Women, Pants, and Deuteronomy 22:5 – Part 2

Hatshepsut Declared Herself Pharaoh,
She ruled as a man for over 20 years
She dressed like a man and wore a false beard

In my previous post, Women, Pants, and Deuteronomy 22:5 – Part 1, I discussed Kent Brandenburg’s attempt to prove that Deuteronomy 22:5 is teaching that women should wear dresses and skirts and men should were pants. In the present post I will show that the prohibition of Deuteronomy 22:5 deals with religious practices found in Canaanite religion.

As I mentioned in my last post, in order to support his position, Brother Brandenburg quoted several biblical scholars. In addition to Martin Luther and Keil and Delitzsch, he quoted Albert Barnes (1884-1885), The Pulpit Commentary (1897), Lange’s Commentary (1884), Joseph Excell (1849), Vincent Alsop (mid 17th century), Matthew Poole (1560) and several recent commentaries.

However, what do all the authors and commentaries Brother Brandenburg cited have in common? Most of them were written before the rise of modern archaeology and the discovery of written material that clarify the religious and cultural practices of many nations of the Ancient Near East. In addition, none of these authors studied how the Hebrew word תוֹעֵבָ֥ה (tô`eba) is used in the book of Deuteronomy.

Let me begin with תוֹעֵבָ֥ה (tô`eba) in Deuteronomy. The noun occurs 117 times in the Old Testament and it is generally translated as “abomination.” The word is used to describe a sinful act on the part of Israel or an individual Israelite. The word appears several times in Ezekiel to describe an action that is cultically unacceptable.

In the book of Deuteronomy, the word tô`eba becomes almost a technical word that is used to describe pagan practices that are abhorrent to Yahweh. A few examples will suffice:

“When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations” (Deuteronomy 18:9).

“There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD; and because of these abominable practices the LORD your God is driving them out before you” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).

“You shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded; that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 20:17-18).

“You shall not bring the hire of a harlot, or the wages of a dog, into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow; for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 23:18).

I could cite several other passages in Deuteronomy where the word “abomination” is used as a reference to a religious practice that existed in the religion of the Canaanites and several other nations in the Ancient Near East. The last quotation above, Deuteronomy 23:18, forbids an Israelite to “bring the hire of a harlot, or the wages of a dog, into the house of the LORD” as a payment for a vow. Such an act was an abomination to the LORD.

The reference here is to the offering in the temple of the Lord of the wages received by the “harlots and the dogs,” that is, the female and male cultic prostitutes who offered themselves in the worship of Baal. Note the order of the words: the female is referred to first, then the male. This same order is also found in Deuteronomy 22:5: first the woman then the man (see below).

This is the reason Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits Israelites from wearing garments of the opposite sex because these were the special garments female and male cultic prostitutes wore in the service of Asherah (cf. 2 Kings 10:22; 23:7).

Archaeology has shown that the exchange of roles in pagan cults, that is, where male acted as female and vice-versa, was common in the Ancient Near East. A few quotes will suffice to prove this assertion:

Abraham Malamat, in his article “A Forerunner of Biblical Prophecy: The Mari Documents,” published in Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East, edited by Frederick E. Greenspahn (New York: New Yourk University Press, 1991), p. 159, discusses the role of the assinnus. According to Malamat, the assinnu was “a male prostitute.” Malamat said that this cultic functionary “served in the temple at Mari and prophesied in the name of the goddess Annunitum, apparently while disguised and acting like a woman, perhaps like a modern-day transvestite.”

In a review of Louis Crompton’s Homosexuality and Civilization (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2006) published in The Yale Review of Books 7, vol. 2 (Spring 2004), Margaret Fox wrote:

Crompton quotes the King James translation of a verse from the Holiness Code in Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Crompton speculates that Levitical hostility toward homosexuality arose from the desire to keep the worship of Yahweh distinct from the cultic practices of other cultures in the Ancient Near East, in which transvestite priests often played religious roles.

Theodore Burgh, in his book Listening to the Artifacts: Music Culture in Palestine said (p. 69) that in ancient Mesopotamia, transvestites, men dressed like women, played and danced in the cult of Ishtar, performing erotic dances and pantomime.

