or a shift in perspective. Verse 20, like verse 18, is concerned with social ties outside kinship, but it suggests neighbours are like kin. The verse states that sleeping with neighbour’s wife defiles oneself (but not necessarily the neighbour’s wife): lo titen sh’khavtekha l’zar’a: l’tamah-boh. Note the difference in phrasing in verse 21: v’lo tetalel et shem elohekha — neither shall you profane the name of your God. One could easily draw a comparison with prophets who suggest idolatry is ‘sleeping with a neighbour’s god’, except that in verse 20, one defiles oneself by sleeping with a neighbour’s wife, whereas idolatry defiles the name of the God of Israel, the implication being that each man of Israel carries or embodies that name.

Verses 22 and 23 are also salient for the difference in phrasing between them, and similarity between 23 and 20: Verses 23 and 20 both state: lo titen shekhavtekha (roughly ‘do not allow bedding her’) while in 22 the phrasing is markedly different: tishkhav, mishkhaveh ishah (you shall not lie, a woman’s couch), suggesting that verse 22 has a different social result; it is not defiling, though it is forbidden.

A simple reading of verse 22 is: ‘Two men shall not lie together on a woman’s bed.’ Such an act, if both parties have a seminal emission, confuses paternity should the woman who sleeps there become pregnant. (This is in part because of the role the bed on which someone is conceived plays in the larger notions of a child’s ‘destiny’, quite apart from any notions of the viability of seed to impregnate women for days after its emission.) This interpretation fits in with the rest of verses about unclear lineages which result from incest. (Therefore, this approach implies the Holiness Code is also a lineage code).

Verse 23 invokes bestiality, reverting to its defiling nature: And you shall not lie with any beast to defile yourself therewith… Note this commandment also explicitly applies to women, whereas the others did not: neither shall any woman stand before a beast, to lie down thereto; it is perversion. Thus verse 23 creates another similarity to v20: male initiated bestiality is l’tamah; it comes from the letters Tet-M-A, the same root used in ‘b-niddat tumatah’ a woman in her uncleanness; thus one can argue Scripture associates sleeping with a woman during her menstrual period with bestiality; it does not make that association in verse 22, the verse usually singled out as being against male-male homosexual relations. (Female initiated bestiality is tevel, perversion, a completely different root.

Verses 24 and 25 mention defiling again: ‘Do not defile you yourselves in any of these things; for in all these the nations are defiled, which I cast out from before you. And the land was defiled. Something ignored in polemic today (outside the country of Israel) is the concept of defiling the land; the land of Israel is specifically that which is promised to Abraham and his descendants. The implication is that that land specifically must be made different; whether such difference is to be extended to other ecosystems and borders is not mentioned.

Verse 26 glosses all the above as ‘these abominations’ (mikhol ha-to’evot ha-eleh), although each act was given a specific nuance, and differentiated. Verse 27, ki eth-khol-ha-toevot ha-el, substantially similar to verse 26 seems also to refer to all the preceding. Abominations, ‘toevah’, tend to be actions done; in contrast, profanation and defilement are received or reflexive, at least as indicated by the verb forms used. This difference implies that verse 22 therefore forbids an active role, not passive role in male-male sexual relations. Why that should be will be the topic of the third post in this series.

8. Marked Contrast to the High Ethical Ideals of Israel.

Julian Spriggs is quoted to support the view of the notoriety of Canaanite religious practises. ‘The religion was a crude and debased form of ritual polytheism, the sensuous fertility cult, involving worship of a particularly lewd and orgiastic kind.’ Later, Spriggs is quoted as if her value-laced terminology is aptly suited for the academic evidence Green seeks: ‘The sordid and debased nature of Canaanite religion stood in marked contrast to the high ethical ideals of Israel. The absolute lack of moral character in the Canaanite deities made such corrupt practices as ritual prostitution… the normal expressions of religious devotion and fervour.’

Green does not introduce the reader to Julian Spriggs, and thus we have no way to assess the validity of her statements, except by noting their own oversights. For example, Canaanite religious practice is or was notorious among whom? Twentieth century people? On the basis of what evidence is Spriggs making these claims? Do we have evidence from Canaan itself of the use of sacrifices to appease the gods’ wrath or bless the worshippers (‘particularly when first-born male children were sacrificed’)? We have evidence from North Africa that human sacrifice to Phoenecian-named deities was practised; but not from Phoenecia itself, and besides, Phoenecia is not Canaan. As for making a comparison between the sordid nature of Canaanite religion versus high ethical ideals of Israel, why are the doings of Israel and Judah’s royal houses as recorded in Scripture itself overlooked? Who exactly are we comparing, and on what terms? Clearly, a certain logic has already been suspended. I have already referenced Hillers (1985) above, whose article demonstrates the unscholarly nature of comparisons between Israel and Canaan which merely use Canaan as a foil, and which draw on texts from Babylon and North Africa as if they were adequate sources to inform us about what was happening in Palestine or Phoenecia to the north.

