Stuff That Matters: Leviticus18:19-

The Holiness Code continues its rules and norms today, from incest to other sexual activity, with menstruating women or with neighbours’ wives. Participating in Moloch’s cult is as obscure to me as is Azazel earlier in the week, but

I’m still saying that Glib Liberals Reading Leviticus in Tory Times can recognize the infidelity of taking some of the financial, emotional, and psychic sharing committed to this people, and sharing it instead or at the same time with others.

‘Lying with a male as one lies with a woman’ comes here, after Moloch and before prohibition of men or women having sex with animals. Notice that we are no longer talking about ‘uncovering nakedness’. Leviticus is not worried about ‘uncovering the nakedness’ of Moloch! The act of ‘lying with a male as one lies with a woman’ may be reduced to an anatomical reference, but that can’t be confused with sexual orientation or the range of its expression. Is the likeness to be found in domination? Does it matter to Leviticus that the prohibition applies to lying with a ‘woman’, given the emphasis in preceding verses on words for ‘wife’, ‘daughter’, ‘aunt’, and so on?

We’ll come back to this next week, in the context of a catalogue of punishments for transgressions of these taboos. I wouldn’t spend so many words, except for the culture wars raging around us, with both sides dismissive of the whole of Torah in favour of proof-texting half-verses.

The issues of niddah, as distinct from zav, were introduced earlier in Leviticus chapter 15, a week ago. Men are being told to restrain themselves, to respect the integrity of women, who can say no to sexual approaches, citing their menstruation. The rule is there because people do both initiate and resist sexual intimacy, even within socially sanctioned marriage. The penalty clause is silent, but millennia of domestic conversations have been shaped by the text.

The rule about neighbours’ wives returns to the social order concerns of the earlier incest rules, fencing the will and intent and appetite of men. The action word is not the same as ‘uncovering nakedness’. Again, we are told to restrain, because we don’t. The penalty is silent.

The rule about doing something with men that men do with women uses yet another word for the action than uncovering nakedness or lying with neighbours’ wives. There seems to be language of issuing semen, again like Leviticus 15 last week, but likelier the v16-18 purity rules.

Bestiality is the last prohibition in the set, using the same word as was used for the neighbour’s wife. Both men and women are deemed to need this warning. I don’t know if perversion is worse than abhorrence, absent punishment.

The chapter ends as it began, framing the specific prohibitions in terms of who you are and whose you are and what you do with what you’ve got. Other peoples do not follow these rules. Our people do. Don’t be like the Egyptians you left behind, or the Canaanites amongst whom you will live. God ‘led you out’ from the former, and the land ‘vomited out’ the latter. We’ll come back to these threats at the end of Leviticus, but for now see how many words are used to frame the context for the enumeration of rules shared with lots of Ancient Near Eastern legal codes. These are rules and norms within and among a people, not imperialized upon others.

Most of us, most of the time, have no risk of breaking these rules. If we do, our experience of consensual sex breaking menstruation rules, or of semen on the sheets, the response is proportionate, as should be the ‘men as with women’ thing, whatever it signifies. It can’t justify homophobic hate piety. Glib Liberals, Read Leviticus in Tory Times!

Leviticus 18:19-34

19 You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.

20 You shall not have sexual relations with your kinsman’s wife, and defile yourself with her.

21 You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

23 You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.

24 Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for by all these practices the nations I am casting out before you have defiled themselves.

25 Thus the land became defiled; and I punished it for its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.

26 But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you

27(for the inhabitants of the land, who were before you, committed all of these abominations, and the land became defiled);

28 otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.

29 For whoever commits any of these abominations shall be cut off from their people.

30 So keep my charge not to commit any of these abominations that were done before you, and not to defile yourselves by them: I am the LORD your God.