Tag Archives: Leviticus 18

John McNeill: Homophobic Abuse and Distortion of Scripture

Guestpost: Gay theologian, psychotherapist and former Jesuit, Dr Fr John McNeill has sent me this commentary on Renato Ling’s interpretation of Leviticus 18:22:

 The recent effort of evangelical pastor Martin Ssempa under the tutelage of American Evangelicals to pass a “kill the gays” bill in the Uganda parliament and the extensive persecution of GLBT people  throughout eastern Africa is based primarily on a questionable interpretation of a passage in Leviticus 18: 22.

The words of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Vatican Council II deal with the interpretation of Sacred Scripture:

“Since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in a human fashion, the interpreter of sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words”
This cautious investigation of the intention of the human author is especially called for in  dealing with the biblical passages which traditionally been accepted as dealing with homosexual activity. We are keenly aware that back in the days of slavery, slave owners regularly quoted passages from scripture to justify keeping slaves as God’s will.  There is a real possibility that the homophobia of the translators and their culture has led  to a distortion of the meaning of scripture.
The best way to arrive at an understanding of what the author means by this verse is to read it within the overall context of Leviticus. “Just as the overall aim of Leviticus is to ban incestuous heterosexual practices.  Lev. 18.22 may well be there to ensure that homosexual incest is added to the list of proscriptions
This understanding of Leviticus frees us from making the assertion that God wills the death or imprisonment of all those humans that God created gay.
John McNeill’s Books:



John McNeill’s Books:
The Church and the Homosexual 
Freedom, Glorious Freedom;
Both Feet Firmly Planted in mid-Air 
Taking a Chance on God 
Sex as God Intended 


John McNeill’s Websites:
johnmcneill.com
mauriceblondel.com

Clobber Texts: A New Reading of Leviticus

As I continue to investigate the issues around faith and sexuality, I am constantly in search of reliable information and analyses to set against the misinformation, selective quotations and mistaken interpretations that masquerade as the conventional wisdom on the subject. Recently, I was delighted when three different readers brought my attention to two useful sources, which between them contain some important, thoughtful material that deserves to be taken seriously.

The first of these that I want to introduce to you is an article by Renato Lings called “The Lyings of a Woman: Male-Male Incest in Leviticus 18:22”, in the peer review journal “Theology and Sexuality”. This journal, edited by the renowned theologians Gerald Loughlin and Elizabeth Stuart, carries an impressive range of scholarly articles, many in the fields of gay and lesbian theology, and of queer theology.

It was the well known and highly respected theologian James Alison, (who writes “from a perspective Catholic and gay) who referred me to “The Lyings of a Woman.” He wrote to me that he considered it an important article, and suggested that I get a suitable person to write a full review of it, for publishing here at QTC. I agreed fully with his assessment, and plan to publish a couple of such reviews shortly – one by John McNeill, and one by an Old Testament specialist from the Pacific Centre for Religion. I will publish these commentaries as soon as I receive them) .

Many people in the past have assumed that these two verses from Leviticus present a clear condemnation of all forms of homosexual activity. More recently, more careful analyses have shown variously that the passage is situated in the context of the Jewish purity laws, and so represent not so much a statement of sin as of transgressions of Jewish ritual purity, with only limited relevance to Christians; or refer only to sexual penetration, with no wider application to other forms of erotic activity; that the intended meaning is not against homoerotic relationships, but is tied up with the practice of male cult (or temple) prostitution; and apply only to males.

Lings’ analysis, based on close study of the specific Hebrew words and the broader context of the passage, argues that the apparent agreement among the standard translations hides the complexity and opacity of the original Hebrew. Specifically,he suggests that the translators have erred with the phrase “as with a woman”, which is central to the conventional modern understanding. He states that there is no equivalent in the Hebrew text to the words “as with”, which distort the original meaning. To recover some sense of what that original meaning might be, he provides a close analysis of the specific Hebrew words as used elsewhere, and of the more extended context of the two verses in the full chapters that contain them.

These two chapters, he shows, are about different forms of incest. The conclusion that follows, is that the sexual activity that is prohibited is sexual relationships with males who are close relatives ! Two possible translations he suggests are:

(a) You shall not lie with close relatives, whether male or female;

(b) With a male relative you shall not engage in sexual relationships prohibited with female relatives.

Concluding, Ling paraphrases these as

You shall not commit incest with any close relative, male or female.

I hope this has whet your appetite. Look out for more formal evaluation later, from commentators better qualified than I. However, the article as a whole deserves to be read in full. Unfortunately, it is not possible to carry it here, so you would need to get hold of a copy of Theology & Sexuality from the publishers.

Remember, in all of the Old Testament, there are precisely three texts which even appear to condemn homoerotic relationships. The passage from Genesis 19, telling the story of Sodom, quite clearly has nothing to do with sexual relationships, which leaves only these two twin texts from Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:13. Lings’ analysis, combined with the other modern interpretations as described above, at the very least shows that whatever else the precise words may mean, they do no exclude all forms of loving relationships between men – as long as they are not incestuous, not done as part of temple or cult rituals, non-penetrative, and not between Jews.

That leaves open quite a lot of possibilities, then

 

See also:

For a Quaker view of this paper, see the discussion at Friends World Committee on Consultation

 

Recommended Books:

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

Countryman, William : Dirt Greed & Sex

Rogers, Jack Bartlett: Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church

Helminiak, Daniel What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality