This is the briefest chapter but not necessarily the shortest blog! In the chapter released today we will fleetingly reference the other OT passages and look at just one of them, and we’ll look at that same story here as well.
You’ll have noticed I have slightly changed the chapter title from that originally shown in the chapter listing. This sometimes happens when I start re-reading the chapter as I prepare to write the blog and realise the title is not quite right! This chapter closes what we have been talking about from the Old Testament and provides an introduction to the culture and background into which the New Testament spoke.
If you do an internet search for Old Testament passages addressing LGBTQ+ issues you occasionally come across references to things like ‘the top 100 passages’ relating to the subject, but when you stop and examine these lists, the links are so tenuous as to be laughable or complete nonsense. Even with a small amount of Biblical background you will be more than equipped to deal with quite a few of them, and if you have read the whole essay thus far, especially with my supporting sources, you will be fully able to critique them yourself. In reality, we have exhausted all the relevant Old Testament passages alluding to LGBTQ+ issues.
In this week’s chapter, I turn to a passage that has many similarities to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and you can find it at the end of the book of Judges (chs 19-21). Go away and read it so that these notes make sense! It’s a horrible story with an awful loss of life, and tragic consequences for the tribe of Benjamin. Once you read it you will find it compelling as a refutation that the Sodom and Gomorrah story has anything to do with homosexuality, and everything to do with violent domination over those you despise. Whether the number of soldiers killed in the fallout of these events is accurate, or simply an exaggerated symbolic figure designed to indicate a huge loss of life, it doesn’t really matter. However, you look at it, it would have been offensive to God, and undoubtedly made Him weep. In fact, most of the events of this story would make him weep:
- the attitude of the Levite to his concubine.
- the Levite’s careless and complete disrespect of her, in allowing her to be handed to the mob, closing his ears to her screams, stepping over her the following morning as she lies dead at the door, and everything that happens in between. He clearly only regarded her as property that had no value. I’m at a loss to know what words to use. His attitude stinks.
- His butchering of her body, showing no respect for her in death. Nor for the people receiving these body parts. There had to be a more honourable way of presenting his case and his cause.
- The inflamed emotions of everyone named in the story, and we know how easy it is to make good decisions when emotions are involved!
Meanwhile the setup for the story is identical to the Sodom and Gomorrah story:
- Visitors come into a town looking for somewhere to stay for the night. The convention in both stories is that visitors know that they should go and wait in the market square and someone will offer a place to stay overnight.
- One of the residents offers hospitality.
- The resident in each case is not a native of the town (Lot from all over the place, and the old man “from the hill country of Ephraim”, but now living in Benjamin.).
- Other residents spot the visitors and are suspicious.
- They pound on the door demanding to have sex with the visitors as an act of domination and humiliation.
It’s a dreadful story, and if anyone thinks it is linked with homosexuality, it simply illustrates the shallowness of the reader. Furthermore, if God judged Sodom only for the attack on the angels, why did he fail to “judge” the people of Gibeah? There is a lack of consistency if the judgement was for the attempted attack on the angels in Sodom (in which the only harm was that a few men were temporarily blinded) as opposed to this horrific attack. Clearly the Judgment on Sodom was for behaviour over a far longer period.
Notice that neither Lot, nor the Levite, indicate they saw the attack as being based on same-sex attraction. In both cases they knew violence was going to happen and because they felt powerless to stop it, tried to placate the crowd with those who mattered the least. And just writing that makes me extremely uncomfortable.
In the fallout from this attack, the loss of life was huge, and it was spread across every tribe of Israel, not specifically the tribe of Benjamin. If we were looking for God to bring judgement, it should be proportionate and limited to the offenders. We should see it coming against only Gibeah (the specific attackers and those who failed to prevent it), or against Benjamin, for failing to hand over the perpetrators. But there is no evidence of God’s judgement in this instance. I’m left wondering how different the story, and indeed history, would have been if the Benjaminite’s had handed over the guilty men. The likely deaths of a small number of men as set against the better part of 100,000, to extrapolate from the Biblical figures quoted.
