Homosexuality and the Scriptures
Who Is The Law For?
"You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." Leviticus 18:22.
"If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death...." Leviticus 20:13 (New American Standard)
The two references in Leviticus are the only direct references to homosexuality in the Old Testament. (And if one were to look at it narrowly, it really only applies to male Jews, sincle only males are addressed, and since Christians consider themselves in a state of grace, not under the law -- or why then do they eat shellfish and pork?)
Just as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, one must look at the cultural setting in which Letivicus was written, the words used, and the context to truly understand what the Scripture is talking about.
Here, as in many other places in both parts of the Scriptures, the cultural and contextual condemnation is of idolatry. Passages denouncing other forms of cultic worship surround both Levitical references.
John McNeil, in The Church and the Homosexual, writes (page 57) that any time homosexual activity is mentioned in the Old Testament, "the author usually has in mind the use male worshippers made of male prostitutes provided by temple authorities."
Male cult or temple prostitution was enormously popular during all the period of Scripture and seemed to have been awfully attractive to many of the Hebrews, leading to the demand in Deuteronomy 23:17-18: None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. You shall not bring the hire of harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the Lord your God..., for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God. (New American Standard). As I noted in the last chapter, male priests of the Great Goddess were called dogs by the Hebrews. David Greenberg, in The Construction of Homosexuality (pages 96 and following), finds further support for this in other nearby ancient cultures: among others, a fourth century B.C. Phoenician inscription found on Cyprus "refers to a category of temple personnel who played a role in the sacred service of Astarte, identifies the kelev (dog) as a religious functionary.... The Sumerogram [a picture-word] for assinu, a male-homosexual cult prostitute... joines the symbols for 'dog' and 'woman.'"
Greenberg points out Hittite, Babylonian and Assyrian texts which refer to these male prostitutes. The texts picture assinu and kurgarru as "religious functionaries particularly associated with the goddess Ishtar, who danced, played musical instruments, wore masks, and were considered effeminate.... such functionaries were believed to have magical powers... 'if a man touches the head of an assinu, he will conquer his enemy'... 'if a man has intercourse with an assinu, trouble will leave him.'"
Sumerian priests, Greenberg says, held titles which, translated literally, meant "'womb', 'penis-anus,' and 'anus-womb.'... Sumerian preistesses were called assinutum.... Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform texts assert that 'the high priestess will permit intercourse per anum in order to avoid pregnancy.'" (p. 97)
Even later, during Roman And Christian rule, the Great Goddess and her eunuch priests attracted many worshippers. Lucian, in The Syrian Goddess, described how the Galli, the eunuch priests of the Goddess, would "'...sing and celebrate their orgies... [to become one of the Galli, a young man] strips off his clothes and with a loud shout bursts into the midst of the crowd and picks a sword.... He takes it and castrates himself, and runs wild through the city bearing in his hands what he has cut off. He casts it into any house at will, and from this house he receives women's rament and ornaments.'" On the other hand, your average male worshipper would simply have sex with the male priests to offer his semen to the goddess. (Horner, p.65)
The Bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius (260?-340? A.D.) wrote in The Life of Constantine that the goddess worshipers still held homosexual cult worship on Mount Lebanon. (Greenberg, p.98)
So, culturally, the Hebrews were surrounded by religious worship which involved the use of male homosexual practices. In context, our references are also surrounded by references to other religious practices.
Leviticus 18:21 reads: Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech.... The verses which follow 18:22 read: Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it.... Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. Apparently (see George Edwards, Gay/Lesbian Liberation: A Biblical Perspective, page 64) this practice was tied in to an Egyptian ram cult.
The word "abomination" is also key to understanding the context. In Hebrew, the word "to 'evah," (abomination) is almost invariably linked to idolatry. In the passages from which both verses are taken, God tells Moses to tell the people not to follow the idolatrous practices of the people around them, people who sacrificed their children to Molech, or who masturbated into the fire to offer their semen to Molech, for example. Chapter 20 starts off with the same warning.
"To 'evah" also means "something which is ritually unclean," not something evil in itself, like rape or theft. Eating pork or having sex during menstruation are ritually unclean.
The Levitical laws, then, had to do with keeping the Jewish people separate from common -- and apparently attractive -- practices used in worshipping idols so that they would worship the true God.
(Even Maimonides, who is considered the greatest Jewish philosopher, and who lived from 1134-1204, did not believe the Levitical passages had anything to do with normal male homosexuality. He wrote in his Guide to the Perplexed that Leviticus 18:22 simply prohibited pederasty ("child corruption") and that the reason for all of these laws was to hold all sex in contempt and to avoid pleasure so that one's mind stays strictly on the Law and God. (Moses Maimonides, The Guide For The Perplexed, trans. from the original Arabic text by M.Friedlander, 1904. New York, Dover Publications, p. 376.))
Do these laws then apply? There are still people who worship idols, using sexual activity in their worshipping services, and who sacrifice infants to demon gods. To these people I believe the Law still applies. To the people naturally gay or lesbian seeking committed, stable, healthy relationships, I do not believe these laws apply.