The Slaughter of the Canaanites – Part 9

Clay Jones argues that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), but that this command and the obedience of the Israelites to the command was morally justified because the Canaanites deserved the death penalty for various serious crimes or sins which were violations of the laws of Jehovah (see his article “Killing the Canaanites”). Jones provides a list of the crimes or sins allegedly committed by the Canaanites which were (supposedly) deserving of the death penalty: idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality.

The Sin or Crime of Bestiality

The word “bestiality” does not occur anywhere in the Bible.  Thus, the word “bestiality” does not occur anywhere in the laws of Jehovah.  Thus, there is no explicit prohibition of “bestiality” in the laws of Jehovah.  However, we can compare the meaning of “bestiality” in ordinary English language, and then review the laws of Jehovah to see whether some actions are prohibited which would fall under the meaning of the word “bestiality”:

sex between a person and an animal
(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bestiality)

There are verses in Leviticus that prohibit such sexual activity:

Leviticus 18:23 New American Standard Bible

23 Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.

Leviticus 20:15-16 New American Standard Bible

15 If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death; you shall also kill the animal.
16 If there is a woman who approaches any animal to mate with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

It appears that there is a bit of a double-standard here, in terms of men vs. women.  Men are to be put to death for having sex with an animal, but women are to be put to death merely for attempting to have sex with an animal (“approaches any animal to mate with it”).  This is SEXIST and unfair to women:

45. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanite men and women be killed as the death penalty for violating the prohibitions in Leviticus concerning sex with animals, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to execute men only for actually having sex with an animal,  while executing women for merely attempting to have sex with an animal.

In a previous post, I argued that the sin or crime of beastiality was not deserving of the death penalty:

17. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of beastiality (i.e. sex between a human and a non-human animal), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of beastiality is NOT deserving of the death penalty.

Why should we have a law against having sex with an animal?  One concern might be for public health – sex with animals could result in transmission of new sexually transmitted diseases, especially from animals to humans (but also from humans to animals).  Another concern might be for the well-being of animals.  A non-human animal might be caused to suffer or might be physically injured by having sex with a human.  Even if an animal enjoys having sex with a human, this could be viewed as a sort of “rape” of the animal by the human, because a non-human animal is no more capable of giving consent to sex than is a baby or a young child.

But none of these reasons seem strong enough to warrant the death penalty, especially in view of the fact that the laws of Jehovah allow an adult man to violently rape a young girl without imposing the death penalty for that sin or crime.  So, even the violent “rape” of a non-human animal (which seems like the worst sort of case of having sex with an animal) cannot be justly punished with the death penalty by Jehovah’s laws, because that would mean treating the violent rape of a young girl by an adult man as something that is LESS SERIOUS than the violent “rape” of an animal by an adult man.

Furthermore, there are MANY different ways to injure or cause pain and suffering to animals.  Factory farming, for example, causes injuries and pain and suffering to millions of animals each year, but we have no laws that impose the death penalty on humans for such practices.  Some sadistic humans take pleasure in beating and abusing and even torturing animals.  Although we sometimes send people to prison for animal abuse, we don’t execute people for such crimes.  If it was the suffering and abuse of the animal that was the moral justification for prohibition of sex with animals, then Jehovah’s laws clearly miss the mark, because they fail to deal with the vast array of non-sexual ways in which humans cause animals to suffer.

Furthermore, it is clear that the laws of Jehovah concerning sex with animals are not based on a concern for the animals involved, because the laws command not only that the human involved be executed, but that the animal involved also be killed.  If the purpose of these laws was to protect animals from injury, suffering, and harm, then it makes no sense to kill the victim of the crime!

If sex with animals is considered to be wrong because non-human animals are incapable of giving consent to having sex, so that sex with an animal is a form of “rape”, then we should note that this justification is problematic.  If we want to prevent animals from having non-consensual sex, and if non-human animals CANNOT give consent (because like children they are unable to give consent) to having sex, then we have an obligation to prevent any and every non-human animal from ever having sex with any other animal (human or non-human).   According to this logic, ALL sexual intercourse by non-human animals would be considered to be “rape”.  Since we do allow non-human animals to have sex, even though they are not capable of giving consent to having sex, it is logically inconsistent to equate having sex with an animal with the sin or crime of RAPE.

