Before and after their entry into the land of Canaan, the Law was spoken to the people of Israel. Laws of proper worship, dietary restrictions, proper conduct and the social mandate to not oppress the alien, poor, orphans and widows. The Law as a whole was targeted to make Israel a holy nation chosen by YHWH making them very different from that of the nations around them. Their example was to show the world another way to live. What is interesting is that the laws work together in ways that are not as clear cut when looking at them individually. The example that will be focused on is the way the laws of proper sexual conduct and worship should have worked in tandem with the social mandate to nullify the highly sexualised Baal worship. The ramifications of this unifying mission call for a gathering of the disparate and splintered offensives that even today focus on single aspects of the Kingdom of God.
In Glasser's Announcing the Kingdom he documents the spiralling descent of the people of Israel as they “reacted against the ethical and egalitarian demands of the worship of YHWH.” (Glasser,2003:115,). They were supposed to be the chosen holy nation of God, a royal priesthood, an example to the nations of what a people can do when they follow God completely. Among their failing was the unheeded call of Deuteronomy 15:11 to be generous to those in need. That because of his/her devotion to YHWH he/she will have a social conscious and look after those in need, the weak, the poor, the widows, orphans and strangers in the land ( Glasser, 2003:117-118). In contrast to this utopia was the rule of domination and oppression upheld by the rule and worship of Baals. Against the command to do justice and love mercy was the Baal support of authority and dominion of a select few over all others. Injustice, oppression, monarchical rule, centralised power, wealth and land ownership these were the hallmarks of those who like the Israelite Kings followed the Baal's (Jeyaraj,147:2008). Christopher Wright in Old Testament Ethics for the People of God states that if these hallmarks of Baal worship are in your society, if your country shows lack of compassion, greed, sexual and physical violence, then, whoever you think you are worshiping it is not the Lord. To simplify it if you chose the wrong God you got the wrong society (Wright, 2004: 59). It is by their existence in the land through God's egalitarian society that God would reveal himself.(Wright, 2004: 61) Israel's exclusivity to YHWH alone should have affected their entire society at every level of their existence. Any taint any syncretism or apostasy would resulted in failure and the fruit of failure were the hallmarks of Baal.
One of the attractors to Baal worship was the link between the farming practice and the worship of gods of fertility. Israel were not traditionally farmers they were herders of cattle they learned the practices from those in the land how to farm. This also involved the religious practices as well which were highly sexualised (Jeyaraj, 2008: 141). Compared to other gods YHWH has no distinct sexual nature (Glasser, 2003: 116), unlike the Baal's there is no female god to match with YHWH. Worship of these other gods often involved orgiastic rites and or temple prostitutes. Of course, many Israelites joined in while at the same time still offering sacrifices to YHWH such syncretism was pointed out by the prophets like Hosea (Hosea 4:11-14). The result of this syncretism was a gradual deterioration of society where Amos calls for the people to hate evil, love good and maintain justice in the courts (Amos 5:15).
The obvious difference between worship of YHWH and that of the Baals should have been seen and reacted against. However, as is well known this day sex sells. What sex creates though is children as the women who are part of the temple worship give birth to fatherless unsupported children. These children either become part of the temple practice or are surplus (possibly sold into slavery). Worship of YHWH does not bring about fatherless children and adherence to the laws of sexual purity avoid this too. Such laws were to halt the demand for this style of worship, but the laws of YHWH also deal with protecting the poor, weak and oppressed. Even the stranger was to be respected and offered the same protection as one of Israel (Glasser, 2003: 120). The disenfranchised of society embodied by the widow were people who were to be looked after and given the “reasonable livelihood”(Glasser, 2003: 88) that they had been deprived of by oppression and slavery. Who is more disenfranchised than the prostitutes and slaves coming from the temple to serve whomever comes to worship Baal? Their children are just grist for the mill poured back into the same service as their mothers. If, as is stated by the Genesis creation story that all people are from the same source and there is no higher or lower person, then, these people are worth releasing from this oppression. We have clear indication that such women were on two occasions incorporated into Israel in Rahab and Ruth and they are in the line of David. As is Tamar, who herself had to trick Judah into giving her a child by acting as a prostitute (Acosta, 2010: 65). Add to this list of heralded women Esther and Judith who were been used by YHWH to free his people from slaughter. These women were operating outside of the established purity laws of YHWH himself. How are these women any different to the temple prostitutes? Should not the laws of liberation be offered to them as well as the fatherless children of Israel produced by the false worship of Baal? Just imagine the temples of Baal emptied of those who wish to escape to the liberation offered by the people of YHWH. As they are enabled and given reasonable livelihood and protected within the tribal utopia word gets out about this promised people and their egalitarian and ethical society. Is this not the light for all the world to see?
