Religion Magazine

God, Sex and the Torah

By Ldsapologetics


God, Sex and the Torah


One of the most important truths of scripture is that we are to be always learning and growing in our experience and understanding of God.Paul speaks of the need to be willing to put away childish or immature ideas in order to grow in understanding.Many people affirm that principle in their own spiritual journey, coming to more deeply comprehend the things of God, (I Cor. 13:11). The light and truth that God has for us to discover and know will never be exhausted – at least while we are in this life. Apostle Paul counseled a young man who was in the early stages of leadership to study and present himself to God and then do his best to understand so that he could explain or “rightly divide the word of truth” to his congregation (II Tim. 2:15).It was said among our Jewish brothers that whenever two or three were gathered together studying Torah, the Presence of God was in their midst, giving more light and truth.Jesus’ promise to the disciples was that when he left, the Holy Spirit would come, guiding them into all truth (John 16:13).But, like us at times, Pontius Pilate asked, “What is truth?”This is also the question for us.How do we know for sure what is true?How can we come to deeper and clearer understandings that are to guide us in our day? 
   The central affirmation of scripture is that GOD IS.The being of God is a given and does not change but since knowledge of God comes from human understanding and experience, the ways that God is perceived do change.We are limited by who we are, when and where we live and the way that we understand the world.So, humility is always important in order to receive the things that God has for us to know.There are some important guideposts as well as requirements for us along our journey.The prophet Micah said that it was required of the people of God to be active in working for justice, the things that are right which the Bible often defined as standing with and for the poor and vulnerable. The principles of love and humility, often translated as being teachable were also required for the God’s people. [1]   
   Like many faiths, there is significant division within the body of Christ regarding the issue of homosexuality.This division is based, in large part, on a difference in the perception and interpretation of Torah passages, particularly Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.The choice seems to be to either believe or reject these verses, which dictate that those who engage in homosexual acts be put to death.But, there is another choice – to study deeply, seeking to discover as much truth as possible in trying to come to an understanding of these verses that form the foundation of belief systems regarding this issue. This paper will examine these passages in the context of the biblical world of the ancient Near East, using the Torah and Oral Torah, as well as other sources of information about this period.[1]

[1]The work of two noted Orthodox Jewish feminist scholars is primary source for the background of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and Oral Torah.The Torah was transmitted orally and was also compiled from various written texts hundreds of years later.As the name suggests, the Oral Torah was transmitted at first through a rigorous process of memorization and recital to be written down much later.The Oral Torah deals with the interpretation, explanation and application of the written Torah and was also considered to be given by inspiration and is particularly valuable for Christians who seek to understand these ancient scriptures.Judith S. Antonelli, In the Image of God – A Feminist Commentary on the Torah, Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1995.Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam – A Woman’s Commentary on the Torah, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
   “In the beginning, God created…..humankind in his image in the image of God he created them; male and female and God blessed them” (Genesis 1:1, 27-28).In the creation story in Genesis 2, God created a man and placed him in a beautiful garden.God saw that it was not good for man to be alone so God created a woman to be his partner.A modern rabbi tells us that the creation stories are not meant to be taken literally, especially in terms of modern science, but they establish the foundation that life has meaning, creation is sacred, humans are made in the image of God, God knows us intimately by name and that creation was purposeful.[1]

[1] Marc Gafni, Soul Prints – Your Path to Fulfillment, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2001, 7-10.
   God saw that the creation of humans was good, but it was not good for man to be alone. Another rabbi states that a single person alone cannot adequately reflect the light of God.Humans were created to be incomplete within themselves, needing another person to find their greatest fulfillment.[1]Part of the good world of God’s creation is sex that both engenders life and is a means of deep intimacy that can be a significant part of stable, loving relationships.Unlike most mammals, human females do not have estrus cycles to ensure the survival of the species so they understood that sex was not only for the purpose of procreation but also was part of an intimate relationship. The human infant was also unlike most mammals, needing a far longer period of extended care to survive in the world, so adults were needed for extended parenting.The more accurate meaning of words often interpreted to indicate male dominance or rule, refer to male and female having an affinity for and fulfilling each other.[2]   God created a world of goodness and gave commandment that humans should be fruitful and multiply but the words used in this admonition did not only mean procreation.From the beginning, this also meant to use the things of the world, to think, dream, create and build with the magnificent resources that God had supplied.[3]

