For some reason I cannot quite fathom, scholars continue to squirm over bestiality. I am preparing to write a piece on bestiality and other paraphilias for a collection with Routledge called Sex in Antiquity. In reading the scant literature on this topic, I came across a piece by JoAnn Scurlock (in Encyclopaedia of the Bible and Its Reception), who appears to be slightly unsettled by the relaxed approach of some of our civilisational forebears to matters sexual and bestial. She wants to argue that they found it all rather distasteful, skipping by material that suggests otherwise. But the highlight is perhaps this moment in her argument. She notes that in the list of omens in the Cuneiform Texts in the Kuyunjik Collection at the British Museum, the following omen appears:
In the one preserved omen where the human takes the initiative, a man inseminates a horse and kisses it (for Mesopotamians a post-coital act), and it means he will have long days.
Not quite sure whether is the “insemination” or the kiss that is problematic here (how do you pash a horse?). Nonetheless, Ms Scurlock proceeds with this stunner:
This would appear to be an endorsement; however, behavioral omens inhabit an amoral universe where the only calculation is of whether anything about the behavior could be interpreted as being of benefit or harm to the solicitor of the omen. It does not follow that good-omened behavior is necessarily desirable or even legal.
What? How is a collection of omens amoral, especially when their purpose is to ensure benefit or harm? And how can good-omened behaviour not be desirable? The presence of bestiality does seem to unsettle the normal processes of logic.
Anyway, I plan to include the smooching horse in my article, along with further reflections on the hippophilic Hittites and the fascinating ritual for a man who has a twinge of guilt for a dalliance with a goat.