We will begin to examine homosexuality in various civilizations, the first being Mesopotamia. The quotes will be taken from The Construction of Homosexuality by David F. Greenberg.
How old is homosexuality? Where did this practice begin? Was this lifestyle known in every civilization? Let’s begin with some information from the chapter on:
With the possible exception of the Egyptians and the Hebrews, none of the archaic civilizations prohibited homosexuality per Se. Some forms or some roles were considered acceptable; others not. For these we look to myths, legends, folktales, literature, and figurative art, recognizing that even these stem largely from literate male elite and may not adequately reflect the thinking of the illiterate masses, or of women.
The leading paragraph indicates the possible exceptions to prohibitions against homosexuality. Nevertheless, Egypt did have its homosexual problem as we shall see.
To assess the range of variability of responses to homosexuality in the different archaic civilizations, we examine homosexual practices and responses to these practices in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Rome, China, among the Mayans, the Aztecs, and Incas, the Hindus, and in a civilization that was not archaic, but was influenced by several that were—Islam.
None of the early legal codes of Mesopotamia—the Laws of Urukagina (2375 B.C.E.), the Laws of Ur-Nammu (2100 B.C.E.), the Laws of Eshnunna (1750 B.C.E.), and the Laws of Hammurabi (1726 B.C.E.) prohibits homosexual acts. The only possible reference to homosexuality is a provision in the Hammurabi Code concerning sons adopted by palace eunuchs,’ and it is not certain that all of the latter engaged in homosexuality.
The Hittite laws, dating from the second millennium B.C.E., make father-son incest a capital offense along with father-daughter and mother-son incest, but do not mention mother-daughter incest. In addition, they classify intercourse with a male or female ghost as a sin or abomination, without specifying a penalty.
Non-incestuous homosexuality is not mentioned.
The Middle Assyrian laws, which originated in the middle of the second millennium B.C., contain two provisions dealing with homosexuality. The first, paragraph 18, concerns unproved slanderous accusations:
If a seignior started a rumor against his neighbor in private, saying “People have lain repeatedly with him,” or he said to him in a brawl in the presence of (other) people, “People have lain repeatedly with you; I will prosecute you,” since he is not able to prosecute (him) (and) did not prosecute (him), they shall flog that seignior fifty (times) with staves (and) he shall do the work of the king for one full month; they shall castrate him and he shall also pay one talent of lead.
The preceding paragraph provides a similar penalty (forty stripes instead of fifty) for a man who makes an unproved accusation that a neighbor’s wife is behaving like a common prostitute by taking many lovers. In both cases it is a punishable offense to spread a libelous rumor without being able to prove it. Evidently, it was a little worse to accuse a man of allowing himself to be used homosexually on a regular basis than to accuse someone’s wife of adulterous promiscuity. In both instances, it would seem, the habitual receptive role could be grounds for prosecution.
Zimri-lin, king of Man, and Hammurabi, king of Babylon, both had male lovers; Zimni-lin’s queen refers to them matter-of-factly in a letter. That’ there was no religious prohibition against homosexuality is clear not only from the existence of cult prostitution,’ but also from the text of an Almanac of Incantations, which contains prayers favoring, on an equal basis, the love of a man for a woman, a woman for a man, and a man for a man.”
The Babylonians were greatly concerned with divining the future. One section of the Summa alu, a manual for that purpose, prognosticates the future on the basis of sexual acts. Most are heterosexual, but five involve male homosexuality:
1. If a man has intercourse with the hindquarters of his equal (male), that man will be foremost among his brothers and colleagues.
2. If a man yearns to express his manhood while in prison and thus, like a male cult-prostitute, mating with men becomes his desire, he will experience evil.
3. If a man has intercourse with a (male) cult prostitute, care
[in the sense of “trouble” will leave him.
4. If a man has intercourse with a [male] courtier, for one whole year the worry which plagued him will vanish.
5. If a man has intercourse with a [male] slave, care will seize him.
(Grayson and Redford (1973:149)
None of the acts elicits moral condemnation, but some are auspicious whereas others are not. Homosexuality itself carries no implications; neither here nor anywhere else does the concept of a homosexual person even appear. What matters are the roles and statuses of the parties. To penetrate someone of high social status (an equal, a cult prostitute, a courtier) anally is favorable; to be involved with one’s slave, unfavorable. The Babylonians may have felt that a sexual connection would erode a master’s authority over his slaves. To prefer the receptive role, perhaps exclusively, appears to have been negatively regarded except in a cultic context. An apodictic curse warns that “one will make him the object of repeated coitus.”
While reading this, I thought on Abram, who was called out of
Ur of the Chaldees.
Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran. And Haran begat Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. And Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran. Genesis 11:27-ff
Now Yahweh said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, unto the land that I will show you: and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and be you a blessing; and I will bless them that bless you, and him that curses you will I curse: and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed. So Abram went, as Yahweh had spoken to him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. Genesis 12:1-4
Biblical Archaeology Review May/June 2001:
Where Was Abraham's Ur?
Ur is known in the Bible as Ur of the Chaldees. This biblical name, Ur of the Chaldees, refers to the Chaldeans, who settled the area about 900 B.C. It is known as the ancient city of the Sumerian civilization and the home of Abraham, father of the Hebrews. Its ruins are between the modern city of Baghdad, Iraq, and the head of the Persian Gulf. The site is now known as Tall al Muqayyar, Iraq. The site of ancient Ur is located 140 miles south of Babylon. It was the capital of a small wealthy empire during the third millennium B.C. Most of the great ziggurat of Ur is still standing.
Almighty Yahweh called Abram and those who followed him out of this area. Although the text in Genesis does not state exactly what was experienced while they dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees, history records for us the deviant lifestyle practiced by some in this area. We will see this calling out from theme as we continue this series and the location of the Israelite Nation during the course of history.
Yours in Messiah Yahshua, Hawke
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