Contextualizing the Bible on Homosexuality

People who are gay, lesbians, bisexual, and/or transgendered have long run into a brick wall when dealing with Christianity and the Bible. The bible has long left little room in which people in these groups are able to participate with the church without being afraid of rejection. There is a growing trend within Christian circles on how to alleviate the isolation that GLBT people are feeling within the church and trying to get to the point where they are accepted within the church. I have something I will post later on about Christian ethics when dealing with GLBT people, but this post is more about the contextualizing of the Bible so that homosexuality is not seen as wrong by Christians. This post will not be dealing with whether homosexuality is right or wrong, but more about how the contextualizing is altering the Bible and in my opinion undermining GLBT people through out history.

The main argument that is being used is that we do not understand the context in which homosexuality was referenced in biblical times. It is said that the church is looking at the verses that forbid these activities and are incorrectly applying them to people in modern day society because the context has changed from the time the bible was written.

The arguments go that the man on man sex acts that are depicted do not resemble modern homosexuality as what is being described is more about male dominance and not that of sexual desires.

I can kind of see the logic behind these claims. The first act of male on male sex would be the story of Noah and his son, in which his son basically raped Noah as he laid there passed out drunk. It was a sign of the son stepping out in dominance and then bragging to his brothers of his accomplishment. In Sodom, you have the men of the city wanting to rape and demean the two male visitors that were staying with Lot. King Saul wanted to be killed after he was wounded in battle with the Philistines because he did not want to be raped when he was captured. I agree that there are numerous examples that refer back to the treatment of losing forces by the males from the winning side. This was a custom that was used to show superiority.

We also have examples of male and female temple prostitutes in which men would have sex with one or the other in order to have a favorable outcome from their gods. Male and female prostitutes were present in ancient Mesopotamia, Phoenician, Cyprus, Corinth, Carthage, Sicily, Libya, and West Africa society. They performed heterosexual, homosexual, oral, bestial and other forms of activities. The prostitute and the client acted as surrogates for the deities.

This should clearly show that in ancient times, same sex activities either revolved around war and dominance or pagan worship. It is clear to see why the bible would speak against these right? So what about the same sex relationships and marriages that occurred outside of these contexts? Those are explained away as being between men and young men who resemble women. In lieu of having a female present to have sex with, a man would search out and find a feminine looking boy to take the place of a woman. This is different that present day society as today, men actively seek out men and not men who resemble women.

While I agree that men would rape other men out of a sign of dominance and same sex relations would occur during pagan rituals, I find it hard to believe that there were no instances of a man or a woman having a honest desire for someone of the same gender. That is implying that people are not born gay, but they have formed a same sex attraction during puberty due to changes in the culture that is present. To me that demeans anyone who had a same sex relationship prior to this modern age, if these relationships have in fact occurred.

As far as laws go, those of Urukagina (2375 B.C.), Ur-Nammu (2100 B.C.), Eshnunna (1750 B.C.), and Hammurabi (1726 B.C.) virtually ignore homosexual acts. The ones listed are intended toward specific acts and not based on a moral principle. With the Hittites, one law states that a man can not violate his son, as this was considered incest. The punishment for such an act is the same as with the other cases of incest. The law only forbids men from having sex with their sons and not from having sex with other men, so the Hittites did not outlaw homosexuality. With the Assyrians, a man was punished if he had raped another citizen or if he spread false rumors about a man having sex with other men. The only time that same sex relations were a crime is when the reputation of a man had been harmed or if a man raped another man.

In Mesopotamia, both Zimri-lin (king of Mari) and Hammurabi (king of Babylon) both male lovers. This is backed up by a letter from the queen of Zimri-lin who states this. The Almanac of Incantations contained prayers favoring on an equal basis the love of a man for a woman, of a woman for a man, and of a man for a man.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh has an insatiable sexual appetites, so the gods create a wild, hairy male partner for him named Enkidu. In Tablet I, we have Gilgamesh’s mother explaining to him that he will have a might comrade and like a wife, he will love, caress and embrace him. In Table VII, after Enkidu has died, Gilgamesh is besides himself in grief and covers the face of Enkidu like a bride and tears out his (Gilgamesh) hair in clumps and rips off his clothes as he mourns the passing of his friend.

Jean Bottero, who is a Mesopotamian scholar, notes that cultures in this region considered sex “far too natural” to write about or to boast of sexual abilities or prowess. Also there are no declarations of love, sentiment or tenderness that are written down which suggest they were expressed openly. Men were expected to marry and have children, but if they had the means they could take on additional wives/concubines or visit professional prostitutes of both sexes. Inanna/Ishtar had many male prostitutes, both homosexual and transvestites. Making love was considered a natural activity that should not be demeaned and could be practiced as long as no one got hurt in the process.

William Naphy, in Born to Be Gay: A History of Homosexuality, notes that a striking feature of the ancient Near East was “how few cultures seem to have any significant ‘moral’ concern about same-sex activities. … Most cultures seemed to accept that males might have sexual relations with other males” – although for a male to assume the passive position in intercourse (unless he was an adolescent) was thought somehow to make him less than a male thereafter. Laws only banned certain negative forms of homosexuality, namely, slander, rape and incest. Kings had male lovers along with their wives, warriors developed romantic attachments, and ordinary men customarily had anal intercourse with male and female cultic personnel.

A rite of passage began when Minoan boys were segregated into agelae (“herds”), to prepare them for manhood and to train them as soldiers. However, when an older young man, called a philetor (“lover”), saw a youth who attracted him by his beauty, courage, and manners, he would “capture” his chosen one, called a parastatheis, with the consent of his parents and help of his friends. Taking him to the local andreion (male dining club) where he was a member, the suitor would give the youth presents and then take him into the country (accompanied by some of the boy’s friends), where they spent two months hunting and feasting. Thereafter, returning to the dining club, the beloved would tell whether he was happy with how his lover had treated him; and the lover, if accepted, would present the youth with military garb, an ox, and a drinking cup, along with other costly gifts. After that, the youth was called kleinos (“famous”), wore distinctive clothing, and was given special seats at dances and races and other honors. All the new “famous” youths were then married in a mass wedding. This same-sex tradition displays all of the familiar elements of a rite of passage: initiation into a select group, seclusion for a time during which an older male teaches a younger male special skills, and then return to society where the initiate receives a new status and special garments.

“Homosexuality,” Plato wrote, “is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.”

There are historical examples of marriages between women in Egypt as well as the story of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum who were lovers and buried as a married couple. Gay marriages were also legal and frequent in Rome for both males and females. Even emperors often married other males. There was total acceptance on the part of the populace, as far as it can be determined, of this sort of homosexual attitude and behavior. This total acceptance was not limited to the ruling elite; there is also much popular Roman literature containing gay love stories.

The point of this is to show that there is enough evidence to show that same sex relationships in the ancient world were not limited to a sign of dominance or cultic practice. It was not just a sign of sexual expression between a man and a boy because no women were available. People had real feelings for members of the same gender and it was expressed in a sexual way that was deemed acceptable to the societies in which they lived. I understand the desire to lessen any stigmas of being gay from the Bible, but to cast real same sex relationships aside is not the answer.

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Filed under Bible, Christianity, Relationships, Religion

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