12 December 2014

Gay Bible Stories, Part 2 - The Levite's Concubine

(From Chapter 3 of Strange Flesh: The Bible and Homosexuality by Steve Wells)
The story is about a Levite (a descendant of Levi) and his wayward concubine, who had “played the whore” against him, running away to her father’s house.
There was a certain Levite ... who took to him a concubine. ... And his concubine played the whore against him, and went away from him unto her father's house ... and was there four whole months. Judges 19:1-2
So the Levite travelled to her father’s house to “speak friendly to her” and retrieve her. When he arrived, her father rejoiced and greeted him warmly.
And her husband arose, and went after her, to speak friendly unto her, and to bring her again. … And when the father of the damsel saw him, he rejoiced to meet him. 19:3
The Levite stayed three days, eating and drinking and having a gay old time.
And he abode with him three days: so they did eat and drink, and lodged there. 19:4
On the fourth day, the Levite decided to leave, but his concubine’s father talked him out of it, suggesting that they eat, drink, and be merry again for just one more night.
On the fourth day ... he rose up to depart: and the damsel's father said unto his son in law, Comfort thine heart with a morsel of bread, and afterward go your way. And they sat down, and did eat and drink both of them together: for the damsel's father had said unto the man, Be content, I pray thee, and tarry all night, and let thine heart be merry. 19:5-6
The next day, when they Levite rose to depart, his father in law talked him out of it again. So he stayed there another night.
And when the man rose up to depart, his father in law urged him: therefore he lodged there again. 19:7
On the morning of the fifth day, the Levite tried to leave again, but his host insisted he stay a bit longer and eat a bit more.
And he arose early in the morning on the fifth day to depart; and the damsel's father said, Comfort thine heart, I pray thee. And they tarried until afternoon, and they did eat both of them. 19:8
Finally, though his host begged him to party with him one more night, the Levite, his two asses, and his concubine departed for the city of Gibeah.
And when the man rose up to depart, he, and his concubine, and his servant, his father in law, the damsel's father, said unto him, Behold, now the day draweth toward evening, I pray you tarry all night: behold, the day groweth to an end, lodge here, that thine heart may be merry; and to morrow get you early on your way, that thou mayest go home. But the man would not tarry that night, but he rose up and departed ... to Gibeah. 19:11-14
When they arrived in Gibeah, the Levite decided to camp out in the street, since there was no room in the inn. But an old man saw them and insisted that they stay with him. So they went ot the old man’s house, where they washed their feet, ate, and drank.
And they turned aside thither ... he sat him down in a street of the city: for there was no man that took them into his house to lodging. And, behold, there came an old man … and when he had lifted up his eyes, he saw a wayfaring man in the street of the city. ... And the old man said, Peace be with thee; howsoever let all thy wants lie upon me; only lodge not in the street. So he brought him into his house, and gave provender unto the asses: and they washed their feet, and did eat and drink. 19:15-21
As they were making their hearts merry, the men of Gibeah knocked on the door, asking the old man to bring out the man that was visiting so that they could “know him.”
Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him. 19:22
Can't you just picture it? All the men of a city come to a house and demand to have sex with the new guy in town.1

So what did the host do when he answered the door? Well, he offered the mob his virgin daughter (and his guest's concubine), of course! It's the polite thing to do.

Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing. 19:24
But the men didn't want the host’s virgin daughter, so the Levite gave them his concubine instead.
But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning. 19:25
The men raped her all night; the next morning, she came back to the house and collapsed at the door.
Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light. Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light. 19:26-27
The Levite opened the door, saw the concubine lying there, and told her to get up. But she didn't answer.
And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. 19:28a

So he put her on his donkey and went home.

Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place. 19:28b
When the Levite arrived home, he cut his concubine into twelve pieces and sent one piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel.
When he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel. 19:29

Now that is a strange way to send a message!2 Someone from each tribe of Israel got a rotting piece of flesh in the mail. What were they supposed to make of that? (Oh, look Martha, here's a stinking hunk of putrefied abdomen that arrived in the mail parcel post!)

