Thursday, May 05, 2005

Thou shalt not lie with mankind

More from the bible.

Something Mark wrote about Leviticus got me thinking about how christian fundamentalists treat homosexuality. So I sat down to read Leviticus myself.

First thing I did was grab the Good News Bible (Today's English Version), and here's what it said:

Lev 18:22 - No man is to have sexual relations with another man; God hates that
Lev 20:13 - If a man has sexual relations with another man, they have done a disgusting thing, and both shall be put to death. They are responsible for their own death.

And I thought, "whoa, god didn't talk like this, did he?" Then I realized that this interpretation of the text has been brought to me by the Canadian Bible Society. Thanks, guys!

So then I broke out a real copy of the bible and look what I found:

Lev 18:22 - Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination
Lev 20:13 - If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Something different, to be sure. A lot of biblical scholars have debated these two lines.

A first issue is with the word "abomination," and what it actually means.

A second and more pertinent issue is the interpretation of the exact sin. Some scholars think that it isn't the homosexual act that is sinful in itself, but the fact that one man has taken the place of a woman - during the time of the writing of Leviticus, women were treated very poorly, and valued at little more than children or slaves. Some scholars think that the sin described in these statements is the sin of a man lowering himself to a woman's standards. Certainly, the failure to mention any woman-woman sexual encounters would support this theory.

Here is an awesome site that reviews, unbiasedly, the various interpretations:

Lev 18:22
Lev 20:13

And here's a great essay (sermon, in fact) explaining the cultural significance of the statement:

On the whole, I found Leviticus to be a pretty nasty chapter. God is really angry in this one. You can be put to death or cast out for a bunch of stuff, like getting a tatoo, eating three-day-old leftovers, or trimming your beard in a weird way.


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