TG History — “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?” TGs and The Bible

| Dec 22, 2008
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Those in our western world who are opposed to what they view as “alternative lifestyles” often use the Bible to point out the error of our ways to GLBTs. They often use Deuteronomy 22:18-21 when they condemn crossdressers to the fiery pits of Hell. Since we’re coming up on a really large Christian holiday this week we decided TG History should tell us a bit about this Deuteronomy thing and how the Bible, and possible why, the Bible treats GLBT people the way it does. Or does it? If you thought you knew all about our place in the Bible, Michelle Moore may have done a bit more research.

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” – William Shakespeare

Michelle Moore brings you TG History

What is the Bible?

Around the year 90 CE (Common Era) a decision was made that changed the world forever. Following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the Jewish people began scattering across the known world. Faced with the real danger its writings and oral stories would be lost Jewish rabbis attempted to consolidate everything into one text. To be selected a book had to conform to the Pentateuch (more about that later), it couldn’t be written after the time of Ezra (circa 458 BCE), it had to be written in Hebrew, and it had to be written in Palestine.

Eventually the Hebrew Bible was finalized, laying out the law, traditions, and history of the Jewish people. The Christians later adapted this as the Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament contain basically the same books arranged and numbered slightly different. The difference between the two faiths is the Christian Bible includes the New Testament, which chronicles the life and teachings of Jesus and the early history and philosophy of the Christian Church.

The Bible has influenced all three major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, who despite their differences all worship that same One God. But like all religious documents the Bible has been subject to wide misinterpretation, especially in the hands of religious fundamentalists targeting groups they disapproved of. Sadly this has sometimes included the transgendered, who’ve existed since the dawn of humanity. What does the Bible itself say about them? Surprisingly little. There’s no direct references to either transgendered people or behavior.
Except one….


No frilly stuff for dudes!

“A man’s item shall not be on a woman, and a man shall not wear a woman’s garment; whoever does such a thing is abhorrence unto Adonai (God).” — Deuteronomy 22:5

Deuteronomy is part of the Pentateuch (or Torah), one of the five oldest books of Hebrew scripture along with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Traditionally it was believed that Moses wrote them but today nearly all bible scholars accept that these were oral histories collected over time and set down on scrolls by various unknown writers sometime after 1000 BCE. It took another six centuries before they were completed it around 400 BCE.

You’ve probably heard hard-line religious fundamentalists use Deuteronomy to claim that crossdressing is a sin in the Bible. It’s always been a pretty weak argument made even sillier when applied to women, effectively condemning every woman who wears pants or other traditional menswear. This interpretation is so broad crossdressers could counter-argue that things like high heels and stockings are “men’s items” since they were originally designed to be worn by men only. (“Hey, man, I gotta wear these red, spike heels. Says so in the Bible.”)

Actually this is all beside the point. Deuteronomy contains a code of conduct designed for the ancient Israelites that no one completely follows today. It’s a good thing, too, because how could you enforce one selective passage of Deuteronomy and ignore all of its remaining laws? So if you thought crossdressers would have it rough image what life would be like even for fundamentalists if we had to base our laws on Deuteronomy:

Troubled by a rebellious son? No problem – Deuteronomy 22:18-21 has the solution. If he isn’t responding to discipline, the son is simply taken to the town gates (try finding them in your town) where all the men of the town gather and stone him to death. End of problem (end of son, too).
Check your clothing labels. Besides crossdressing, Deuteronomy makes other holy fashion statements. For instance, Deuteronomy 22:1 1 finds it sinful to wear clothes having linen and wool woven together. And you thought the fashion police were a myth.

However, this does not mean that your clothing has to be plain and boring. Deuteronomy 22:12 mandates that when you wear a cloak you must make tassels on the four corners of the cloak. One bible scholar calculated that this would amount to about sixty-four tassels. Countless Vegas shows would qualify as a religious experience.

Sexual promiscuity is a definite no-no (at least for women). Deuteronomy 22:20-21 decrees that if a man finds his bride is not a virgin, she is to be taken to the door of her father’s house and stoned to death. This will purge the evil from the land.