However, I’m quite certain the numbers of the dead quoted in the Bible, are not accurate, because we are not given a tally of the Benjaminite dead for the first two days of battle, nor are we given a realistic Israelite death toll for the third attack, or from the attack on Jabesh Gilead a short time later. As I said earlier, it may be the figures quoted are simply quoted as symbols of large numbers of dead, just as 30 (Judges 20: 39) is likely to be symbolic of a small number rather than as forensic head count.
These are not stories of homosexuality, they are stories of sexual violence and rape used as an act of domination and humiliation, and this is utterly detestable to God. Rape, whether homosexual, or heterosexual is offensive to God. Just as heterosexual rape doesn’t make heterosexuality wrong, homosexual rape doesn’t make homosexuality as an orientation, wrong. Wherever rape and sexual violence occur, they are evil. However, in these stories homosexual rape did not occur anyway!
As an aside, the first King of Israel, Saul, came from Gibeah, and he ruled from there. David, who became the second king, came to play the harp to soothe King Saul, at Gibeah.
Moving further into this week’s chapter coming out with the Blog, I turn to the New Testament and look at how Jesus treated the Law. He says the Law stays, as it shows the standards we should be striving for, but whereas breaking the Law of Moses always resulted in penalties, we no longer face those punishments. This is because Jesus has taken away the penalty, having already paid it with his death on the cross. When we sin, it’s a little like having a “Get out of Jail free” card that never has an expiration date, or limited liability attached.
However, that doesn’t mean we have a licence to sin, Paul was very clear about that in Romans 6, and if you are just looking at it to see how much you can get away with, one has to question how real your faith is. As followers of Jesus our instinct will be to want to do things that put a smile on His face. If you in a relationship with someone, you want to do things that make them happy, you aren’t looking to calculate the minimum you can get away with to keep the relationship going – that’s a relationship about to hit the rocks!
Sometimes Jesus made the Law tougher (Do not commit adultery became, do not even look at a woman with lust, because by doing so you have already internally committed adultery). Sometimes he said the Law shouldn’t apply (asking people to forgive one another – if you hurt someone. What’s the point of a second person being hurt or killed?). In essence, Jesus was saying that if applying the law brought harm to people, try and find another way, and set it aside. He was not setting aside justice where it is really needed, but trying to remove disproportionate and unnecessary penalties, and the misuse of the law for revenge, or petit-mindedness.
The woman caught in adultery, who the Pharisees wanted to stone, was told by Jesus not to do it again, and sent on her way. When you have Laws, they frequently get used against those who can’t defend themselves. She didn’t commit adultery on her own – where was her partner? He got away with it! No threat of stoning for him, in spite of it being a requirement that both are stoned! The Jesus way is that we use the law proportionately, where it is really needed, as a guide, not as a weapon.
Throughout the essay I am arguing we must adopt the practice of trying to view the Bible through the eyes of Jesus. A little over a week ago I listened to an interview with Dr Alasdair Black (Lecturer and Senior Pastor of Stirling Baptist Church.) on Premier Radio, called “Is the Bible responsible for the conflict in Jerusalem?” He referred to this thinking as using a Jesus, or Gospel Hermeneutic, and because this is a transcript of a conversation, it is obviously not as concise as a written op-ed piece would be:
The Bible has been used in many different ways, and is being interpreted in many different ways, and it raises the question of: how do we know we’ve got the right interpretation of the Bible?
[The Bible has] been used throughout history: it supported slavery, it supported the marginalisation of women, we see it in relation to the Palestinians and their oppression, and the question is, – and people can put together very compelling arguments, from the Bible, […] for all of these things. And the question is: how do we know that their interpretation isn’t right? How do we know that the interpretation that says it’s legitimate for one people to oppress another isn’t right, because the Bible says so?
