Friday, June 17, 2011

Tale as Old as Time

Jonathan Kirsch takes a glance at new book, The Bible Now, written by Richard Elliott Friedman, a scholar who chairs Jewish studies at the University of Georgia and the University of California, San Diego and Shawna Dolansky, an assistant professor of religious studies at Northeastern University. The book takes a close look at what the Bible really says, and what it doesn’t, about marriage and sexuality

Thus, for example, the authors point out that the Hebrew Bible does not prohibit sexual contact between women, and they argue that the explanation can be found in the ancient practice of polygamy.

“Men with two wives, or even harems, had opportunities for group sex and for voyeurism of female homosexuality,” they frankly explain. “Today it is a fantasy for men, which they can view [on the Internet and in other media], but for men in the ancient world it was an option, at least for men of wealth who could afford it.” And so, since the biblical law codes were written by male authors, “men were not about to forbid female-to-female contact.”

I would also think that if a king or otherwise powerful man had dozens or hundreds of wives or a sizable harem (or even just a few women) and none of the women were supposed to be involved with other men, that there were lesbian relationships and lesbian sexuality when the king wasn’t watching, too.

Sometimes, the most telling fact about the Bible is what it doesn’t say. On the hot-button issue of gay marriage, for example, the authors point out that “the laws in the Torah in fact hardly address any matters of getting married at all.” Indeed, the Hebrew Bible is clearly not consulted as a source for marriage law since the rejection of polygamy by most Jews and Christians “suggests that they do not feel bound by the Hebrew Bible’s conception of marriage.”


Of course neither the Bible nor any other religious text should be used to legislate, but it can be important to note what religious texts do and do not actually say if you are in an associated religion or are talking with someone who is.
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