Saturday, October 24, 2020

Sex and The Bible - Book Review Extract

From a review of David Leeming's "Sex in the World of Myth" by Krešimir Vuković


The chapter on Israel and Canaan presents the multifaceted ancient history of the area in a very interesting way stressing that sexuality plays a great role in many stories which found their way into the canon of the Bible. But again several myths are treated superficially. The author writes that “Satan, in the garden of Eden” tempted Adam and Eve (p. 50). This is now widely accepted in Christian retellings but is in fact a later interpretation (in the New Testament) that finds no basis in the original Hebrew. Satan rarely makes a direct appearance in the Old Testament books (the Book of Job is an exception), and the first potential hint of his involvement in Eden is in the Book of Wisdom 2.24 (composed in Hellenistic Alexandria, probably as late as the 1st century BC). Originally, the snake is only a snake (which could be interpreted in a number of different ways) in the same way that the fruit of the tree that Eve picked was not an apple until the similarity between mălum (evil) with mālum (apple) in the Latin version gave rise to this idea.

The infamous story of angels visiting Lot just before the demise of Sodom and Gomorrah gave rise to the old term ‘sodomy’. The author erroneously supports it on p. 59, giving the impression that the story is actually about sex between men. The Hebrew tradition and commentaries make it clear that the theme of the story is in fact hospitality, and the sin of Sodom is one of arrogance and pride. A gang of Sodomites ask to have their way with Lot’s two heavenly guests (referred to as ‘men’), but Lot refuses and offers his daughters instead. The angels then intervene and blind all the attackers. 

The point of the story is not that Lot is concerned about maintaining heteronormativity but that guests are considered sacred. The fact that homosexual relations were banned in ancient Israel (famously in Leviticus) is true but irrelevant in this context. Lot would rather give up his own daughters than break the sacred law of hospitality, which the Sodomites do not respect. Their threat of gang rape indicates an act of aggression and arrogance that is irrespective of the angels’ gender. The Jewish tradition discussed hospitality as the main issue of the story for centuries. The first negative reference to same-sex attraction in the story of Sodom appears in Philo of Alexandria (1st century AD), and it will take another several centuries for this interpretation to become the prevailing one with the Christian authors of late antiquity.


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