9. Logic Suspended.

Green indicates that the point of section is to rebut Pittenger, but this isn’t done directly; instead we discover the source of the author’s opposition to Pittenger: ‘Pittenger’s “Holiness Code” idea is picked up by Dr Mel White, co-founder of a pro-gay group called “SoulForce”, in his pamphlet, “What the bible says — and doesn’t say — about homosexuality.” Again, Green does not seem to realise that biblical scholarship’s ‘Holiness Code’ is the same as Green’s ‘moral chapters’; neither does he seem to make his case that changing the name of the same section would of necessity entail a change in how the section is interpreted and taken up socially.

Before moving on to Mel White, however, Green sums up his preceding argument that archaeology provides evidence that what Lev 18 forbids were the practises of the Canaanite priesthood. Unfortunately for his argument, that archaeological evidence was not demonstrated; neither did he demonstrate that what sources he did quote were not back-reading biblical texts onto a Victorian era imagination.

At least in this section Green DOES admit that homosexuality today is NOT idol worship: ‘But to say these things were only wicked because or when they were committed in the cause of Canaanite religion neither necessarily nor logically follows’ (although that has been the train of his argument thus far). Green takes up this new argument by elaborating that it doesn’t matter if we do these things in the name of ‘wicca, or liberal humanism, or middle-class tolerance, out of lust or because we really think we cannot help ourselves.’ What is interesting in the rhetoric Green uses with ‘it doesn’t matter in whose name we do these things’ is that Green makes no mention of social justice as a rationale for the code. What if we do something in the name of social justice? Does it matter then?

Only after Green’s clarifications does he take up the argument against Pittenger, or, more accurately, White. In White’s pamphlet, we are told, White advances the argument that a holiness code is merely what “people of faith find offensive in a certain place and time.” The implication is that Pittenger as the source of White’s argument or as a fellow homosexual, would agree, though I’m hardly convinced that is the case. Green critiques White for listing some elements of the Holiness Code and omitting others; yet this is a straw man, unless Green really does not realise the purpose of a pamphlet is to summarise. After all, Green himself does as much when he writes about reading with a reverent eye — although from Green’s reading, nothing unites all the laws collected in the ‘Moral Chapters’ or ‘Holiness Code’. Green does not take up the issues of niddah (as mentioned above), kashrut (i.e. kosher and non-kosher food), haircuts, sha’atnetz (forbidden mixture of plant- and animal-derived fibres), or observance of Shabbat. Why not?

Green says the Holiness Code should be read, ‘with a reverent rather than a mocking spirit, trying to see the righteousness of God in his laws’ – yet seems to grow rather naïve in his examples, and does not seem quite to make the leap in seeing where God’s righteousness could fit into Lv 18.22. Green thus argues that because fortune telling is from occult (meaning what?) it is forbidden (though this is a circular argument inasmuch as ‘the occult’ is defined as what is forbidden), tattoos dishonour the body (though I would argue that this is because the scarification of circumcision is the way the community of Israel marks its flesh), intercourse during menstruation is dirty (though how this is a religious virtue is not explained), Sunday work (not Saturday, the actual Sabbath day as evinced even in the Spanish and Greek languages today) dishonours God’s first ever statute and (in an interesting Marxist twist) oppresses the workers . When Green mentions wool and linen, and specifies that as the only mixture of fibres to be forbideen, though the Rabbinic Sages extended it to all mixing of animal and vegetable fibre, Green’s system of rationalisation fails him. The rationale for sha’atnetz is easy to give, for anyone who actually reads scripture in full: the high priest wears such a mixture, and on Yom Kippur; therefore, these things have a holiness not to be discussed. Not surprisingly, one can find in mystical literature that even incest is spoken of as too holy for this world, and thus forbidden. Likewise the prohibition against consuming pork and shellfish is not explicated, although an easy reference to Peter’s vision in Acts would have sufficed to support Green’s argument regarding why the laws of kashrut are exempt for Christians.

