Thursday, March 17, 2005


"Most of the rules of the law of holiness relate to the basic categories of the natural world and of human experience. Such categories as the living and the dead; mortal and divine; human and animal; air, sea, and land; male and female; past, present, and future are common to most peoples. They provide a framework of basic “natural” categories that render the universe meaningful. What is peculiar to the Jewish people is that these natural categories are also moral categories and anything that is ambiguous or threatens to blur the boundaries of these categories is treated as abominable. Hence the ban on the consumption of shellfish, which are not fully sea creatures or land creatures but live on the littoral margin of each, or on the eating of flightless birds, which do not belong properly to the air as birds should and yet are not proper land animals either (Douglas 1970, pp. 54—72). There is a similar explanation for the rules relating to the slaughter of animals for food which insist that the blood (the life) must be removed from the meat (dead and hence consumable) before it is eaten (Lev.17:10—14).

We can see also why sorcery, necromancy, and witchcraft are forbidden (Ex. 22:18; Lev. 12:26—27, 20:6—7; Deut. 18:9—15; 1 Sam. 15:23, 28:7— 20; 2 Chron. 33:6) and why “any man or woman among you who calls up ghosts and spirits shall be put to death” (Lev. 20:27). Such people are dangerous because they break down the division between the living and the dead or between the present and the future (Is. 8: 19—2 2, 47: 13—15).

The book of Leviticus makes explicit a central moral distinction that runs throughout the Old Testament—the Jews must either live in a world of carefully separated discrete categories (i.e., remain a people with a distinct identity) or face a world of utter confusion (Douglas 1970, p. 67; Davies 1975, p. 97). The biblical account of the creation involves the resolution of the world into clear categories from primeval confusion (Gen. 1: 1—19) , and the flood represents the return of that confusion as the separation of the land from the sea is eliminated. The building of the tower of Babel, an impious attempt to join together the separate categories of heaven and earth, is punished by the infliction of confusion on its builders, the beginning of the mutual unintelligibility of men’s various languages (Gen. 11:1— 9), an unintelligibility removable only by the divine gift of tongues (Acts 2:2—12).

It is now possible to provide a complete explanation for the harsh treatment of homosexuality, bestiality, and transvestism in the scriptures. These are all forms of sexual behavior which break down the boundaries between some of the most fundamental categories of human experience—the categories of male and female and human and animal. This is why homo sexuality and bestiality are condemned in Leviticus and why in Deuteronomy God tells the people of Israel through his prophet Moses: “No woman shall wear an article of man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s dress; for those who do these things are abominable to the Lord your God” (Deut. 22:5).

It is easy to see how transvestites break down the categories of male and female, but the situation is slightly more complicated in the case of homosexuality. The essential point to grasp is that “male” and “female” are complementary categories, each defined in relation to the other. The male is by definition complementary to the female and only remains male so long as his sexual behavior relates exclusively to females. Any sexual behavior directed by a biological male toward another male will (at any rate so far as the scriptures are concerned) automatically place him in the same cat egory as a female, for whom this is the normal sexual orientation.
Because homosexual behavior involves a person placing himself or her self in the wrong sex category it erodes the boundary between these cat egories. This is why homosexual behavior is linked in Leviticus with bestiality, a sexual practice which breaks down the division between the equally fundamental categories of the human and the animal (see also Epstein 1948, p. 135)."
(Sexual Taboos and Social Boundaries
By Christie Davies
American Journal of Sociology,Vol. 87,
No.5, Mar., 1982 :1032-1063)