Saturday, August 4, 2012

Noah, Lotsa Water, an Angry God, Gay Guys, and Ignorant Pastors

Gotta admit, the whole rainbow thing is pretty gay.
You learn something new everyday.  Turns out not only did gay people cause the utter collapse of Ancient Greece and Rome, but they also brought about the biblical "Great Flood" of Noah's day.

As if the earth needed any more insanity and fact-twisting from our good friends on the Religious Right, a conservative pastor in Alabama USA (arguably the most conservative state in the union), is claiming that same-sex marriage was the true cause of the Great Flood described in Genesis.

On the radio station American Family Radio, the broadcasting arm of the American Family Association (WTF?), Aaron Fruh, pastor of Knollwood Assembly of God Church in Mobile, AL, went on a rant against marriage equality, saying:
"Find any society in human history that ever tried that experiment [i.e. same-sex marriage] and lived to tell about it; they've all been destroyed."
We're clearly dealing with a genius here.  And really?  "Knollwood"?  That's pretty gay sounding.  By the way, the Fruh-meister has previously stated that marriage equality is "heterophobic," believing that straights are the ones being picked on.

Fruh claims that the society that existed just prior to the flood of Noah was the only one prior to the present to offer same-sex marriage.  Yawn.
"The one society in history that first offered marriage certificates to same-sex couples, you'd think would be Sodom and Gomorrah, or Rome or Greece.  It was actually the society just prior to the flood of Noah.
"God knew that the people on the earth were going to destroy themselves through same-sex marriage, and so that's why he brought the flood. [...] Civilization was destroying itself, because there would be no more procreation; there would no longer be husbands and wives having children and furthering society."

Wow, this guy is making the dudes in Dumb and Dumber look like nuclear physicists.  He seems to think that same-sex marriage automatically means opposite-sex marriage will cease to exist, and all the men of the earth will jump at the chance to dump their hapless wives in the gutter in order to marry other men.  Men and women will simply stop having sex, no babies will be born, and the planet will be a human-free wasteland within 100 years... all because approximately 7% of the population will have the right to marry the person they love.

It's so utterly ridiculous.  It's like me saying I was 100% hetero until my country enacted equal marriage rights for LGBT people, then I magically switched teams and went gay.  Well, I didn't.  I'm still straight, as is everyone else who was straight before equal marriage became law.

Back in Noah's day, God was apparently too worried and impatient to simply let mankind destroy itself through gay marriage, so he decided to speed up the process a bit and make everybody take a permanent swim -- including all the animals and insects.

These reactionary nuts are great.  Honestly I'm not quite sure if any of them know how to read.  In any case it's pretty damn obvious none of them have ever picked up a world history, archeology, or anthropology book, let alone an updated biology book.  The only book they ever pick up is the Bible, a book they treat as a literal, factual encyclopedia, which it so isn't.

Aaron Fruh
Let's crush some dreams, shall we?

The "society just prior to the flood of Noah" to which Fruh is referring was known collectively as Mesopotamia.  I'm gonna take a wild guess and say he probably doesn't even know that.  Mesopotamia comprised what today is Iraq, northeastern Syria, and southeastern Turkey, and is known as "the Cradle of Civilization."  During the Bronze Age (the time in which Noah supposedly lived), the Sumerians and Akkadians (later including the Assyrians and Babylonians) dominated the region.

Nobody really knows when (or if) Noah actually lived, but we do know that ancient Hebrews did live in Mesopotamia in the Bronze Age and were influenced by local traditions, stories, and beliefs.  One of these included the Epic of Gilgamesh, an over four-millennia-old myth describing a great deluge that impacted the region.  The myth appears to have been borne out of an actual regional flood (or series of floods) that did happen along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Gilgamesh was a king during the Dynasty of Uruk, ca. 2500 BCE, but the evidence for two large regional floods found in the soil strata pre-date his reign by more than 1,000 years.  Regional floods, mind you, not global.

Mesopotamian societies did not issue 'marriage certificates' to same-sex couples (nor did the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, for that matter).  Have you ever noticed how Right-wingers love to feel smart and toss out random pieces of information without giving any specifics or backing up their conclusions?  The art of saying "this is true because I say it's true" is their specialty.  That's because they don't know what the hell they're talking about.  They're just babbling.

Unfortunately marriage certificates don't survive the passage of time so well, unless they're carved in stone.  They're not, by the way.  What we do have are various texts from Ancient Mesopotamia, including several Law Codes which were, in fact (glory be), carved in stone.  The Codes of the Urukagina (2375 BCE), Ur-Nammu (2100 BCE), Eshnunna (1750 BCE), and the most famous, the Code of Hammurabi (1726 BCE), essentially ignore same-sex acts even though they heavily regulate marriage.