When considering this story, it’s important to note that there is nothing in this story that indicates that God disapproves of:

  • A man having a concubine

  • A father offering his virgin daughter to a sex-crazed mob

  • Chopping up dead bodies

  • Sending messages with body parts
Okay, but what does this story have to do with homosexuality?

Well, did you notice that the Lot-like host offered his own daughter and his guest’s concubine to the crowd? He apparently thought that the heterosexual rape of two women (one being his own daughter) was preferable to the homosexual rape of the stranger who was lodging with him. And so it seems did the author of Judges and (if you believe in the Bible) God.

Very few believers, if any, can read this story and say to themselves, “Darn, I’m glad this story is in the Bible!” But some conservatives come close. They use it as even more evidence that God is disgusted by male same-sex intercourse, whether rape or consensual.3 Here, as in the case of Sodom, the desire of the mob to have same-sex intercourse was enough to condemn them.

Liberal Christians view this story as Genesis 19’s evil twin, a mythical story that condemns inhospitality and hostility toward visitors. They deny, of course, that it has any relevance to the homosexuality debate. As Daniel Helminiak said in What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality:

Judges 19 tells another story that is an obvious parallel to the story of Sodom. … Clearly, the story of the Levite’s concubine is indifferent to homosexuality or heterosexuality--as is the story of Sodom. … The people of Gibeah and Sodom are condemned for their meanness, cruelty, and abuse. Not homosexuality but hardheartedness is the offence of Gibeah and Sodom.4

  1. The same Hebrew verb yadha (“to know”) is used in the Judges 19 story as was used in the Sodom story from Genesis 19. Note for Genesis 19:5 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible (p.23 OT): "Know" refers to sexual relations (v.8), here homosexual sodomy."

  2. Well, it’s not that strange in the Bible, actually. Saul does pretty much the same thing when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him, except he kills, chops up, and sends twelve pieces of ox to the twelve tribes instead of a concubine.
    And the spirit of God came upon Saul ... and he took a yoke of oxen, and hewed them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the coast of Israel. 1 Samuel 6:10-11

  3. [H]ow is it possible to reasonably argue that homosexual intercourse per se did not add to the dimension of horror for the old man, for the Levite, and for the narrator of the story?” Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, p. 95.

  4. Daniel A. Helminiak, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, p. 47. See also Nancy Wilson, Outing the Bible, p. 57.

1 comment:

Stephen Harris said...

Mr. Wells,

I'm sure that you didn't mean to do it, but in your second footnote you cited the wrong chapter and verse numbers for the passage you quoted. The passage is actually from 1 Samuel 11:6-7.

As an aside, I am revisiting the essay I started working on for you concerning a parallel post you did in 2009 on Judges 19. I still think that on the basis of the literary context, intertextual echoes, and rhetoric of both Genesis 19 and Judges 19 that it's much easier to make an argument that the text is addressing neighborliness/hospitality issues than homosexuality. I think that this is even more so the case when you take an inventory of just how the other biblical authors themselves received and made use of these stories. Never do they read either of the stories the way you are suggesting with the possible exception of 2 Peter 2:7 and Jude 7. More on that in my essay to come.

While I would readily grant that the Bible's sexual ethics are prohibitive towards homosexuality (or, at least, it's much easier to make an argument against it than for it from the biblical text), there is little good reason to conclude that in Judges 19 the primary preoccupation is over sexual ethics.

Though I haven't read either of Gagnon or Helminiak's books about homosexuality, I do know from experience with Gagnon's other essays that he does have an agenda to find any passage that could possibly address homosexuality, and show how the Bible disapproves of it. I think that you know as well as I that there are other passages that approach that issue directly, and as such that they would be the texts to consult over a text like Judges 19.

All the best,
Stephen Harris

P.S. I hope that you had a great time with your family over the holidays, and that your New Year is a fun and relaxing one.