ABOMINATIONS! Okay, that word isn’t as used as often as one might think, given that it’s what this chapter is for. And it’s the same “abomination” that is used when talking about how Egyptians hate shepherds and won’t eat with foreigners back in Genesis. “Abomination,” as reflected in the Japanese translation itoubeki, means “things you should hate doing.”
The more interesting thing about this passage, though, is how it’s framed. The opening explains that they aren’t to do things the Egyptians did or things that the Canaanites do. This is all basically a part of their deal to become God’s people.
I think that’s relevant, since if you look through the list of forms of incest, a lot of characters in the Bible have done this without anyone condemning them for it. Abraham married his half-sister (forbidden in v 9). Moses’ father married his aunt (forbidden in v 12). And Jacob married two sisters at the same time (forbidden in v 18).
So this implies that either these deeds weren’t necessarily wrong prior to the making of this compact, or that they get a free pass because they didn’t know any better.
Then again, these laws are being used against the current residents of Canaan, so did God reveal them to the Canaanites, and then they broke them? Or are these laws defiling even if the people don’t know about them? And if that’s so, then isn’t God a giant hypocrite for not calling out the patriarchs for it?
This is all kind of leading up to v 22, one of the biggest cudgel verses in the Bible, that gets used all the time to beat on homosexuals. I suppose the idea that allowing men to lie with men as they would with woman causes the whole nation to be defiled is the real reason why they want to ban gay marriage and reinstate sodomy laws. All the other stupid arguments are just a cover.
But do these laws apply to us? Do they just apply to Israelites, and by extension modern Jews? Do they apply only to people in the Holy Land, which is, after all, the land that will vomit them out?
But then again, it’s placed right after a ban on child sacrifice. Surely we don’t approve of that, right? It’s an all or nothing package, right? Well, beyond the fact that there are a dozen other reasons in the Bible to not approve of child sacrifice…
Modern Judaism varies radically on how accepting it is of homosexuality. I found one Conservative interpretation fascinating. It argued that, like refraining from sex while a woman is menstruating (v 19), anal sex with men is something Jewish men should forgo, an act of self-sacrifice to set them apart. Any other forms of homosexual activity are all okay….do you want me to list them? And later, after this narrow prohibition, they approved same-sex marriages.
There’s going to be more to talk about on homosexuality when we get to a few more of the cudgel verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, so I’d like to take a moment to get on one of my pet issues.
If you look through the list of forbidden relationships, you’ll note that one which Americans seem to think is soooo awful is never mentioned: cousin marriage.
I am firmly in favor of cousin marriage being legalized. I say this from an unbiased position. I don’t see my cousins very often, and they don’t feel like family to me the way my parents, grandparents, and brother do. At the same time, I’m not attracted to any of them personally.
It’s just a measure of the evidence. Cousin marriage is legal all over the world except in China, the Philippines, North and South Korea, a few Eastern European nations, and the majority of America’s states. Far from being a sign of backwardness and conservativeness, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, California, and New York all allow it. What’s even more appalling about the US’s bans is that they treat it as criminal offense. Two consenting adults getting married is a criminal offense? Seriously?
Okay, you’re saying, but what about the inbreeding? Doesn’t having kids with your cousin leads to all kind of birth defects?
The answer is “Sure… if you do it often enough.” Otherwise, the slight uptick in your chances of a birth defect is about the equivalent of having a child after 35, which we certainly don’t ban. The studies that prompted a wave of bans in America were faulty ones produces by a bunch of proto-eugenicists back in the late 1800s.
But think what would happen if people did it all the time! We’d have Charles II all over again!
Right, but that only happens in situations where there’s an intense cultural pressure to pursue cousin marriage. Remember that marriages used to be (and in many places still is) more about family alliances than a lifelong companionship. In the Middle East it’s still so common a practice that many states have adopted mandatory genetic screenings to let families know if a couple is at risk for genetic anomalies.
When you don’t have these pressures, though, people just…don’t get to married their cousins much. I mean, out of the thousands of people you know in your life, your cousins are only a handful; what’s the chance that one of them will be the person you choose to spend a life with? In Western Europe, for example, cousin marriage has fallen below 1%.
There’s no threat from cousin marriage, our national laws about it are erratic, and some actually charge people with a crime for doing it. Let’s legalize it and be done with it.
The Japanese: katte “one, formerly” (v3), hazukashimeru “to insult, shame, humiliate,” jitsubo “one’s real mother” (v 7), towazu “regardless of” (v 9), zonmeichuu ni “while still alive” (v 18), taritomo “(not) even, (not) any” (v 21), chitsujo “order, regularity” (v 23), ikanaru “any, every,” seikoui “sex act, sexual intercourse,” tsuihou “exile” (v 24).