10. Embarrassing Omissions

Green continues to argue against Mel White, not Pittenger, in this section by noting what White omits in his pamphlet: child sacrifice, adultery, incest, bestiality. Green takes White to task even further, writing, ‘Nor does he [White] mention the social laws of Lv 19 upon which much of our law is based: They include being respectful to parents and the elderly, having care for the poor and the stranger, keeping food fresh, paying workers on time, loving your brother enough to warn him of his sin, keeping Sabbath rest’ etc. Because White omits a mention of the commandment to love one’s neighbour (Lev 19:18b), Green uses this to make an ad hominem attack on White, quoted without explanation or examination, except perhaps in an effort to demonstrate that the laws of Leviticus are not out of date. Green writes, ‘… the laws mandating some practices and prohibiting others just seem sensible and timeless to anyone with an open mind,’ despite the fact that Green cannot make sense of sha’atnetz or kosher dietary laws.

I assume the laws to which Green refers are the laws of the United Kingdom; certainly, the US legal code does not generally legislate when a couple can have sexual relations, what food can be eaten (although the FDA does regulate the preparation of food for sale), and it certainly has scant regard for economic class, as the most recent US presidential election highlighted. Therefore either these laws to which Green refers post-date 1776, or the US ignored them despite its reception of British customary law.

Intriguingly, Green dispenses with the anthropological warrant when he speaks of laws simply being ‘sensible… to anyone with an open mind.’ This dispensation is unsurprising, since an anthropological approach could easily counter his assertion by stating that aside from the historically indefensible essentialised implications of being ‘timeless’, perceptions of ‘sensibility’ are socially formed and constructed, and a principal mechanism by which Green’s sensibilities have been formed is the way Scripture has been taught to him. In other words, the laws make sense to Green because he is bound up in the culture which produced the laws; he takes it passively and is caught in a self-generating feedback loop.

Green does indicate the warrant for his organisation’s stand towards homosexuality: loving your brother enough to warn him of sin. Given their equation of violation of Torah law with sin (an equation not entirely held up in the Gospels), Green is merely acting according to his conscience, though a conscience not trained to seeking social justice. Interestingly, the injunction to warn one’s broth of his sin is an apostolic counsel, not a Gospel illustration of love.

The section closes with the statement, ‘It is obviously ridiculous, given both the content and the context to claim that such a law-book is a mere ‘a ritual for Israel’s priests’ [sic], as the Lesbian and gay Christian Movement (L&GCM) attempt to do in their pamphlet…’ This may very well be true; however, I am arguing against Green. Some LGBT-initiated arguments are indeed theologically flawed, but in their defence, those arguments are geared not , and not to utilising a theological apparatus critically, but rather to addressing the social misuse of texts in order to rehabilitate socially wounded people. Their arguments thus fall on the side of Tamar.

11. The Words in Hebrew

Green’s argument against the pamphlet goes on to discuss the word ‘to’evah‘. Here Green betrays why he keeps edging around associating idolatry and homosexuality: the pamphlet suggests that ‘toevah‘ is a word usually associated with idolatry; the author comments ‘this is standard “gay Christian” fare which we have already seen Alexander, Pittenger, Arthur and White wheeling out’. Green then moves on to another look at the Hebrew — but it appears he does not look up English translations from Hebrew for the word ‘toevah‘ using a Hebrew-English concordance (Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary no 8441). Instead, it appears he looks up how the English words ‘abomination’, ‘abominations’, and ‘abominable’ are translated into Hebrew. This is backwards scholarship. Scriptural exegesis does not rely on, and is certainly not furthered by, trying to translate English concepts into Biblical Hebrew; real scholarship, and that includes faith-based enquiry, seeks to grasp the meaning of Biblical Hebrew words in contemporary English (for speakers of contemporary English), in order to enter more deeply into the text, or for faith-based enquiry, embody more justly the fullness of the revelation of divine life imparted by Scripture.

The suspicion that Green is translating from English to Hebrew rather than the reverse is further supported when he writes, ‘the runner-up as a word translated “abomination” is shiqquts,’ while non-kosher foods are called ‘sheqets‘, ‘a completely different word’. In making that statement Green does not evince the most basic understanding of Hebrew or Semitic language roots: namely, that they derive primarily from three consonant clusters which share certain overtones of meaning. Shiqquts and sheqets share the same root (‘sh-q-ts’). To these roots are added other consonants and vowel points to cause the word to be a substantive, a participle, a particular tense, and so forth. A lack of basic Hebrew is again demonstrated by his transliteration of shakab rather than shakav (as in ‘mishkeveh-ishah’), a very poor transliteration of begadkepat letters, whose consonantal value depends on their position in a word and the presence or absence of a daghesh (dot in the centre of the letter).