[1] David Aaron, Endless Light – The Ancient Path of the Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power, NY: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1998, 24.[2] Aaron, 24-27.Antonelli, 13.[3] Carol Cease Campbell, Called to Be a Prophetic People, Witness and Reflection, Lexington, MI: Saints Alive Publishing Co., 2009, 3-5.
   But the good world of God’s creation was distorted with entry of sin and the power to keep making choices apart from the will of God.Humans discovered that the power to be “fruitful and multiply” could also be used in harmful ways.Their own choices for evil plus contact with people who worshipped other deities over a period of many years changed them and their communities in dramatic ways.In summation, with some notable exceptions, when they went away from the God who created and loved them, they lost their way and in the process developed practices that mirrored the worst in their neighbors who did not know God.  
   All parts of the Bible contain truths that speak to people of every age, but the Torah, like other parts of the Bible, also needs to be understood in the context of the time in which it was written.The compilation of what became biblical texts began in the late Stone Age.While there are marvelous truths that have abided through the ages, some of their images or the things attributed to God are not in harmony with modern understandings.This was also true of their comprehension of acts of nature, the world around them or the human body and the mysterious powers of procreation.  
   Although many people rightly decry the emphasis on sex in our modern world, if we were to travel back in time to the world of the early Bible, it would be necessary for us to learn a wholly different value system. Theirs was a sexualized world where everything – living or dead, fruit or vegetable, wooden or stone, animal or humans of almost any age could be used for sexual purposes or to ensure fertility.In almost every instance, it must be noted that our biblical brothers and sisters were generally more humane and moral (in our terms) than the world around them, but they were also a part of their world and greatly influenced by it as we are by our experience in our world.
   Religions function to help people come to terms with the ultimate concerns of life and death in a world that is often frightening.In ancient times, a pantheon of gods and goddesses helped them to make sense of forces they did not understand.It did not matter to them that their deities were often selfish and capricious without concern for the consequences of their acts. Temple priests created various religious rites so that people could believe that there was a way to control or ameliorate forces like famine and death by placating the gods.Because fertility was at the heart of their concerns, sexual acts between humans were always a critical part of their temple religious observances.Copulation was important to ensure the productivity of their land, their flocks, their households, success in warfare, for strength and even to achieve immortality.For the most part, only men made pilgrimages to pagan temples for these rites while women used fertility symbols in their homes. 
   Temple rites ensured the stability and order of the universe for kings and rulers but also for common folk so there were two kinds of sexual rites.A king or an important man’s rite was with a princess appointed to the temple where the purpose could be for success in battle, fertility of the earth and the prosperity of the people. Female temple prostitutes ordinarily consumed a potion preventing conception.Both male and female temple prostitutes serviced common men.(It can be assumed that same sex copulation would have been well known, apart from temple usage, for it to have been a practice in ancient temples.)
   There were also periodic festivals and celebrations that lasted for days of gorging on food and drink with unbridled orgies both for people and animals used for sex with humans called bestiality.Bestiality was a common element of these festivals but was used at other times as well.Both males and females participated to ensure the fertility of humans and animals.
   Human sacrifice was normally the high point of these periodic festivals.In societies, such as the Hittites, ruled by females with prominent female goddesses, they chose a handsome, virile male.In the year prior to his being sacrificed in a grand public ceremony, he was honored for his sexual performance.Like many other religions or political rulers, men who regularly served the goddess or the court were Eunuchs.[1]Later, in the writing of Hebrew laws, it is clear that they found these societies ruled by females with female goddesses the most heinous and wicked of all.

[1]Antonelli, 69-71.
   Ancient peoples were well acquainted with the idea of human sacrifice.Throughout history, victorious rulers often put captured warriors to death in frenzied celebrations of victory, but human sacrifice was also an important element of pagan worship.Fertility religions linked castration and/or human sacrifice with the power of the mother goddess through blood and fertility.Ancient people believed that blood was sacred and carried life so the blood of the victim was used to cleanse and purify, protect, curse, mark sacred space and for purposes of fertility.[1] Those chosen for human sacrifice included men, women and children.A well-known practice among a wide range of people was offering their firstborn son to the fire god, Molech, to ensure fertility so that other male babies would be born to them.

