More unintentional comedy from liberal theology

Jerry Coyne has reposted a scathing review of The Bible Now, a book in which some liberal theologians try to tell us how all those barbaric, homophobic and misogynistic scriptures in the Bible are really very enlightened pearls of wisdom, if we just interpret them in... wait for it... the proper context. Here's an excerpt from the original review at Powell's, reviewed by Adam Kirsch:
The first chapter of The Bible Now is devoted to homosexuality, and it is not long before Friedman and Dolansky run into Leviticus 20:13. It is easy to sympathize with their embarrassment. Here the Bible is saying something they obviously regard as cruel and retrograde, something they would not hesitate to brand as homophobic in any other situation. What to do? Well, "for one thing, one must address the law in its context." Turning from ancient Israel to Assyria, Egypt, and Greece, Friedman and Dolansky observe that these other Near Eastern societies generally had nothing against homosexual acts as such. They reserved their odium for the passive partner in anal sex, the man who was penetrated. A "Middle Babylonian divination text" instructs that "If a man copulates with his equal from the rear, he becomes the leader among his peers and brothers"; on the other hand, Plutarch writes, "We class those who enjoy the passive part as belonging to the lowest depths of vice."

Never mind that these texts were written more than a thousand years apart, in two very different civilizations, neither of which was Israelite. Friedman and Dolansky use them to establish "the wider cultural context" of Leviticus, from which it follows that "what the authors of Leviticus ... may be prohibiting is not homosexuality as we would construe the category today but, rather, an act that they understood to rob another man of his social status by feminizing him." Why, then, does Leviticus, uniquely among ancient Near Eastern law codes, prescribe death for both partners in homosexual acts? Friedman and Dolansky argue, quoting another Bible scholar, that it is because Leviticus "emphasizes the equality of all. It does not have the class distinctions that are in the other cultures' laws."

This is a remarkable performance. Before you know it, a law that unambiguously prescribes death for gay men has been turned into an example of latent egalitarianism. Friedman and Dolansky imply that it was not homosexuality the Bible wanted to condemn, but the humiliation of the passive partner. And since we no longer think of consensual sex acts as humiliating, surely the logic of the Bible itself means that homosexuality is no longer culpable: "The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive."
Here's what gets me about all this liberal theologizing (I'm making it a word, alright?): Nobody ever bothers to fuss over the proper "context" of the stuff they like. If it's a scripture about love, faithfulness, joy, God being there for you when life pisses on your shoes – oh, those are all fine as is. But the ones that say women should submit to their husbands? Context! That God commands his followers to slaughter infants? Context! That divorce is a sin unless adultery is involved? Context! And on and on and on.

The transparency of this ruse is worthy of several consecutive facepalms. I at least give the fundies partial credit here: they may take positions that are logically and scientifically untenable, but at least they generally take scripture at face value and aren't constantly trying to re-interpret every disgusting verse so that it's more palatable to the minds of the secularly modernized. I've said a thousand times: there's no objective criteria by which to properly interpret scripture. Everyone who reads it and believes it simply imposes their own sociocultural biases on it and shapes it arbitrarily. Which is why, importantly, you can't actually derive any truth or moral guidance from the Bible – you'll just be reinforcing your own biases.


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