December 11, 2003 at 8:07 pm Leave a comment

Hey all…Here is a paper that I wrote for my Pentateuch class…let me know what you think…oh, and the footnotes didn’t copy, so all quotes not from the Bible are from:

Balentine, Samuel E. “Leviticus: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching”. John Know Press, Louisville. 2002.

Meggon Mae Groth

Pentateuch – Bible Paper #5

Leviticus 18:22, 20:13

11 December, 2003

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” – Leviticus 18:22

“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them” – Leviticus 20:13

The laws in the book of Leviticus tell us much about the life of Israel and of what was important to the Hebrew people. To read the laws of a culture opens up the doors of that culture. One can see what the people thought of as right and wrong, and what that culture did to protect its people from all sorts of things, from disease, race extinction, and death. The Bible is the book that Christians turn to for guidance, and for a glimpse of who God is and what God expects of us in terms of right and wrong. To that end, we look at what is written about right and wrong, and how we are to live a ‘holy’ life. These two Leviticus verses are ones that are crucial to the world we live in today. It is important to view these texts in the historical context in which they were written. What were some reasons that certain laws were written? What did these texts mean to the Hebrew people? How should the world today and the people of God view these laws?

The laws of Israel are numerous, and we crucial to the survival of the Hebrew culture. Laws are essential to any community wanting to survive. If there were no laws, there would be chaos. Many of the laws of the Hebrew people can even be seen as life saving. Many laws actually protected the people from disease, death, and extinction. At a time when germs and personal hygiene were unknown, the Hebrews showed amazing cleanliness. For example,

If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. (Lev. 17:10-11, NRSV)

In a modern world, we know not to eat any meat with blood in it, because it can cause a variety of illnesses and diseases. This is one law that may very well have protected the community from illness. Another example of this comes from Deuteronomy:

You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement. Because the LORD your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you. (Deut. 23:12-14, NRSV)

This law serves a double purpose in protection. First, it kept the camp clean and stench free. Second, many diseases can be born of human excrement, and the bugs that would surround it. The purpose of the law appears to be to keep the camp holy for the Lord, but in doing this, the people are protected and clean themselves.

Other laws, such as the two in Leviticus that we are dealing with, may have at the time protected the community from extinction. Genesis 1:28 says, “God blessed them [humans] and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.’” Many of the laws in Leviticus deal with laws of sexuality and procreation. The verses surrounding Lev. 18:22 deal with incest. “None of you shall approach anyone near of kin to uncover nakedness: I am the LORD.” (Lev. 18:6, NRSV) The term ‘uncover nakedness’ is another way in the Bible to say ‘know’ or ‘have intercourse with.’ There are a number of other verses dealing with incest and other sexual prohibitions.

Procreation in the world of the Hebrew people was important for two reasons. One, it was mandated by God, as is mentioned above in Genesis 1:28. For this reason, it was important for Israel to procreate, for Yahweh had commanded it. Second, to insure that Israel survived, procreation was essential. The population of the world during Biblical times was small. Procreation and population of the world is a topic dealt with many time in the Bible: The Creation story, Noah and the flood, and Abraham just to name a few. Due to this fact, laws prohibiting incest, sex with a woman during her menstrual cycle, and bestiality were necessary to insure procreation and survival of the race. “The priestly system associates semen and vaginal blood with the forces of life; the loss of these fluids represents a person’s vulnerability to death.” (Balentine, Pg. 122) In a community that holds this view, any loss of semen would be seen as a serious matter. This brings us to our primary texts, and what they meant to the Hebrew people.

Once again, a quote from Balentine demonstrates the importance of these verses to Israel:

…God commissions humans to be fruitful and multiply in ways that advance and secure the welfare of the human community. Sexual behavior that produces seed destructive of family relationships – adultery, incestuous marriages – and sexual behavior that produces no seed – intercourse with a menstruating woman, male homosexuality, sodomy – violates God’s procreational commission and diminishes the human community’s capacity to reproduce and sustain itself in God’s image. (Balentine, Pg. 158)

As stated above, protection of the race and procreation were central to survival, and to the commission of God. This is an important fact to understand, but historical context, and context in the priestly tradition, also sheds much light on this issue. These laws were written in the context of a patriarchal society, and are written mostly to the males of the community, not females. Leviticus 18:20 and 20:13 are addressed to males, not females and only to sexual acts between two men. “The latter part of the phrase ‘lie with a male as with a woman,’ which occurs in both 18:22 and 20:13, is an idiom used only for homosexual acts performed by heterosexuals” and also does not speak of a permanent sexual orientation, or even all acts of male homosexuality. “It focuses instead on heterosexual males performing homosexual acts with other males in the family unit.”(Balentine, Pg. 159) The idea and word ‘homosexual’ was not something that was known to the Hebrew people or to anyone until recently. The word itself was created in the very late 19th century. It is a modern term and idea, and would have had no effect on the establishment of the laws in Leviticus. The law was made primarily to protect the commission of God to procreate, and not as something that could be used to discriminate or label people as ‘enemies’ of God.

Now that the historical context and interpretation has been laid out, how should the world today and the people of God view these laws? These texts, along with many others throughout the Bible have been used to hurt and discriminate against homosexuals in the world today. As we have seen, this was never the intention of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The intention was to continue the race of Israel, to populate the earth by procreation. The modern world is quite well populated now. Some countries have even reverted to restricting the amount of children that can be born. Procreation is no longer an issue to our world. Due to the fact that the primary intention of these laws are no longer relevant, that is grounds for looking past them, just as we no longer put those to death who curse their mother and father, or kill those who commit adultery (Leviticus 20:9-10). However, this line of thinking brings up the issue of ‘picking and choosing’ Biblical text. Therefore, remembering the context of the law is essential to understanding the modern world view of it. The law therefore is for heterosexual males, who do not identify themselves as homosexual, who perform acts of homosexuality with another male from their family, such as a nephew, uncle, grandson, grandfather, brother, son or father. By seeing the law in this light, the light in which it was written, we in the world today can see why this law should still be followed to the letter. Straight men should not have intercourse with family relations. Our modern world still views this as “an abomination.” This is the view our world should have of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

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