We should be concerned about the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases being passed from animals to humans, but we should ALSO be concerned about non-sexually transmitted diseases being passed from animals to humans, and we allow all sorts of close interactions of a non-sexual nature between humans and animals, and those close non-sexual interactions ALSO have the potential to foster the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.  Apart from doing significant scientific investigation/study, it is not clear that sexually transmitted diseases that arise from humans having sex with animals is a greater health risk than diseases that arise from non-sexual interactions between humans and animals.  Even if sex with animals does present a greater health risk than non-sexual interactions with animals, it is far from clear that the difference is more than just a matter of degree.

I believe it is a good thing to prohibit humans from having sex with animals, but I do not see any reasonable justification for making such activity into a capital crime; sex with animals is NOT deserving of the death penalty.

In order to be JUST, the laws of Jehovah concerning sex with animals need to meet the following basic requirements:

R1. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate who falls under the scope of the law concerning sex with animals.
R2. The laws of Jehovah must state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes a violation of the laws concerning sex with animals and that such conduct is prohibited.
R3. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate what punishment may be imposed for the sin or crime of  violating prohibitions concerning sex with animals.

Although the laws of Jehovah appear to give a clear indication of the SCOPE of the prohibitions concerning sex with animals, as I have argued concerning other prohibitions, the SCOPE is  the nation of Israel and does NOT include the Canaanites:

Leviticus 18:23 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

23 Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.

Since the pronoun “you” in this verse clearly refers back to the phrase “the sons of Israel” found at the beginning of Chapter 18 of Leviticus, the first prohibition against having sex with animals applies only to “the sons of Israel” (i.e. the men of the nation Israel).  The phrase “any woman” should be interpreted in keeping with the interpretation of the pronoun “you”, so “any woman” in this context clearly means: any Israelite woman.  It would be absurd and illogical to limit the scope of the first prohibition to Israelite men, but to hugely expand the scope of the second prohibition to include every woman in every nation.  So, the prohibitions concerning sex with animals satisfy (R1), but since the scope is limited to Israelites, it would be unjust to apply the death penalty to Canaanites for violations of these laws:

46. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as the death penalty for violating Jehovah’s laws concerning sex with animals, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to impose a severe punishment on people on the basis of laws which clearly appear to exclude those people from the scope of those laws.

What about the second basic requirement for a just law?  Do the laws of Jehovah state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes a violation of the laws concerning sex with animals (R2)? I will argue that they are VAGUE and UNCLEAR as to what specific sexual activities constitute a violation of the laws concerning sex with animals.

The first thing to note is that the prohibition concerning MEN having sex with animals uses the same UNCLEAR language as the prohibition against men having sex with other men.  Here is the verse prohibiting men from having sex with other men:

Leviticus 20:13 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

13 If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

 This is followed a couple of verses later by the prohibition of men having sex with animals:

Leviticus 20:15 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

15 If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death;

The expression “X lies with Y” is a euphemism used in ancient Hebrew to mean roughly “X has sex with Y”.  But the use of euphemism makes both of these laws VAGUE and UNCLEAR, because a law, especially a law which carries the death penalty as a punishment, needs to be very clear and precise as to what conduct is prohibited.  We can see, based on a parallel passage in Leviticus 18 that the euphemism “lies with” is a way for referring to sex:

Leviticus 18:23 New Revised Standard Version (emphasis added)

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.

It is reasonable to use Leviticus 18:23 as the basis for interpreting the phrase “lies with” in Leviticus 20:15, so we can conclude that the laws of Jehovah prohibit a man from having sexual relations with an animal, and that a violation of this law may be punished by the death penalty.  But if this is what the law against sex with animals means, then this law is VAGUE and UNCLEAR about what conduct constitutes a violation of this law, and thus this law is unjust.

The phrase “X had sexual relations with Y” is a vague and unclear statement, because it is unclear whether oral sex would count as an example of “having sexual relations”, and whether anal sex would count, and whether manual sex would count.  When President Bill Clinton famously asserted, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”, he was not lying, because the meaning of this phrase is VAGUE and UNCLEAR.

Miss Lewinsky and Bill Clinton had oral sex; she put his penis in her mouth and sucked and licked his penis until he had an orgasm and ejaculated.  But they did not engage in coitus; he did not insert his penis into her vagina and move his penis in and out of her until he had an orgasm and ejaculated.  Because it is unclear whether “having sexual relations” means strictly engaging in coitus or whether it includes other sorts of sexual activity (such as oral sex, anal sex, or manual sex), we cannot convict Bill Clinton of lying.  We can say he was being deceptive and using VAGUE and UNCLEAR language to mislead others, but what he asserted is NOT clearly false, because he used language which was (intentionally) unclear.

