Are lesbians treated the same as gays in the Bible?
San Francisco Pride, June 27, 2004
From a purely scriptural perspective, lesbians are treated exactly the same as gay men in that lesbians are never mentioned in a negative way in the Bible. Gay men are also never mentioned in a negative way in the Bible. The verses some anti-gay Christians use against gay men are, in context, referring to cult shrine temple prostitutes, not to gay men.
Shrine prostitutes were pagan worshipers of the fertility goddess. They were not lesbians and they were not gay men. Most people who are familiar with what the Bible says in context, admit that no verse in the Bible says shrine prostitutes were gay men or lesbians.
Many Christians falsely assume that if Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 prohibit gay male partnerships then the same verses, by inference, must also prohibit lesbian partnerships. For that reason, many Christians believe that Paul's allegedly anti-lesbian statement in Romans 1:26 is based on his Jewish understanding of Lev 18:22.
"For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:" -Romans 1:26
Of course, the problem with that line of thought is that
ancient Jews DID NOT
understand Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 as prohibitions of lesbianism.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 were written around 1450 BC yet no Jewish rabbi linked those verses to same sex couples until 2500 years later (AD 1100 time frame). If those verses were speaking of lesbians, wouldn't some secular Jewish writer or one of the human authors of the Old Testament have mentioned that important fact?
Moses Maimonides made the link in the 12th century AD but still insisted that lesbian conduct did NOT disqualify a woman from marrying a Jewish priest. Therefore, every modern preacher who reads a prohibition of lesbianism into the Leviticus passages and then transfers that false assumption over to Romans 1:26 will always get Romans 1:26 wrong.
Paul's argument in Romans 1:26 is about idolatry
- not lesbianism, not homosexuality, not bisexuals, not transgendered people. The sexual conduct Paul deplores in Romans 1:26
and 1:27 is conduct linked to idolatry. The specific idolatrous conduct that Paul refers to and which both women and men shared was shrine prostitution.
Rabbi Jacob Milgrom,
Jewish scholar and author
Rabbi Jacob Milgrom died June 6, 2010 at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem of a brain hemorrhage related to a fall. He was 87. Author of the 3 volume, 3000 page resource, Leviticus: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary,
(Vol II), Dr. Milgrom presents 8 interesting reasons why lesbians are not mentioned in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 or elsewhere in the Old Testament.
8 reasons why lesbians
are not mentioned
in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
- First, there is no penetration by the male.
- Second, there is no transfer of semen.
- Third, women were an underclass, so lesbianism posed no danger to family structure since women were compelled to marry a man.
- Fourth, since female-female sexuality carried no risk of procreation, lesbianism posed no problem in determining paternity of children.
- Fifth, some assert (falsely) that lesbianism may have been unknown to the Israelites and Canaanites. Because lesbianism is not mentioned in any legal materials from this time period in the ancient Near East, there was no reason to legislate against it.
- Sixth, a woman could not loose her ‘manly honour’ in a sexual relationship with another woman.
- Seventh, female same-sex activity did not challenge male domination.
- Eighth, the male authors of scripture were more interested in males and their behavior than in females and their behavior.
Rabbi Milgrom comments further
"This Biblical prohibition is addressed only to Jews. Non-Jews are affected only if they reside in the Holy Land, but not elsewhere (see the closing exhortation in Leviticus 18:24-30). Thus, it is incorrect to apply this prohibition on a universal scale...
What is the rationale for this prohibition... in the entire list of forbidden sexual unions (in Leviticus 18 and 20), there is no prohibition against lesbianism.
Can it be that lesbianism did not exist in ancient times or that Scripture was unaware? Lesbians existed and flourished, as attested in an old (pre-Israelite) Babylonian text and in the work of the lesbian poet Sappho (born circa 612 BC, during the time of the First Temple), who came from the island of Lesbos (hence lesbianism).
But there is a fundamental difference between the homosexual acts of men and women. In lesbianism there is no spilling of seed. Thus life is not symbolically lost, and therefore lesbianism is not prohibited in the Bible...
Lesbian couples have an additional advantage. Not only do they not violate Biblical law, but through artificial insemination each can become the natural mother of her children. Thus from the Bible we can infer the following:
1. Lesbians, presumably half of the world's homosexual population, are not mentioned.
2. More than ninety-nine percent of the gays, namely non-Jews, are not addressed. This leaves the small number of male Jewish gays subject to this (Levitical) prohibition."
Dr. Jacob Milgrom's remarks excerpted from an article in, Bible Review, Vol IX, No. 6, December, 1993, published by the Biblical Archaeological Society, 3000 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 300, Washington D.C., 20008
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