[1] Frankel, 157.
   Although there were variations in these religions over time and in different areas, fertility religions were the norm for the Ancient Near East for thousands of years.For this reason, the God of the Hebrews was thought to be odd beyond belief!!!Theirs was the only religion that worshipped only one righteous God of both compassion and justice for his creation and whose worship never employed human sacrifice or sexual rites for fertility.
   But Fertility religions with their pantheon of gods and goddesses came to have great influence among the Hebrews even if there were patriarchs who valiantly tried to follow God in the period of the Stone Age. Some of their appeal centered in fear of population loss.Death was always around them with war, famine and plague, so fertility was always a concern.The Canaanite fertility goddess Asherah, wife of the chief god, El, was an active force among the Hebrews for at least six centuries.Her statue occupied an honored place in many homes and was even present in Solomon’s temple!
   I believe that the Law and Holiness Codes of Leviticus were reactions to not only Pagan Fertility religions, but also to their own dalliance with sin.
   The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah stand as a symbol of sexual licentiousness on steroids, although subsequent biblical references list their sin as their refusal to help the poor and vulnerable.Unfortunately, their sexual practices were not the only example of this kind of conduct. The ancient laws and practices of hospitality explain part of the situation.In their world, when men traveled, hospitality often meant the difference between life and death.The oral law stipulated that a traveler be provided with shelter, food, and water, but their common practice went further.With the arrival of guests, their women were sequestered.   If a host gave his wife or daughter to a guest for the evening, it meant that the guest was a valued friend or part of his family, but if the guest refused the kindness of the host, it meant that the guest was an enemy, the ultimate insult to the host.[1]   

[1]Antonelli, 103-105.
   The underlying assumption of biblical texts seems to be that patriarchy, the complete God-given rule of males over females, was the social foundation resulting from the first sin.[1]Men ruled over their property with impunity – they were “king of their castles,” exempt from outside judgment or punishment.Unfortunately, their property included persons – wives and children as well as servants and their estate.If women were in public, they were to be veiled since anything a man might do after seeing any part of a female, would without question, be provocative, requiring her punishment.(Unveiled women were prostitutes.)The beating of females – wives, daughters or other females within the household was a given since it was the responsibility of the owner to control his property.[2] Fathers betrothed their daughters for an appropriate bride price, sometimes as early as the age of three. In some instances, they went to live in their bridegroom’s household.Sexual relations within a household were not rape, especially if the perpetrator were the owner who was free to use his property. Fathers had the right of “deflowering” their daughters; they believed that the hymen in a very young girl would grow back, so there was no harm done.Sodomy with a boy, even a son, under the age of nine was the prerogative of adult males.[3]A daughter was always betrothed by the age of twelve, sometimes staying in her father’s house until the marriage was consummated.Incest was common, although there were prohibitions against it but these did not include children.What we would term as child sexual abuse, including the marriage of very young girls to much older men, was a commonly accepted practice in the ancient world.[4]Unfortunately, father/daughter sex was not listed in Levitical sexual prohibitions, (though added in later passages) so it was assumed that this practice was acceptable.It is not known how or when the situation changed, but by the time of Dinah, who was raped by a gentile man, the idea of deflowering virgins had changed.With her rape, she was “damaged goods” and unmarriageable.There were laws to compensate the father for the loss of her bride price but in most cases of rape, the father was shamed because the daughter was not under his control.This often meant the loss of her home and family so the rape victim became a beggar, prostitute or committed suicide.[5]

[1] It must be remembered that men also controlled the writing and transmission of biblical texts!!!![2] Ibid., 92-93.[3] The biblical understanding was that the sexual act had not taken place without penile penetration. Gen. 6:1-12. Antonelli, 20-22, 292.[4] Ibid., 288-294.[5] Gen. 34:1-31. Antonelli, 96-97.
In the ancient world, men not only owned their sons and daughters, but also   their wives. Adultery was a property crime since another man had taken and used property not belonging to him.Divorce was essentially getting rid of unwanted property so was completely at the behest of the husband.The wife had no rights to anything except the clothes she wore when presented the bill of divorce.At the death of the husband, a wife was again at tremendous risk.Since she could not own anything, she was completely dependent on the good fortune to have given birth to a son who would be willing to take care of her. The son would have all rights to the property of his father, unless there were other brothers also designated to inherit.[1]

