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Found in Translation! (Pt IV): Mosaic Law weak and beggarly; remember Jesus’ Greatest Commandment

I must apologize, I forgot to share the etymology of the word “sodomite.” Etymology is getting the backstory on how a word came to be what it currently is and to mean what it now does. A local example is when we trace the history of the word “doubles” back to when people started asking for two bara.

The exploration of the term “sodomite” actually makes an excellent segue into the 613 Mosaic Laws found in Exodus, Leviticus and reiterated in Deuteronomy covering civil, dietary, hygiene, domestic, economic and of course spiritual practices.

Photo: The Holy Bible.

Wherever you see the term “sodomite” in the bible, it is replacing the Hebrew term “qedhesh,” a male shrine prostitute. In ancient Canaan, both male and female temple prostitutes, “qedheshah,” were offered up as children by their parents to serve in the temples to Ashtoreth.

Whereas Baal and Molech worship involved blood sacrifice, often in the form of children burnt alive, Ashtoreth was worshipped with sexual rites. The boys were castrated and taught how to engage in various ritualistic sex acts regardless of their sexual orientation. Their roles are not indicative of being homosexual nor are the specific ritualistic sex acts they practised.

The first-ever association we see between Sodom and any/every male person who engages in same-sex sexual interaction is during the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian I’s reign. However, according to the blog by the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, the term has no rooting in Hebrew scripture or early exegesis of the Sodom account from Hebrew and Christian sources. 

The act of ritual sex with a qedhesh was considered an abomination. There were actually two words translated to mean abomination: “sheqets” and “tobeah/toveah”. Shequets is used to describe non-kosher foods, fabrics, grooming and farming practices. Tobeah/toveah was always used in connection to anything related to pagan idolatry. Even the idols themselves were called tobeah/toveah or abominations. These laws were meant to distinguish the Hebrews from the surrounding nations.

The purely monotheistic Hebrew religion as we know it today was cemented after Babylonian exile but, for a long time, the Hebrews were henotheistic. They believed in the existence of other deities even while acknowledging a primary one, Yahweh.

Photo: Moses shares the word of the God in the 1956 movie “The Ten Commandments.”

In times of hardship and war, they worshipped Yahweh and, in times of peace and plenty, they would often would go back to worshiping fertility deities like “The Queen of Heaven.” According to the 1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia, proof of this can be found in Judges X 6; I Sam. vii. 4, xii. 10.

Archaeological digs in Khirbet el-Kom and Kuntillet Ajrud in Israel reveal female goddess figurines. Canaanite temples and Hebrew temples bear a striking similarity. It was a constant battle between the Levite priests of Yahweh, who demanded exclusive worship, and the henotheistic leanings of the Hebrews.

The writer of Leviticus 18 begins it this way…. “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances” (emphasis added)

What were the “ordinances” prevalent in the land of Canaan? The chapter goes on to describe the various “tobeah” (pagan idolatry) practices such as incest-related acts, bestiality, child sacrifice and qedesh and qedeshah rites. Many pagan deities were incestual (Brother/Sister, Mother/Son), often half-animal/half-human and the rites to honour them often mimicked this.

In the verses just before Verse 22, the one anti-LGBTQI people love so much, it speaks about not making your boy or girl children temple prostitutes, sacrificing children to Molech and only after that does it reference two men lying together as with a woman. That qualification at the end “as with a woman” is considered by biblical scholars to be a clear reference to the qedesh who were castrated so that they would be “like women”.

Photo: A protester carries a placard condemning same-sex marriage.

In fact, the association of any castrated male with tobeah (pagan ritual/abomination) was so strong that no eunuch was allowed in the temple, except for, of course, born eunuchs (in Hebrew: ‘saris’).

Born eunuchs are biologically capable of reproduction but lack desire to get married (to women). The gospel account of Matthew 19, Jesus in answering a question about whether or not a man can divorce his wife and marry another (as was the Mosaic Law) mentions born eunuchs as lacking desire for marriage (to women). The Basilidian Christians with respect to the gospel verse about eunuchs (Stromata 3.1.1): says “Some men by birth have a nature to turn away from women, and those who are subject to this natural constitution do well not to marry (women). These, they say, are the eunuchs by birth.”

Old commentaries on the Talmud even go into gender-queer aspects of born eunuchs, such as having effeminate appearance and female voices in addition to an aversion to sex with women. 

Born eunuchs are the most historically, culturally, contextually and textually sound biblical reference to people who might be considered homosexuals by our modern definition. What is more, the bible, Talmud and early commentaries acknowledge—just as late 1800 medical studies later would—that this was a congenital trait that in and of itself was no reason for condemnation. The only option for a born eunuch in ancient Jewish culture was celibacy or a sexless/unromantic marriage with a woman.

Of course, any women who were lesbians back then shared the fate of all women, which was to be treated as chattel and married off to men immediately after puberty, whether they liked it or not.

