Saturday, June 7, 2008

Homosexuality in Leviticus 18

[The main two arguments in this post have been refuted by the first commenter, and so I no longer endorse this post, though I still accept the category A view on other grounds. I was thinking of deleting the post, but thought it better to stay, as an embarrassing testimony to my slip up. I had simply missed Lev. 18:19. So Lev. 18 as a whole is not just about morality, but also about ritual purity (given the incest prohibitions, it is clear that some of the purity rules are closely tied to moral rules). My inductive argument fails, thus. Moreover, on reflection there are alternate readings of Lev. 18:24-25, which verses have now become problematic. First, one might read verse 24 as saying that the nations that are being driven out defiled themselves by their practice of all the prohibited items, some of which (well, I still think all but one) clearly are a matter of morality. Second, we might suppose that the menstruation rule violated a purity rule that members of the relevant nations themselves accepted, and hence was a violation of conscience or something like that.]

The Old Testament prohibits homosexual activity. One of the challenges in regard to Old Testament prohibitions is to separate (A) those that are universally applicable, for instance because they are a matter of Natural Law, from (B) those that were only literally applicable to the Jewish people (and even there, only until such time as one should die with Christ in baptism), such as the prohibition on pork. In an earlier post, I argued that the God of Love would only give a complete prohibition on homosexual acts if these acts were always immoral, so the prohibitions on homosexual acts were in category A.

I was reading Leviticus 18 tonight. This contains prohibitions on incest, the sacrificing of children to Moloch, male homosexual activity and bestiality. Two items struck me (not in the order in which I list them). First, all the prohibitions other than of male homosexual activity can be easily read as having universal, or near-universal applicability (perhaps God made special provisions with respect to incest for the first humans; the duty of exogamy can perhaps be relative to the size of the gene pool). There is, thus, an inductive argument that the prohibition on male homosexual activity has universal or near-universal applicability as well. Second, we have the following text in verses 24-25 (in the JPS translation), after all the prohibitions have been given:

Do not defile yourselves in any of those ways, for it is by such that the nations that I am casting out before you defiled themselves. Thus the land became defiled; and I called it to account for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants.
It is clear contextually that "those ways" include all the prohibitions of Leviticus 18. It appears, thus, that God held non-Jews responsible for violations of all the rules in Leviticus 18, and this would put the rules in Leviticus 18, including the prohibition on male homosexual activity, in category A.

It may be that I am missing something here.


Anonymous said...

By your reasoning this applies as well "You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness." You're going to need to put mikvahs in the convents now!

Alexander R Pruss said...

That verse simply went by and I plain forgot it by the time I got to 24-25, and then when I skimmed back to check, somehow it didn't jump out at me. Embarrassing. See the comment at the beginning of my post, and thank you very for pointing this out.

Enigman said...

I don't see why 18:19 and 18:22 are so different. If sex should be all about making babies, for a man, then sex with a menstruating woman is about as useful as sex with a man. And both are also naturally seen as dirty activities, sodomy (of a man, when he is lying down) more so than sex with a menstruating woman. If your argument seemed good, I don't see why it does not still.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But it's not all about making babies on my view. Rather, it's about making babies and uniting as one organism.

Also, sex during menstruation is not always infertile. For instance, it is not infertile if the woman has long menstrual periods combined with short cycle.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I think that Leviticus 18 is about purity, and often also about morals. Purity-wise, I agree that there is a parallel between the menstruation and same-sex relations cases.

Anonymous said...

Pork schmork, buggery schmuggery, how can you reconcile Marian idolatry with the clear purpose, intent, and meaning of the entire Tanakh?

Alexander R Pruss said...

By definition, idolatry cannot be reconciled with the Tanakh. :-)

Whether honoring a human being greatly can be reconciled with the Tanakh is a different question. For instance, the Tanakh requires that one honor, and even revere (Lev. 19:3--note that the same verb yrh sometimes gets translated "worship" when with God as its object), one's parents, and Jewish tradition takes this very seriously.

Timn said...

Looks like I missed the party.... Just wanted to observe that the Catechism somehow neglected to mention Leviticus in the section on homosexuality.

Enigman said...

Incidentally, this study of gay brains indicates that gay men are substantially like straight women in apposite aspects. So I wonder if maybe the prohibition was only against straight men (those who would be doing what they would normally do with women) going with other men?

Alexander R Pruss said...

That there is a similarity in the brains of people (i.e., heterosexual women and homosexual men) who want (in the sense of "sexual desire") to have sex with men is unsurprising. I don't see why being the sort of person who wants to have sex with men, or even having a brain structure in virtue of which one wants to have sex with men, in any significant way affects the permissibility of having sex with men.

Consider: It is not wrong for a husband and wife to have sex when they don't want to, but need to because they are trying to conceive. Likewise, it doesn't seem to be innately wrong for a man and a woman to marry, and agree to strive to have children, even if they don't have a sexual desire for each other, but are willing to have sex because they love each other and they know (a)that sex objectively expresses love and (b) results in children. Nor would discovering that they do or do not have brain structures in virtue of which they would tend to desire to have sex with each other affect the permissibility of their marrying and having sex with each other.

All this strongly suggests that whether two people have the brain structures that would tend to make them sexually attracted to each other is irrelevant to the question whether it is permissible for them to marry and have sex.

pinguina said...

Purity is the theme throughout the OT. Man was separated from God after sin entered the world, and man now had to strive for perfection if he ever wanted to close that gap again. Unfortunately, we all know that we're not perfect. God gave us the commandments and laws in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy so the Israelites could make some attempt to please Him again. Without purity, no one can approach God's presence (which is why the concept of grace and all sins being permanently covered by ONE sacrifice for all time is so important).
The Israelites knew the laws, and were ordered to follow them...which they sometimes did.
But we also see that the people of earth were required to act morally even before God handed down the commandments to the Israelites. The flood was used to cleanse the ever-growing evil in the world (minus the only righteous people God could find). Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of the sin and corruption - specifically mentioned is homosexuality - except for Lot and his family because they protected the angels sent to judge the cities from its immoral citizens.
So we can assume that God not only expects righteous behavior from his chosen people (whether that be the Israelites of the OT, or the Christians of the NT) as well as all other people.