Is Ezekiel 23 Pornographic?
Ezekiel 23—”The Bible contains ‘pornography’ and other obscenities”
This passage is an analogy comparing Israel and Samaria’s idolatry to two fictional prostitutes named Oholah and Oholibah.
God’s purpose in revealing this passage is to shock and disgust these apathetic nations to realize how abominable and loathsome their idolatry is. To this purpose he chose to draw a metaphor with gross prostitution, one of the worst sins of all. The Qur’ān takes the same approach in trying to shock people about the sin of backbiting by comparing it to the awful sin of cannibalism, something equally loathsome and disgusting (49:12). The purpose of both passages is to awaken apathetic sinners to the awfulness of their sin. Such strong language was needed to be used to burn into their hearts and minds like acid the message of the prophet.
Idolatry and sin are offensive to God and to us. The purpose of this passage is not to be obscene but to proclaim God’s judgment on people who do these things. At the end of the passage it is made clear why this type of language has been used. God states: “You will suffer the penalty for your lewdness and bear the consequences of your sins of idolatry. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezekiel 23:49)
From Sahih Bukhari we learn that the Qur’ān ‘s statement, “Your wives are a tilth unto you; so go to your tilth when or how you will” (Baqarah 223) is about various sexual positions ( Sahih Bukhari 6.60.51). The hadith contains some explicitly sexual stories, but unlike the Hebrew Scriptures, these are intended as a positive portrayal of prophets:
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “(The Prophet) Solomon said, “Tonight I will sleep with ninety women, each of whom will get a male child who will fight for Allah’s Cause.” On that, his companion (Sufyan said that his companion was an angel) said to him, “Say, “If Allah will (Allah willing).” But Solomon forgot (to say it). He slept with all his wives, but none of the women gave birth to a child, except one who gave birth to a half-boy. Abu Huraira added: The Prophet said, “If Solomon had said, “If Allah will” (Allah willing), he would not have been unsuccessful in his action, and would have attained what he had desired.” Once Abu Huraira added: Allah apostle said, “If he had accepted.” (Sahih Bukhari 8.711)
These portions of Qur’ān and Hadith need not be considered crude, but neither should the Hebrew Scriptures. It is ironic that critics would accuse the Bible of pornography, when throughout history it has been a powerful force for modesty and sexual purity, opposing pornography in society. For instance, the Middle Eastern hijab was used by Jesus’ followers centuries before the time of Muhammad (pbuh), as it still is today among Christians in the Middle East.
It is significant to note that translations of Hebrew sexual terms are often misleadingly direct. The Hebrew Scriptures are extremely indirect in discussing sexual matters, using euphemisms extensively. So for example what is often translated “genitals” in verse 20 is actually simply the word “flesh” (בּשׂר, bâśâr ). In contrast to what the critics say, the Hebrew Scriptures err on the side of discretion as much as possible.