Across history, the world’s religions have had quite an interest in sexual relations between humans and animals. Zeus was said to have seduced a lady by taking on the form of a swan. Loki was said to have shapeshifted into a mare to do the deed with a dude horse to distract the stallion from his work, and then given birth to Sleipnir, the BEST horse who went on to be Odin’s personal steed - I’m not caught up with The Avengers but I do hope to see this mating rendered in highly detailed glistening CG.
But of the world’s religions, Christianity seems to be pretty quiet on the subject of bestiality. The Bible does mention bestiality a handful of times, but there aren’t really any tales of animal seduction like you see in other cosmologies. It’s a topic that has strangely little said about it.
With that in mind, what does The Bible say about zoosexuality, and about animals more generally? There may be more room for a zoo-positive reading than someone might expect.
If you google what The Bible says about bestiality, these are the passages that will probably come up.
Leviticus 18:23 - Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.
Leviticus 20:15-16 - If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he is to be put to death, and you must kill the animal. If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Seems pretty straightforward. God, via Moses, is laying out the rules for the Israelites, and one of the rules is don’t have sex with animals.
Does that rule apply to us here and now, however many thousands of years later?
It’s kind of up for interpretation. A more strict interpretation would say that yes, God has said it’s forbidden, it’s forbidden. But there are certainly other rules in Leviticus that we don’t live by anymore, such as women on their period needing to isolate for seven days (Lev. 15:19), homosexuality being punishable by death (Lev. 20:13), and God telling the Israelites to enslave their enemies and treat them as property (Lev. 25:45).
The fact that bestiality never comes up again outside of these few passages is interesting. To keep exploring the concept further though, there are two major things we need to figure out The Bible’s perspective on: Animal Personhood, and Human Romance.
Contrary to where a lot of modern arguments against bestiality stem from, the rules against bestiality in Leviticus are not an animal rights issue. Content warning for death and gore, but passages like this are littered all throughout the Old Testament:
Leviticus 1:14-17 - And if his burnt sacrifice for his offering to the LORD be of fowls, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves, or of young pigeons. And the priest shall bring it unto the altar, and wring off his head, and burn it on the altar; and the blood thereof shall be wrung out at the side of the altar: And he shall pluck away his crop with his feathers, and cast it beside the altar on the east part, by the place of the ashes: And he shall cleave it with the wings thereof, but shall not divide it asunder: and the priest shall burn it upon the altar, upon the wood that is upon the fire: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.
Most of the time an animal is mentioned, there are better than even odds that that animal will end up being sacrificed, made to do labor, or made to do labor and then sacrificed.
That said, humans aren’t given a radically different treatment either. With God’s blessing, the Israelites violently overthrow city after city, taking slaves, raiding wealth, and killing entire populations. What we see of animals is very gruesome, but part of that might just come with the territory of these stories.
One thing that might help with this is looking at the two talking animal characters that appear in The Bible: the serpent in the Garden of Eden, and the donkey in Numbers.
Genesis 3:1 - Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Numbers 22:26-30 - Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
These animals seem to be intelligent characters - more intelligent than the humans in these scenes, one might argue. That seems like a very positive note for animal personhood. These two characters alone lend a lot of legitimacy to making a real claim for Christian Zoosexuality. On the Animal Personhood front, we might be in the clear. What, now, would be the effect of adding romance to the bundle?
Romance in The Bible is not a highly queer space, to put it lightly. Essentially all of the romantic relationships that we see are between a man and a woman (or a man and multiple women). Heterosexual human/human husband/wife pairings are not deviated from very much.
Throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, there isn’t much that’s said about homosexuality or non-cis individuals, but it is generally portrayed as unnatural and punishable. This probably doesn’t do us any favors for a pro-zoo read.
All the same, a lot of rules about sexuality were more about avoiding uncleanliness in a pre-medicine world. A lot has changed since then. Perhaps in a world that has condoms and antibiotics, that verse in Leviticus would have read, “Sex with a cow, knock yourself out. But take a shower after.”
When asking these questions, the thing that we’re really getting at is, What does God think an ideal relationship looks like? And believe it or not, that question has a shockingly zooey answer.
If we want to look at what God thinks is ideal, it’s hard to do better than to look at the world before it was spoiled by sin.
So in the beginning, God made Adam and Eve, one man and one woman. But there is a part of this that is very often not talked about. This is the interval between when God made Adam and when he later made Eve:
Genesis 2:18-23 - The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
Let’s take a really honest look at this sequence of events.
1. God creates Adam.
2. God recognizes that it’s not good for Adam to be all alone, so he tries to make a “helper” for him.
3. God creates every animal of the land and sky and runs them by Adam, but Adam does not find one among them that meets his needs.
4. God creates Eve, which finally solves the problem of Adam being alone.
This really reads like God wanted Adam to be paired with an animal. Like, it’s actually not even a reach: it is more reasonable to say that that’s what was occurring here. God ran the animals by Adam, Adam didn’t care for any of them in that way, but there is no other time in the entire Holy Bible where we’re not supposed to take God’s side on a matter.
This is before Adam has eaten from the tree of knowledge, which is important for two reasons. For one thing, we might say that at this time, Adam isn’t “separate” from other animals to begin with. But the other reason this time frame is important is because this is still a world before sin: the world has not “fallen” yet, it is still in God’s ideal state that he wanted it to be in.
There can be a lot of analysis done on the word “helper,” or “help meet” in more archaic versions, but the through line is that Eve, as Adam’s wife, fulfills the role that God first tried to slot animals into. There is an extremely plausible case to be made that God’s original intention for mankind was zoo.
All of that said, we no longer live in that idealistic world. And that brings us to one last thing at the core of all of this, and a figure who we surprisingly haven’t talked about yet.
A crucial thing to keep in mind when looking at these questions is to remember that the death of Jesus Christ changes everything. It is a cornerstone of Christian philosophy that by sacrificing himself for our sins, Jesus has “taken” those sins off of us. Does that mean that all behavior is acceptable now, no. But it does mean that bad things are forgivable as long as you keep Jesus in your heart.
Interpreting The Bible for modern day society is complicated. We’re forced into a situation where the literal definition of the text means one thing, but instead of taking it at its word, we have to try and ask ourselves what the intention behind the words was. The Bible says that God loves all His creations: it seems reasonable that His creations should then also love each other, whether that’s two men or two women finding love in one another, or a human and an animal that find the same love.
With that in mind, it is my belief that there is room for Zoosexuality in Christendom. There may have been a time when the act of bestiality was to be punishable by death, but that time is long passed. What we have now is a time when “imperfection” can be expected and forgiven. As long as you’re being true to yourself and are engaging with the animals in your life with love and respect and appreciation, as Adam was tasked to do when told to take care of the Garden, I don’t have a doubt that Jesus would find that love commendable.
Article written by an anonymous author (October 2022)
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