Such VAGUE and UNCLEAR language has no place in laws, particularly in criminal laws where serious punishments can be given to a person who is convicted of such a crime, and the death penalty is one of the most serious punishments that one can receive (apart from torture which we have eliminated as a legitimate legal punishment in the USA).

I, however, used the New Revised Standard Version above, as the basis for this interpretation.  The Revised English Bible provides an alternative translation to the key verse from Leviticus 18:

Leviticus 18:23 Revised English Bible (emphasis added)

23 You must not have sexual intercourse with any animal to make yourself unclean with it…

The phrase “X had sexual intercourse with Y” seems a bit more clear and specific than “X had sexual relations with Y”, and my American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College edition) supports my linguistic intuition here:

sexual intercourse:  Coitus, esp. between humans.

O.K., but what exactly is “Coitus”?  This term appears to have a fairly specific meaning, again from my American Heritage Dictionary:

coitus: The physical union of male and female sexual organs, leading to orgasm and ejaculation of semen.

Now we have clarity and specificity.

1.  “X lies with Y” means “X has sexual intercourse with Y”.

2. “X has sexual intercourse with Y” means “X and Y engage in sexual activity in which there is a physical union of male and female sexual organs [of X and Y] and in which the male has an orgasm and ejaculates semen.”

Therefore:

3. “X lies with Y” means “X and Y engage in sexual activity in which there is a physical union of male and female sexual organs [of X and Y] and in which the male has an orgasm and ejaculates semen.”

This very clear and precise definition of “X lies with Y” in (3) has some serious problems, however.  First on this definition, it is IMPOSSIBLE for one man to “lie with” another man, or to have “sexual intercourse” with another man, because on this definition, “X lies with Y” ONLY IF one of the two people has a female sexual organ, a vagina ( I suppose that someone could be born with both male and female sexual organs, but then it is not clear that such a person would be correctly categorized as a “man” in the view of the Israelites or of the author of Leviticus).

But it is clear that the author of Leviticus believes that it is possible for two men to be engaged in sexual activity that can be correctly categorized as “X lies with Y”.  Therefore, either the translators of the Revised English Bible were mistaken in their translation of Leviticus 18:23 (using the expression “sexual intercourse”) or else the definitions of “sexual intercourse” and “coitus” in my American Heritage Dictionary are mistaken.

Furthermore, if we go with the narrow definition of “X lies with Y” that is implied by this Revised English Bible translation of Leviticus 18:23, then the laws of Jehovah would allow (without any punishment imposed) the following sexual activities:

  • oral sex between men
  • anal sex between men
  • manual sex (mutual masturbation) between men
  • oral sex between a man and an animal
  • anal sex between a man and an animal
  • manual sex between a man and an animal
  • penile/vaginal sex between a man and an animal in which the man does not reach orgasm or does not ejaculate
  • oral sex with another man’s wife
  • anal sex with another man’s wife
  • manual sex (mutual masturbation) with another man’s wife
  • penile/vaginal sex between a man and another man’s wife in which the man does not reach orgasm or does not ejaculate
  • oral sex between a man and his mother (or sister or daughter)
  • anal sex between a man and his mother (or sister or daughter)
  • manual sex (mutual masturbation) between a man and his mother (or sister or daughter)
  • penile/vaginal sex between a man and his mother (or sister or daughter) in which the man does not reach orgasm or does not ejaculate

Most Christian believers would find such wide-ranging sexual freedom to be appalling, and would be inclined to doubt the divine inspiration of the laws of Jehovah if those laws permit all of these sexual activities to be engaged in without any prohibition or punishment.

We could tweak the definition of “sexual intercourse” to try to achieve a definition which was clearer and more specific than the obviously problematic phrase “sexual relations” but less specific than the very precise definition of “coitus” from my American Heritage Dictionary, but such tweaking would be arbitrary, and NOT well grounded in the text of Leviticus.  The problem is that Leviticus is VAGUE and UNCLEAR in ALL of the sexual prohibitions that we have been considering (i.e. “incest”, “adultery”, “homosexuality”, and “bestiality”).