Cyrus Gordon, in his book The Bible and the Ancient Near East (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1997), p. 160, wrote:

Another biblical law that now can be explained through recourse to the Ugaritic texts is the prohibition against transvestism in Deuteronomy 22:5. This act is described in the Epic of Aqhat as well. After the hero is slain, his sister Pughat seeks revenge against Anat for the murder. To do so, Pughat disguises herself as a male, replete with rouge (the coloration of males, especially warrior heroes), man’s clothing and weaponry. The Israelite reaction is to forbid transvestism, another aspect of Canaanite society that they found reprehensible. Again, one needs to place this in its proper context. No doubt the average Canaanite male or female dressed in proper fashion throughout most his or her life. But since Canaanite epic literature describes transvestism in a noble manner, we may conclude that this act not only was practiced but also was countenanced. A close reading of the biblical prohibition reveals that the female is referred to first then the male follows. This runs counter to most laws in the Pentateuch, which either are addressed to male solely, or are addressed to male first and female second. This is not coincidental; rather it suggests an even closer connection with Pughat’s action detailed in the Epic of Aqhat.

The temple functionaries known in Canaanite literature as qedēšim and qedēšot were male and female cultic prostitutes who engaged in sexual acts in the Canaanite cult in order to elicit rain and fertility from their gods. In his religious reforms, Josiah, king of Judah, “broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes which were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah” (2 Kings 23:7).

The Biblical text is very clear: the qedēšim and the qedēšot, the male and female prostitutes were inside the Lord’s house in Jerusalem and there the women wove hangings for the Asherah. This type of ritual drama that took place in the temple was unacceptable to the Israelites. This is the reason the Israelites rejected bestiality, homosexualism, transvestism, and temple prostitution and declared these practices to be an abomination to God.

The Biblical text was not written in a vacuum. The Biblical text was written within a historical and cultural context. When the Biblical text is divorced of its cultural and historical contexts, as Brother Brandenburg has done in his study of Deuteronomy 22:5, the text is made to say that which it never intended to say.

Brother Brandenburg wrote: “Our country practiced the pants as male dress and the dress or skirt as the female dress.” But Deuteronomy was not addressing a cultural issue in “our country” in the twenty-first century or in any other century. Deuteronomy was addressed to Israel as it struggled with Canaanite culture. Deuteronomy was written to address the many religious problems that were plaguing the worship of God, problems that compromised Israel’s uniqueness as a chosen people and problems that undermined Israel’s mission to the nations.

Deuteronomy 22:5 is not prohibiting women from wearing pants. In fact, the word “pants” does not even appears in the Bible.

Well, that is not totally true. The word pants appears twice in the Bible: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1 NIV). But these are pants of another kind.

Transvestism in Ancient Israel

Transvestism in Ancient Israel

Women, Pants, and Deuteronomy 22:5 – Part 1

Women, Pants, and Deuteronomy 22:5 – Part 2

Jesus Wore Pants

Women, Paris, and Pants

Women Wearing Pants: The Consequence

Did Jesus Wear a Dress?

NOTE: For other studies on syncretism in the Old Testament, read my post, Syncretism in the Old Testament.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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16 Responses to Women, Pants, and Deuteronomy 22:5 – Part 2

  1. Joshua says:

    First thing: You haven't barely touched anything Brandenburg wrote yet. I'm curious to see what you have when you do. No one is claiming Moses was talking about a garment separated in the middle (ie pants) when he wrote Deuteronomy 22:5. Second thing: Note the secular assumption that everything written in Deuteronomy is just a historical response to another culture, rather than the revealing of God's holy standard."This is the reason the Israelites rejected bestiality, homosexualism, transvestism, and temple prostitution and declared these practices to be an abomination to God."False. God declared these things wrong, and thus the Israelites rejected them. Notice how you've cut God out of the picture, and are trying to make this purely secular, like it's just Moses laying down a couple of laws for political purposes. Was the divine hand involved or is this purely cultural writings?Third thing: You mentioned some examples where abomination relates to false religious practices, but what about in all the other places where just every day sin is called an abomination? So are you saying it's okay for me to be a transvestite if I'm not a religious transvestite? Uncovering my mothers nakedness is called an abomination, but so long as I'm not doing that for Ba'al then that verse doesn't apply to me?The line of reasoning here is an appalling method of exegesis (It would be better described as an excellent example of eisegesis). You've completely cut God out of the picture, found a few examples where the word abomination has a religious connotation, then made a wild leap into the dark to proclaim your speculations to be the only possible interpretation of Deut 22:5.Brandenburg didn't divorce the text from it's context. Deuteronomy plainly reads that it is an abomination to put on the clothes of the opposite gender. That's all he claimed, and that's all it states. From that claim he then goes on to make an application to our culture. You missed it.Your think his argument is:1. Deut 22:5 is talking about pants2. Corinthians links pants to authority, thus Deut 22:5 is talking about the authority in clothing3. Thus women in our culture wearing pants are an abomination trying to steal male authority.That is a complete straw man.His real argument is this:1. Deut 22:5 is talking about putting on the clothing of the opposite sex. (that clothing is determined by each individual culture)2. Corinthians shows that within a culture, some articles of clothing have authority connotations. (this is a separate point, entirely independent of 1.)3. A study of our culture shows that a) pants was once the culture designated male article of clothing and b) as the masculine article, the pants was a symbol of male authority.4. A study of our culture further shows a) that women started wearing the male article (thus transgressing Deut 22:5 – women aren't to put on that which pertaineth to men, in our culture this was pants) and b) this mixing was deliberately instigated to tear down the male authority symbolism that pants have. (hence the involvement of feminists and the statement "who wears the pants").That is his whole argument. You've utterly confused his application of Deut 22:5 with his interpretation. The only part you've even touched on is number 1, and that only to answer your strawman version. I think I've shown above why your arguments for your curious (ie private) interpretation should be rejected by a Christian. Brandenburg's quotation of Biblical scholars clearly shows he isn't just inventing this out of thin air. These speculations that are posing as exegesis are brand new, and are no reason for any Christian to disregard the historic interpretation that the verses say what they mean and mean what they say.


