GENERAL CONVENTION 2003
A NEW LOOK AT Leviticus
offer this faith statement, as an effort to draw out some of the
Agricultural History and LGBT Issues
all know the story. Some of the first European settlers in North America
nearly starved to death because their first crop of
story is directly linked in my mind with the passages in
proud Europeans, thinking the Native Americans were godless savages, didn't
give a second thought to adopting the Native Americans' agricultural practices.
How many decades or centuries was it before some of us began to honor
the Native Americans' sense of connectedness between themselves, the earth
and the Creator? Neither the European settlers nor the Native Americans
understood how the pieces of fish fertilized the ground. They just knew
it worked. I wonder if the settlers would have been willing to die of
starvation rather than accept the worship practices of the local residents,
if they had recognized the fish-and-seed planting as an act of worship
When the Israelites came out of the desert into the land of Canaan, they had to learn how to farm the land, just as the European settlers did here. Their Canaanite neighbors were willing to show them how to assure themselves of fertile fields and good crops. The problem was, the Israelites saw the Canaanite practices as acts of worship of Baal, and great efforts were put into keeping Israelite farmers from using the Canaanite practices. The evidence in the Hebrew Scriptures is that that effort continued for several centuries.
The problem was that the Canaanite gods, the Baalim, were fertility gods. In order to assure themselves of fertile fields and good crops, their custom was to do two things. First, they made an offering (grain, money, or whatever) at the local Baal temple. Second, they had an act of sexual intercourse with the priestesses in the temple.
Since they didn't know that women's bodies produced egg cells, they assumed that human procreation involved the same process as agriculture did. The seed was planted into a fertile field (the womb, for humans) and the crop (or baby) grew. The act of sexual intercourse with the priestess was a "model" for the planting and growing that they hoped for in their fields.
made a lot of sense in those days, and every year that an
But the Canaanites were so committed to the practice that something they noticed happening made them pretty scared. Some of their men simply couldn't manage to have an act of intercourse with a priestess. What were those men to do? Would their crops fail every year, and would they and any family members dependent on them starve to death?
Somehow they figured out (maybe centuries before the Exodus?) that if some of the ones who couldn't manage intercourse with the priestesses were made priests of Baal and other men who couldn't manage intercourse with the priestesses went to these priests of Baal, the "model" seed planting in honor of the Baalim could be accomplished, and the fertility of their fields would be assured.
the Israelites were very committed to taking over the land -their "Promised
Land" - and so they were determined to have as many children as possible
and to outnumber and crowd out the Canaanites. They knew that success
in farming meant having a large enough grain harvest so that they would
have enough to make into bread from one harvest to the next, plus enough
more to plant as seed for that next harvest. Seed was a very precious
commodity. According to their limited understanding, a man's "seed" was
just as limited. Therefore
believe that this scenario is the context of the Levitical laws
don't suppose we will ever know if the Baal worshipers had a word for
men who could not accomplish intercourse with women, but they saw it as
a reality and accommodated it in their worship. People in the
sure someone will say that I'm promoting Baal worship. That
the way, I hope we eventually quit using the term "temple
— Bill Fleener, Priest of the Diocese of Western Michigan, retired
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