Friday, July 29, 2011

Parsing Leviticus

Much is made by those Christians who happen to be ultra-conservative of the command in Leviticus that a man should not lay with another man as with a woman.

While conservatives are often faulted for taking their bible too literally, in this case they don't take it literally enough. Let's look at the whole sentence:
"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."
(KJV Lev 18:22)
Many generalize this statement into the belief that men should not have any sexual experiences with other men. It doesn't say that.

Leviticus did not say that man shouldn't lie with man. He says that man shouldn't lie with man "as with womankind". The phrase "to lie with" rather apparently does mean to have a sexual experience. And "as with womankind" is a particular kind of sexual experience.

He next says that for man to lie down with an animal is also verboten. "As with womankind" doesn't enter the picture here. He could have been equally general one verse earlier in speaking about man's laying with mankind. But he wasn't.

If he had wanted to disavow all homosexuality, Leviticus could have saved ink and said "Thou shalt not lie with mankind." Period. But he qualifies the rule. He limits it - "as with womankind" is the particular way in which laying with mankind is forbidden.

What could "as with womankind" mean? Was Leviticus perhaps speaking of insertion? If a man lies with another man and has a sexual experience and no insertions take place, is Leviticus' command violated?

Were the Greeks, whose homosexuality included a lot of "intercrural" sex - insertion between the thighs - condemned for this by Leviticus? This was a class of sex known to the times. Did Leviticus use the phrase "as with womankind" to exempt intercrural sex?

For that matter, does "to lie with" include sex standing up?

There is no reference in Leviticus to females having sex with other females. Once again, his injunction fails to be universal.

Leviticus was a cleanliness freak. God - as spoken to Moses and reported word for word by Leviticus - God is a cleanliness freak. In Chapter 18, He warned people to stay clean, and told them how. In Chapter 20, God speaks through Moses through Leviticus once again and commands that the community kill those who ignored His warnings back in Chapter 18.

Now, one can't catch AIDS through the fingertips. One can't, unless one has sore gums, catch AIDS through the mouth. One can catch AIDS through insertion.

AIDS was, as far as we know, not present in Leviticus' time. But there were other diseases. So the injunction against insertion into the most sensitive flesh of others who are human makes a lot of sense. They may be passing diseases around.

Yet since the male sexual cycle can call for release two or three times daily when young if one is not to spot the bedclothes, the space created by allowing male-male non-insertive sexual relationships may have been used to stabilize their urges until young males were ready to become family men. This appears to have happened in other cultures, and it may well have been quietly present among the early Jews.

Curiously, in the long list of relatives at the beginning of chapter 18 whom one should not attempt to disrobe, the brother is not included. The sister, yes...
"The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or daughter of thy mother, whether she be born at home, or born abroad, even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover. " (KJV Lev 18:9)
Even the sister. But not the brother. No mention of the brother.

Leviticus says in 18:6:
"None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the LORD."
He then details exactly what he means by 'near of kin', taking 12 verses. Even thy sister's nakedness thou shalt not uncover. But not your brother. "Even" suggests a boundary.

Not the brother. So brotherly male-male nudity at least is tolerable. In poor families today, children of the same gender are bathed together. It saves water. But this injunction is not about visual contact. It is about uncovering another.

This omission adds to the "not as with womankind" exemption. It is ok to uncover a brother and lie with him if it's not as with womankind. Says Leviticus.

Cousins are also ok, even the girls - they are not on the 'near of kin' list. And there is a whole world of same-sex people waiting beyond who are also not on the 'near of kin' list. It is ok to uncover them and lie with them if it's not like with a woman.

This was a pre-condom era. Sadly, the potential cleanliness of sex with a condom was not a part of Leviticus' discussion. Who knows what he would have permitted his people, if Leviticus had had access to condoms.

Later, in Chapter 20, Leviticus loses his temper and instructs his people that those who violate the laws in Chapter 18 must be killed. In this modern day, Christian conservatives may feel some lingering sense of responsibility to at least dump on, if not kill, those souls who violate the Levitical laws, at least the laws which these same Christians have not themselves broken.

Leviticus has become the enforcer.

What a gift to mankind. God has far greater gifts than Leviticus.

And even Leviticus allows males to lie with males so long as they do not lie 'as with womankind'.


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