Liberation and Purity - overcoming the objectification and oppression
There is an over emphasis on sexualisation by the media industry this is highlighted by Melinda Tankard-Riest as she asks “Ever feel like you’re living in a giant porn theme park?” (Tankard-Riest,2012: np). Sex is every where you look and like the Israelites and the Canaanite farming lifestyle there seems no way to separate it from our daily lives. Those who call for purity, abstinence and self-control are much like the Pharisees who were on a defensive footing protecting the exclusive nature of the people of God. In opposition Jesus was inclusive offering forgiveness of sin for all not just those who were pure (Herzog II, 2000:177). Purity by itself creates exclusion where those who are impure are outcasts compared to those who are not. Jesus crossed borders and boundaries to proclaim access to God for all, no matter who you were. The people he comes into contact with the lepers, prostitute's and gentiles are given access to forgiveness and salvation. It is them and not the Pharisees who are examples of faith (Acosta, 2010: 68). Purity without liberation is a straightjacket where a person is watching their own actions and or judging the actions of others. Such judgement keeps people as objects or as stigmatised and outcasts.
To focus on one aspect of the sexual culture are the modern priestesses of Baal the Porn Stars and their devotees. Those who call for valiant men describe this fight as a battle of purity within the life of the devotee to turn away, yet this does nothing for the person who is still in the sex industry. Both the person watching and the person performing are under oppression both need to be liberated. From the age of eighteen Jennie Ketcham performed under the name Penny Flame, she left the industry when for a documentary she entered therapy for sex addiction. Her realisation was...
“I've spent my entire adult life developing the identity of a woman I am not. A woman that exists for the sole purpose of others' enjoyment. I realised I have no identity as Jennie Ketcham and that I am incapable of developing sincere and intimate relationships.” (Ketcham cited in Violet Blue, 2009: np).
Wetterneck et al. suggest that those watching internet pornography are also having similar problems. The ease of access of internet pornography may result in them avoiding sexual experiences with real people (Wetterneck et al., 2012:11-12). What should have happened in Canaan is still not happening today as people at either end of the supply and demand of the sex industry are stigmatised and shamed. Jennie Ketcham relates that the person leaving the porn industry is seen in three ways shamed, a goody christian convert or trying to gain publicity (Ketcham cited in Violet Blue, 2009: np). The person at the other end is also either seen or is believed that he/she is shamed and stigmatised in their oppression as their dalliance is often described as self-abuse. Both require liberation from oppression as both are being objectified by a systematic cycle of demand and supply.
How this liberty is brought about is different in practice but the theory is very much the same it involves changing objectification and humanising the people involved. For the devotee of pornography it involves the understanding that these people are people with real names with real fathers and mothers maybe even husbands, wives and children. For the performers and other sex workers they need to see themselves as more than just existing for the enjoyment of others. Those who want liberation need to be able to enter into a community that will not label them and shame them for what they have done but stand beside them and show them how they have made themselves and others less than the true image of God that they were made in.
Acosta, M. (2010). Ethnicity and the People of God. Evangelical Review of Theology. (34)1: 58-70.
Glasser, A.F. (2003). Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God's Mission in the Bible. Baker Academic. Grand Rapids: MI.
Herzog II, W.R. (2000). Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God: A Ministry of Liberation. Westminster John Knox Press. Louisville: KN.
Wright, C.J.H. (2004). Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Inter-Varsity Press. Leicester: England.
Jeyaraj, J.B. (2008). Religion and Politics in Ancient Israel and Modern India - Issues and Inter-Actions. Evangelical Review of Theology. (32)2: 136-155.
(http://melindatankardreist.com/tag/objectification-of-women/)(19th April 2012)
Violet Blue. (2009). Leaving Porn On Her Terms Violet Blue: Former adult star Jennie Ketcham's exit from porn defies stereotypes.Available Internet
(http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2009/11/19/violetblue1119.DTL&ao=all)(19th April 2012)
Wetterneck, Chad T. & Burgess, Angela J. & Short, Mary B. & Smith, Angela H. & Cervantes, Maritza E. (2012) The Role Of Sexual Compulsivity, Impulsivity, And Experiential Avoidance In Internet Pornography Use. Psychological Record. (62)1: 3-17.