  2. Joshua says:

    Just as an addendum, mostly for Gary:It will help you if you understand that Deut 22:5 explains WHY IT WAS WRONG for women to start wearing pants, and that 1 Cor explains WHY THEY ADOPTED IT back in the 40's/50's.No one is trying to read an authority issue into Deut 22:5 as the primary interpretation. Deut 22:5 stands on it's own. 1 Cor is useful in understanding why feminists and sodomites pushed so hard to overturn the past cultural distinction between male and female dress. That is the only connection that Brandenburg is making between the two passages.


  3. "To do so, Pughat disguises herself as a male, replete with rouge (the coloration of males, especially warrior heroes)…"So I guess real men don't wear dresses, but they do use makeup!


  4. Interesting dialogue. I'm all for sharing points of view as long as we remember that its all about building God's kingdom. Whether women wear pants or not, there are souls to be saved, people to be healed and work to be done for our savior. Let's not focus on doctrinal divisions. Focus on spreading the gospel, because the kingdom of God is at hand.


  5. Gary says:

    Joshua, Out of respect to Kent I stopped commenting on his Deut. post, because he seemed frustrated, but let me try again to understand.Kent's main assumtion on Deut.22:5 is that there had to be two distinctly different garments worn by the two sexes (pertaineth only means clothes here).It could not mean belt, sword, shield, etc. Right?1 Cor 11 shows us that clothing can be used to symbolize authority, thus the reason women wanted to wear men's pants. Right?Women who are wearing pants are sinning, because pants were first worn by men in this culture and because men have not replaced pants with anything else to symbolize their authority yet. Right?I just want to see if I've got it this time. I have a response to this, but it will have to wait until later today, because I 'm working right now. If you see this before I get back, please let me know if I've correctly stated Dr. Brandenburgs position. God bless.Dr. Pursiful,Have you done anything or will you be doing any posts in regards to the 1 Cor 11 "head covering" debatethat I mentioned in part one.Dr. Mariotinni,Great job on part two! It was very informative and had great historical backing. Psalm 42:1 was a nice touch. Hilarious!! Dr. Brandenburg would be upset with you using the NIV though.


  6. Joshua,

    Thank you for your comment. In response to what you wrote, I have to say that there are so many wrong things and so many misinterpretation in what you wrote that it would take me another post just to correct several of your statements.First, let me just say that there is nothing secular in what I wrote. The book of Deuteronomy was dealing with serious paganism in the religion of Israel. This is the reason several new laws were enacted to correct them. If you think that the sacred prostitution that was practiced within the temple in Jerusalem was not a religious problem, then you do not understand the message of Deuteronomy.

    Second, Deuteronomy 22:5 has nothing to do with the problem of head covering in 1 Corinthians 11. To say that the two passages are related is to show ignorance of what Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians.You wrote: “So are you saying it's okay for me to be a transvestite if I'm not a religious transvestite?” Brother, read what I wrote and stop making false accusations.You said that I have “completely cut God out of the picture.” How can I do that when Deuteronomy 22:5 is divine law that seeks to purify the religion of Israel?

    My suggestion is that you should educate yourself with the cultural world in which Israel lived and learn how the biblical text, both the legal and the prophetic texts, seeks to deal with the many pagan practices present in the religion of Israel. Without that knowledge you will have a hard time understanding the Bible.When it comes to eisegesis, you should consult an unbiased reader to find out who is guilty of committing eisegesis.Thank you for visiting my blog.

