In the creed of the Jews, the natural impulse to
love another human, expressed through sex, became
a prisoner of the counterfeit impulse to fixate upon,
adore and worship an illusory
tribal deity. With emotional
attachment, and its associated fears and anxieties, displaced
from fellow humans to Yahweh, whose wiles only the
priests could interpret, the sexual drive itself was
shackled to a bizarre assortment of imperatives, taboos and
prohibitions. Sexual love became a beast to be corralled, harnessed,
tamed and neutered. Sexual
dysfunction was assured.
LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a
special people unto
himself, above all people that are upon
the face of the earth ... because the Lord loved
you, and because he would
keep the oath which he had sworn unto your ancestors."
The pagan world respected and feared the
gods, whose behaviour could be, in turns, either malicious or benign.
Of course, the gods did love some mortals. It was supposed
that a god, in an amorous encounter with a human female, might
on occasion sire a hero, an Alexander or a Caesar, especially favoured
by the gods. The hierodules, priestesses
of the pagan religions, had sexual intercourse as proxies for their
favoured goddesses. The act, at least in theory, was no mere profanity
but a religious rite, anticipating fertility in some form, the
beneficence of the venerated deity. Clay replicas of diseased
or broken body parts were left in the temples. Together with an
appropriate sacrifice, it was hoped that a particular
god would be induced to grant relief to the sufferer. But for the
most part, pagan gods were unpredictable and capricious and the
whole point of pagan religious ritual was to propitiate the gods
and win their uncertain favour.
however, unlike other peoples of the ancient world, convinced themselves
that they were the unique
and perpetual beneficiaries of divine favour, a chosen
people "loved" by
their fierce tribal god. The concomitant of
God's love, of course, was the imperative to love
God in return.
Indeed, this celestial "lover" demanded
it under threat of retribution:
"You shall have no
other gods before me ... for I the Lord your God am a jealous
God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the
third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but
showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those
who love me and keep my commandments."
– Exodus 20.3,6.
Love for fellow Jews (or even Jewesses!) had to
be subordinated to love for God. The disturbing yarn about Abraham's
all but sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22.2) made alarmingly clear
that love for a favourite child could not withstand the demands
of the terrible sky god. In the disgusting tale of Jephthah (Judges
11.29,39), an only daughter was indeed reduced to a burnt offering
to please "God". Love indeed.
Thus Yahweh is the
most monstrous of lovers, threatening to harm children, grandchildren
and even great grandchildren for any shortfall in his required
adoration. HIS was to be no lukewarm or part-time affection: "You shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind." No
wonder that bloody abattoir, otherwise known as the Jewish Temple,
sacrificed thousands of animals on a daily basis. The bloody
sacrifice of life conveyed "love" to the divine
Judaism's "one flesh" – Sex makes
"A man shall leave
his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife:
and they shall be one flesh."
– Genesis, 2.24.
"The concept of adultery does not
apply to intercourse between a Jewish
man and a Gentile
woman; rather the Talmud equates such intercourse to the sin of bestiality."
Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion, p87.
In the Mosaic law of the
Jews "fornication" had a precise meaning, quite
different from contemporary usage. The Law made no
prohibition on male
premarital or extramarital sexual activity so long as the women
involved were not the property of another
Jewish male could acquire as many wives as he could afford,
and also avail himself of the services of concubines and prostitutes.
A childless marriage was reason enough for
a male to take another wife and polygamy among the Jews drew
no rabbinical reproof until the 11th century AD.
Setting the example were the patriarchs themselves,
all prodigious fornicators. Abraham had three wives and his
grandson Jacob, progenitor of the twelve tribes, had the services
of four women – Rachel
and Leah, and their obliging personal slaves Bilha and Zilpa.
