I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Lying, Bedding and Homosexual Acts: A Hebrew Catholic Insight

Most of us have heard the verses in Leviticus "A man shall not lie with a man as with a woman" (Lev.20:13 and Lev 18:22) and its application to homosexual acts. However there has been some controversy about this translation and the interpretation of it as applying to all homoerotic sexual acts. I decided to read it in the Hebrew and see what it was saying on the peshat level. 

וְאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשְׁכַּ֤ב אֶת־זָכָר֙ מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אִשָּׁ֔ה תֹּועֵבָ֥ה עָשׂ֖וּ שְׁנֵיהֶ֑ם מֹ֥ות יוּמָ֖תוּ דְּמֵיהֶ֥ם בָּֽם׃
(v'ísh asher yishkav et-zachar mishkeve ishah toevah asu sh'nehem mot yumatu d'meyhem bam.) "And a husband, who lays (has sexual intercourse) with a male bedding his wife, having committed a depraved act, both of them die, their blood (guilt) is on themselves." There are a number of ways of understanding this verse. Ish in Hebrew means husband or man and isha means wife or woman and zachar means male. The verses in Leviticus seems to be saying that a husband who has anal sex with a male who is sexually penetrating his wife (a three-way sexual act) is committing a depraved act. The term mishkeve ishah (bedding wife) is a euphemism for sexually penetrating a woman that is another man's wife. This word is also used in Genesis 49:4 when Reuben takes his father's wife (concubine) Bilhah and sexually penetrates her. This term bedding (mishkeve) is used for a sexual act done from lust rather than an act of love.

Some scholars have drawn our attention to the practice of male temple prostitution to which this section of the Torah seems to be referring. Some believe that et-zachar refers to a male prostitute hired by the husband rather than just any male. It would seem the "both" who receive the death penalty are the husband and the male prostitute, but it is possible it refers to the husband and his wife but less likely. In that day and culture the woman was probably given little say in what her husband demanded. In this case the three-way sexual act is done as part of a ritual of idol worship which makes the act even more an abomination for God's people. 

The first Leviticus reading is in the parashah (Torah portion) called Acharei Mot (after death) and the second in Kedoshim (holy ones). Kedoshim is also a name used for Temple Prostitutes and Mot is also the name of a Canaanite God of death and the underworld. Baal is another of the chief Canaanite gods and the word Baal in Hebrew can mean husband or master. Thus the three-way act was a ritual of sacred sex representing Baal (the ish), Mot (the zachar) and Asherah (the isha). The hebrew word acharei can also mean the rear or back and this phrase acharei Mot alludes to Mot (zachar) receiving the phallus of Baal (ish) in his backside while bedding the Asherah (isha). In the Egyptian version it may represent Seth (ish), his nephew Horus (zachar) and the Goddess Isis and the mixing of the two ejaculations of the seed of the men. In later Israelite history this ritual was performed in the Asherah groves in the high places  as well as in the Jewish Temple itself until removed by the godly Jewish King Josiah (2 Kings 23). The word mot (death) is also included in the passage in Leviticus 20:13 about this practice.

This act also humiliates and shames the wife and the Torah seeks to give her some protection against the whims of her husband. This practice would also mean that one would not be sure of who was the father of a child - the husband or the other male. This is not good for society or the family unit. This also denies the rights of a child to know who are his biological parents and his full identity.

Later Judaism interprets these death penalties as spiritual in much the same way as Catholics refer to mortal sins that cut the soul off from grace (death to the soul rather than the body). As this sin is one that carried a blood guilt the only means of forgiveness is through deep repentance (teshuvah) and tears and some form of reparation (tikkun). King David had blood guilt due to his sins in the story of Bathsheba and Uriah and he repented and wept and then his reparation (tikkun) was the death of his baby son. In a sense the innocent baby son paid the price for David's reconciliation with God. This story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah when read in Hebrew and in the light of Jewish tradition also alludes to the homosexual inclinations of Uriah.

It would seem that Uriah has never consummated his marriage due to his stronger attraction to men and thus he and Bathsheba are childless. The story also seems to see Uriah's attitude to Bathsheba was more of that of a father to a daughter or a pet owner to their beloved pet, rather than a husband to a wife. We see hidden in the text his homo-erotic preference for being with his soldiers or lying with David's male servants or officers of the court rather than his wife. The text also seems to hint at his homo-erotic love for King David according to some sources (Ibn Mar Shaul). Shari Lowin points out the connection between the Hebrew words of mishkav (to lie) and mishkevo (on his bed) in 2 Samuel 11 with those in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and thus hinting at Uriah's real reason for not going home and lying with his beautiful wife even though the king commanded him directly.* The king orders him to "wash his feet" which is a euphemism for having sexual intercourse as the feet also refers to the male scrotum (balls). 

As we know from the story of David and Jonathan, that David himself was not adverse to being physically intimate with a male friend with whom he had a love covenant. However this did not interfere with his love of his wives and the bearing of children. The story of David and Jonathan when read in its original Hebrew seems to describe David and Jonathan participating in homo-erotic acts of undressing, kissing, fellatio and mutual masturbation until they "exceeded" (a term alluding to their seed and climaxing).

It would seem that David got Uriah drunk and got him to come out (vayyizi) which is possibly a euphemism for sexual arousal of the male organ. However much to David's dismay he did not go to his home and wife but instead lay with David's men on David's bed. This passage seems filled with double entendres as home (beit) also refers to one's wife and the author notes that Uriah didn't go down (which again refers to the sexual act of going down on one's wife).