[1] Over time, in rare cases with no sons or brothers of the deceased, daughters were allowed to inherit property, but never the wife.For the wife, this arrangement was better than many cultures at the time where she was killed to with her husband, although if the wife died first, husbands were not required to die.
   The later ideal biblical marital relationship was said to be monogamy, which also served as the model of religious fidelity in the work of later prophets.[1]Most men had one wife at a time but that did not necessarily include concubines, who were essentially sex slaves, or sex with other female members of the family.[2]Marriage developed over time. In the ancient world, what we might think of as a marriage ceremony was only for the wealthy with one of its main purposes to clarify the rightful heirs of the estate.For most people, marriage or marriage partners were not well-defined and practices varied over time.For example, wealthy men like Abraham married his half sister, so when he tried to save his life by offering his wife, Sarah, to the Pharaoh as his sister, it was not a total lie.[3]Jacob is a well-known example of a respected Jewish man who married sisters and had children by concubines.Polygamy (actually polygyny – men with more than one wife) existed all through the time of the Bible, especially among wealthy Jews, and was only deemed to be against Jewish law for the first time in 1000 C.E. in what is now northern France and Germany.[4]   

[1]Marital fidelity seems to have been the responsibility of the wife with the notable exception of David.[2]Deut. 17:17. Frankel, 267-268[3] Frankel, 13.[4] Ibid., 267-268.
   In spite of all these things that were simply the way of the ancients, there are many indications that even from the beginning, there were also loving marriages where both husband and wife not only were committed to God, but also to each other as equal partners.The later inclusion of the Song of Songs into the Hebraic Bible, is a witness to the way that healthy sexual relationships within marriage were valued, especially the place of women in the sexual experience.Even sex within marriage was to have limits, but asceticism was never part of Hebraic thought.God created a world of sensory delights for the human family.They thought it an insult to God not to enjoy the beauty and wonders of creation.When love and joy were present, even the role of the father in his daughter’s betrothal changed.It became a custom to ask the daughter about their preference in a husband!       
   Our biblical brothers and sisters were products of a world in which human life was not highly valued.Whether it was the sacrifice of one “high value” person for many or some other reason, the taking of human life was just part of their world.Some researchers believe that the reason that Abraham did not object or bargain with God in the sacrifice of Isaac was that he was very familiar with the practice of sacrificing the firstborn son to Molech, the fire god.But God used this experience to condemn the practice of baby or child sacrifice.God directed Abraham to a ram caught in the brush to use as a sacrifice.Over the years, animal sacrifice also replaced human sacrifice in some pagan religious observance, but there continued to be references against offering babies to Molech in the Old Testament. (The impact of that experience on the life of Isaac, the son who was almost slain by his father, must have been tremendous.This is another example of the way that the experience or feelings of women and children were not taken into consideration in the Bible, whose writers and interpreters were adult males.)  
   Life in Egypt as slaves was brutal for both men and women – but in different ways.Castration and mutilation were both religious and political practices to control adult male slaves or others deemed expendable.Even if they escaped these things, slavery was always about emasculating then at every turn and working them to an early death.Egypt also practiced a fertility religion with the addition of the cult of the dead. Moreso than other ancient peoples, they were fascinated by death and the possibilities of an afterlife.Human sacrifice was practiced with a very complex system of worship for important persons who died; the sacrifice of vast numbers of people ensured the status of the honored dead in the afterlife.
   For women, their beauty was both a blessing and a curse.Unlike other female slaves, they did not have to engage in arduous toil.Beautiful young women were chosen as sex slaves; their role was to always be beautiful and please their master, particularly in matters of sexual obeisance so female circumcision was required.[1]They wore “body ornaments,” often made of gold, as symbols of their sexual slavery covering both the breast and genital areas.The most hated part of their slavery symbol was locked, encasing not only the female genitals but also other orifices in that area.The slave owner or his designees had the key, so even the most basic life functions were also humiliating for them.It is not insignificant that later, when Moses called for gold to be melted down for the tabernacle, former women slaves came forward first, bringing these gold body ornaments, the hated reminders of their oppression, to be burned.[2] It would be difficult for persons of this age to imagine their sheer joy in being able to worship as free women, without sexual humiliation.

[1]Female Circumcision seems to have come from that area of the world.This practice cuts away all sensitive outer clitoral tissue and inserts an object into the vagina so that men have both access and control of the sexuality of the woman, since the female will not experience sexual pleasure.This practice still exists.Female circumcision is done by women to prepubescent girls so that they will be “marriageable,” hence acceptable in their community. Modern feminists are working to do away with this barbarous procedure[2] Ex. 35:21-22; 38:8.Antonelli, 222-224. 
   “Ritual purification” of the animal instincts of eating and sex is the primary subject of Leviticus.It has been said that getting the Jews out of Egypt was nothing compared to getting Egypt out of the Jews.Forty years wandering in the wilderness was needed for this band of newly freed runaway slaves to develop a more sanctified approach to both human and animal life.[1]

[1] Ibid., 234.

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