Rehoboam, son of the legendary King Solomon, is credited with 18
wives and 60 concubines (2 Chronicles
11.21) – an impressive harem, but far short of his father's
prodigious tally of 700 wives and 300 concubines. And it seems
the randy king still found the energy to give the Queen of Sheba "all
her desire" (1 Kings 10.13) – which
according to Ethiopian tradition was a son called
"adultery" was committed by all this extra-marital activity:
visiting dignities, unmarried females, slaves or captives, all
were fair game.
with powerless women was deemed desirable, because any
resultant pregnancy increased the stock of Jews. Genesis 1.28
relates God's mandate to the Jews: "Be fruitful,
and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue
Jews, possessed by dreams of imperial expansion yet zealous for a "racial
purity", especially prized captured virgin brides. They, like
all early peoples, recognized that copulation with a female virgin
was the best assurance of paternity. In
a notorious pronouncement, supposedly Moses himself said:
'Now therefore, kill every
male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has
known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls
who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive
Judaism fiercely defended male rights to first
penetration as a guarantee of legitimate inheritance.
A Jewish father was the custodian of his daughter's virginity
and market value until ownership passed, with a bride price,
to her new owner. Family honour and economic
survival were intimately bound up with its female products remaining
untampered with until a successful "sale" had been
agreed. If a buyer discovered that his new wife had been deflowered
already she was to be stoned to death. Parents
might retain stained nuptial bed sheets as proof that their virgin
daughter really had been intact on her wedding night (Deuteronomy
22.15,20). An unbetrothed rape victim was required to marry the
the rapist first compensated the father with
fifty shekels (Deuteronomy 22:28,29).
Even today, in many cultures, an unauthorised loss
of virginity is a cause for alarm – and even violence.
An early episode of an "honour killing" is
told in the story of Jacob's sons Simeon and Levi, who massacre
and pillage a whole city to avenge the dishonour of
their sister Dinah – "Should he deal with our
sister as with a harlot?" (Genesis
Jewish wives, held as property, preserved the gene pool and transmitted
Jewishness in a tribal system which might otherwise have been
diluted by predatory males. The essence of this principle is
preserved in the story of the progenitors, where Sarah, the wife
of Abraham, demands the expulsion of his concubine:
"Cast out this bondwoman and
her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not
be heir with my son."
– Genesis 21.10.
Deuteronomy 23.2 made clear that "bastards shall
not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to the tenth
generation"! Fear that a Jewish male might
be cuckolded even led to the sanctity of "trial by ordeal",
in which a suspected wife could be made to drink "bitter
water" made from dust taken from the floor of the tabernacle!
If her "thigh" (read "genitals")
rotted and her belly "swelled" – and
no doubt if she merely feared the priestly curse – she
was surely guilty (Numbers 5).
Thus while "love for God" had the highest
calling, sex with captives could "give delight" (Deuteronomy
21.14) and was a righteous reward of warfare. As late as the time
of the Maccabean kings, sexual slavery was an instrument
of Jewish expansionism, with concubinage forced upon female captives
(Deuteronomy 21.10,13). Enslaved males were forcibly circumcised
no doubt with considerable bloodshed and infection. Clearly, the
mutilation of male genitalia had great symbolism. 1 Samuel 18.27
records the edifying tale of the soon-to-be-king David using two
hundred Philistine foreskins to buy the daughter of Saul – quite
So important was the Mosaic rescript to add to
the stock of Jews that males damaged in the genitals were forbidden
even to enter the Temple. Only the potent could hold their place
among the righteous:
"He that is wounded
in the stones or hath his privy member
cut off, shall not enter into the congregation
of the Lord."
– Deuteronomy 23.1.
The yarn about Onan "spilling his seed" and
being slain by God in consequence (Genesis 38.8,10) was a warning
from the priests about shirking the responsibility "to multiply".
Even the involuntary loss of semen brought pollution upon the
"And if any man's seed of copulation go
out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water,
and be unclean until the even."
– Leviticus 15.16.
One aspect of the inspirational tale of Exodus is
that virile Jews, though set to "hard labour", were still able
to out-breed their Egyptian masters. By the time Moses is ready
to lead his people a mere seventy members of Jacob's clan has
grown to three million. Fecund, or what?
Homosexuality, in particular, drew the ire of the
priests. It was one of many sex crimes for which righteousness
demanded capital punishment. A "moral tale" was provided
by the story of Lot in Genesis:
"The men of the city, even the men
of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young,
all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot,
and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee
this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know
– Genesis 19.4,5.