Yet you’ll be pleased to know that Deuteronomy takes a dim view of rape and prescribes some very harsh punishments for the rapist. For example, Deuteronomy 22:28 requires that if a man is caught raping a virgin he must pay a fine of 50 silver shekels. But that is not the worst of it, as he is then required to marry the woman he raped, with no possibility of divorce.

You might also forget about the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. Slavery is not a sin according to Deuteronomy. If you are a man, you can take captive among your enemies any beautiful woman who strikes your fancy (Deuteronomy 21:1 0-13). But now comes the breaking-in process. You must dress her in the clothes she was captured in, trim her nails and shave her head. If after one month you aren’t completely satisfied with your new bald headed slave, you can let her go.

Brothers must fulfill some rather kinky family obligations. Deuteronomy 25:5 tells us that if his married brother dies without fathering a son, the task then falls on him. He must immediately marry his brother’s widow and then continually impregnate her until a male heir is conceived.

Fighting dirty can have dire consequences as Deuteronomy 25:1 1-12 addresses the following situation: A husband is fighting for his life against another man. Then his wife, in coming to his rescue, seizes the attacker’s private parts. For this crime, her hand must be cut off. You are forbidden to pity her.
There are many more such laws but they don’t get any better. Like any other book the true meaning of the Bible is understood only when read in context. Selectively quoting Bible passages out of context isn’t new; it has been done to justify slavery, to hunt witches, to label blacks as evil, to devalue women, and to exterminate the “ungodly”. Of course, none of this was ever the intent of the Bible, which was simply meant as an instrument for worshipping God.

So what is Deuteronomy 22:5 about?

Well, there are several theories, many of which have surprisingly little to do with crossdressers. One of the most common interpretations is aimed at keeping women out of the Jewish religious order. A 2,000 year debate has raged in the Jewish community over whether women can wear the prayer shawl (tallit) and the tefillin during religious ceremonies. Others feel this passage applies to the weapons of war. They translate the text “men’s items” to mean “warrior’s gear”. As proof, they cite the Book of Judges in which the heroine Jael kills Sisera with a tent stake (in a separate account she shatters his skull with a mallet). Supporters contend Jael did this to comply with Mosaic Law as would have been “unladylike” for her to kill anyone using a man’s sword. Consequently, Orthodox Jews have used Deuteronomy 22:5 to argue against military conscription of women in modern Israel.

Still others have noted that the exact meaning of “women’s clothing” and “men’s clothing” differs in the context of its time. These scholars claim that rather than referring to complete crossdressing the passage refers only to wearing certain types of clothing traditional to one sex. They note that women wore colorful clothes back then while men traditionally wore white. Others think “women’s dress” or “women’s fashion” refers to her hairstyle. Barring local custom, men were not permitted to shave their armpits and genital regions as women did. But it was considered perfectly fine for men to shave their arm and leg hair.
A more common theory notes that men and women lived in strictly separate social groups in those days. The need to prohibit crossdressing, according to this theory, was to prevent men from secretly entering women’s groups and women from entering men’s groups for the purpose of having adulterous sex.

Yet by far the most common interpretation is that the cross-dressing prohibition was aimed at keeping Israelites from taking part in Canaanite practices where worshipers simulated a change of sex as a fertility rite. Canaanite religion centered on worship of Baal, a fertility god responsible for rain, obviously a big deal for any agricultural community that bordered the desert. The rains came – according to Canaanite belief – when Baal had sex, with his semen falling in the form of life-giving rain. Instead of a simple “rain dance,” Canaanite priests imitated Baal by having sex, apparently coupling with men, women, and even beasts. Many of the Mosaic Laws were specifically aimed at preventing the sexually charged Canaanite worship practices from tempting the Children of Israel. However, by comparison most rabbis consider crossdressing for Jewish ceremonies to be perfectly acceptable. During the festival of Purim, Jewish Law allows men and women to crossdress for the purpose of having fun – as long as no adultery is involved. Lumping all these theories together, religious guidance would seem to dictate that crossdressers should wear white, shave their legs, and avoid the Israeli Army. But please—no more rain dancing.


