Friday, February 22, 2013

A5.  According to Leviticus, homosexuality is an abomination.

A.  The Charge.  In Leviticus 18 and 20 the Bible defines homosexual conduct as abomination.  Since Scripture is the Word of God, it must be so.

In this matter, the Reverend Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, minces no words, for he says simply: “God Hate Fags.”

B.  Historical Background.  In contemporary usage the terms abomination and abominable refer in a generic way to something that is detestable or loathsome. Because of the Hebrew Bible usage, however - Leviticus 18:22, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination" (cf. Leviticus 20:13; Deuteronomy 22:5 and 23:19; and I Kings 14:24) - the words retain a special association as part of the religious condemnation of male homosexual behavior. In Elizabethan English they were normally written "abhomination," "abhominable" as if they derived from Latin ab- and homo - hence "departing from the human; inhuman." In fact, the core of the Latin word is the religious term omen.

In any event the notion of abominatio(n) stems from its appearance in Jerome's Vulgate translation of the Bible, where it corresponds to Greek bdelygma and Hebrew tó'ebáh. The latter term denotes behavior that violates the covenant between God and Israel, and is applied to Canaanite trade practices, idolatry, and polytheism, among other offenses.

The aversion of the religious leaders of the Jewish community after the return from the Babylonian captivity to the "abominable customs" of their heathen neighbors, combined with the Zoroastrian prohibition of homosexual behavior, inspired the legal provisions added to the Holiness Code of Leviticus in the fifth century before the Christian era.  In due course these became normative for Hellenistic Judaism and then for Pauline Christianity. The designation of homosexual relations as an "abomination" or "abominable crime" in medieval and modern sacral and legal texts echoes the wording of the Hebrew Bible.

The complex web of prohibitions recorded in the Book of Leviticus has defied full explanation from the standpoint of comparative religion. Recently influential among social scientists (though not among Biblical scholars) has been the interpretation of the anthropologist Mary Douglas (Purity and Danger, London, 1967), who views the category of abominations as part of a concern with the boundaries of classification.  Strict adherence to these boundaries attests one's purity in relation to divinity.

C.  Response.  Abomination is a religious category that has no proper place in determining the values of a secular society.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.  James Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.


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