My post on Transvestism in Ancient Israel generated much discussion about the issue of women wearing pants. Several readers, in private communication, called my attention to two posts (here and here) by Kent Brandenburg in which he challenged my conclusion that Deuteronomy 22:5 deals with pagan practices. Deuteronomy 22:5 reads: “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”
In my post, I wrote the following:
Although scholars have rejected the anti-transvestism law of Deuteronomy 22:5 to be a ban on Canaanite practices, I take the view that this Deuteronomic prohibition is a protest against the immoral practices of Canaanite fertility religion.
In reply to my post, Brother Brandenburg wrote:
They simply speculate the intention of the biblical text. God prohibits women from putting on the male garment and men from putting on the female garment, but instead the intention was to avoid Canaanite worship rituals.
He also wrote:
Deuteronomy 22:5 isn’t hard to understand. . . . The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God. . . . We see nothing in the verse about Canaanite worship or women in the military or transvestism. It is about as straightforward as it can get.
Brother Brandenburg concludes:
I’ve dealt with the interpretation of Deuteronomy 22:5. Now I will show you that women in dresses and skirts and men in pants is how that it has been practiced.
Our country practiced the pants as male dress and the dress or skirt as the female dress. Those were the designed distinctions. None other served as the distinction between the genders. They were erased by the culture because the culture didn’t care to keep those distinctions any longer, despite what God had said. They were replaced by nothing.
To prove his argument, that Deuteronomy 22:5 teaches that women should wear dresses and skirts and that men should were pants, Brother Brandenburg quotes several biblical scholars and their comments on this text.
Brother Brandenburg begins his argument by quoting Martin Luther: “When the devil has persuaded us to surrender one article of faith to him, he has won; in effect he has all of them, and Christ is already lost.” When the issue of whether or not women should wear pants becomes an article of faith then we have enthroned a cultural practice into the realm of church doctrine.
Brother Brandenburg then quotes several biblical scholars on this issue. I will cite Keil and Delitzsch as an example. They wrote:
As the property of a neighbor was to be sacred in the estimation of an Israelite, so also the divine distinction of the sexes, which was kept sacred in civil life by the clothes peculiar to each sex, was to be not less but even more sacredly observed. There shall not be man’s things upon a woman, and a man shall not put on a woman’s clothes.
The distinction between the sexes is established by God and taught in the Bible. When God created human beings, he created them male and female. God blessed them and told them to increase and multiply. This is the reason that in the sexual act, a man joins his wife and they become one flesh.
Homosexuality, both male and female, violates this created order because it destroys this divine distinction between the sexes: homosexual relations do not include a man and a woman. The people involved in a homosexual relationship cannot procreate and they do not become one flesh.
Although sexual distinction between the sexes was established by God, Deuteronomy 22:5 is not teaching that women should wear dresses and skirts and men should wear pants.
There are several Egyptian monuments showing Semites (probably Hebrews or Hapiru) entering Egypt. The image below shows Hebrew men and Hebrew women pictured on monuments.
Image: Semites Entering Egypt
It is clear from the image above that none of the Hebrew men were wearing pants. In addition, both men and women are wearing robes and in the image some of the robes of the men and women are identical in color and style.
In addition, on the various monuments of other nations of the Ancient Near East, men of various nations and different cultures are portrayed: none of the men are wearing pants.
In the image below, a representation of the obelisk of Shalmaneser III, Jehu, king of Israel appears bowing before the king of Assyria. Neither Jehu nor the Assyrians are wearing pants.
Image: Jehu Paying Tribute to Shalmaneser III
In the image below, several Hebrews are represented on the obelisk of Shalmaneser. The image shows that the men are not wearing pants.
If Brother Brandenburg is correct, that Moses ordered men to wear pants, then all of these Hebrew men were violating God’s command. The truth is that Deuteronomy 22:5 is not teaching that women should wear dresses and skirts and men should wear pants.
A closer look at the monuments gives evidence that this statement is true.
Next: The Canaanite connection. Read Women, Pants, and Deuteronomy 22:5 – Part 2
Transvestism in Ancient Israel
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary