SETTING THE SCENE
I must set the scene again for we need some parameters to understand the complexity. I suggested that there are two extreme approaches.
1. The Literal approach - Words and statements are clear and must be adhered to. For some it captures the idealistic side of our faith. Its complexity is that words have traveled down through history for several millenium and an occasional translation.
2. The Contextual approach - It believes that these words can only ever been understood within the context of society, culture, and history and their relationship with God. With this approach some people get confused and wonder how can we ever know what to believe.
SODOM AND GOMORRAH
Last week we looked at Sodom and Gomorrah. It was clear that homosexual activity was involved in the so-called ‘ungodly’ behaviour of the city. But it was part of a gang rape episode and along with other unacceptable heterosexual activities it is hard to draw a connection with same sex marriage for today. In a word, there was a range of sexual activities practiced in these earliest primitive communities of history, set approximately a 1000 years before the appearance of the commandments. There was no clear guideline for such primitive societies
1. So just how much importance should we place upon the words and sentences we read in the bible?
2. How clear is the eternal message to read from one culture to another?
3. Is there a historical development in understanding the eternal message of God?
Today’s focus is upon what we call the Holiness Code of the Jewish people. We find it in the book of Leviticus. It is developed in the centuries after the giving of the Commandments, which is for simplicity’s sake, dated about 1200 BC.
Solomon built the temple about 900 BC that lead to the formation of a strong Priestly religious tradition around which the Jewish faith developed. The code took perhaps another 300 yrs to take significant form and perhaps another 500 years to be shaped into the form we read of today. Leviticus gives a comprehensive outline of the laws that safeguarded the holiness of the Jewish people against the example of their neighbours.
The instruction by God was clear, “You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy”. God’s people were to develop their own distinctive quality. Holiness was vital for their Godly identity. In the passages we look at today, there are laws on a range of subjects, and as we read them we certainly question how relevant they are for today. Many make no sense. The value would be the overall message that speaks of the call to holiness.
Holiness involved ……
- The sacrificial system and therefore behaviour in the temple.
- The Consecration of priests, their rituals and treatment of garments
- Other examples included…
- Food laws
- Feasts and Celebrations
- Blessings and Punishment
- Vows and Ties.
The subject that interests us at this time is that of sexuality. To do it justice, we do have to note some graphic detail. A lot of these examples can readily be seen to be health and cleanliness related. Let’s remember, the modest living situation, from tents to bare shelter and the absence of an abundance of accessible clean running water. Unlike a number of other races, circumcision for males was mandatory, but it didn’t involve women.
At this point of history, belief was closely aligned to ‘cleanliness was close to Godliness.’
BODY EXCRETION CH15
Some laws had to deal with body excretion, this involved laws for menstruation and believe it or not, men’s discharge from semen ejaculation. (perhaps coitus interruptous, or masterbation. The issue is probably not to do with the activity but with the discharge lying around) Its health dimension is emphasized by combining these with discharge from body sores. Along with many other laws, many like these fade into the background with time and are insignificant in the Jewish faith. History proved they were not universal instruction from God.
LAWS FOR LIFE AND WORSHIP
Many of the practices were to do with the worship related practices. It begins with a general outline of people, who are essentially relatives’ that one must not have intercourse with. (18:6-18)
WORSHIP: CHAPTER 18:19-23
But then it turns to examples related to common practices in temple worship in other nations. Temple prostitutes both male and female symbols of fertility. It prevents sexual intercourse with women during menstruation because of cleanliness. But this is coupled with a prohibition of offering one’s children as a sacrifice as was known of in the temple of Molech. To be guilty of this is to be punished by death by stoning.
Along with these examples, I quote, ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.’ It follows with the instruction that neither male nor female is to have sexual relations with animals. The individuals will be put out of the community
In chapter nineteen along with instructions in line with a number of commandments some more sexual prohibitions are listed. Sexual relations with a female slave designated for another man as a free person. However she will not be put to death because she is not a free woman in society. Presumably she’s not so important that they both need to be punished by death. The man just needs to offer a sacrifice of a Ram in the temple to atone for his sins. We can at least find a common mind with the declaration that you must not defile your daughter by making her a prostitute. As they say touché. Daughters of priests who act as prostitutes are to be burnt to death.
The list goes on but for our purposes we have outlined enough of the range of practices and punishments.
If we come back to the question of homosexuality we recall the sentence. ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.’ To the literalist it is clear. It is ungodly. It is an eternal and universal truth.
To the contextualist there are many questions. Homosexual practice is presented once in the midst of examples of what is forbidden from temple rituals practiced in other religions.
Of all of the behaviours mentioned in the holiness code, there are hundreds that mean nothing to us. Many of them ignored by or defied by the common person of faith in our day. Is there any definitive guidance for you in the holiness code. Already there is a tendency to obey some passages and dismiss others as of no relevance for our society.