Photo: A same-sex couple.
(Copyright The Seattle Lesbian)

There were a lot of human rights abuses that were perfectly biblical. It was perfectly legal to enslave people of other nations for life, pass them and their children as property and beat them within an inch of their lives as well (See Exodus 21:20-21Leviticus 25:44-45).

A woman who was raped but did not scream was executed (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Defiant children were stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Exodus 21:17). Genocide was sanctioned against not just adults but even pregnant women, children and animals (Numbers 31:15-18).

The Apostle Paul did not call the Mosaic Law “weak and beggarly” for nothing. It was oppressive and it allowed for atrocities to take place. When you read the gospels, Jesus on several occasions put the Mosaic Law aside in favour of what was merciful, practical and just.

He let a woman with unclean blood flow touch him because it was more important she be healed than observe the strict purity laws in Leviticus 15:20-30. He let his followers pick grain to eat on the Sabbath (a capital offence) because they were hungry. He condemned the Pharisees for nit-picking and burdening people with the onerous letter of the law (straining gnats but swallowing camels) while neglecting the bigger picture: charity, mercy and justice. He simplified 613 laws into one Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40, King James Version (KJV)).

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

Photo: Be still and know…

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Whether one identifies as Christian or just a follower of Jesus as a person, the Greatest Commandment honours the universal human rights of all. Even if one believes being gay is a sin or that LGBTQI people are enemies, one is still urged to treat enemies as one would one’s own person. This is very difficult if one harbours vitriolic levels of hate that is plainly seen and felt by all who encounter him. Moreover, according to the gospels in Matthew 7:3, the same measure or standard one uses to judge others will be the standard by which one will also be judged.

Is any Christian willing to be judged by the same standard of legalistic, overreaching, non-contextual cherry-picking of scripture (s)he exclusively uses for LGBTQI people? Can any Christian pass the test if judged by Leviticus or selectively quote-mined parts of Paul’s letters? If one believes Matthew 7:3 to be Jesus’ true words, why set oneself up for judgement of that kind?

We live in a multi-cultural society, where people expect to be treated equally and with dignity so long as they in turn respect the human rights of others. Following someone else’s exact Biblical or Koranic or Vedic interpretation is not a prerequisite for this.

There are thousands of Christian sects and many of them welcome and embrace LGBTQI people. Their biblical scholarship also happens to respect the original language and context more than that of anti-LGBTQI Christian sects.

Photo: President Anthony Carmona (left) shares a laugh with Pope Francis.
(Copyright AFP 2016/Gabriel Bouys)

Within every culture, there are LGBTQI people who do not express their orientation as prostitution, ritual sex rites or gang rape. Some have very rich spiritual lives and the fruits of this are seen in their contribution of inspiration, beauty, joy and justice toward others. Particularly within the African and East Indian Diaspora in the Caribbean and Americas, LGBTQI people have been some of the biggest advocates for their people’s civil rights and custodians of their culture.

None of us is perfect but until the day comes when an actual omnipotent Creator of the Universe appears in unequivocally verifiable form, all we have are our subjective experiences based on what we feel and know and our interpretation of second-hand accounts of the subjective, unverifiable experiences of others.

We know from history that when an individual or group asserts “God is with us” and us alone, it is a way of claiming supremacy/authority over other human beings. We’ve seen where claiming a monopoly on God or God’s favour has led and we don’t want to re-create that hell on earth again.

Until a Higher Being independently clarifies/claims any of men’s words, we must use our enlightenment and empathy to treat all such assertions with care, intelligence and always with an aim to inspire love and understanding and to edify and uplift not to malign or dehumanize our brothers and sisters.

Photo: A placard in support of same-sex marriage.

Reference credits for the entire four-part series:

King James Bible, Babylonian Talmud, Book of Jasher, Jewish Encyclopaedia, Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, “Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel,” Harvard University Press by Frank Cross.  A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Karen Armstrong, http://www.gaychristian101.com a reference site, “For The Bible Tells Me So”-2007 Documentary film directed by Daniel G. Karslake.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One as Jessica Joseph, a pop cultural anthropologist and human rights activist, addresses the interpretation of The Bible by critics of same-sex unions.

About Jessica Joseph

Jessica Joseph
Jessica Joseph is currently the Creative Director of Accela Marketing St Lucia/Canada. She is a multiple ADDY Award Winning Trinidadian national, Pop Cultural Anthropologist and Humans Rights Activist. She blogs on Huffington Post and alieninthecaribbean.blogspot.com.

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8 comments

  1. Jessica Joseph. Thank you again so very much.

  2. Well, the Bible tends to be the go-to text when.people want to justify their bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, etc, and their deep seated desires to oppress others they perceive as different … it’s just special that way ….

  3. What with this, who cares what the Bible might or might not say about that community.