    Claude Mariottini


  7. Darrell,

    I thought the reference to Pughat was interesting. I am sure the rouge was the kind of war paint warriors used to put on their faces before a battle.

    Claude Mariottini


  8. Gary,

    The interpretation that says that Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Corinthians 11 are related is wrong. Deuteronomy 22:5 is not discussing the problem of authority.And to say that if a woman wears pants is an usurpation of authority is also fallacious. How about primitive societies where both men and women live naked all day. There are no cloths but there is a clear sense of authority. I think these people need to do a better study of 1 Corinthians.

    Claude Mariottini


  9. Sherrice,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree with you 100%. My goal is building God's Kingdom and I do so through my preaching and my teaching.It is too bad that along the day we have to deal with mundane issues that becomes very important to some people.

    Claude Mariottini


  10. Gary says:


    I disagree with you that Kent wasn't trying to "read an authourity issue into Deuteronomy 22:5 as the primary interpretation" He makes it pretty clear in is blogs. That is why he is so against women in pants. If I'm wrong, I would like for him to tell me so.I wanted to go more into Kent's assumtions on this verse, but I wanted to address Sherrice's concern first. Kent and your side seem to be more concerned with doctrinal issues than brotherly love. Example: Your sister is a missionary in another country and you are critising her for wearing pants? Her heart seems to be for Christ, but she is in sin, because your interpretation say's that she is being disobedient to God's law.You should read Romans 13:8-10Kent gives his assumptions, not smoking gun facts on his position, so why does he judge others so harshly. He has stated on his post that those who do not see this verse his way do not love God and are being disobedient. Most scholars give their opinion (like Dr. Mariotinni) and try to discuss, not judge. This is an honest question: Where in the Bible does it say that Dr. Kent is supposed to condemn us. Some of the verses that I see (Mat 7:1-2, 1 Cor 4:4-5, James 4:11-12) say something different.My wife was out with some other ladies about a month ago trying to witness to people going in and out of a store (using the way of the master teaching), when a man came up to them and started to shout at them saying No! No! You cannot witness here, because of the way you are dressed. He was critising them for their pant(which were modest),some of the women were critised for their short(but femine looking) hair, and for wearing make up. Fortunatly they did not leave and three people accepted Jesus into their life and numerous others asked for prayer.Tell me who God was more happy with that day. The man who was very vocal in trying to "make them more holy" or the ladies who were witnessing?Sorry, I think that I went a little off track this time. I'll get back on the Deuteronomy 22:5 discussion later.GTGOne thing though for those on Dr. Kent's side, please do not ask what piece of clothing is disticntly for men. It's men's pants which is not to be confussed with women's pants which are distinctly different.


  11. Gary and Joshua,

    Deuteronomy 22:5 is not discussing the issue of authority. It does not matter how much argument is put together to affirm that the issue in Deuteronomy is authority, whatever interpretation affirms that Deuteronomy is teaching about authority is wrong.Somebody needs to interpret the Bible correctly, and that somebody is not me.

    Claude Mariottini


  12. Gary says:

    To all, I am sending this statement by phone, because I thought I was a little to harsh and do not wish for others to think that I concider joshua to be as judgemental as dr Kent or that other man. I know from previous talks that Joshua loves his sister. My hope though is that he spends more time discussing the good things that she is doing for the lord, than her wearing pants. I hope that I have not offended you johua. If I did I apologize. God bless


  13. Gary says:

    Dr. Mariotinni, I agree with you that Deuteronomy 22:5 is not about authority. There is no historical or biblical evidence to support what I believe is Kent's argument. Joshua,I know that you are saying that it is not his opinion, but I think that his comments on his blogs suggest otherwise.


  14. Gary,

    This is lesson that must be learned from this dialogue. Thank you for your input.

    Claude Mariottini


  15. Keith says:

    Do you have a view about how Acts 15 frees New Testament believers from all of the Old Testament laws that everyone nit picks about?

    The few 3-4 behaviors that the Acts 15 official letter recommends avoiding seem to be focused on avoiding the worship practices of other gods, and broadly avoiding sexual immortality.

    If Christians were willing to wrestle with why the Acts 15 letter only carried over a few rules, then we would not be still creating hundreds of our own rules and exceptions to the rules.


    • Keith,

      I agree. Many Christians do not understand the purpose of Old Testament laws. Those laws are not given to Christians to follow. Those Old Testament laws were given to make Israel a unique nations among the nations of the Ancient Near East.

      Claude Mariottini


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