After a series of exceedingly sensitive and profound meditations on Genesis 1-3, in which John Paul II highlights the contemporaneity and wisdom of Genesis, he suddenly turns into a nineteenth century liberal when he starts talking about sex in the Torah (Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body, 270-4).
He claims that the law “judges the woman differently and treats her with greater severity” than men, but provides no evidence.
He speaks of the “fundamental contradiction contained in the marriage law of the Old Testament.” He says that the legislation is accommodated to the “consciousness and practices of society at the time.” He sets up a non-existent tension between Torah and prophets. He claims that “it is difficult to avoid the impression that [the Torah's] evaluation [of sex] has a negative character, that it is “marked by an objectivism motivated by the intention of setting this area of human life in order” and is “not concerned directly with the order of the ‘heart’ but with the order of social life as a whole.” Much of the legislation is concerned with “hygiene or medicine.”
Nearly all of this is wrong. The purity laws are not about hygiene; the Tenth Word directly addresses evil sexual desire (coveting wives) and hence does deal with the heart; the prophets are not opposing Torah but calling Israel to repent of her disobedience to Torah; I don’t know where John Paul got the idea that women are more severely treated, but it is not from the Torah itself. Sexuality causes impurity, but so does skin disease and eating certain foods – this has nothing to do with a “negative evaluation” of the body, sex, or food. He’s on steadier ground in recognizing that the law’s regulation of polygamy and permission of divorce are the Lord’s response to Israel’s “hardness of heart,” but I don’t think this comes close to the level of a “fundamental contradiction.”
It’s mostly wrong, and it’s unfortunate. It would have been wonderful to have a sympathetic, careful, and accurate assessment of the Law’s legislation on sex from a theologian like John Paul.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 6:01 am
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