When a Man Lies with a Man as with a Woman

Lycanthrope

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Stephen J. Patterson

From The Fourth R
Volume 25-3
May – June 2012

People today widely believe that the Bible condemns being gay. They get this idea from, well, reading the Bible. When most people leaf to Leviticus 18:22 in their Bibles, they read something like this: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” In Leviticus 20:13 they find identical words, only adding death by stoning as punishment. That seems pretty clear. End of story. In our early twenty-first-century American culture, a man who “lies with a man as with a woman” is usually thought to be gay. But the Bible was not written in our day nor for our time. These two texts were written about 2,500 years ago in a time and place scholars generally refer to as the Ancient Near East. What did it mean for “a man to lie with a man as with a woman” in the Ancient Near East?

Male-male same-gendered sex in the Ancient Near East—so far as ancient texts discussed it—had three possible meanings: domination, recreation, and religious devotion. To understand the first, one need only think today of prison sex or war-time rape, or read the news from Syria, where male rape has recently emerged as a tool of government repression. This modern thing is actually a very old thing. In the Ancient Near East male-on-male sex was usually seen as an act of violence. This was (and is) not gay sex. It was heterosexual phallic aggression. It was generally frowned upon, unless done in a context where violence and domination were the point, as in war. Today the practice is shocking. In the ancient world, not so much.

Ancient Near Eastern recreational male-male sex was a similar thing. This is something one might do with a slave or personal servant in the absence of female companionship. It was also frowned upon in some cultures, who viewed it as exploitative and demeaning to the man or boy who was forced to play the role of “catcher” in such sexual activity. To lie with a man “as with a woman” pretty much captures the point. Men were supposed to be men, not women. Gilgamesh is a good example. The chief shortcoming of the ancient king of Ur was his voracious sexual appetite, which he satisfied with women, daughters, and sons—no one was safe.

In the Ancient Near East, male-male sex can also have a religious meaning. Sex as religious devotion is an odd concept for most of us, but it was not so for ancients. The Ancient Near East is a dry place. Agriculture there is a critical, but precarious undertaking. Consequently, agriculture attracted a good deal of religious attention in ancient times. Fertility gods were common, as were fertility rituals. Sometimes this involved ritual sexual activity with male priests, who, like the gods they represented, were thought to be androgynous—that is, both male and female. Devotees believed that by planting one’s seed in such a priest, one could ensure the fertility of the earth for another year.

None of these meanings depended upon the homosexuality of the participants. In fact, it was quite the opposite. All depended on the assumption that the initiator of the act (the “pitcher,” so to speak) was acting in the very heterosexual role of male. A man could dominate another man by buggering him, thus forcing him into the subordinate role of female. That was why it was permitted to rape one’s enemies at the end of a battle, but not to bugger one’s slave. In the first case, violent aggression is part of what the soldier signs on for. In the second case, you’re just taking advantage. In the case of ritual sex, the devotee (again, the “pitcher”) is seen as performing the heterosexual male role of planting his seed in another, in this case a man reimagined as part female. So, was there actual gay sex, as we today understand that concept, in the Ancient Near East? Probably. But it is never discussed in the surviving literature.

What meaning, then, did the sex acts referred to in Leviticus have? Theoretically it could have been any of the three: domination, recreation, or cult sex. Most scholars think it was the last of these. This is because of the word used to condemn it: abomination, in Hebrew to’evah. This word is often used in contexts where religious offense is involved. And this section of Leviticus, known to scholars as the Holiness Code, is all about steering clear of foreign religious and cultural practices. So the Leviticus texts probably forbid engaging in sex with foreign priests—but we cannot be sure. Those texts might forbid the sexual exploitation of male slaves.


But we can say very clearly what the Levitical prohibition does not mean. It does not forbid falling in love with another man and having intimate sexual relations with him. Male-male sex just did not have that connotation in the Ancient Near East. Male-male affection was not unknown in that place and time. A famous example from the Bible is the close relationship between Jonathan and David depicted in 1 and 2 Samuel. David says of Jonathan, “Your love to me was wonderful, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26). And yet, the account of their relationship never mentions sex. Male-male sex in the Ancient Near East does not mean “I love you.” It means “I own you.” Today, of course, it is different. Male-male sex can mean “I love you.” To such a thing Leviticus offers no comment.

Want to know more? Read “What the New Testament Says about Homosexuality” by William O. Walker, Jr.

Stephen J. Patterson (Ph.D., Claremont Graduate School) is Geo. H. Atkinson Professor
of Religious and Ethical Studies at Willamette University. He is the author of several books
including Beyond the Passion (2004) and The God of Jesus (1998). “When a Man Lies with a Man as with a Woman” appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of the The Fourth R.
Source

Nice interpretation. Now, if only the bigots could see it that way but, alas, personal bigotry always overrides the plausibility of compassion.
 

Keeper

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You know, I stopped reading half way and thought to myself, who cares what the bible says or what was interpreted?

Hating people because of their sexual orientation is wrong, bible or no bible - they didn't choose their orientation, they were born with their sexual preference just like everybody else.


If everything you do is based on some book written by ancient tribe people, that's fine, just leave everyone else out of your warped beliefs.
Or you know, think for yourself what is right and wrong - you don't need a book to make your moral decisions for you, you have a brain.
 

ponder

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Why do gay people still go to church when jebus don't wan't them for a sunbeam and the rest of the congregation hate them or in extreme cases kill them?

