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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Leviticus: When Is an Abomination Not an Abomination?

This is the third in a series of posts that support same-sex marriage by examining the biblical passages that are used to condemn it and homosexuality in general.

Here are the two passages in Leviticus that are at the center of the controversy:
Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.Leviticus 20:13 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.
Quite straightforward, aren't they.  After reading this in my seminar, I would close the Bible, and announce that the seminar is over.  This is so clear, how could anyone with any credibility believe that God approves of LGBTs after hearing this?  Moses wanted them executed; how could we possibly defend this?

One might be excused in believing that this is the last word on the subject who reads the Bible strictly on a “face value” basis.  “It says what it means and means what it says.”  But that is often a very misleading way to read the Bible, as we shall see.

Just what is meant by a biblical abomination?

Here a couple of other interesting abominations in the stories about Joseph.
Genesis 43:32 They served him by himself, and them by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. 
Genesis 46:34  When Pharaoh calls you, and says, 'What is your occupation?' you shall say, 'Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our ancestors'—in order that you may settle in the land of Goshen, because all shepherds are abhorrent [toévah] to the Egyptians.
Some abominations are clearly culturally derived.

Here are some other notable abominations (all from the Hebrew toévah).
Observing the nakedness of a relative
Sex during menstruation
Eating shrimp, lobster, rabbit, pork, etc.
Wearing of other gender’s clothing
Planting two different crops in the same field
Wearing clothing of two different fabrics
Spots on a priest’s bald head
Eating fruit from a tree less than five years old

Abominations, all.  So, if you are a woman reading this wearing bluejeans, you are an abomination.  If you are anyone wearing a cotton/polyester shirt, you are an abomination.  If you are a farmer planning hybrid crops, you are an abomination.  If you raise most cattle or livestock, all hybrids, you are an abomination.  If you had a shrimp cocktail or lobster at Red Lobster last night, you are an abomination.

I think you get the point.  However, some miss it entirely, as they know that all these are also biblical abominations which require the trespasser to avoid all such behavior, yet blithely, even cavalierly, think nothing of ignoring these biblical abominations.  Yet they insist on holding steadfastly to the ONE and only ONE regarding same-sex loving.

The problem, though, is that this is a package deal.  We can’t just pick and choose what abominations we will observe and which we will ignore.  They all stand or fall together.   We have no problem ignoring the shrimp prohibition or any of the others, except the ONE that bothers some people the most.  I’ll let you decide why this one and only this one is picked as the inviolable one, “because the Bible says so.”

This clip from the West Wing TV show nicely sums it up:

Yet, it is said that this prohibition carries with it capital punishment, as both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.  What about it?  Shouldn't we place this into a special category, since, well, how could God not still consider this worthy of death?

Let’s see.  Well, here are other Laws that require the death penalty:
Not impregnating your brother’s widow according to the Levirate marriage laws
A child cursing one’s parents
A woman’s lack of virginity on the wedding night
Working on the Sabbath day
Would those who insist on upholding Lev. 20:13 insist also on making each of these a capital offense?  I think not.  So why the ONE?

If we executed every child who cursed its parents, and every person who committed adultery, there would be few adults left to raise the remaining children.  (Let alone, serve in Congress.)
And as loathsome as incest is, we are not about to begin killing its perpetrators.  So let’s cut the hypocrisy here and admit that there are no grounds for insisting on keeping the Levitical prohibition in place.

But there is one more piece of work left to do.  I introduced the cultural aspect of how abominations are formed with the examples of Joseph in Egypt.  In America, I might ask if you had sauteed Poodle for dinner last night?  That would appall you, wouldn't it.  Other cultures might find it appetizing.  It’s how the culture creates what is approved or not.  In Israel, coming into the Canaanite territory, the temptation was always to adopt the habits and mores of their neighbors.  All the prophets railed against this, and Moses stipulated against certain things that would draw the Israelites closer to worshiping Baal.  
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan. Lev. 18:3
One example is male temple prostitution.
1 Kings 14:24 …there were also male temple prostitutes in the land. They committed all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.
The Levitical prohibition certainly was aimed at forbidding this abomination and may have been the only reason for it, as nowhere in the Mosaic Law is female to female sex banned.

Okay, the fallback position is Romans 1.  This shall be the subject of tomorrow’s post. Please tune in.

TOMORROW: Romans 1

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