Religious Supporters of a “Bathroom Bill” Should Consider What Bathrooms Were Like in Biblical Times

One line of attack against bathroom accommodation for transgender individuals has been that it violates religious beliefs. In particular, that it goes against the teachings of the Bible.

A woman in Cleveland expressed her objection to Target’s bathroom policy by marching through the store shouting while brandishing a Bible. An article on a religious website proclaims, “Bathroom Laws are a Breach of Bible Teachings.”

And Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson said, “The Judeo-Christian values that led America to greatness are under full assault.”

However, people citing religion and the Bible may want to consider what toilet facilities were like in Biblical times. Take, for example, these latrines at ancient Ephesus, dating from New Testament times:


No, there were no stall structures that somehow did not stand the test of time: back then, latrines were often totally public, with everyone communally using them out in the open. Is that a practice religious people want to return to?

The bathroom habits of people documented in the Old Testament are not as clear. In Deuteronomy 23:9-14, members of a war camp are instructed to go far away from the camp to defecate outside, then cover the excrement with dirt, although its application to other situations is not clear. More information comes from extra-Biblical text, such as the Babylonian Talmud and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which seem to suggest that ancient Hebrews either used private individual stalls, or alternatively went outside where no one could see them. There was one sect that kept stalls 3,000 cubits from the community. That is a distance beyond what one can travel on Shabbat, so the people held it in.

Of course, the relevance of any of these extra-Biblical texts to Christians is fuzzy.

Nevertheless, people professing to need bathroom accommodation based on Biblical precepts should first be aware of what people in the Bible actually did. That is, unless they want to either make a trek to relieve themselves or do it in front of others.