Green writes that ‘sodomy is referred to as to’evah in Lev 18.22 and 20.13,’ before saying it sometimes has religious connotations and sometimes does not. It is somewhat unfortunate that Green does not define ‘sodomy’, and leaves the specifics to be assumed by his audience, a clear example of the sort of equivocation used by people in power to gain popularity without commitment to clarity. A lack of definition of this term caused all ‘sodomy’ laws to be struck down in US courts. Regardless, because to’evah sometimes has religious overtimes and sometimes not, the claim it has idolatrous connotations cannot be sustained. I concur with that critique. I would also add that the distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘not religious’ today is perhaps more clear than it was as recent as 1000 years ago, to say nothing of 25 or more centuries ago, but that blurs the terms of the argument unnecessarily.

At one point Green declares homosexual behaviour to be futile, but he does not state by what standards such a judgement can be passed. If it is futile because it does not beget children, well, much of heterosexual behaviour is also then futile. Gay men are not the only ones who engage in fellatio, nor are lesbians the only couples who have non-penetrative sexual activity.

Another ‘naive’ idea but one which should perhaps be examined, is the one-flesh union of heterosexual sex thesis. Green does not elaborate on his thesis, does not offer any exegesis of the verse from Genesis that a man shall cleave to his woman and they be one flesh. An anthropological argument would be that they become one flesh through the mutual production of children — but only in the modern understanding of mutually supplied genetic components making up the flesh of a child; such an argument cannot stand according to many ancient notions of conception and gestation. Theologically, one might say the verse was placed in Genesis to point towards the future reality of Christ’s union with his bride the Church, through which the Church becomes Christ’s body, one flesh with Christ, and thus allows the baptised Christian as a member of that body to enter into the divine life in a manner consonant with the Incarnation, permitting the human person to be divinised through the flow of grace from the transcendent Logos-made-flesh in the enhypostasised material existence of the united believer — at least according to writings found in Athanasios of Alexandria, Gregory of Elvira, and Maximos the Confessor.

My main problem with this section is that Green does not really state what the point of the verses is, merely repeats them. He does not enter the text, neither according to a rabbinic argument (e.g. What does it mean to not having sex with men the way they would with women?) nor according to 1500 year old Christian exegetical techniques (e.g. the typological analysis I provided above, from Athanasios and others). More important, however, why is the meaning of ‘to’evah’ argued about, when the first part of the verse, the most important for guiding human behaviour, left unclear? It seems like Green placed the cart before the horse — what is forbidden or taboo or abominable needs to be defined first, and then we can squabble about what ‘taboo’ actually means.

12. Do We Really Need the Law Restated?

Green next takes up the argument that because the sodomy laws are not repeated in Exodus or Deuteronomy, they thus do not apply to all the people. Green argues against this position by saying that only in Leviticus is the detail present (although as noted at the end of section eleven, Green does not actually spell out the detail); Green implies that the other sections, those in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, point back to Leviticus for the details. Finally, Green uses Dt 27.26, ‘Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of the law to do them,’ to include ‘sodomy’.

It is true that the verses against what Green calls ‘sodomy’ are not repeated; but the author fails to consider repetition as an indicator of priorities. Rabbinically, the verse in Deuteronomy is an injunction to perform, if not also to prioritise, the positive commandments (viz. ‘you shall do…’), rather than to refrain from the negative ones (viz. ‘you shall not do’). It may be that Green takes up a peculiarly Pauline tack, derived from the harsher school of Shammai: namely, that breaking one aspect of the law means the whole law was broken. This logic makes more sense in the Greek, where ‘nomos’ (law) is the translation for ‘Torah’: because the Torah is one and undivided revelation, breaking one law contained therein entails the breaking of the entire whole. (For reference, Hillel and Shammai were a pair of rabbis just before the lifetime of Jesus. They were the leaders of two rival schools of scriptural-legal interpretation. Rabbinic Judaism today by and large follows the rulings of the house of Hillel, although it is acknowledged that ‘there is holiness on both sides’ of the argument. During the lifetime of Paul, the stricter house of Shammai provided the leaders of the Torah academies, and although the consensus to follow Hillel’s rulings was mostly set, the manner of applying those rulings could still vary between partisans of Shammai and those of Hillel.)

