Christians and Jews who subscribe to the, shall we say, far-right versions of their respective faiths often quote the Bible to justify their opposition to homosexuality. "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them," says Leviticus chapter 20, verse 13. Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament (to Christians) and the Torah (to Jews), is a list of rules sent supposedly by God, through Moses, to the descendants of biblical patriarch Levi, and by extension to all the faithful. Also, in the very first book, Genesis, there's the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, interpreted by literalists to be punishment for gay sex (more modern thinkers say it was for rape and inhospitality). And in the New Testament, St. Paul calls homosexuality "unnatural" and "indecent." But the people who cite these verses seldom mention that the Bible also prohibits the eating of pork and shellfish or the wearing of blended fabrics, condones slavery, mandates the death penalty for wizardry (take that, Harry Potter), and orders men to marry their brother's widow or risk losing a shoe (really). Read on — for consistency, all the verses quoted are from the Revised Standard Version. Most are from Leviticus, a few from other books of the Bible.
“And the swine, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean to you,” says Leviticus. 11:7–8. Many observant Jews, not just the Orthodox, abstain from eating pork, and Islam's holy book, the Koran, forbids the consumption of pork as well. And of course there are people of all faiths who avoid red meat or any meat at all for either health or ethical reasons (the ancient prohibition may actually have arisen from health and sanitation concerns). But we suspect there are a lot of right-wing Christians who listen to Sunday sermons against homosexuality after having scarfed down bacon, ham, or pork sausage at breakfast. Ham is also popular as an Easter entree!
“A man or woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned with stones, their blood shall be upon them,” says Leviticus 20:27. The gang at Hogwarts had better watch out — so, perhaps, should people like David Duke (pictured), a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
According to Leviticus, God frowns on the consumption of shellfish, such as shrimp, crab, and lobster. From chapter 19, verses 9-12: “Everything in the waters that has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers, you may eat. But anything in the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is an abomination to you. They shall remain an abomination to you; of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall have in abomination. Everything in the waters that has not fins and scales is an abomination to you.” And yes, many observant Jews, including those from the LGBT-friendly branches of Judaism, avoid shellfish to this day. But most antigay Christians have no objection to shellfish — undoubtedly they've often dined at Red Lobster.
"The women should keep silence in the churches," writes St. Paul in First Corinthians, 14:34-35. "For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church." Yes, there are some Christian churches that still don't permit women to be clergy members. But we haven't noticed anyone using this to shut down the antigay rants of Linda Harvey, Sandy Rios, Phyllis Schlafly, and the rest of their ilk.
From the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 25, this is one of the most bizarre biblical orders, and the punishment for disobedience involves losing a shoe. "If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders, and say, 'My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.' Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak to him: and if he persists, saying, 'I do not wish to take her,' then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say, 'So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.' And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, the house of him that had his sandal pulled off." Honestly, we don't know of anyone who follows this. But if we see someone hopping around with just one sandal on...
"You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff," says Leviticus 19:19. Apparently a lot of farmers and scientists are hell-bound if they don't repent of this sin, as are those who wear cotton-polyester blends.
"You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit," says Leviticus 25:37. Now, we know banks and credit card companies aren't popular, but charging interest is a sin? And apparently farmers, grocers, and restaurants should provide food at cost. Making a reservation at the French Laundry now.
It's not just gay sex that incites God's wrath — some heterosexual liaisons are worthy of death too, says Leviticus 20:10: "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death." Seems like many antigay politicians and preachers have confessed to extramarital affairs yet escaped the death penalty. Maybe their partner wasn't a neighbor.
The commands found in Leviticus don't show much divine mercy to people with disabilities. "None of your descendants throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God," says chapter 20. "For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles; no man of the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, but he shall not come near the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord who sanctify them." Really, we can't imagine that anyone obeys this.
According to Leviticus, God is cool with slavery! "You may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you," reads chapter 25. "You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession for ever; you may make slaves of them." Some years ago, U.S. slaveholders drew on the Bible to justify the practice of owning other humans, but then our country fought a big war over slavery, and it's been prohibited ever since. You might have heard about it in a Ken Burns documentary.
If you use the name of God except in prayer, you're in big trouble, according to Leviticus, chapter 24: "Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him." So watch what you say in anger, in ectasy, or in your text messages.