Strictly speaking, the closest literal Biblical references to the intersexed are about eunuchs. Eunuchs were castrated males and they were quite respected as officers in royal courts. Deuteronomy (naturally) speaks ill of them – 23.1 states: “He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the Lord.” On the other hand, Isaiah 56:4-5 completely contradicts Deuteronomy. “For thus says the Lord: to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument better than sons and daughters, I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” In the time of Deuteronomy, the Israelites were a collection of small tribes facing a high morality rate while trying to survive in a harsh land. It was considered the duty of every citizen to make as many babies as possible to keep the population count up. Later Christians began embracing chastity and a righteous celibate person (deliberate or otherwise) wasn’t considered so bad anymore. Acts 8:26-39 tells the story of a devout Ethiopian eunuch who is traditionally held as the person who brought Christianity to Northern Africa. Jesus also speaks of them in Matthew 19:12: “For there are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs who have themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Yet the most intriguing reference to a truly intersexed person comes in the most unlikely place imaginable—the Book of Genesis.

Remember the traditional Sunday school account that God created Adam in His image then created Eve from Adam’s rib? Well, think again – many Christians are surprised to learn there are actually two separate stories of Creation in Genesis, each differing in the details. In the First Version Genesis One this passage appears: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them” -Genesis 1:27

As to first part, “God created created man in his own image…” – recent translations believe “man” refers to all humanity rather than a single individual, thereby reading: “So God created humankind in his own image”. But what about the second part: “male and female created he them”? Sounds like both sexes were created together at the same time rather than separately. No Adam’s rib here. In the 13th Century the Catholic Church under Pope Innocent III and other Christian and Jewish scholars resolved this seeming contradiction by determining that the first person God created was both male and female and then separated into two different sexes. In effect, they determined the person we now call Adam was a hermaphrodite.


Well, back to Deuteronomy 23.1: “He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the Lord.” Of course, this raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions about that circumcision thing. Actually the “shall not enter the assembly to the Lord” part didn’t refer to Heaven, the Israelites meant you couldn’t join their tribe since you couldn’t breed. Fundamentalists have criticized postoperative transsexuals for altering their physical appearance as somehow going against the way God made them. Numerous passages say otherwise – including Samuel 16:7: “I do not judge as man judges. Man looks at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart” or Galatians 3:28: “There is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”

God, it seems, doesn’t discriminate, only people do. Religions may differ in philosophy but they are all based not on outer appearances but on personal faith, on living a moral life, and above all, on belief in God. The Bible simply confirms there is a place for all believers, including the trans-gendered. Unfortunately, there’ll always be those who will seek to apply a religious stamp of approval to their own narrow prejudices. So whenever you hear someone rationalize their hate by saying “I’m right because it’s in the Bible”, you can be sure they didn’t bother to read it very closely.


There are of course several versions of the Bible. For purposes of uniformity, the New International Version (NIV) and the King James Version are cited here although the information is pertinent to almost all other Bibles.

Reference sources include:

The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible
Dictionary of the Bible, John McKenzie
New International Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas & Merrill C. Tenney
Don’t Know Much About the Bible, Kenneth Davis
Cross Dressing and Deuteronomy 22:5, Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen
Who Wrote the Bible? Richard Elliort Friedman
The Book: A History of the Bible, Christopher de Hamel
Religion, Spirituality, and Transsexuality, Andrea James, TS Roadmap website

“Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?” The title is ancient Aramaic from Mark 15:34. It is repeated in Hebrew in Matthew 27:46 and also appears in Psalm 22:1. These are among the last words that Jesus spoke from the cross in his moment of doubt and pain: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

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About the Author ()

Angela Gardner is a founding member of The Renaissance Transgender Assoc., Inc., former editor of its newsletter and magazine, Transgender Community News. She was the Diva of Dish for TGF in the late 1990s and Editor of LadyLike magazine until its untimely demise. She has appeared in film and television shows portraying TG characters, as well as representing Renaissance on numerous talk shows.

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