The most problematic part of this section from a scholarly point of view, however, is the interpretation to which Green subjects Dt 23.17 (in the Hebrew, this should be Dt 23.18): There shall be no whore (qdsh) of the daughters of Israel nor a sodomite (qds) of the sons of Israel. I have already alluded to the problems this word has caused in section 8. Here, I wish to go into some detail with arguments drawn from Tikva Frymor-Kensky’s 1992 book, In the Wake of the Goddesses. The relevant section begins on page 201, but afterwards I will present background information on the ‘sexual ecology’ envisioned in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) drawn from Chapter 17.

At the outset of chapter 18, Frymor-Kensky sets the schoalr stage of the early 1990s: ‘Recently, certain fundamental questions have begun to be asked: Did Canaan have any religio-sexual rites? Is there any evidence for sexual activity such as cultic prostitution? Is there evidence for any type of sexual service? When these questions are asked, it becomes clear that the whole idea of a sex cult — in Israel or Canaan — is a chimera, the product of ancient and modern sexual fantasies. (Frymor-Kensky 1992:199)’ Most assertions of such a cult entail a set of self-referenced footnotes in William Albright, Gerhard v. Rad, and Hans Walter Wolff. A single section of Herodotus referencing cultic deflowering (not prostitution) in Babylon, not Syria, Phoenecia, or Israel, is constantly quoted. Simply translated, a ‘qdsh’ is a ‘tabooed woman’ (Frymor-Kensky 1992:200). The status is clearly prohibited in rabbinic tradition, perhaps because such a class could become competitors with the Levites. They are mentioned in association with shrines and pillars and altars, and thus pose a threat to the centrality of the temple in Jerusalem. Ugaritic texts indicate that the qdsh should be married, and in status ranks after Kohanim (priests). Finally, Frymor-Kensky notes that the ‘earliest translations of the Bible do not understand the term to mean a male prostitute.’ (Frymor-Kensky 1992:200n20: Vul Dt 23:8f; BT Sanhedrin 55b.)

Earlier, in chapter 17, Frymor-Kensky looks at the general topic of sex in the Bible. She states her position that no sexual dimension of divine experience is presented in the Bible. The visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel of God relate no (human) image from the waist down. A single, transcendent God cannot model sex for humans. (In the mystical literature which develops after the prophetic period, this lack is addressed somewhat, according to Wolfson’s Through a Speculum that Shines). In the more human realm, the place of sexuality as a human phenomenon which has no place in divine experience is indicated by how the people prepared themselves for the revelation on Sinai, and again when David and his soldiers ate the sanctuary bread: David assured the priests that they had abstained for three days from sexual relations, and thus it could be permitted to them.

Part and parcel of the human dimension of life, particularly in ancient Israel is the family unit; indeed, it is the family unit which is glossed as the rationale for Adam and Eve’s pairing (‘thus a man leaves his family to cleave to his woman’). ‘Ostensibly, the Bible considers human sexual behaviour to be part of human society rather than the natural God-created order. These laws channel this behaviour into its proper family structure, providing the proper outlet for the force of sexual attraction… [but] it could blur the lines of family and rip families apart;’ it could lead to assimilation with the nations. (1992:197). Sex defines family unit, and incest laws ‘define and clarify family lines. The marital bond creates a family even though there are no blood ties…’ (Frymor-Kensky 1992:190-191). When it comes to sexual relations with a neighbour’s unmarried daughter or married wife, Frymor-Kensky notes, ‘For a man to sleep with a woman who belonged to some other household threatened the very definition of “household” and “family”; for a married man to sleep with an unattached woman is not mentioned as an item of concern.’ Similarly, girls under their father’s authority are part of another household; if seduced, the man must marry her. (Ex 22:15-16; Dt 22:20ff) Frymor-Kensky then goes on to examine the issue of Jacob’s daughter Dinah. Her brothers assert she was treated by Shechem as a whore, that is, as ‘a woman whose own consent is sufficient because her sexuality is not part of a family structure.’ However, Dinah’s consent alone was insufficient: Shechem ought to have spoken to Jacob beforehand and this lack ‘constituted a threat to the integrity of Dinah’s family.’ (1992:193)

Thus, when the question of Tamar as a qdsh is broached, Frymor-Kensky explains that both the zonah and qdshah are ‘women outside the family structure, with no male to protect them (1992:200).’ As such, ‘the qedeshah was vulnerable to sexual approach, and for all we know may have been permitted sexual freedom, as was the harlot (1992:201).’ However, for all we know, the qdsha could have been vestal virgins weaving garments for Asherah. (For Frymor-Kensky’s bibliographic references, see: Phyillis Bird. ‘The Qedeshah in ancient Israel.’ Wasternholz (1989) ‘Tamar, qedasa, qadishtu, and Sacred Prostitution in Mesopotamia.’ Harvard Theological Review 82:3:245 – 266. Mayer Gruber (1983). The Qades in the Book of Kings and in other sources.’ Tarbiz 52/ 2:167 – 176.)

