The Secret History of Leviticus

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MrMacSon
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The Secret History of Leviticus

Post by MrMacSon » Tue Oct 02, 2018 10:09 pm

The Secret History of Leviticus [a NY Times article]

Before Leviticus was composed, outright prohibitions against homosexual sex — whether between men or women — were practically unheard-of in the ancient world.

Chapter 18 of Leviticus contains a list of forbidden incestuous acts, followed by prohibitions against sex with a menstruating woman, bestiality and various other sexual acts. In Verse 22, we find its most famous injunction: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 20:13 repeats this law, along with a punishment for those who violate it: “They shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”)

Like many ancient texts, Leviticus was created gradually over a long period and includes the words of more than one writer. Many scholars believe that the section in which Leviticus 18 appears was added by a comparatively late editor, perhaps one who worked more than a century after the oldest material in the book was composed. An earlier edition of Leviticus, then, may have been silent on the matter of sex between men.

But I think a stronger claim is warranted. As I [Dr Idan Dershowitz] argue in an article published in [a 2017] issue of the journal Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, there is good evidence that an earlier version of the laws in Leviticus 18 permitted sex between men. In addition to having the prohibition against same-sex relations added to it, the earlier text, I believe, was revised in an attempt to obscure any implication that same-sex relations had once been permissible.

The core of Leviticus 18 is the list of incest laws, each of which includes the memorable phrase “uncover nakedness.” This is typically understood as a euphemism for sexual intercourse, so “you shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister” would mean something like “do not have sex with your father’s sister.”

Most of the incest laws are presented in a straightforward manner, but two are not. The first exception is: “The nakedness of your father and the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness” (emphasis mine). At first, this verse appears to outlaw sex between a man and either of his parents. However, the italicized explanation, or gloss, suggests that the law actually addresses only one parent: the mother. It is difficult to reconcile the two parts of this sentence.

The same thing happens again a few verses later: “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother.” Simple enough, right? The following gloss, however, may give you whiplash: “you shall not approach his wife, she is your aunt.” By the time we’ve finished reading the gloss, a prohibition against intercourse between a man and his paternal uncle has transformed into a law about sex between a man and that uncle’s wife.

Each verse in Leviticus 18’s series of incest laws contains a similar gloss, but the others are merely emphatic, driving home the point. (For example, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.”) Only in these two cases — the father and mother, and the father’s brother — do the glosses alter our understanding of what is prohibited. A law prohibiting sex with one’s father fades away, and a law against sex with one’s uncle is reinterpreted as a ban on sex with one’s aunt.

What we have here is strong evidence of editorial intervention.

It is worth noting that these new glosses render the idiom “uncover nakedness” incoherent. The phrase can no longer denote sex if uncovering the nakedness of one’s father is an act that also involves one’s mother — as the gloss implies.

But more strikingly, the two exceptional verses are the only ones that address incest between men — all the others involve women. Once the new glosses were added to the text, the prohibitions in Leviticus against incest no longer outlawed any same-sex couplings; only heterosexual pairs were forbidden.

If a later editor of Leviticus opposed homosexual intercourse, you might wonder, wouldn’t it have made more sense for him (and it was probably a him) to leave the original bans on homosexual incest intact?

No. The key to understanding this editorial decision is the concept of “the exception proves the rule.” According to this principle, the presence of an exception indicates the existence of a broader rule. For example, a sign declaring an office to be closed on Sundays suggests that the office is open on all other days of the week.

Now, apply this principle to Leviticus 18: A law declaring that homosexual incest is prohibited could reasonably be taken to indicate that non-incestuous homosexual intercourse is permitted.

A lawmaker is unlikely to specify that murdering one’s father is against the law if there is already a blanket injunction against murder. By the same token, it’s not necessary to stipulate that sex between two specific men is forbidden if a categorical prohibition against sex between men is already on the books.

It seems that with the later introduction in Leviticus of a law banning all male homosexual intercourse, it became expedient to bring the earlier material up-to-date by doing away with two now-superfluous injunctions against homosexual incest — injunctions that made sense when sex between men was otherwise allowed.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/opin ... y-sex.html
Last edited by MrMacSon on Wed Oct 03, 2018 6:05 pm, edited 2 times in total.

andrewcriddle
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Re: The Secret History of Leviticus

Post by andrewcriddle » Wed Oct 03, 2018 10:38 am

I think it is more likely that the meaning is that having sexual relations with a close kinswoman defiles not only the woman but also her husband. There may possibly have been a development in the passage from treating such acts as offences against the woman's male relatives to recognising that the woman is also wronged.