Such unclarity leaves too much room for interpretation by a judge or jury as to whether or not a specific instance of questionable sexual activity is prohibited or not.  Thus, ALL of the sexual prohibitions found in Leviticus should be VOID FOR VAGUENESS.  ALL of these sexual prohibitions constitute UNJUST LAWS, particularly in view of the fact that violations of these laws may be punished by the death penalty.  The definitions of capital crimes must be very clear and precise, leaving very little room for subjectivity and different interpretations by different judges or juries:

47. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of having sex with an animal, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the laws of Jehovah fail to state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes a violation of the laws concerning sex with animals.

This problem also applies to the prohibition of “adultery” in the laws of Jehovah:

48. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of thousands of Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “adultery”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the laws of Jehovah are VAGUE and UNCLEAR about what conduct constitutes “adultery” (because of the key phrases “lies with” and “sexual relations” are vague and unclear ). 

 The same problem applies to the prohibitions of sexual activity in the laws of Jehovah that fall under our concept of “incest”:

49. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of thousands of Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “incest”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the laws of Jehovah are VAGUE and UNCLEAR about what conduct constitutes “incest” (because of the key phrases “lies with” and “sexual relations” are vague and unclear). 

I want to consider and reject one possible line of defense against the objection I have raised here.  Suppose that someone replies to my objection by arguing from facts and details about the meanings of Hebrew words and phrases found in various passages from Leviticus and  by arguing from facts and details of the content of Leviticus related to the beliefs and attitudes of the author of Leviticus towards sex, that there is an alternative translation and interpretation of Leviticus 18:23 which is less VAGUE than the translation of the New Revised Standard Version (i.e. “sexual relations”), and which is less NARROW and less SPECIFIC than the translation of the Revised English Bible (i.e. “sexual intercourse”).  Furthermore, suppose this responder to my objections was successful in showing that this alternative translation and interpretation avoids the problem of being VOID for VAGUENESS and is a better and superior translation/interpretation than the two alternatives I have described above.  Would such a response show my objection to be weak or faulty?  I don’t think so.

For my objection here to work, it is NOT necessary that the translations/interpretations that I have pointed to be shown to be CORRECT or even shown to be the BEST AVAILABLE interpretations in terms of the latest and greatest Old Testament scholarship and scholarship concerning the meanings of ancient Hebrew words and phrases.  The reason why this is so, is that laws are very practical in nature, especially laws that govern the everyday behavior of people in general.  Such laws, in order to be just laws, must be clearly written and easily understood by the common person.

I think it is a good and wonderful thing that a few people, perhaps one in a ten thousand people, become scholars and experts in the Old Testament and in the translation and interpretation of ancient Hebrew.  However, we cannot expect the average person to master Old Testament scholarship and the subtleties of translating ancient Hebrew.  Because of the practical nature of laws, especially laws that govern the everyday behavior of common folk, it would be UNJUST to impose the death penalty on a person who misunderstood one of the laws of Jehovah simply because that person fell short of being a competent scholar of the Old Testament or of the ancient Hebrew language.

If a case for an alternative translation/interpretation of Leviticus 18:23 rests on facts and details about the meanings of ancient Hebrew words and phrases and/or facts and details concerning the beliefs and attitudes of the author of Leviticus about sex, then such discussion is likely to require TOO MUCH of the common person on the street.  This would especially be true of ancient Canaanites who (a) were mostly illiterate, and (b) did not have possession of printed copies of the laws of Jehovah, and (c) did not have access to modern scholarship concerning the translation or interpretation of the Old Testament and of the ancient Hebrew language.

Thus, even if a solid case could be made that some alternative interpretation of Leviticus 18:23 was both clear and specific, but less narrow and less specific than the definition of “coitus” from my American Heritage Dictionary, this would probably NOT refute my objection, because the arguments for such a claim are likely to demand too much knowledge or effort on the part of the common person, or on the part of the average Canaanite.  Laws concerning the everyday behavior of people in general MUST be written in clear and specific language that does NOT require a significant amount of knowledge and learning on the part of people who are expected to conform their actions to those laws.

The laws of Jehovah do clearly specify the death penalty as the punishment for a violation of the laws that prohibit people from having sex with animals, thus these laws satisfy the third requirement for a just law (R3), but this just makes it all the more critical that the laws be clear and precise about what conduct constitutes a violation of these laws.

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