Homosexuality in ancient world, however, ‘exist[ed] outside the pair-bond structure, which is the social locus of permissible sexuality’. It thus blurs the male-female distinction. Frymor-Kensky does not elaborate on how this distinction is blurred. In an essay in Goldberg’s Reclaiming Sodom, a collection of essays from the early days of the academic field of queer studies, one proposed suggestion was the blurring relates to sexual penetration; yet is this the only way the male-female distinction is blurred? What if two men wished to form a pair bond — what then becomes of bride price, how is heritability, not just of property but of house and lineage determined? A larger question which arises is to what extent was a man’s sexuality under his own consent.

When looking at the two types of sexual activity which do not occur exclusively between humans, that is divine (or angelic) and animal meetings, the Torah proclaims bestiality to be tevel (improper mixing) not to’evah. No animal could kill a human without forfeiting its life — by stoning. Regarding the penalties for breaking various laws, Frymor-Kensky highlights that ‘stoning is a very special penalty, reserved for those offences which completely upset the hierarchical arrangements of the cosmos. (1992:192)’

Discussing the verses in Deuteronomy quoted earlier about the qdsh, Green writes, ‘Ritual temple prostitution may be in mind here, but any form of prostitution was against the law of God in Israel , so it is perfectly valid for such a general prohibition to be extended to the male variety.   The next verse says the wages of a whore or a dog (slang for a sodomite) are not to be brought into the temple.  If the word ‘sodomite’ only means a male prostitute, someone might argue, ‘well, that doesn’t apply to loving homosexual relationships’. ‘ While Green claims any form of prostitution was ‘against the law of God in Israel’, the Torah does contain laws which regulate men and prostitutes; for example, father and son are forbidden to visit the same prostitute. The inference that a prohibition can be extended from women to men is in keeping with the Talmudic rule that one can interpret the law by moving from the specific to general (i.e. in this case from female to male prostitution); however, if we are looking at the law, using zonah as slang for a sodomite makes no sense; in fact, zonah usually means ‘prostitute’ — and is a feminine noun. I have already quoted enough about the place of zonah outside the family unit, and will not repeat it here. Instead, I will move on to the most socially problematic part of this section, if not the entire article.

The most socially problematic section, because of how the rhetoric influences and shapes the treatment of other members of our civic society, immediately follows the author’s quotation of prostitution’s wages: ‘The position taken in Christian Voice is that all homosexual relationships are disordered and that the act of sodomy is an act of violence and abuse.  But the fact is, prostitution is an integral part of homosexuality and we never find apologists for sodomy condemning it in the form of the rent-boy culture and the description of casual contacts as ‘trade’ which are indispensable to the ‘gay scene’.’

The problems with those two sentences are manifold. First, the statement that all homosexual relationships are ‘disordered’ is left without an explicated meaning. Green seeems to parrot language used by the Vatican but without the scholastic background to support a technical philosophical language.

Second, Green says that the act of sodomy is an act of violence and abuse. Green neither acknowledges the existence of heterosexual sodomy, nor does he define it; nor does he explain in what way it is violent. Asking how something is an act of violence or abuse is intended to force a clarification of terms so that all parties know what is being discussed; it is not meant to evade any questions. After all, plenty of adolescent boys may want to be fellated by their girlfriends, and fellatio counts as sodomy by some definitions; does this mean that adolescent boys want to be immersed in violence and abuse? Hardly; I would call for the author to re-examine his statements so that greater clarification of the meaning and social implications of his statements on the lives of individual persons be taken into account.

Third, that prostitution is an integral part of homosexuality is news to me. I find the language curious, to be honest, as ‘homosexuality’ usually indicates to me the object of sexual attraction. As such, I fail to be convinced that prostitution is an integral part of sexual attraction. On the other hand, I have been to many places and countries in which prostitution is an integral part of how heterosexual men are introduced to the world of sexual relations. Finally, the notion that rent-boy culture and the slang word ‘trade’ (which I don’t think I’ve ever heard used in spoken English, whether American or British, even by gay male friends in their 60s; I’ve only read about the term) ‘are indispensable to the ‘gay scene” hardly seems tenable. In a culture where finding an actual relationship is forbidden, or in which homosexual activity is constrained to only sexual release with no other social meanings attached to it, perhaps so. However, present day Britain, Europe, and America have a different set of social meanings invoked by the term and culture associated with homosexuality. One might as well argue that being a fashionista and a woman’s gay best friend are indispensable to the gay scene. Such images would be far more easy to draw from popular culture than that of a ‘rent boy’ — unless one is immersing oneself in the immediate post-war Tom of Finland material, longing for lost possibilities in a different era.

