Following up on Part 8 on the Sin of Sodom and the power of words. The question was raised: was the lack of a word for men lying with men simply a refusal of the culture to talk about it.
“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”
– James 3:8 (NASB)
Working with new generations (Gen Z) – Series
The power of words.
It’s important to look deeply at language (symbols) and what they mean. There is a similar concept in Judaism from which James came: “the dust of lashon hara.” It means literally, ‘the evil tongue.’ Jews define it as defaming a person in the eyes of others by revealing details about them that put them in a negative light.” The Dust of Gossip. This is different from telling lies – it focuses on truth in a negative way.
Why no words for men lying with men?
Koine Greek was commonly used for Scriptural writings from as early as Alexander, 300 BCE in Judaism. Koine is a regional variation of Greek. We can’t know for sure if Paul knew the language, but he was involved in trade (tent maker). While the Roman Empire official language was Latin, Greek was a very important language since Alexander spread it throughout the region and enforced its use. It was used for trade and scripture.
Word frequency, etymology, and usage are types of linguistic analysis, but there are a lot of problems with these types of analytics. I appreciate that some words may have been suppressed, as in “the word that shall not be mentioned.”
Various scribes of those times tried to make the Hebrew scriptures more palatable to their communities, so sometimes changed the original language without changing the meaning of the text.
The Christian Old Testament (Greek Septuagint translation), in comparison to other texts for example there are six thousand differences between the older Samaritan Hebrew Bible and the relatively newer Rabbinic Masoretic Text which is the text mostly used by Jews. But scribes didn’t change the Leviticus reference to men lying with men. It stood. I think the Samaritan, which is older and compares to Dead Sea Scroll versions, agrees with the Masoretic, and Septuagint translations. The Other Torah (Samaritan).
Also to the point is the absence of any word meaning homosexual relations in ancient koine Greek, regular ancient Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. Would the absence of the word there indicate it was unacceptable to mention? Very unlikely. The word taken to mean homosexual wasn’t even in Greek literature before Paul used it. So I have to say more likely than not that the “dust of lashon hara” does not account for the absence of a word for homosexual in Hebrew. It simply didn’t rise as an important issue in the region, yet those relationships definitely existed.
Rome spoke Latin as the predominant language. There was no specific word in Latin for homosexual, and the word pairings Paul used was not found in previous Greek literature. Like the ancient Hebrews, it was a patriarchal culture about dominance over females. Men were free to have sex with men as long as it was in a dominant relationship. – Homosexuality in ancient Rome. Some Jewish scholars think it was the same for ancient Judaism. – Judaism and the Gays: Part 1 – Dealing with Mishcav Zachar.
Word analysis in context
The Jewish sources I referenced in writing the main article went deeply into the meanings of the words used in Hebrew. Their analysis was that it was a specific prohibition against anal sex. The Jewish acceptance of LGBTQ is based on this analysis. They do not accept anal sex but do accept other forms of sexual relationships between men.
The rabbis forbade even “the dust of lashon hara” [avak lashon hara], i.e., lashon hara by insinuation, as in saying “do not mention so-and-so for I do not wish to tell in what he was involved,””
This concept could account for the silence on the subject. But from 300 BCE Jewish encounters (in your face) with the Greek world and sexual practices such as older men keeping younger men for sex or soldiers keeping slaves for sex, would have made it difficult to not put a name to this … although just calling it an abomination could have worked. But this raises the question about why Paul, a devout Jew, would use certain words in Greek. This is looked at in greater depth in the next article in the series. (This article was only about the Hebrew Bible and Jewish attitudes.
To the point of word absence due to forbidden usage, the words for rape, adultery, and harlot had plenty of usage.
Relating to importance, only adultery is mentioned in the Ten Commandments. Other things are considered abominable and abhorrent, which means disgusting or detestable. In general “abomination” relates to ritual uncleanness, and is more cultural in nature. – Have you committed an “abomination” today? In the Hebrew Bible most of these were on pain of death. Like Draco’s first Greek Law Code in 650 BCE, the penalty for everything was death. That soon changed.
The fact that most denominations and people pick and choose which abominations they respect and which they don’t is compelling evidence of cultural stigma, not Biblical authority. Some explain their explanations away with various gimmicks, but that is more excuse, not reason.
In today’s world those who gossip have a high profile and wide interest. Gossip is a moral judgement about others. Tearing down others is a sport and very profitable, as well as being giggle fruit for many friends. It’s interesting today that we have our nose in everyone’s business, especially sexual, with our tongues wagging about it all. It’s a sickness of the soul.
Similarly some men and religions want to a patriarchal culture with dominance over females. Yet in Judaism and Christianity women took active roles in the Synagogue and in Christian ministry. It’s over 2000 years past time for that thinking to end.
Take Home Points
Religion naturally goes through periods of soul searching to determine what is true, and reform. Sometimes it asks if it is still applicable today and the reasons for it. Today is no different.
An example is the verse: “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 22:5 It’s an indication of what once may have been thought of as an “abomination,” yet more likely reflects a male dominated culture that strictly assigned gender and roles. Today women wearing men’s clothes is commonplace and there is no identifiable reason for such thought or restriction.
This probing look at LGBTQIA from Jewish analysis indicates that more likely than not this was an early reaction to the Temple prostitution by both sexes of the Canaanites which would have been considered an impure form of worship.
The lack of mention throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible indicates that it wasn’t an issue despite sharing the land with the Canaanites. The emphasis on not speaking ill of people was more about negative speaking about truth and in context of the larger region did not apply since they didn’t have a name for it either.
Many “abominations” and “abhorrences” have been skewered.
The next article clarifies law and love in Christianity. People strain endlessly to be under law, but that negates what Jesus did for us according to the Apostles Paul and John. Then the next article is about the Apostle Paul and LGBTQ.
Free Speech – Rabbi Berel Wein.
Some series references:
How to Keep Millennials Engaged in Church – on Patheos
What Is Meant by Truth? – on Patheos
Tabernacle of Hate – False Religion – on Patheos
10 Reforms Christianity Needs to Make Right Now – on Patheos
The standard of belief and conduct for Christianity is love. Legal standard.
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