Andrew Criddle

semiopen
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Re: The Secret History of Leviticus

Post by semiopen » Mon Feb 18, 2019 6:39 am

Before Leviticus was composed, outright prohibitions against homosexual sex — whether between men or women — were practically unheard-of in the ancient world.
I don't understand how women got into the issue.

Apparently this is an example of equal opportunity when it isn't specifically asked for.

There are biblical passages that seem to regard sex between men negatively, but nothing in the Hebrew bible about women with women.

bbyrd009
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Re: The Secret History of Leviticus

Post by bbyrd009 » Tue Feb 19, 2019 7:43 am

semiopen wrote:
Mon Feb 18, 2019 6:39 am
Before Leviticus was composed, outright prohibitions against homosexual sex — whether between men or women — were practically unheard-of in the ancient world.
I don't understand how women got into the issue.

Apparently this is an example of equal opportunity when it isn't specifically asked for.

There are biblical passages that seem to regard sex between men negatively, but nothing in the Hebrew bible about women with women.
this is likely explained by a more spiritual/less literal definition of "man" and "woman" fwiw. Read them as symbols iow, rather than ppl. "Prophets gone a'whoring" there would similarly be no actual whores to find, and etc

semiopen
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Re: The Secret History of Leviticus

Post by semiopen » Tue Feb 19, 2019 12:11 pm

bbyrd009 wrote:
Tue Feb 19, 2019 7:43 am
this is likely explained by a more spiritual/less literal definition of "man" and "woman" fwiw. Read them as symbols iow, rather than ppl. "Prophets gone a'whoring" there would similarly be no actual whores to find, and etc
The issue with male homosexuality seems to be penetration of a male by a male sexual organ. Even the early sages didn't equate these passages to apply to women.

Female Homosexuality in Judaism https://www.myjewishlearning.com/articl ... n-judaism/
...sexual intimacy between women was not mentioned at all in Jewish texts until 1,500 years ago. When we turn to the first source of Jewish teaching, the Torah , the Five Books of Moses, redacted either as early as the tenth century or as late as the fifth century BCE, we find that the sections which outline prohibited sexual unions (Leviticus 18 and 20) do not include a single word about lesbianism. Leviticus 18:22, addressing the individual male, states clearly: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abhorrence” (to’evah). And Leviticus 20:13 adds: “And a man who lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abhorrence: They shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
The first fleeting allusion to sexual contact between women is made by the rabbinic sages in Sifra (Acharei Mot 9:8), a work of halakhic midrash (that is, rabbinic exegesis of legal biblical material) which comments on the book of Leviticus and was edited no earlier than the end of the fourth century CE (when the Jerusalem Talmud was completed). Here, referring to the “laws” of Egypt and Canaan which the Israelites are prohibited from following (Lev. 18:3), the text cites as an example that “a man would marry [nosei] a man, and a woman a woman”—a clear reference not only to same-sex intimate acts, but also to on‑going relationships between same‑sex partners.
The Jewish position against lesbianism is quite weak, certainly not the foregone conclusion that the author of the article under discussion implies.

bbyrd009
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Re: The Secret History of Leviticus

Post by bbyrd009 » Wed Feb 20, 2019 9:59 am

semiopen wrote:
Tue Feb 19, 2019 12:11 pm
bbyrd009 wrote:
Tue Feb 19, 2019 7:43 am
this is likely explained by a more spiritual/less literal definition of "man" and "woman" fwiw. Read them as symbols iow, rather than ppl. "Prophets gone a'whoring" there would similarly be no actual whores to find, and etc
The issue with male homosexuality seems to be penetration of a male by a male sexual organ. Even the early sages didn't equate these passages to apply to women.
The Jewish position against lesbianism is quite weak, certainly not the foregone conclusion that the author of the article under discussion implies.
i suspect that is bc literal "women" are not in view, and spiritual "women" are not accountable, hence "two men in a bed?" Iow even the spiritual male is "double-minded" i guess, seeks to equate eternal with immortal, seeks to go to heaven after death (death, more abundantly), despite the many Scriptures that deny the pov, and etc imo

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