Religion is overrated.
 

SoulTax

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Why do gay people still go to church when jebus don't wan't them for a sunbeam and the rest of the congregation hate them or in extreme cases kill them?

Religion is overrated.
Same reason Women do. Even though many texts tell them to be second rate citizens in their own household.
 

ponder

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Same reason Women do. Even though many texts tell them to be second rate citizens in their own household.
True, sad thing is they just accept it. Really fscked up if you ask me.
 

Lycanthrope

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You know, I stopped reading half way and thought to myself, who cares what the bible says or what was interpreted?

Hating people because of their sexual orientation is wrong, bible or no bible - they didn't choose their orientation, they were born with their sexual preference just like everybody else.

If everything you do is based on some book written by ancient tribe people, that's fine, just leave everyone else out of your warped beliefs.
Or you know, think for yourself what is right and wrong - you don't need a book to make your moral decisions for you, you have a brain.
I agree with you and, ideally, that'd be the way people think, but it isn't.

Sometimes the only way to try and get people to change their minds is to try and get them to understand on terms that they can fathom.

I figure hearing it from a Christian scholar, married to a Reverend would be one way of getting them to think through their bigotry.

But I think anyone with half a brain realises that people who are good because a little black books tells them to be, aren't really good people.
 

STS

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You know, I stopped reading half way and thought to myself, who cares what the bible says or what was interpreted?

Hating people because of their sexual orientation is wrong, bible or no bible - they didn't choose their orientation, they were born with their sexual preference just like everybody else.


If everything you do is based on some book written by ancient tribe people, that's fine, just leave everyone else out of your warped beliefs.
Or you know, think for yourself what is right and wrong - you don't need a book to make your moral decisions for you, you have a brain.
*cough*

I'm pro-sexuality and pro-freedom, but negating a person's development stage is as bad as a christian saying everyone is born believing in God.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has stated, "some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime."[2] The American Psychological Association states "most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation."[1] "For some [people] the focus of sexual interest will shift at various points through the life span..."[37] At least one study suggests that self-reported sexual orientation in a community may change over time in response to differing social trends.[38]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_orientation#Fluidity

edit: also:

Research has identified several biological factors which may be related to the development of sexual orientation, including genes, prenatal hormones, and brain structure. No single controlling cause has been identified, and research is continuing in this area.
 
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Good.Fellow

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If the bible says homosexuality is wrong, arguing against this is a waste of time. The bible won't be changing soon.
 

Ockie

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I agree ... it is a interesting interpretation. Thing is .... we will never truely know what was meant by this statement in the Bible. You could also say well .. that Aucoms Razer blade thing applies here. What ever is the simplest explanation must be the truth. Maybe when they say you must not lie with a man as with a woman or you shall be put to death ... then it means just that. Sleep with another man and we will kill you.

I used to be very troubled by this .... now I hardly ever think of it.
 

Good.Fellow

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I agree ... it is a interesting interpretation. Thing is .... we will never truely know what was meant by this statement in the Bible. You could also say well .. that Aucoms Razer blade thing applies here. What ever is the simplest explanation must be the truth. Maybe when they say you must not lie with a man as with a woman or you shall be put to death ... then it means just that. Sleep with another man and we will kill you.

I used to be very troubled by this .... now I hardly ever think of it.
If you believe that God created people, then its pretty obvious that homosexuality is incorrect from that standpoint.

Because he created male and female to procreate, if its male and male that is going against creation and against Gods design, no? Or am I wrong?
 

Randhir

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Because he created male and female to procreate, if its male and male that is going against creation and against Gods design, no? Or am I wrong?
Then any sex without the express aim of procreating is wrong.
 

Ockie

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If you believe that God created people, then its pretty obvious that homosexuality is incorrect from that standpoint.

Because he created male and female to procreate, if its male and male that is going against creation and against Gods design, no? Or am I wrong?
I might have been raised a Christian ... and if asked what religion I affiliate with .. .I would say Christian because of that. But that is where it ends. You are welcome to believe in your hateful god that will have people put to death for being gay. I will not. Then I will rather remain godless and be a better person for it.
 

Randhir

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Well, I don't know. But apparently it goes against the design, or the makers manual for the thing, if you get my drift....?
Then you are wrong for wearing clothes, because "god" would've wanted you to remain naked, as clothing yourself goes against the design. As does living in a house, driving a car, etc.
 

Good.Fellow

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Then you are wrong for wearing clothes, because "god" would've wanted you to remain naked, as clothing yourself goes against the design. As does living in a house, driving a car, etc.
But does it say so for the above in the bible?
 

Nick333

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If you believe that God created people, then its pretty obvious that homosexuality is incorrect from that standpoint.

Because he created male and female to procreate, if its male and male that is going against creation and against Gods design, no? Or am I wrong?
Assuming God exists, he clearly created male and female so that there could be procreation but, it doesn't follow that human beings should only have sex for the sake of procreation. For that sort of prescriptive nonsense you need the Bible. Assuming God exists he gave us legs to run away from and after animals and to get from point A to point B, not to take sunset strolls along the beach.
 
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