[…] there is what I called the Jesus Hermeneutic, or Jesus Interpretation, which is basically: if the way that you read the Bible is contrary to the gospel, it leads you to oppress people, to marginalise people, to demean people, to dehumanise people, to actually treat them as if they are not the sons and daughters of God, and treat them with dignity, then you have got it wrong. And I don’t care how compelling your argument is, because the outworking of what you’re doing, the fruit of what your theology generates, is not the fruit of the gospel. …
You test it against the hermeneutic of the gospel and what Jesus was about, and if your theology takes you to a place where you’re affirming the outworking of the gospel, then you know you’re probably on the right lines, and reading the Bible [correctly].
https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Weekday/Faith-Hope-and-Love-with-Maria-Rodrigues/Interviews/IS-THE-BIBLE-RESPONSIBLE-FOR-THE-CONFLICT-IN-JERUSALEM? Originally broadcast on Monday 17th May 2021.
Our ideas of sexuality and orientation would be completely alien to those living at the time of Christ. That doesn’t mean people in that era didn’t have the urges and desires we have, but that the focus in their day was very different to our own. They key focus was on family: producing the next generation and providing food to put on the table for them. Existence was very much more hand to mouth. Disposable income was something only the rich could think about. Life for those without families could be very tough and short. Sex was for procreation, not for pleasure.
I have found it difficult to find much documentation, in the public arena specifically, about sexuality in Israel at the time of Jesus (there is bound to be material in academia, but I don’t have access to it), but there is a wealth of Greek and Roman documentation to draw on. Given that Palestine was a vassal state of Rome and had been for the previous 60 years before the birth of Jesus, the Greco-Roman culture was therefore the prevailing culture of the Mediterranean area, and it provides some useful background. However, I doubt that the culture transferred very far into the Jewish population because of the influence of the synagogues.
As I write in the chapter, “from my research it seems that in the ancient Greece of 500BC, there was no stigma attached to male or female homosexuality. Unlike our culture, the Greek culture simply didn’t see it as particularly relevant. There wasn’t a turning of a blind eye – it was simply unimportant. It was a shrug of the shoulders with the question, “Why do you ask? Do you have problem with this?” Men and women led very separate and different lives, they didn’t go out together as a family, but as individuals, so the idea of relationship within that context is rather alien. Whereas men were seen debating in public (as we know from Paul’s writings), women were largely confined to the home, and were there to produce, and raise, male children of the purest Athenian stock. Women were seen as property and were shut away to prevent adultery. The result was that many women simply had no real education, and therefore had nothing with which to engage her husband on an equal footing, so her role was to produce good Greek citizens of the future. Meanwhile, the impression I get from various writings is that Greek men tended to be a lot more bi-sexual in their activity, because all their dealings: business, trade, debate, entertainment was in the company of other men, and if they had sex with other men, it was not seen as a threat to the marriage, because they had a wife at home bringing up their children. Sex for pleasure could only be enjoyed with another man, not with a woman. The later Romanic culture largely borrowed these standards, although eventually, shortly before the time of Jesus, women within higher families started to get a bit more standing – indeed some social groupings were beginning to be made up of both men and women, but it was a very male-centric society, led by the religious authorities – totally alien to the radical teachings of Jesus.”
So to conclude this piece, Jesus was born into a world of diverse cultures, the inward-looking Jewish culture focussed on the Temple and local synagogue, whilst at the same time rubbing shoulders with the hated Roman Occupation, and their practices.
Jesus faced some real tensions during his Ministry because the Romans could legally compel people to carry their loads for specified distances, and it might have been the case that as a fit, strong man, he might have experienced this himself. When he starts his ministry, Jesus invites an anti-Roman freedom fighter to be his disciple (Simon the Zealot). Next time we will see how Jesus goes to heal the servant of a Roman Centurion. That must have been really awkward for the relationship between Jesus and Simon. At the beginning, it is likely that in Simon’s mind, the best Roman was a dead Roman! There is an added dynamic in this story, because the language used in the Gospels indicate there is a possibility that the relationship between the Centurion and the servant was pederastic. We’ll explore that next time!
It’s always good to receive helpful comments. Sometimes readers have read passages in a different way to me, or have a different slant, and I enjoy seeing things from a different perspective, so what do you think? Have I missed a reference you would have chosen? We all have different backgrounds and different ways of understanding, and different experiences and influences. You can use the Contact page or email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org.