Lot, of course, solved the moral dilemma by offering
the would-be rapists his two virgin daughters instead (he
must have read Judges
19). The Sodomites, at least according to Ezekiel 16.49,
were also guilty of pride, gluttony, sloth, greed, and failure
to help the poor (in other words, Republicans).
But whatever yarns the priests dreamed up to illustrate "right
behaviour", the real challenge to the Jews came from the
culture of the Romano-Hellenistic world, which accepted homosexual
liaisons, and was certainly untroubled by the use of a passive
"That men might
wish to caress and penetrate other beautiful men caused
the Greeks, at least, little surprises. What was judged
harshly was the fact that the pursuit of pleasure might
lead some men to wish to play the female role."
– Brown, The Body
and Society, p30.
One might reasonably suppose that Judaism's condemnation
of sodomy, as of bestiality, arose not because it was unknown
among the Hebrew tribesmen but precisely because it was prevalent and ran counter to the primary goal of populating the world with
of Songs" - Old Testament pornography
A collection of erotic verse
known as the Song of Songs is a surprising inclusion
in God's greatest hits. It seems that in the 3rd century
BC, at a time when Jewish scripture was being regularized,
some priestly scribblers were reluctant to give up their
titillating verse. They successfully passed off the poetry
as "sacred" by attributing authorship to none
other than King Solomon, centuries
earlier. Hence the verses are also known as the Song
of Solomon. Of course, the poetry had nothing to
do with Solomon but simply built upon his reputation
as a prodigious "lover".
I am black, but comely
... I am a wall, and my breasts like towers
... breasts like two young roes that are
The king hath brought me into
his chambers ... Let him kiss me with the kisses
of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine
... He shall lie all night betwixt my breasts
... By night on my bed I sought him whom my
soul loveth ... I sat down under his shadow
with great delight, and his fruit was sweet
to my taste .. Blow upon my garden, that the
spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved
come into his garden, and eat his pleasant
fruits ... My beloved put in his hand by the
hole of the door, and my bowels were moved
for him. I rose up to open to my beloved ...
I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had
withdrawn himself, and was gone...
Let us get up early to the
vineyards ... there will I give thee my loves
... Make haste, my beloved.
Breasts like towers...
Empowering the priests
The imperative was clear. Procreative sex
was a religious and racial duty. Go to
it. Marry young, breed prolifically. On the other hand,
unbridled sexuality might easily have
undermined priestly authority. Certain sexual practices – masturbation,
homosexuality, incest, etc. – were perceived as subversive of
marriage and its procreative purpose. Sex, therefore, had to
be within "divine" guidelines.
After all, God himself had chosen – of
all places! – Eve's genital region
to inflict punishment for her disobedience in the garden:
the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy
sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt
bring forth children."
– Genesis 3.16.
A few chapters later,
when the Lord Almighty decides he needs a "token" of his covenant
with Abraham, it is now the male genitalia which take a hit:
"And you shall circumcise
the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me
– Genesis 17.11.
The strictures upon the chosen people were
tightly drawn. The act of sex was held to be both necessary
and intrinsically "unclean". After intercourse, elaborate
rituals were required to re-establish a "cleanliness" acceptable
to God. By regulating sexuality, the regulators – the
priests – were empowered and received endless
tribute into the bargain.
Washing away the stain
Restoring ritual cleanliness, after all the mess
of bodily fluids and removed foreskins, became an obsession with
the Jews. An entire volume
of the Talmud dealt almost exclusively with the subject of "family
of menstruation – common to primitive, patriarchal societies
– became for the Jews a female "sin" which
required a week's isolation and the "atonement" of
providing the local priest with poultry (Leviticus 15.29). Various
prohibitions were spelt out in the Jewish holy scripture:
"And if a woman have an issue, and
her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven
days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the
even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation
shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon
shall be unclean ... And if any man lie with her
at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean
seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall
– Leviticus 15.19,24.
A later verse implied a far harsher discipline
for breaking the taboo on sex at the wrong time:
"And if a man shall lie with a woman
having her sickness, and shall uncover her
nakedness; he hath discovered her fountain, and she hath
uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall
be cut off from among their people."
– Leviticus 20.18.
