I have been asked to review the passages in the Bible that are used to condemn homosexuality and I believe that this is an important topic so I will proceed to do as I have been requested.
The Bible is, of course, an incredibly complex book, anyone who has attempted to study it at any depth will recognize this. An important fact in why people view the Bible as complex is because they most likely believe it contains some sort of religious teachings. Many people value the Bible as sacred literature and that the Bible is completely true and without error. This causes so many issues that I'm sure most of you have encountered one or more in the past. The issue of homosexuality and the biblical literature is just one of many that are of great importance.
We shall begin this article at the beginning, with the first book of the Bible Genesis. Genesis, a Greek word for beginnings, is also the title of the book in Hebrew. The book was written probably written a long time after the events it tells of and was most likely compiled from different sources. It was most likely NOT written by Moses or anywhere close to the time of Moses and the Exodus into the Promised Land. Genesis is most importantly a book filled with myth and legend. Some may consider this a radical opinion, but from looking at the straight text without any religious bias, it does come across as being filled with myth and legend to illustrate the truths of the Hebrew God, Yahweh.
There are some important things to know about this Hebrew God. First of all, it does not appear that the commandments of the Hebrew God appear to be considered valid as well for other nations or peoples. Yahweh is shows as saying that He will be the Israelite's God and they will be His people. They are to follow His commandments and not follow in the ways of the other nations who do things that displease Him. This I find important because if these laws are only designed for the Jewish nation, as they at first sight appear to be then they need only concern the Jewish nation. However, since the advent of Christianity, it has been viewed that since Jesus was Jewish that he was an incarnation of this Jewish God, Yahweh. That the truths of Jesus and those of Christianity are just as valid as the truths of Yahweh for the new Christian religion. As many early Christians were Jews this was important, as they did not want to lose their Jewish heritage. However as the Christian religion spread outside of Israel, the issue was brought up about if the new Christians must first convert to Judaism and then become Christians. Paul, the apostle, speaks out against this as he believes that ALL people can become Christians regardless of their previous faith and that no conversion to Judaism was necessary.
Keeping this in mind I would like to go through the major passages in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and show what they say about homosexuality.
The first issue is that of creation. In Genesis, God is viewed of course as being an all powerful creator that creates not only the known universe but also takes time to create human beings in his own image. He creates them male and female (1:27) and instructs them to be fruitful and multiply (1:28). As homosexuality does not cause men to be fruitful and multiply then this obviously doesn't follow in line with this instruction. However there is of course no direct condemnation in this passage, just a general assumption that all creation is to be fruitful and multiply.
In the second part of the creation story we get a different story of the creation of man (Chapters 2:4-3:24) This describes the familiar encounter with Satan in the Garden of Eden in which man falls from being in right standing with his creator and is therefore destined to live the rest of his days in struggle against God's creation. In this story God creates Adam in his own image and then since Adam is lonely he creates Eve. Because of the fall, Adam and Eve must reproduce in order to preserve the human race since they both are now destined to die. As before this is another assumption that since the first two humans were heterosexual then all of humanity is intended to be heterosexual.
I believe that these creation passages are not even written with homosexuality in mind. I believe that it never even crossed the writer's mind. These passages are therefore invalid for a criticism against homosexuality, as they were not written to be that at all.
To get on to the more nitty gritty. Genesis 18-19 describes the interesting story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah were two towns of the Canaanite nation in which Lot, a Hebrew, was living with his family. God sees that the wickedness of these cities is too great to allow them to continue to exist and marks them for destruction. Only Abraham pleads with God to save the city because of Lot, a relative of his, was living there. God decides to intervene and save Lot and his family but in doing so an interesting incident arises when three angels arrive at Lot's house to warn him of the destruction. In the Hebrew Bible angels are clearly supernatural beings but they appear at this point to appear as human males. This creates an uproar when the male citizens who saw these men and followed them to Lot's house. They assaulted Lot's home and demanded that he hand over his visitors so that they may "know" them. This has traditionally been seen that these men who were assaulting Lot's house were homosexual and that they had been attracted to the male angels and wanted to have sex with them. The story is clear that every man of the city had come to Lot's house that day, implying that Sodom was a city of homosexuals. What the background of this city was is not known, or why Lot was living there. This could be an exaggeration. Lot and his family do escape through divine intervention and the city is destroyed.
I believe this passage is clear that there were homosexual men in the city of Sodom and that they did assault Lot's home for sexual reasons. However there is no proof that this is an actual historical event, as it would have occurred almost 4000 years ago. Which would almost make you wonder what relevance it had over our lives today. So God toasts a village 4000 years ago because of some wicked men. It's like people in the year 6000 AD basing their whole lifestyle on something that happened today to a few hundred people in a remote part of the world. Seems silly when you put it that way. Nevertheless, this passage is in the Bible and must therefore be considered as valid biblical literature. Most likely it's only a story to show the immediate wrath of God on those that are wicked. There are many problems that come up when you try to make a story more than it is.
Next comes even more harsh words. These being in the Torah of God, literally "teachings", that were by legend given to Moses during the Exodus to guide the new nation of Israel when they live in the Promised Land.
The passages in the Torah, namely Leviticus, are very clear. I believe that they do condemn some form of homosexual practice. However, as before we must take this in historical context and view what the text really says. The passages in question are those of Lev 18:22,20:13 and Deut. 23:17. They are listed below in the New Revised Standard translation:
18:22 "You shall not lie with a male as with a women; it is an abomination." 20:13 "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed perversion, their blood is upon them." 23:17 "None of the daughters of Israel shall be a temple prostitute; none of the sons of Israel shall be a temple prostitute."
In the light of the forever-controversial Torah, these passages are equally controversial. What the writer intended these to mean is very unclear to us today. At least 2500 years have probably passed since they were written, which is a very long time. I believe that forms of homosexuality were very common in the ancient world 2500 years ago. In Athenian Greece, a form of homosexuality was common among the upper classes as a form of raising adolescents. This is known today as pederasty. I have more information on this if anyone is interested. Also it has been viewed that in the Babylonian and Persian civilizations to which Israel had more contact had some form of sexual act involved in the worship of their gods. I do not know much about Mesopotamian religion however I do know that it was centered on appeasing the gods and also involved in sacrifices and divination. The gods represented elements of daily life as in Greek religion and were to be worshiped in order to bring good fortune upon the worshipper. I believe that these passages in the Hebrew Law were designed to counter these pagan religious customs of the foreigners that Israel had come into contact with. God viewed them as wrong because they were done in reverence to other gods and God was jealous "You are to have no other gods before me".
Anyway this finished my take on the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. I feel this has gone on long enough, so I will continue with the New Testament and Christian tradition next month. If you have any questions or concerns as always please e-mail.
Also see the website http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibl.htm for more information. The site is very good at representing various viewpoints on religion.