Green closes the section by rhetorically asking, ‘Should we really require every law of God to be restated? How many times does the bible tell us not to… [insert several examples].’ Green does not follow up on the implications of his question. What does it mean for a verse to be stated only once? What about the laws stated several times? Is this is a question of priority, what laws we most need to remember and strive after? If the verse he quoted from Deuteronomy is any indication, it seems more important to make certain we do the good, rather than refrain from the evil. Ultimately, this may be a question to be answered by the Prophets of Israel, who continued to point to social justice as the keystone of Torah observance on the part of the kings and administrators of Israel and Judah.

Green seems to mistake restating the law with clarifying the law. Clarification is always needed: it is how people are taught, and more important, taught how to think through the principles of the law. Clarification of the law is how an orientation to social justice is formed among the group, and it keeps the law from being misconstrued and injustice perpetrated.

13. We Cannot Single Out the Verses against Sodomy

The final section of Green’s article presents an Inverse of the ‘only once is sufficient’ argument above: ‘So,’Green writes, ‘it seems, to quote the late Norman Pittenger himself, “preposterous to single out one set of texts, dealing with sexual contacts between males” and to say that these are the only verses in these chapters dealing with morality that god did NOT really mean to be taken literally and for all time by all people.’ In keeping with his earlier dubious scholarship, Green does not cite where in Pittenger he got the quote (p83?).

More to the point, the question of laws ‘for all time, by all people’ is blatantly contradicted both in the Rabbinic tradition of the so-called Noahide laws given to all non-Jewish nations after the flood, and by the application of that same set of laws by Paul and the ‘Council of Jerusalem’ when refering to the minimum/ maximum Torah observance required of converts to the incipient Christian sect of Judaism of the time. Even within Judaism, some laws are time-oriented, as for example, the laws of mamzerut in Judaism today (although when it comes to intermarriage between Samaritans, Karaites, and Rabbinic Jews in the nation of Israel, the question of mamzerut does come up as part of the larger question of confessional boundaries). Such an approach also denies the possibility of moral progress, and asserts that the maximum and fullness of moral glory is contained in a small and translated part of the Torah. I take the approach that the application of these laws is a minimum, that the Torah contains much more than its face value, and that as one grows in the spiritual life, one moves ‘from glory to glory’ — the justice of an omniscient and transcendent God can hardly be limited to human notions of the same. The point of a revelation such as the Torah is to draw the human person into deeper communion with the divine life, not to put drastic limits on the possibilities of such communion.

For example, when it comes to exterminating the people of Canaan, the ‘genocide laws’, one could interpret them to mean the Israelites were to kill the inhabitants (‘put them to the sword’); but a creative and more morally nuanced approach might also see in the verse the possibility of converting them, and exterminating them by integration and assimilation. (For historical reference, the Herodian dynasty came from Iudemea, ‘Edom’; they were forcibly converted by the Hashmoneans to Judaism, centuries after the Hebrews first crossed the Jordan into the Land.) The larger point I am trying to make is to raise the question of who does the reading and immediate interpreting through hearing what is read. The reading is always conditioned by a historical lenses (i.e. the only way is the way it has been done: exterminate the Philistines), but whether it allows for a prophetic-imaginative one is the problem I see in Green’s approach. Some of the biggest moral failures are failures of creativity when a course of action must be decided.

Finally, Green takes a moment of self-disclosure to indicate his personal integrity in his approach to scripture. It is an interesting position and deserves repetition here: ‘If I don’t take every word as inspired and infallible, I set myself up to decide what is and is not true in the bible, and I become my own god. It is just not tenable for a Christian to do that, so I shall believe the whole bible, literally.’ This is a question which has been debated for centuries, not just between Catholics and Protestants, but also between Rabbinic and Karaite Jews. For now, though, I would like to examine the consequence of the logical components in his argument being in the unfortuante form of half-syllogisms. Broken down, these components are as follows:

A.1. if i don’t take every word as a) inspired and b) infallible

A.2. then i set myself up to decide what is or is not true in the bible

(This can be seen as a mere definition or consequence rather than a conclusion; however, the rhetorical use to which it is put in Green’s statement indicates it is being treated as a conclusion.)

