Bible quoting for religious liberals

When someone throws Leviticus 18.22 at you to “prove” that homosexuality is a sin: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”…

…quote Leviticus 19.18 back to them: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”…

…and you could go on to give them Mark 12.28-34, in which Jesus refers back to Leviticus 19.18 as one of the two greatest commandments.

5 thoughts on “Bible quoting for religious liberals

  1. Z

    In regards to Leviticus 18:22 and the other quoted abominations such as vanity, I argue that this was written by Jews that were being persecuted by the Romans who were sexually free and exceptionally vain. The Jews of the time viewed everything that the Romans were doing as evil because the Jews were being persecuted by these people they considered evil. The Romans of the time were freely engaged in homosexual relations. Therefore, the Jews of the time wrote that homosexuality was an abomination.

  2. Administrator

    Z — You may be right that Leviticus was written as a response of the Jewish community to near neighbors or oppressors from whom they wished to differentiate themselves, but it almost certainly wasn’t the Romans they were thinking of.

    If you were a literalist, if you argued strictly on the basis of the text, Leviticus 18 is set in or around Mount Sinai after Moses and his people had escaped from Egypt. So if you’re a literalist, you could maybe argue that Leviticus was written in repsonse to the Egyptian life. (Maybe. But most literalists wouldn’t, they would say that it’s the word of God, forget all this stuff about a response to another culture.)

    But you don’t sound like a literalist at all. If, like me, you prefer to use higher criticism of the Bible, then based on the four source theory of the composition of the Pentateuch, Leviticus comes from the P, or Priestly, source. According to Anthony Ceresko’s “Introduction to the Old Testament: A Liberation Perspective” (which is relatively easy to read on this topic), the P source was finally written down either during the Babylonian exile, or in the immediate post-Exilic period, around 550-450 B.C.E. The Pentateuch was probably assembled (or redacted) around 400 B.C.E., but in any case the text as we have it was essentially complete before the Jews had come into contact with the Romans. So maybe you might want argue that Leviticus was written in Exile, as a response to Babylonian culture.

    Ceresko offers a more nuanced view (influenced by liberation theology), and argues that Leviticus was written down in a time of turmoil for the priestly classes, after many had been killed by the Babylonian conquerors. Leviticus and the Pentateuch codified certain priestly traditions in writing for the first time, and provided a new focus and identity for the Jews. Thus, what we can learn from Leviticus, according to this liberation view, is not so much the specifics of the Levitican injunctions, but more the importance of knowing who you are as a people so that you may stand up to your oppressors. (Assuming you have oppressors, and that you are not, in fact, one of the oppressors — but then, liberation theology is always problematic for many North Americans.)

    Other commentators would argue that the real goal of Leviticus 18-20 rests in historical traditions, coming from a time when the Jews were trying to differentiate themselves from the Canaanites. In other words, the specific injunctions in the text were mostly shpaed by experiences that ocurred just after the Exodus, not during the Exile.

    So you can pick between Babylonians and Canaanites (or maybe Egyptians, but that’s really a long shot that’s almost impossible to justify). But not Romans. You really don’t get Romans in the Old Testament until you get to Maccabees — then boy oh boy, do you get Romans.

  3. Z


    Thanks. I did not know that. I got the idea that the “abominations” in Leviticus was written in response to the way the Romans were after watching a series on the Romans on the History Channel. As the series described the persecution of the Jews by the Romans and as another episode described the lifestyle of the Roman elite, I put 2 and 2 together. However, I did not pay attention to the time period. Thank you for guiding me in the right direction on this issue.

    My main argument against using the “scriptures” as a source of law/norms/morals/etc., is that they were written by men/people/human beings. They were not literally written by a supernatural force (i.e. God). What was written was by men with thoughts. I can only imagine that, back then, people did not understand thoughts. They assumed that dreams and thoughts were from God and not from themselves or from their own conscious. In my lifetime, I have heard some fundamentalist Christians proclaim that certain ideas they have had came from God. They do not believe that their ideas can come from themselves. I am not doubting their sincerity. I am doubting the “reality.” As with most thoughts, they result from experiences. Therefore, the writers of Leviticus wrote what they wrote in response to something, and I made the false assumption that it was from the persecution by the Romans.

    You are right, that I am not a literalist, at least 100% of the time. However, I do have my moments when I think being a literalist is appropriate, as there are appropriate times to see the spiritual aspects.



  4. Administrator

    Z — You’d probably be very interested in the so-called higher criticism of the Bible. Check out that Ceresko book. Check out some of Elaine Pagels’s books, too — her recent book on the Gospel of Thomas will knock your socks off. Many Bible scholars today find they can treat the Bible respectfully, and still assume that it was written by people (some of whom, by the way, were probably women — it wasn’t all men writing the Bible).

    As for whether the people who wrote the Bible actually thought differently than we do now — I’ve heard it argued both ways. Maybe the problem isn’t in the people who wrote the Bible — maybe the problem is in us, who are trying to read the Bible too literally. Maybe we should read the Bible in much the same way we read Shakespeare — take the characters very seriously, let the plays shape our moral thinking, go back to the plays time after time, even memorize parts of them — but we don’t have to believe that Macbeth was a real human being in order for us to know that murder is wrong.

  5. Z

    I could not agree with you more on the reading the Bible like Shakespeare thing. I have read one book by Elaine Pagels on the Gnostic scriptures. I have been meaning to get her book on the Book of Thomas (I have read the Gnostic Bible version). I am also interested in reading about the Book of Judas.

    Anyway, I tend to think more like a Gnostic and seeing the deeper meaning, especially in what Jesus said. I am still not convinced Jesus was an actual person, but I have finally concluded that it doesn’t matter. Regardless, I see “Jesus” as enlightenment. Whether he actually lived or not is irrelevant at this point, in my humble opinion.

    However, I see the Old Testament as something completely different. I do not know why, but I see it, especially the “laws” as something to try to control the masses, not something that necessarily came from “God.” Plus, I can only imagine that the “laws” came from a response to some experience. This is just my intuition talking now.

    Thank you so much for this conversation and recommendations.



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