A recent and somewhat fruitless exchange on Facebook prompted me to think again about Leviticus 18:22. "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." There is one obvious thing about this verse that we tend to overlook. The commandment, like so many in Leviticus, is addressed to the men of Israel. Now that may seem a silly observation to make, but understanding any passage of Scripture requires that we take into account the context in which it was written. Israel was a patriarchal society. Although we have wonderful stories of women exercising power in the Hebrew Scriptures, those stories reveal, as do the stories of men exercising power, that religiously sanctioned power in Israel was almost exclusively exercised by men.
This brings me to the real point I want to make here. In a patriarchal society, one in which a man may have as many wives as he can afford, how does a man lie with a woman? Not, I would suggest, as a man lies with his wife today. I am not claiming that there was not what we would identify as love between husbands and wives in ancient Israel, but that marital relationships in ancient Israel can hardly be the model upon which we base our understanding of marriage today. I might even suggest that for us a commandment might be: do not lie with a man or a woman as men in ancient Israel lay with a woman.