But not just bodily functions but the naked
body itself drew censure. In an outrageously
unjust yarn, Canaan, grandson of Noah (together with all his
descendents forever!) was cursed and condemned to slavery because
his dad had caught
sight of a drunken Noah dancing naked! (Genesis 9). No doubt
this "moral tale" originated in a primitive tribalism
where the dignity of the chief honcho had to be preserved
at all costs. The act of "uncovering the nakedness" of
the patriarch was a great
sin. It may obliquely refer to an act of incest (nakedness by
"The man that lieth
with his father's wife hath uncovered
his father's nakedness."
– Leviticus 20.11.
The taboo on nudity is to be found in the primordial
"origins" fable. Having eaten fruit from the forbidden tree,
Adam and Eve acquired "knowledge" of
good and evil. This amounted to an instant "moral code" which
made them realize that they were naked and should cover up their
"And the eyes of them both were opened,
and they knew that they were naked; and
they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons."
However, the fig leaf "aprons" made God
aware (surely he knew anyway?) that the first humans
had disobeyed him – so, as well as expelling them from
the garden, he started up the leather coat business:
"And the LORD God ... said, Who told
thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof
I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? ... Unto
Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of
skins, and clothed them."
- Genesis 3.9,21.
It might thus be imagined that being clothed was
concomitant with divine moral law. Certainly, the "shamefulness" of
nudity can be traced to this primitive religious taboo. However,
God's earthly spokesmen had a surprising penchant for shedding their
"The LORD said ...
my servant Isaiah hath walked
naked and barefoot three years for a sign and
wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia."
off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner,
and lay down naked all that day and all that night.
Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets?"
The precedent of naked holy men belongs not to
Judaism but to Hinduism, a practice which continues to this day.
This affectation of nude "unworldliness" quite possibly
percolated from the sub-continent into west Asia in antiquity – along
with the ritual of dusting oneself with ashes – where
it was adopted by Jewish ascetics. Judaism may not be as original
as it claims!
"So the prophet
departed, and waited for the king by the way,
and disguised himself with ashes upon
– 1 Kings 20.38.
"And Tamar put ashes
on her head, and rent her garment
of divers colours that was on her"
|Indian holy men (Naga
sadhus) have gone naked, covered with ash,
"It cannot be denied that male
beliefs about 'honor' have made it a brilliant instrument
of psychological and cultural oppression. Rape has become
a means through which the taboos of a community ... the intrinsic
sinfulness of women, in the importance of virginity prior
to marriage, and in the shamefulness of being raped ... can
be used to rend it from within."
– Sam Harris, The End of Faith,
The misogyny of Judaism is plain enough. Essentially,
women were baby-making chattel, without rights, and wholly subordinate
to their fathers, brothers and husbands. Daughters could be sold
as slaves (Exodus 21.7). A wife, passing from the ownership of
her father to the ownership of her husband, had before her a
lifelong role of producing and raising children. To be childless
("barren") had the stigma of God's disapproval. In
many of Judaism's holy stories "divine intervention" worked
its magic to cure the curse of infertility. All shall breed:
"Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there
shall not be male or female barren among you,
or among your cattle."
even within the semi-nomadic patriarchal society of the Jews
male priests had to contend with – and eliminate – rival
priestesses. Aspects of the sacred feminine which could not be
totally erased were assimilated into a minor or subsidiary
role of an all-embracing Yahweh cult.
One of the oldest extant
passages of Jewish scripture tells the story of Deborah (Judges
4-5), a prophetess and judge from the warlord
period. The Song of Deborah tells
how this female soothsayer supposedly guided the conquest of
"And Deborah, a prophetess,
the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.
And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah
and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came
up to her for judgment."
– Judges 4.4,5.
Almost uniquely in the sagas of the Jews, Deborah
is neither victim nor villain. The tale probably originated in
the northern kingdom before it was overrun, and with it, a tradition
which allowed women to share in tribal leadership. A fainter
echo of "priestess power" is found in the story of Hulda the
prophetess, who is consulted by the "righteous" king
an unknown book of Moses "found" in the temple during
rebuilding work, the "restatement" of the law known
Rather conveniently, Hulda confirms that the book is indeed a
genuine script from the pen of Moses, including presumably
the verses which describe the great man's own death and burial!
