Saturday, 27 August 2011

What The Old Testament Doesn't Say About Sex

I found a kinda out-there, zany-toned 40 page ebook called "Biblical Sex," which, disappointingly, wasn't a how to guide or manual, but was a wild and oddly successful attempt to change one's outlook on what the Old Testament actually doesn't say about sex.

First, the easy ones: it doesn't say for men not to have several wives.  It doesn't say for wives not to "get" their husbands sex-slaves, sexual surrogates or concubines ("Handmaids" as Margaret Atwood noticed they're called in the King James Version).  It doesn't say to get married before having sex. It doesn't outlaw any sexual acts between two consenting adults of opposite genders.  It doesn't in any way mention masturbation or sexual fantasy, pornography or anything of that kind in Ancient Israel.  And we know what kind of dirty pictures some of their neighbours liked, so one is curious to get some kind of "yea" or "nay" on that!  It doesn't say for women not to have sex with other women, though it does say for men not to have sex with other men.  The determining characteristic as to sex with relatives is what male figure one might be trespassing on the turf of, or disrespecting.  So, Moses and Aaron's mom was their dad's aunt.  This made their mom both their mother and their great aunt, and made them both brothers and cousins. And this wasn't warned against.  Men weren't to get sexual (including enjoying gazing upon the nakedness of) with their father's wife (whether their mother or step-mother, or one of dad's many wives or concubines), sister or daughter.  If a man had sex with a virgin girl whose dad had been expecting some money from her husband-to-be whenever she married, the man was supposed to pay that, as if he'd scratched her dad's car.  If a man wanted to take a sex slave in a war, there was a whole method for how to do that, because it was ok.  A man wasn't to have sex with another man's wife, as this was adultery.  There is no mention of a married man having sex with an unmarried woman being adultery. In fact, God-sanctioned kings of Israel routinely did that and simply added them to the stack of wives and concubines.  When David took over from Saul, the prophet Nathan says God "gave" David Saul's wives and concubines.  Good to be king.

In the New Testament, when a bunch of religious assholes are badgering Jesus, trying to make him join them in getting Old Testament on an adulterous woman's ass, it is said that she was caught "in the very act."  Note that the dude she was caught committing adultery with isn't mentioned.  No one was dragging him along trying to kill him with rocks.  Men, huh?

As you may have noticed, the Old Testament law (the Mosaic/Moses law), including the ten commandments and many other things don't really address ethics or morality or spirituality.  (a surprising portion of the bible isn't about spirituality or morality).  It's more code of conduct, operating principles and law.  Law like we have. Our laws don't address what is immoral, unspiritual or even wrong.  They address what is forbidden and how doing it gets punished in a given system.   So, being promiscuous may be something foolish, something callow, something one's mother warns against in the scripture, but it's not against the law.  Not in our culture, and not in the Old Testament.  There was a distinction between things that would get you killed or otherwise punished, and things that were probably just stupid.  It wasn't against Jewish law to be an alcoholic, to be promiscuous or to be a glutton.  It was just bad, but not illegal. 

The New Testament seems to suggest that the very function of the law wasn't to make people good human beings, but to overtly demonstrate that, all questions of being a good person aside, human beings couldn't even keep from transgressing these quite extreme boundaries laid out to outline that much lower standard (not what makes a good person, but what makes a person who isn't, in modern parlance, a criminal/lawbreaker.) 

But yeah, the bible has a lot to say about what's good and about what is a righteous or holy or excellent person.  The "law" part of it really just isn't about that, any more than the biblical book of erotic poetry is about the law.  (It's about what's romantic) The Proverbs aren't about what is lawful, but raise the standard to discuss what is workable and wise and sensible, in the same way the New Testament further raises the standard to include things like what is charitable, kind or generous.

The focus in the Old Testament law was 1) you men treated God with respect and didn't step over the boundaries of trust and honour that were supposed to be in place, for instance by leaving Him for Someone Else.  2) you treated other men with respect and didn't step over the boundaries of trust and honour that were supposed to be in place, like eyeing up his wife, his field or his ass.  Old Testament law writing is all about boundaries and jurisdictions and staying on your own side of the line.  And it isn't very fair, by our standards.  It is only remotely "fair" if you're a Jewish, adult male.  It's mostly like an operating manual for "How to Effectively Maintain A Growing, Successful Jewish Household With Lands, Livestock, Servants, Wives, Concubines and Sundry Other Assets."  If you're an Ethiopian or Philistine or Samaritan (or woman) you simply aren't being addressed by the law scriptures, and aren't really part of the patriarchy, so the law doesn't protect your rights.  In fact, they're allowed to make you a slave, and they're not supposed to take TOO many of your women as wives, lest your phony religion might rub off on them, as things tend to eventually do, when people are sexual for any length of time.  That's how they lived.

