Homosexuality Before the Bible January 24, 2011Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Religion & Theology.
At a new (or newish) web site called Quora, someone asked, “Was homosexuality an issue before the Bible was written?” My answer at Quora, which is mostly similar to what you’ll read below, can also be found here.
Homosexuality was only an “issue” in pre-biblical times in the sense that it is hard-wired into the human species. About 10 percent of people today are born homosexual, so about 10 percent were born that way in Bible times. Remember that between ca. 8000 BCE – ca. 1000 BCE, there were only about 5 million human beings alive ON THE PLANET. (There are almost 7 billion alive today.) Jews took seriously the commandment to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the Earth,” which is why we can be certain that Jesus was married or a widower — if he’d been a bachelor, the first question from any crowd would have been, “Why should we listen to a word you say, Commandment-Breaker?” In other words, even gays and lesbians would have obeyed the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply,” whatever their secret preferences might have been. Humanity had NO WORD for the concept of “homosexuality” until some time in the 19th century CE!!!!!
Remember also that Israel and Judea were about the only places on Earth where women were respected as having been created by God in God’s image (Gen. 1:27, 5:1-2). In most of the ancient world, women lived in harem-like seclusion, meaning that it was LITERALLY a man’s world. Men in their sexual prime think about having sex an average of every four minutes. Successful men, the equivalent of today’s politicians / CEOs / military officers (or the older gorillas called silverbacks), all had their own “ganymedes,” or catamites: girlish lads of 16-24 with whom they had sex — since there were no young, female sexual partners that the successful men could flaunt in the eyes of their world, like trophy wives today. In a lot of cases, the “sex” was just the older guy coming between the lad’s thighs, rather than anal intercourse. (Check A History of Private Life, Vol. 1, for more.) The point was NOT that it was a homosexual relationship; the point was that a man’s being enough of a silverback that he had a boy “on staff” to, um, frak whenever he chose, was LITERALLY a status symbol. Israel and Judea were not the same, of course, but if you consider all the cultures of the world to be “soup,” you could say that Israel and Judea (and Samaria in between) were croutons floating on top of the soup, and absorbing a little bit of the soup around the edges, like during the Babylonian Captivity. (Which is where their nudity taboo came from, btw; the Hebrews got tired of the Babylonians taunting them for their “disfigurement,” i.e., circumcisions.) A 21st-century-type condemnation of homosexuality in, say, 1500 BCE (when the book of Job may have been written) would have looked to them the way YOU would look today at a condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow women to drive cars: Yeah, okay, it’s bad, but it’s nothing to make God froth at the mouth with divine rage.
Another thing you should be aware of is that Yahweh was by no means the only god worshiped in the Fertile Crescent during Bible times. (In fact, he wasn’t even the only god worshiped by the Hebrews, but that’s another rant altogether.) Several nearby religions worshiped fertility goddesses and gods, and sex was a big part of ORDINARY WORSHIP SERVICES. Meaning, priestesses had sex with male worshipers as a form of worship, and priests had sex with whichever gender of worshiper wanted to have sex as a form of worship. THAT is very likely where the condemnations of Leviticus come from. Leviticus uses the word “toqebah,” which basically meant, “Egyptians do it, Babylonians do it, other ‘furriners’ do it, but WE don’t do it. Not because it’s necessarily evil in and of itself (like murder versus eating bacon, steak, or casseroles, and yes, toqebah was also used for evil-in-and-of-itself), but because we Chosen People don’t do it.”
See also “Homosexuality in the Bible.” Even in the Bible homosexuality was not an “issue,” unless you think six tangentially relevant verses out of 31,174 (0.000192468 percent!) make an “issue.”