The Bible’s Old Testament Wrap–up VI: Homosexuality in the Old Testament

I was a really gullible kid.  Perhaps playfully, my dad and brother would use this against me, teasing me while we were in the car, like they were going to drop me off at the wizard’s house for an extended vacation. At various points in my life, I also believed in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and (until I got to college and learned better) trickle-down economics.

I believed my dad and brother because I could not believe that people I cared about would steer me wrong.  The fact that I couldn’t isolate their playful tone worked against me too.  As far as Santa, et. al, I bought in because I WANTED them to be true. Who doesn’t want candy and presents? As far as trickle-down economics, well, my Dad loved Reagan.

Besides, it was just easier taking someone else’s word for the existence of something without having to invest any of my own brain power. Call it based on faith, perhaps.

And so it seems that a number of other people are taking some source’s (or multiple sources, perhaps) word for it when it comes to what the Bible thinks of homosexuality.  Unless there’s a whole lot said about it in the New Testament, there’s very little dedicated to the topic in the Old Testament.

And what is said (or shown) is not always bad. To be clear, there is a flat-out denunciation of homosexuality (Leviticus).  More on that in a minute. But other places that are used as evidence for God’s thoughts on gays (Sodom and Gomorrah, for example) are taken out of context. And one place actually presents a loving, clearly-homosexual relationship as good positive.

I have often heard how the example of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (in Genesis) illustrates what happens when a society gets so out of hand that God must wipe the slate clean.  Part of the issue, apparently, involves the male residents’ homosexual activity, illustrated when two angels come to visit and are given shelter by Lot. When the men of the town learn of these male visitors, they demand that the two men be sent from Lot’s house so they can rape them.

See, some people have said, gays are evil. And that’s why God destroyed this city.  But clearly the moral part of the story is that you shouldn’t RAPE people, not that you shouldn’t have homosexual sex.

In Judges, a similar story surfaces when the “Levite and the Concubine” are traveling and are finally shown hospitality by an old man.  Then, some male townspeople come to his door and demand the Levite be brought out so they can rape him.  Again, bad rape story, not gay story.

Regardless of how one might read these two stories, Leviticus seems to make the point quite clear—and in fact is the most cited evidence for the Bible’s stance on homosexuality.  Among the listing of laws in this Bible book, 18:22 states: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”

This seems straight forward; however if taken literally, this can’t happen (men lack vaginas, which makes lying with a man as he would a woman impossible). Even if one were to discount this simple fact of biology, what about the other laws Leviticus contains? Leviticus also mentions (among several other things) that we must “not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material (19:19) and that you must not “cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip the edges of your beard (19:27).

Why aren’t people also then boycotting clothing stores and hair salons?

Now, Leviticus appears early in the Old Testament (it’s the third book). So, as things evolved in that era, later books reflect evolved attitudes.  This happens with God’s laws (moving from rather strict to more flexible) as well as the expanded role of women, etc. So when the story of David and Jonathan appears, we see perhaps an embracing of a homosexual relationship, one that, thankfully, is based on love and affection, not (necessarily) sex.

These two are REALLY devoted to one another, and perhaps their open affection is merely an indication of the era—they kiss each other and weep together (1 Samuel 20:41).  But this still seems strange, given how militant the ban against homosexual sex was in Leviticus.  Their relationship can be shown to a deeper degree than friendship when, after Jonathan’s death, David grieves, believing that his friend’s love was “more wonderful than that of a woman (2 Samuel 1:26).

Clearly, this stretches beyond friendship. If the rule is that you should not lie with a man as you would a woman, surely this extends to not loving a man as you would a woman. For the physical act of intimacy is merely an extension of the emotional.

Why isn’t this brought out to discuss a positive example of homosexual love in the Bible, you know, the book that is supposedly crystal clear about its stance on gays and lesbians? But, of course, you would have to read the Old Testament for yourself to find this information, not rely on what someone else finds important (or worth mentioning).

Up Next: The Really Outdated Parts of the Old Testament

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About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: http://goo.gl/yvT24K His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to 5Writer.com. On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: www.BibleProjectBlog.com Follow his work at: www.BradWindhauser.com VirgoWriter@gmail.com
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