Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

From our point of view, perhaps the most diagnostic sign was the change in the attitude to homosexuality. Not only was this made a capital crime, but the law was applied to non-Jews also. The intensity of these new homosexual anxieties is perhaps best shown by the special ban upon a father appearing naked in front of his sons, though no such prohibition was thought necessary in the case of his daughters. Ham, one of Noah’s sons, was condemned to perpetual slavery and his children after him — hence the subjection of the Negro race, for Ham was black. His crime was that he entered a tent and found his father lying dead drunk and naked. In general, exposure of the privates was regarded as a crime, and, in fact, as a form of incest. Total nudity was thought even more obscene and shameful. Homosexual fears seem also to be shown by the rule that a mother might kiss her sons, but not her daughters, and conversely for a father.

Since we have noted the role of masturbation taboos in producing guilt feelings, it is interesting to find that the post-Exilic Jews laid enormous stress on this. The Zohar calls it the worst sin of all; one authority declares it to be a crime meriting death. And the clerical regulations on the subject display an obsession with detail comparable with the mediaeval penitentials: for instanced Jew must not sleep on his back, wear tight trousers, or touch his penis when urinating, for fear of an involuntary discharge. (78)

The remedy which the Jews found for their new sense of guilt was an ever more scrupulous observance of the law. The desire for a postmortem existence was largely swallowed up in their desire for a national resurgence or resurrection, and their apocalyptic works foreshadow not so much a happy after-life as the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, with Judah in an especially favoured position.

In the great Mediterranean civilisations, however — Greece, Rome, Egypt, Persia — religion concerned itself more and more with preparation for an after-life. Its general method was to try to induce in the candidate a special kind of experience which would leave him with a conviction of the reality of postmortem existence and which also seems to have induced a sense of the kinship of all life, for these “mystery” religions were always pacifist in character. To do this, men explored in a systematic manner the various ways in which abnormal psychological states could be induced: hypnosis, flagellation, fasting, whirling dances, the inhalation of fumes, the contemplation of sacred objects, special music — all these, singly and in combination, were employed by the mystery religions to produce a religious experience. (117)