Reading the text in this manner reveals that Uriah was participating in some kind of all male sexual orgy which involved anal intercourse. It is after David saw this that he decided to have Uriah placed in the front-line of Battle. David realised that Uriah's words were hypocrisy about respecting the Ark and his soldiers on the front-line and David perceived the real reason Uriah disobeyed the King's direct command to go home and have intercourse with his wife. Of course David's reaction was wrong and self-serving but reading the text in this manner helps us understand why such a man of God could justify to himself such an action. It was probably not the homo-erotic elements that troubled David but the group nature of the acts which reminded him of the all male sex orgy of the Israelite men worshiping the Golden Calf.

The Hittites were a Canaanite tribe whom the Jews considered to practice homosexuality as part of their pagan rites. The Hittites may have been especially known for this practice and could explain why Uriah is called the Hittite. (These Hittites are not connected to the so-called Hittites (Hatti) of Asia Minor). It is unclear if Uriah was a convert to the Hebrew faith from the Hittites or he was given the name due to his practice of homoerotic anal intercourse found among the Hittites. Or the Hittites, being of African origin, may have had bigger male sexual organs and Uriah may have been called the Hittite for the reason of the size of his own member. 

The homosexual rape and castration of Noah by his son Ham and also Ham's son Canaan is found in certain Jewish sources. Others believe that Ham had intercourse with his own mother while his parents were drunk. Could the Canaanite and Egyptian custom of the sacred sex act of the three way have its origin in Noah and his wife having uncovered drunken sex and that Ham or his son Canaan mounted Noah? Or did Ham get his son Canaan to slip in between his grandparents and in their drunkenness and the darkness didn't realise that Canaan was bedding Noah's wife and Noah was laying Canaan from behind? Was Canaan still there when Noah woke up and realised what had happened? Did Ham think it all a great joke and tell his brothers who were horrified and took a blanket to cover up the entire naked scene? Was this why Noah cursed Canaan rather than Ham? This scenario then makes sense of the ritual nature of the acts discussed in Leviticus. The Ish (Noah) lays with the et-zachar (Canaan) who is bedding the Isha (Noah's wife known as Emzara or Mother of the Seed). We must remember that Noah and his family had lived in a very wicked society before the flood and some of that remained with them and corrupted the post-flood descendants.

The Rabbis saw David's lying with Bathsheba as not adultery but as fornication or premarital sex. In a sense Uriah was not fully married to Bathsheba as the marriage ceremony had not been completed by its consummation and the Rabbis taught that the soldiers all took out a temporary divorce so that their wives would be free to marry if their husband went missing in action.

Thus these passages in Leviticus 18 and 20 are saying something about the sanctity of the marriage bed and depraved acts of lust that manifests in a form of a sexual act that corrupts the nuptial acts of love. Both Jewish and Christian tradition has extended the meaning of this to include all depraved acts based on lust which includes the anal sexual act between two men or even between heterosexual spouses. It is the acts that are an abomination or depraved not the persons who engage in them. Even less so is it saying anything negative about those who are primarily psychologically same sex attracted for reasons the Catholic Church itself doesn't fully understand (as stated in the Catechism).

While a literal reading of the texts in Leviticus in their cultural setting do not directly address all homosexual acts, the Jewish and Christian traditions read them in a broader perspective. In the time of Moses and of David they were at an early place in salvation history and even had more than one wife and concubines as well. Their attitudes to same sex intimacy seems to have been more flexible than in later times in Jewish history. Our understanding of morality has developed and especially with the New Covenant focused more on the striving and longing for the ideal rather than a limitation of the bad. With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the aid of the sacraments Christians can aim for a higher standard.

 However one needs to balance that with a non-judgmental attitude to those who struggle and an attitude of gradual progress towards perfection rather then expecting perfection immediately. Pope Francis asked a pertinent question about whether the receiving of the Eucharist is a reward for the good and perfect or medicine for the sinner on the journey to goodness. In the Western Church we have over the long centuries overemphasized the judicial and legal dimensions of the Church at the expense of the spiritual, practical and mystical approach and interpretation. We are in need of a corrective. A pseudo-Jansenist and pseudo-Gnostic mind set is still evident among many Catholics who think their rigid, static and legalist interpretation of the Catholic faith and culture is the only orthodox one. Pope Francis has been raised up by the Holy Spirit to be that corrective.

It is sometimes difficult when we are trying to support traditional marriage and to protect the right of children to have a mother and father not to demonise all who are same-sex inclined or living a homosexual lifestyle rather than opposing the ideas of those who set themselves up as "gay" activists. Like us all, people who are same sex attracted and tempted are broken and hurting and in need of love, compassion and healing. Some times we seem to forget loving the sinner while we battle the sins. We may refer to "gay" people as disgusting and an abomination rather than the lustful depraved acts. We conveniently forget that most of us may be guilty of committing such depraved acts of lust even if it is only in thought. However when a nation starts to promote depraved acts as morally good the whole nation becomes subject to divine chastisement in order to bring it to repentance and then to experience God's mercy and forgiveness. Do we want to be like Nineveh in the time of Jonah or like Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Abraham and Lot? At the same time our focus should be on strengthening the family in society and not judging those people who identify themselves as "gay".

*Lowin, Shari. Arabic and Hebrew Love Poems in Al-Andalus. Vol. 39. Routledge, 2013.


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