Anti-LGBTQ Political Opportunism: Now and Before

Political Opportunism Now

The passage in South Dakota of legislation targeting the LGBT community leads the way for similar endeavors in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. This is certain to energize voters as both political parties gear up for the ritual election contest this November 2020.

For many voters, which party gets to determine the political complexion of the Supreme Court is a deciding factor in who to vote for. This issue concerning the equitable treatment of minorities is literally one of those “sexy issues.” The legal challenges emerging from the various state legislatures will be temporarily settled in that final American court of appeal. The timing of this legal activity is no accident.

Political Opportunism Before

A similar situation concerning sexual minorities, timing, and desired legal rulings occurred in first-century Galilee. One son of Herod the Great was Philip the Tetrarch, whose mainly Bedouin territory included the northeastern edge of the Sea of Galilee, the location of the city of Bethsaida.

Pharisees were always striving for a political edge during the Roman imperial occupation. In areas where ethnic Jews dominated demographically, like Galilee and Judea, the masses were under the jurisdiction of Torah administered by priests, lawyers, and Pharisees. The supremacy of Torah was proclaimed in a number of places, “A single law exists for the native and the alien who resides among you,” (Ex. 12:49; Lev. 24:22; Num. 15:29).

Bethsaida, which was in Philip’s Jewish minority territory, was elevated to the status of imperial polis in 30 CE. For at least a decade, in order to qualify his city for official status elevation, Philip had been augmenting the population (by both incentive and conscription) and making infrastructure improvements (buildings, docks, walls, etc.). Commemorative coinage marks 30 CE as the year of official status change.

The population increase altered the political balance in Bethsaida. Sometime immediately before or after Bethsaida’s status elevation in 30 CE Rabbi Yohanan tried to establish a precedent. He attempted to enforce Torah over the non-Jewish residents of Bethsaida through the enforcement of vice laws concerning sexual transgression.

He arrested and tried at least two mixed-ethnicity same-sex couples, two gays and two lesbians. But the Jews did not have the authority to execute capital offenders, certainly not non-Jewish offenders. So the case went to the regional Roman surrogate, the Jewish ruler Philip the Tetrarch, who is briefly mentioned in Luke 3:1. Legally, Philip’s ruling was the last word.

Philip ruled that Jews were subject to the laws and traditions of the Jews, and allowed the execution of the Jewish gay and lesbian. However, he ruled that gentile gays and lesbians were not subject to Torah, and ordered them released.

This reconstruction of events is supported by Josephus and Luke. First, in his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus wrote:

And when anyone met [Philip] who wanted his assistance, he made no delay but had his tribunal set down immediately . . . and heard his complaint; He there ordered the guilty that were convicted to be punished, and absolved those that had been accused unjustly.

Second, Luke 17:34-35 reads:

I tell you, in that night,
Two men shall be in one bed,
one shall be seized and the other left.
Two women shall be grinding together,
one shall be seized and the other left.

The anti-gay political opportunism in South Dakota is so typical.


If you’d like to read more about Philip the Tetrarch, Yohanan b. Zakkai, and the gay and lesbian couples in Luke 17, you can order your copy of The Galilee Episode: Two Men in One Bed, Two Women Grinding by clicking here.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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