A few years ago, on an episode of Boston Legal, a drama that was broadcasted on ABC, one of the lawyers was asked to defend a client whose wife wanted their marriage annulled because her husband had sex with a cow.
The client, as a way of justifying his act, identified himself as a respectful individual: he was a good husband, a deacon in his church, a philanthropist, a respected professor at a major university, and a town selectman.
When the man was confronted by his wife, she accused him of having sex, not only with one cow, but with two. The man confessed to having a crush on the cow. He also confessed to having fallen in love with the cow because the cow was as beautiful as his wife (if you want to read the transcript of the program, click here).
Human sexual attraction toward animals is a problem that has been present in almost every society. In modern times, the word “zoophilia” is used to describe individuals with sexual attractions to animals. The popular word used for the sexual relationship between humans and animals is bestiality.
Bestiality is considered a sin against nature because it violates the natural order of creation. In the Genesis story, the animals were not considered a suitable partner for the man. The woman was created to give man what the animals were unable to provide. The woman was created to become a partner equal to him, one who would work together with him in the work assigned to them by the Creator: to have children, to perpetuate the human race, and to cultivate and govern the earth.
According to the Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, “perhaps as many as 8-10% of sexually active adults have had significant sexual experience with an animal at some point in their lives.” Those who defend human sexuality with animals point to the fact that animals can develop a relationship with humans. They also reject a religious condemnation of zoophilia as irrelevant since most of them are not religious.
Most modern societies condemn bestiality because it is seen as a crime against nature. Primitive societies were ambivalent about humans having sexual acts with animals. Hittite Laws provide an example of this ambivalence. The Hittites were an Indo-European people who lived in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) in the second millennium B.C. In the Hittite Law Code, law #187 says: “If a man has intercourse with a cow, it is a capital crime, he shall die.” Law #199 says: “ If anyone has intercourse with a pig or a dog, he shall die.” However, law #199 also says: “If a man has intercourse with a horse or a mule, there is no punishment.”
On the other hand, the Old Testament is emphatic about the prohibition of intercourse with animals: “A man must never defile himself by having sexual intercourse with an animal, and a woman must never present herself to a male animal in order to have intercourse with it; this is a terrible perversion” (Leviticus 18:23).
There are several reasons why bestiality is considered to be “a terrible abomination.” The primary reason is that human beings were created in the image of God. Thus, human beings are different from animals. Another reason is that in creation, human beings were given dominion over all the animals of the earth. Thus, bestiality was a deviant form of sexual behavior that was considered a violation of the natural order of sexual relationships established by the Creator.
In Israel, bestiality was a crime punished by death: “If a man has sexual intercourse with an animal, he must be put to death, and the animal must be killed. If a woman approaches a male animal to have intercourse with it, she and the animal must both be put to death. Both must die, for they are guilty of a capital offense” (Leviticus 20:15-17).
Old Testament laws regulating moral behavior should be understood as demands that God expects of the men and women he created. According to the Bible, human beings are the special creation of a holy God. For this reason, God has the right to define what is right and what is good for his creation.
Many people in today’s society believe that the ethical demands of the Bible are obstacles to the lifestyle they have chosen for themselves. There is a moral chasm between the demands of God and the desires of human beings. The standards for what is right, good, and acceptable is always God. But in a society that has abandoned God and refuses to accept the principles God has established for his creation, it has become common place to call what is evil good and what is good evil.
Emeritu Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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