The New Testament is different.  Suddenly Jesus is living and preaching a religion in which he spends a lot of time talking to, listening to and taking quite seriously, people like women, children, Romans, Greeks, Samaritans and the like.  Oh sure, he is a bit harsh with nonJews on occasion, explaining that he is doing them a favour to be including them, but when they understand how he's putting himself out, he goes right ahead and puts himself out and talks them up to any Jews within earshot.  Suddenly, when the Jews want to know who is their neighbour (who they have to treat with respect and avoid coveting the stuff of) Jesus starts telling a story about a Samaritan who considers a Jew his neighbour and who then helps him when he's in need.  (Jesus is, clearly, a Jew, telling this story to Samaritan-disparaging Jews who are wondering how helpful they have to be to their fellow Jews.  So a story, not about them helping out even Samaritans, but "flipped" as it were).

Jesus talks about love more than you'd expect from the OT.  That's new.  You don't just serve God and praise Him and obey Him and never cheat on Him.  You know that He loves you and you reciprocate that.  And your neighbour?  You don't just keep your fences up and respect boundaries, you are to love him.  You don't follow your law-outlined rights of vengeance and retribution, you are to forgive humans, because humans screw up.  The Golden Rule comes in.  You're not just supposed to look after those of your own family and household, but are supposed to treat others (even outside it) the way you want to be treated (bad advice for masochists, C.S. Lewis said).  You're supposed to help people.  You're not just supposed to amass all the wealth you can to look after your family, including all of your wives, children and concubines anymore.  You're actually supposed to look after the poor.  And, in fact, being rich is a bad thing, according to Jesus.  Because rich people, Jesus says, centuries before Karl Marx, get and stay rich on the backs of the poor.  Jesus commands his followers to neither trust the rich, nor to respect them a whit more than they would respect a poor person (think "a homeless guy").  I'm not sure modern Christians are really willing to do this.

But as to sexual sin?  There is not a single marriage ceremony referred to in the bible.  Oh, guys took women to their tents "as wife," "knew them" and they conceived and all.  And there are certainly a few marriage suppers or feasts, but no actual marriage rituals.  No enjoinders to "wait" until marriage.  No, sex IS a marriage in the bible.  There is no dating.  There is no "playing the field" for a while, getting free samples from willing ladies.  You get a wife (or wives), usually from arranged marriage, the spoils of war, or wherever else. In the Old Testament almost every single man spoken of unreservedly with respect by every New Testament person including Jesus, had a bunch of them.  And no one says "Which wasn't ok."  King Solomon was record-breaking in terms of numbers of wives and concubines.  Was his apparently insatiable appetite for strange criticized?  Only in that they weren't nice Jewish girls.  They turned him away to their gods.  THE cardinal Jewish sin.  Having a perfectly good, committed deity around, and making your own fake ones instead, or having gods made to order, to your liking, in keeping with your own psychological explorations, by other cultures.

In the NT, Jesus mentions how Moses allowed Jewish men to divorce their wives if they didn't like them (notice Jewish women couldn't divorce their husbands, as they were the property of their husbands and not the other way around), and that this wasn't ok, but in no way addresses that Moses allowed them to have (and himself had) numerous wives, and doesn't say that THIS isn't ok with him now.  There is discussion in Paul's writings of women being adulteresses if they "be to another" while their husband is still living.  Christians always assume that this is meant to go equally for a man who leaves his wife and gets a new one, but it really doesn't read like that.  All things being equal, it isn't very equal. (We can always pretend, though, if we don't like what's actually written there.)


Wikkid Person said...

Right. I'm not saying this guy isn't a bit wingnutty, and a bit out there, but for twenty years now I have been repeatedly appalled over and over again by stuff I could have sworn the bible says, and then it's just not there. I mean, interpreting the bible is a different question. Trying to know the intent behind it, or connect to what it's for and so on are deeper things. I think it's about drawing those lines to rightly divide the word of truth. So, "law" isn't the same as "wise," and "trespass" isn't the same as "unspiritual."
I'm disappointed to hear you aren't attracted to muscles. I was born which a few hundred of them. I am using a number of them to type this right now.
You aren't going to go so far as to say that men responding positively to beauty is lust, are you?

Wikkid Person said...

I don't remember the scripture praising a man for finding a wife to "take as wife." I remember it, characteristically, saying two things "he that findeth a wife findeth a good thing" (that's praising the value of wives, not of the man finding one), and a bunch of stuff in Proverbs about contentious or faithless women being worse than living alone on a housetop. And then Paul saying it's better not to take a wife.

Wikkid Person said...

I mean, just reconciling the "virtuous woman" and the "beauty is vain" stuff with the content of the Song of Solomon is quite a task. What sayeth the scripture? A whole bunch of different things. Anyone who wants to use the scripture to lie with simply has to, serpent-like, mention one thing it said and kinda act like it didn't say a bunch of other things too.