Two laws from the Middle Assyrian Code of Assur in the 12th-century BCE mention same-sex acts in a way that is curiously most similar to another Ancient Near Eastern law code of the time:  the Holiness Code of the Old Testament book of Leviticus.  Interestingly, the Code of Assur pre-dates the Hebrew Holiness Code by roughly six-hundred years.
"If a seignior [an Assyrian man] lay with his neighbor [another Assyrian male], when they have prosecuted him and convicted him [i.e. the first man], they shall lie with him and turn him into a eunuch"  (Table A, Paragraph 20).

The situation described is one in which a man has forced sex upon a local resident or business partner, who then has the option of bringing a charge against him.  Take note that the penetrator is punished here, not the man penetrated, so the crime is clearly rape.  Apparently his punishment for raping another man is that he is himself raped by a group of men (presumably the jury of his peers who found him guilty).  Ouch.

Homosexuality itself is not condemned (because the ancients had no concept of sexual orientation as modern science has taught us today), nor were same-sex acts looked upon as immoral or disordered.  A man could visit a prostitute or sleep with another male, as long as false rumors or forced sex were not involved with another Assyrian male.

Pictorial and literary references from Mesopotamia surviving today show an acceptance of some forms of same-sex behavior while expressing a wariness of other forms.  Anal sex between men was clearly depicted in figurative art in the cities of Babylon, Uruk, Assur, and Susa, and these images show that it was usually carried out as part of religious ritual.

Cult prostitution was common throughout the Ancient Near East, involving both opposite-sex and same-sex activity.  Male and female cult prostitutes had intercourse with male worshipers in sanctuaries and temples throughout Mesopotamia, Phoenecia, Cyrpus, Corinth, etc., such as in the relief below from 2000 BCE showing a male worshiper penetrating a male priest (an assinu).   Noted sexual historian Norman Sussman states in his piece, Sex and Sexuality in History, that:

"Male and female prostitutes, serving temporarily or permanently and performing heterosexual, homosexual, oral-genital, bestial, and other forms of sexual activities, dispensed their favors on behalf of the temple.  The prostitute and the client acted as surrogates for the deities."
A manual called the Summa alu, which prognosticated the future based on sexual acts, declared that:

"If a man copulates with an assinu [a male transvestitic (eunuch) priest], trouble will leave him."
This sexual use of priests and temple prostitutes by the people groups surrounding ancient Israel was likely the main reason the Talmud (Jewish Bible, i.e. Old Testament) said anal sex was a no-no.  "Everyone else's priests get used as an act of worship to their gods, but there's no way in hell we're gonna have our priests doing that as an act of worship to Yahweh."  The ancient Jews were obsessed with being separate, different, and distinguishable from other tribes and nations, as well as obsessed with ritual purity.

As with other societies in the Ancient Near East, however, including Ancient Greece and Rome, what mattered in Mesopotamia was the role and status of a sexual partner, especially the penetrated partner, and the ramifications that may follow.  The partner's biological sex didn't matter.  Scholar and historian Dr. William Naphy, in his book A History of Homosexuality, takes note of:

"how few cultures seem to have any significant 'moral' concern about same-sex activities. ...Most cultures seemed to accept that males might have sex with other males" -- although for a male to assume the passive position in intercourse was thought to make him 'less than male,' unless he was an adolescent.
Laws banned only certain negative acts that may be connected to either heterosexuality or homosexuality, such as slander, rape, and incest.  It is known that kings had male lovers along with their wives, warriors occasionally developed romantic relationships, and ordinary men customarily had anal intercourse with male and female cultic personnel.

All this is fine and well, but does it tell us whether ancient Mesopotamians actually endorsed and sanctioned same-sex marriage?  No.  Evidence of same-sex marriage is at best indirect, but there are historical bits and pieces suggesting that certain same-sex relationships could be intimate and comparable to opposite-sex marriages.  The celebrated story of King Gilgamesh, who had such a relationship with a man named Enkidu, exemplifies this.  "I loved him, and caressed him as though a wife," the tale records Gilgamesh as saying.

Example of Hittite cuneiform tablet
Hittite Laws can be read to suggest that same-sex marriage may have been legally as well as culturally sanctioned in at least some parts of ancient Mesopotamia.  Table I of the Hittite Laws, for example, regulated marriage, specifically the husband's payment of bride-price to the wife.  Oh those were days, weren't they?  When a man could buy a woman from her father and acquire a permanent maid and baby-making machine.  Jeesh.

Although it was assumed that this regulation applied to the advantage of free Hittite citizens, special provisions in Table I afforded explicit legal authority for slaves to obtain brides in this way; otherwise, slaves apparently could not marry.

For example, section 34 provided:  "If a slave gives the brideprice to a woman and takes her as his wife, no-one shall [make him] surrender her."'  By one reading, section 36 then provided that, "[I]f a slave gives the bride-price to a free youth and takes him to dwell in his household as spouse, no-one shall [make him] surrender him."  If the quoted reading is correct, a male slave with money (the bride-price) to pay for a male spouse could do so and expect that the transaction would be backed up by law.  And, of course, if a slave were allowed to do this, it would go without saying that a free Hittite citizen could do the same.

