87: SEX #1: Fertility begat taboos

Biblical fertility religion

The only way a bronze age tribe like the Jews could increase their power and influence and keep rival claimants off their land  was by having lots of manpower. The only way to do this was for Jewish women to have lots of babies. Not only were the humans to be fruitful and multiply, so were the livestock . Farmers who increased yields of grain, wine, and oil were likewise smiled on.
“God stood behind a whole range of sexual institutions, prohibitions and taboos that originally went with a very different society to our own.”
Looking at the following list you can see how many of these old Jewish rules are still followed in the rest of western society today by many people.

  •  Survival depends on maximizing reproductive potential
  • As guaranteed seed wasters the following activities are an “abomination” (Lev. 18:12-13) homosexuality
  • Intercourse with a woman at the wrong time of her cycle is forbidden because it would probably be fruitless, but it is not classed as an abomination as it could be socially destabilizing to deny husbands access to their wives (Lev. 15:19-20)
  • Adultery is considered to be theft – “ploughing with someone else’s heifer” (Judges 14:18)
  • It could also jeopardise the husband’s prospects of continuing his family line (Ex 23:16, etc.)
  • Adultery by women was a capital offence
  • “Levirate” marriage allows a dead brother to borrow seed from the living lest his wife is left without issue (Deut 25:5-6)
  • Sterility is a sign of divine disfavour, but miraculous reversals are recorded e.g. Sarah (Gen. 18:4-15) and Elizabeth (Lk 1:5-25)

This is a non-religious view of religious behaviour. It is my belief that we all have a lot to learn from anthropologists and sociologists. You don’t necessarily need ‘God’ to explain why  practitioners of different religions do what they do.

Marilyn McCord Adams in Bennett, Z.  Gowler, D. (eds) “Radical Christian Voices and practice” OUP (2012) p.250


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