(Deuteronomy 34.5,12). A purge of non-Yahweh cults immediately
followed (2 Chronicles 34).
Assimilation of the Sacred
"The religion of the Rabbis ... was
for men only, since women were not required – and therefore
not permitted – to become Rabbis, to study Torah or
to pray in the synagogue. The woman's role was to maintain
the ritual purity of the home ... In practice, this meant
they were regarded as inferior."
Armstrong, A History of God, p92.
The heroines Deborah and Hulda were the residue
of an earlier age. In the emergent Judaism
of the southern kingdom, female
meddling in the arcane art of speaking for God was not to be
tolerated. Nor were women to be involved in certain festivals
(Exodus 23.17) or allowed into the inner courts of the temple.
The later prophet Ezekiel will
"Set thy face against the daughters
of thy people, which prophesy out of their own heart ... Woe
to the women ... lying to my people that hear your
lies ... Because with lies ye have ... strengthened the hands
of the wicked ... Therefore ye shall see no more vanity,
nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out
of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD."
– Ezekiel 13.17,23.
Nehemiah and Proverbs warned
of the dangers posed by "strange women":
... was beloved of his God made
king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish
women cause to sin. Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil,
to transgress against our God in marrying strange
In the utterances of the Jewish male prophets,
women were not only self-indulgent huzzies, they were easily
led into superstition and false gods and by nature
were sly and deceitful:
" I find more bitter than death the
woman whose heart is snares and nets and
her hands as bands, whoso pleaseth God shall escape from
her but the sinner shall be taken by her."
– Ecclesiastes 7.26.
Isaiah threatened retribution to women
who forgot their subordinate place:
ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless
ones: strip you, and make you bare,
and gird sackcloth upon your loins."
The Old Testament reserves some of its most virulent
invective for Jezebel, feisty wife of king Ahab, mouthed
in the curses of the wandering prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Jezebel, a woman who clearly did not know her place (or the right
god) was thrown from a window and her corpse left to be eaten
by dogs. She had been warned by the righteous prophets of the
"Thus saith the LORD, In the place
where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs
lick thy blood, even
thine ... Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take
away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth
against the wall ... The dogs shall eat
Jezebel by the wall of
– 1 Kings 21.19,23.
New Bottle, Old Vinegar
From the time of Julius Caesar to the mid years
of the 1st century AD, Rome granted privileges to the Jews.
The concessions showed the gratitude of a succession of Roman princes for Jewish
support in their own power struggles. During this period certain
well-placed individuals (Nero's wife Poppaea
Sabina among them)
were curious about the Jewish religion. Some
non-Jews attended the synagogues and presumably found comfort
in Judaism's heroic tales and fierce, moralising God. These "God
short of circumcision and the full observance of Mosaic law but
otherwise adopted "Jewish ways". At the same time,
many wealthy Jews willingly embraced Romano-Hellenic culture.
period of mutual curiosity and rapprochement ended with the
first Jewish war and the destruction of Jerusalem. Judaism's
Hellenised revisionists, no doubt, post-war even more accommodating
of the occupying power, faced increasing bitterness from their
conservative co-religionists. In 93 AD, the "heretics" were
expelled from the synagogues. Violent clashes continued into
the 2nd century and led to catastrophe for the Jews. With the
final defeat of militant Judaism in 135 AD, the Jewish kingdom
from history. Thereafter, the Jews, despised for their
insularity, were drawn inexorably into a wider cosmopolitan
Judaism would bequeath
its unfortunate mix of ignorance, misogyny and intolerance
to a wayward faction of its heretics known to the world
as Christians. The
plethora of rules and regulations of the Jews, designed
to restrict, repress and otherwise regulate sexuality
in the semi-nomadic barbarism of the Levant,
would pass wholesale into the
new creed and bedevil a Christian Europe for the next two
Cullen Murphy, The Word According to Eve (Allen Lane, 1998)
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Bantam, 2006)
Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (1927)
Sam Harris, The End of Faith (Free Press, 2005)
Paul Tabori, A Pictorial History of Love (Spring, 1968)
Philip J. Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (OUP, 1993)
Uta Ranke-Henemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven (Penguin, 1993)
Peter Brown, The Body and Society (Colombia, 1990)
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