Gilgamesh, Eden, and Political Sex Ethics
Peter Leithart, Touchstone Magazine (March/April 2012, page 7):
When the people of ancient Uruk complained about Gilgamesh’s oppression, the gods fashioned Enkidu, a wild man every whit equal to Gilgamesh. First rivals, then allies, the two heroes embark on a series of adventures and battles.
Goddesses appear in the epic of Gilgamesh, and Enkidu is civilized by a sexual encounter with a prostitute. Having fulfilled her function, she disappears from the story, and women elsewhere play minor roles as willing or unwilling sexual partners. Gilgamesh’s companion-in-arms has to be male because, for ancient Mesopotamians, ruling the world is a man’s work.
The Bible presents a radically different picture. When Adam needs a helper in his work of caring for the garden and ruling the creatures of land and sea, God constructs a woman. Sexuality is caught up in the public and political project of subduing creation. So is family life. So are women.
These ancients texts remain deeply relevant. Europeans mock Americans for our obsession with political sex scandals. We should grow up, they tell us, and let sex stay in the boudoir where it belongs. Prudery and prurience, sometimes both together, play their roles in American sexual mores. But our willingness to judge a man’s suitability for public office by his sexual faithfulness is also a residue of biblical consciousness, and a sign of social health.