So, there is speculative evidence for same-sex relationships (and possibly marriages) in Mesopotamia, but hard historical proof just isn't there.  It is also clear from surviving legal codes that producing offspring was an essential aspect of adulthood.  It was expected and, in some instances, required.  So while same-sex relationships may have existed here and there among the upper classes, it seems they were not widespread among the common masses.

The reason I went through this topic in some detail, is because Aaron Fruh's "objection" to marriage equality is the kind of ignorant nonsense the pro-equality side is up against everyday.  If you have the facts - as in actual historical facts - you can dismantle the regurgitated babble of the Religious Right with ease.  If you know the truth you can speak up and set the record straight, putting an end to the lies the anti-equality side love to tell.

Of course, any topic delving into God's wrath, arks, and floods, is bound to be contentious from the outset.  Scientific evidence does not point to a massive global flood ever happening at any point in Earth's history.  The original Hebrew of the book of Genesis spells this fact out as well, using the Hebrew term kol erets to refer to "the whole earth."  Kol erets is used elsewhere in the Old Testament referring to local geography, i.e. the region where the author was from.  In other words: the world known to the author/s.  Had literally the entire planet been meant, the word tebel would have been used, which means the literal planet Earth.  But tebel was not used.

Regional floods did happen quite frequently in Mesopotamia, and some were large and incredibly destructive, claiming many lives.  These can be backed up by historical records and archaeology.  It is most likely that one of these floods, or the massive Black Sea flood that occurred some 7,500 years ago, left an indelible mark on the psyche of the region's people, and was passed down through oral traditions as a parable about being good and not angering the gods/God.

Finally, based on the flood narrative in Genesis 6:1-13, same-sex marriage is simply not listed as one of its causes.  The story states that:
  1. The human race had become "wicked" and "evil."
  2. There were "giants in the land" (either as a result of breeding between fallen angels and human women, or of wicked, heathen men marrying pious women who believed in God, thereby corrupting their faith and producing wicked (demon-possessed?) tyrants as their offspring -- the exact meaning is rather ambiguous). 
  3. The rulers of the land were haughty conquerors who "were praised by all men."
  4. The peoples' thoughts were "thoughts of only evil continually" (i.e. violent and oppressive toward one another).
  5. Brutal violence, hatred, and corruption were everywhere.
  6. Men were taking wives of other faiths and other tribes purely for lustful, carnal reasons (this taps into the Hebrew forbiddance of intermarriage in order to retain purity).
  7. Polygamy is implied to have been rampant and celebrated.
  8. The population was exploding as never before.

Doesn't exactly sound like men were abandoning women for men, or that the human race was threatened with extinction.  Quite the opposite in fact, in both regards.

Granted, Fruh claims his "evidence" comes from the Mishnah (specifically the Midrash Rabbah Genesis), a 3rd-century CE redaction of Jewish oral tradition, which does mention that men married men.  But the Mishnah commentary also claims that bestiality was rampant prior to the flood; that these were the days when witchcraft and sorcery flourished; and suggests that human sacrifices weren't uncommon.  Could not these have been more damning activities in God's eyes?  Commenting that humanity "corrupted its way," as the Mishnah states, sounds far more like a result of rampant bestiality to me.

It's important, however, not to place too much weight on the Mishnah.  For starters, it's not the Bible.  It's a commentary of oral traditions (known as the 'Oral Torah'), gathered from among Jewish Sages in the late 2nd century CE and written down by one man: Rabbi Judah HaNasi.  This was at least 2,500 years after the supposed events occurred.  It's simply impossible for anyone to know the exact details of what was going on over two millennia prior, based purely on word-of-mouth stories.  The Sages were giving their thoughts and opinions based on the time and culture in which they lived.

The time the Mishnah was written down (ca. 200 CE) also happened to be a time of extreme patriarchal conservatism among Christians and Jews alike, and Israel was at that time a province of Rome.  The compiler of the Mishnah could not have avoided reading the dominant culture of the day (the Greco-Roman culture) into his narratives of Old Testament stories and regulations, nor could the Sages who past on those oral traditions.  In other words, "We despise the Romans because they're immoral and wicked, therefore if Moses said the society of Noah's day was immoral and wicked, it must have been doing the things that Roman society is doing now."

Most scholars point out that, in terms of its historical accuracy and content, the Mishnah contains extensive editorial reshaping of stories and statements, with few outside confirming texts.

Secondly, if men marrying men had been the primary cause of God's wrath, it seems the authors of Genesis would have at least mentioned it in passing as being one of the causes.  But in fact the authors say the opposite:  men were marrying women and the population was booming.  Furthermore, Jesus never mentions men marrying men (or even general same-sex behavior) as being a reason for this flood or any other tale of supposed divine judgment.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there is no historical, geographical, fossil, or archaeological evidence of a literal global flood in the first place.  The tale is likely a cautionary parable adapted from other similar Ancient Near Eastern flood stories.

I hope beyond hope that some day people will start to open other books aside from the Bible, and turn their ignorance into factual knowledge.  The world would be such a smarter place, and perhaps Aaron Fruh would stop saying such foolish things.


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