Old Testament Homosexuality

One of the interesting facets of studying the Bible as a response to homophobic attacks by pastors, priests, and lay person is that with an understanding of history, culture, language, and theology, it is very possible to illustrate the many misunderstandings people have with regards to how homosexuality was defined by the early oral tradition and later scribes of the Pentateuch.

When Deuteronomy or Leviticus indicates that homosexuality is an “abomination”, the following considerations must be made clear.

1} God is asking the tribes of Israel not to follow the “foreign customs” of Egypt or Canaan.  He is condemning ritual sexual practices and ritual sexual prostitution to false gods.  As the stories go, people would seek favor from the gods or goddesses by having ritualistic sexual intercourse with priests and priestesses, regardless of gender, for the purposes of gaining religious favors (i.e. increased fertility, youth, virility, power, insights, supernatural favor, etc.)  The priests or priestesses would take on the roles of gods and goddesses and host orgies or invite followers to partake of ritual prostitution as tribute to the gods in exchange for favors.

2} Homosexual sex of the B.C. era or even the 1st century A.D. or C.E. had its risks and dangers as with any other form of unprotected, promiscuous sexual practice.  Diseases and sickness and mortality rates were much higher as well.  Folks in the B.C. or even 1st century A.D. did not have vaccines, the levels of venereal disease awareness or prevention education, or contraceptives or forms of protection as we do now in the 21st century.  Homosexual sex was indeed a dangerous act– but so was any unprotected sex between multiple partners or any partner for that matter where the health of partners was in doubt.

3} The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about violent rape, greed, no self-control, drunkenness, and a whole number of sins and obnoxious behaviors that have nothing to do with committed, monogamous relations between two mature people of the same sex.  In fact, Lot’s house guests were angels sent by God.  They may have been known to the people of Sodom as men, but Lot offered the unruly mob his daughters to rape instead.  The point being– the drunken, perverted people of Sodom were intent on raping Lot’s house guests and had been offered to rape Lot’s daughters instead. The sexual orientation of these men from Sodom was not made explicitly clear in the Scripture but their intent to rape and have sex with Lot’s guests and possibly his daughters was. They preferred the house guests because it was a greater crime against Lot who was responsible for their safety and hospitality as travelers.

4} Sexual intercourse as part of religious ritual was common among pagan religions.  Multiple sexual partners was expected within these cultures as well.  It was a benefit to have large families in agricultural societies as well– more sons, more who can work the fields.  More daughters, more potential brides to marry off and collect dowries.  Many early pagan religions were focused around fertility goddesses and idols shaped like phallic representations of genitalia.  Sexuality in all its forms was worshipped and revered.

5} Pedophilia or sexual attraction to young boys by older men was very present in Classical Greco-Roman culture.  It is important to note that the age of majority or age of adulthood in ancient, Biblical times was not 18 or 21 but rather 12 or 13, at about the time a Hebrew youth could partake of a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah or when an adolescent reached puberty and was physically capable of becoming pregnant or becoming sexually active.  Same-sex attraction by elder men for younger boys was a reflection of idealization of youth, athleticism, virility, the ideal form of young masculinity, and was a perversion of an established appreciation of a specific art style that revered the male form at its most perfect and ideal.  There was a an equally strong appreciation for the female form as well, evident in the worship of Aphrodite and statues depicting the many Greek or Roman goddesses.

6} Worship of Isis… Vestal Virgins… same-sex attraction among women was common among these pagan cults and religions as well.

As a side note:

Female homosexuality was never mentioned explicitly in Leviticus or Deuteronomy.  Why?  Perhaps it was because it was the responsibility of men to impregnate women, not the responsibility of women to flirt and prostitute themselves or expose themselves or act contrary to modest conduct.  Women could not initiate male-female relationships for themselves.  While pagan worship and ritual prostitution was forbidden, it was equally forbidden for women to make advances or compromise their virtues by initiating relations with men.  Marriages were arranged by male relatives.  Women could not be engaged in relations with men outside of marriage. Women sleeping with other women is relatively harmless compared to the notion of a man who, rather than impregnating a woman so she can bear a child, would prefer to spill his seed with another man.  It is a matter of cultural sexism.  What a man does with his seed is far more important than what a woman cannot do anyway while in the company of another woman.  No matter how much sex two women have together, they can theoretically only menstruate– and at that, only once a month each– whereas a man can spill his seed daily.  Women who remain virgins to men remain more virtuous and maintain purity as women but men who willfully spill their seed among other men in spite of having sexual relations with women are “abominations”.

7} There is no fundamental consideration for sexual orientation or gender identity within the Bible– the concept of homosexuality as a sexual orientation is a modern convention and modern term applied well after the facts of the Bible.  The Bible may be critical of specific behaviors and actions– but this is not an awareness of sexual orientation!  If a heterosexual man willfully rejects his wife or rejects sex with women in favor of men as an intentional act– that can be considered a sin if he is also rejecting his sexual nature for the sake of pleasure and perversion.  If the man was by nature homosexual, he is merely following his nature, not rejecting it or acting in spite of it.  The same would be said of women.  A heterosexual woman rejecting her husband or willfully rebelling against her inherent sexual orientation would be committing a sin against her nature.  If she were by nature a lesbian, seeking the company of another woman, then she would be acting within her nature– not against God’s design.

8} Heterosexuality does not guarantee procreation. Men and women can become sterile or barren… illnesses and diseases or deformities and other conditions can prevent or prohibit sexual intercourse.  It is more probable among heterosexuals but not guaranteed.  It is also worth noting that a homosexual male can impregnate a woman just as a lesbian woman can bear a child if she allows a homosexual man or heterosexual man to impregnate her.  The issue is sexual orientation and sexual attraction and one’s sexual nature in relation to God’s plan for men and women to be fruitful and to multiply.

Heterosexuals can procreate according to their natures.  Homosexuals could procreate, but they would have to compromise their inherent sexual natures to do so and also find sexual attraction with the opposite sex that otherwise does not exist.

9} Mature , monogamous relationships were a rarity in Bible history.

10} The goal of the 12 tribes of Israel as they were wondering from Egypt on their Exodus was not to have sex, but to be ritually purified so that they can enter into the Promised Land that had been especially set aside for them by God.  They were fleeing Egyptian tyranny.  They were transporting the Law of Moses in the Ark of the Covenant, and they were establishing a nation-state for themselves.  To that end, their tribes had to grow in number.  To that end, homosexual relations and promiscuous sex and polygamy were simply not practical for those goals.  However, for that matter, heterosexual intercourse was impractical as well.  Limited resources, limited food, fleeing Egypt, wandering in a desert… the last thing they needed was extra mouths to feed or be comprised by pregnancies.


About Rachel Conlin McLeod

Transgender activist, Christian at First Baptist Church in Willimantic, Connecticut. B.A. in History and Social Sciences, B.A. in Sociology Freelance writer, tutor, research assistant Loves hockey, ballet, women's gymnastics, and Bible studies.
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