B.1. if i set myself up to decide what is or is not true in the bible

B.2. then i become my own god

C.1. if i become my own god

C.2. then being a Christian is not tenable

Tracing the genealogy of Green’s final conclusion then, we have:

D.1. It is not tenable for a Christian to become his or her own god (C.1,2)

D.2. One becomes his or her own god by deciding what is true or not true in the Bible (B.2)

D.3. This happens if (or because) he or she does not take every word as a) inspired and b) infallible (A.2)

Such circular logic is clearly irrefutable, but I shall try, by taking each syllogistic pair in turn and questioning the terms used in each.

A. Does it follow of necessity that if one does not take every word in the translation of a particular text as both inspired and infallible, then one decides what is true or not true in the bible? What does this mean? What are the limits of ‘infallibility’ with regard to what specific notions of ‘truth’? To what ‘truth’ or ‘truths’ does ‘inspiration’ point? What does truth have to do with applicability, which is the question under discussion in the civic forum when it comes to civil legislation regarding the treatment of people who acknowledge same-sex attraction?

B. Does it follow that one becomes a god (not by grace or by nature but rather with the implication of being an idolator) by deciding what is true or not in scripture? After all, Paul says, ‘Test everything, retain what is good’ and ‘Judge for yourselves what is right and what is wrong’; ‘All scripture is there for teaching’ — true; but how it is applied must still be tried and tested against Paul’s encomium on love. Does it not therefore follow that one is growing and taking responsibility for moral action by testing even scripture for what is most conducive in the present moment for alleviating the suffering of the widow and orphan, or for enacting a society which takes seriously the beatitudes of Jesus’ sermon on the mount and his vision of national social justice in Matthew 25?

C. Becoming one’s own god is incompatible with being a Christian. To take Green’s clear non-conformist church background and place it in terms more commonly used among the Greek and Russian Orthodox, I will restate this as ‘egoism is incompatible with deification.’ Fair enough. Yet deification (‘theosis’ in Greek), becoming like God, is the goal of the Christian life, as the doctrine of the Incarnation proclaimed, according to Athanasios of Alexandria: ‘God became human that the human might become God.’ Clearly, from a wider Christian perspective, something is amiss in Green’s language, if not also his logic, not especially for the limitations of his understanding of what the potential is for the Christian life.

The notion that a text is inspired means that the words of that text must be probed, if we are to take seriously the axiom that God’s thoughts are above our own. A God whose thoughts are above our own is going to be able to pack much more meaning into a word, a verse, a narrative, than any simple literal reading can unpack. Does this mean the literal is without value? Certainly not: the Antiochan ‘school’ of Christianity certainly took the literal practice of Scripture as the starting point for a mystical ascent into the Divine life, and gave us many luminaries of the spiritual life. Among them are the afore-mentioned Ephrem the Syrian; but also the Book of Steps, the influential Isaac of Nineveh, the poet and mystic Jacob of Serug, and the authors Theophylact and Theodore of Mopsuestia, and possibly the mystic whose name has come down to us as Macarius the Great.

What concerns me pastoraly then, is if Green does not question the meaning of the verses, how does he grow in the divine life? How does this self-limitation square with the tradition received from Gregory of Nyssa (who says we are to move from glory to glory in the divine life), an Ephrem (whose hymns, particularly those on Paradise, draw typological parallels to point to deeper mysteries in life, with the aim to cultivate a wonder and open heart in the believer as an antidote to coldness, hardness, and despotism), or an Augustine (whose Confessions are predicated on the whole notion of growing in divine life)?

An overall assessment of the article and its principle arguments demonstrates that Green draws on an unanalysed collection of interpretive devices which ultimately take differing views of how the Torah came about. The result is a somewhat confused line of argumentation which alternately views the Torah as God’s law and alternately as the product of a human society. Such a mixed approach can be sustained under certain circumstances, but the author isn’t attempting to clarify how the belief in Torah as God’s revelation and the Torah as product of a human society can be reconciled to life today, and so his analysis falls short of what it could be. Ultimately, it also falls to situate the position of the Torah within Christian (either non-conformist or established Church) life; and it does not address the role of a Christian appropriation of such a position when it comes to influencing the political process of a civil society; nor does Green seem aware of how such political processes impact the experiences (and possibilities and dreams) of individuals within a pluralistic and multi-religious society. The result is that Green’s approach is clearly not understood by (US-UK) society today, but comes across as oppressive, un-nuanced, and naïve to the members of that wider society.

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