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LOVEMAKING: To Know in the Biblical Sense
Survival for the biblical Hebrews depended not only on serving their God but on adequate numbers. For both reasons they took Yahweh's first commandment--"Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28)--seriously. The Hebrews were high on reproduction; as Gene McAfee puts it, they had "a vigorous pronatalist worldview." But they also had God-given laws to help keep things in perspective. Thus the commandment against adultery protected property rights (women being subordinate and essentially owned by their husbands), and laws against incest protected the integrity of the family. Procreative pursuits were also affected by the ritual purity system. Genital emissions were considered in some sense "unclean," requiring purification of those emitting them and those who were affected thereby. Thus a man and a woman were to bathe in water after sexual intercourse if there had been an emission of semen, and they were considered ritually unclean for the day (Lev. 15:16-18). (The same applied to a man who chanced to have a nocturnal emission [Deut. 23:10-11].) Purity also required sexual abstinence during times of worship--"come not at your wives" (Ex. 19:15)--and warfare (1 Sam. 21:4-5; 2 Sam. 11:11). (A newly married man, however, was given a year off from war and other work, to stay home and "cheer up his wife" [Deut. 24:5].)
The Hebrew word for love in general is ahabah (verb form aheb). (God's love for his people is often called hesed [KJV "loving-kindness," RSV "steadfast love"].) For sexual intercourse, the Old Testament writers use the verb bo ("to enter" or "to go into" ) or the euphemisms "to lie with" (yashav) and "to know" (yada). ("To know" in this sense is subsequently found also in Greek, as ginosko.) These sexual terms occur many times in the Hebrew Bible, and typically each use covers the whole sexual encounter, any foreplay or other elaboration not being a narrative concern. (See KISSING.) Usually the only point seems to be that the lovers are about the task of being fruitful and multiplying (e.g., "And Adam knew Eve," who bears Cain [Gen. 4:1]), though at times the encounter, as far as the man is concerned, is for sexual gratification (see, for example, BATHSHEBA and JUDAH AND TAMAR).
Notable exceptions to such brief, matter-of-fact descriptions are diatribes against Israelite idolatry, conceived of as "playing the harlot" (Hebrew verb zanah) and using often lurid sexual imagery (see EZEKIEL). There is also the erotic Song of Solomon, in which the term for lovemaking or "caressing" is dodim (related to the word for female breasts), with the woman of the Song referring to the man as her dodi ("lover"). (Dodim is also used in Prov. 7:18, where an adulteress entices a young man with "Come, let us take our fill of love.")
The Greek New Testament reflects a different milieu. Gone is the "pronatalist worldview," replaced by the belief among the first Christians that the world is soon coming to an end (Matt. 16:28; 24:34; 1 Cor. 7:29-31; James 5:8). Gone also, under Hellenistic influence, is the Hebrew notion that a man should "rejoice with the wife of his youth" and be "ravished always" with her love (Prov. 5:18-19). Instead there is the misogynistic view that a woman should be seen and not heard, and that she is to be seen as uninvitingly as possible. Just as the Greek philosopher Aristotle, quoting some unnamed poet, wrote that "silence is a woman's glory" (see Ghougassian), so Christian women are to "keep silence in the churches" (1 Cor. 14:34); and just as Perictione cautioned Greek women against wearing fine clothes and bathing too often, so Christian women are to wear "modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety" (1 Tim. 2:9). A husband is to love his wife (Col. 3:19, Eph. 5:26), and should have sex with her regularly to avoid infidelity (1 Cor. 7:2-5). But though it's "better to marry than to burn" with desire (1 Cor. 7:9), the best way sexually to await the world's end, says the Apostle Paul, is to be unmarried and celibate (1 Cor. 7:7-8). (The usual Greek word for romantic or sexual love, eros, is found nowhere in the New Testament; the word used for love is agape, which has a spiritual sense, with philia being brotherly love.) "It is good," Paul says in short (quoting the Corinthians), "for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Cor. 7:1)--which would no doubt sound strange to the just-married Old Testament warrior who got to spend a whole year with his wife. (See also PAUL.)
Rosemarie Chanin, "I Am My Beloved's" / Genesis 1
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