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Study Of Leviticus 18-20 "Abomination"

The background of Leviticus is important to understand. The people are being told not to act like the "pagans". This is also the format Paul uses in Romans. "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination." These words occur solely in the Holiness Code of Leviticus, a ritual manual for Israel's priests. This prohibition of supposedly homosexual acts follows after the prohibition of the idolatrous sexuality of worshipping Molech, whose cult included male cult prostitutes and bestiality. Lev 18 is specifically designed to distinguish the Jews from the pagans who worshipped the multiple gods of fertility cults. It also is included with other Mosaic laws such as required killing kids who curse their parents, the death penalty for picking up sticks or doing other work on the Sabbath, and under the law, slave-beating was a protected legal right!

From a Jewish prospective, the commandments given at Sinai, including those of Leviticus (in Hebrew Jews simply name a book after the first word that appears - "V'yikra" - which means "then he spoke") were given to the Jewish people. Since they were only commanded to Jews, no one who is not Jewish need worry about obeying them. Judaism holds God taught basic laws to all humanity before Sinai (no murder, rape, etc), but that the more specific laws such as in Leviticus, apply only to Jews.

Lev 20:13 is giving the penalties for the Lev 18:22 "abomination" or in the Hebrew "toevah" Unlike what the English translation implies, toevah did not usually signify something intrinsically evil, but something ritually unclean for Jews. Eating pork, shellfish, lobster, eating meat 3 days old, trimming beards, etc is just as much an "abomination". It is used throughout the OT to designate those Jewish sins which involve ethnic contamination or idolatry. In many other OT verses it simply means idolatry. Lev 18 is specifically designed to distinguish the Jews from the pagans among whom they had been living. The prohibition of supposedly homosexual acts follows after the prohibition of idolatrous sexuality of worshipping Molech, whose cult included male cult prostitutes and bestiality.

Chapter 20 begins with a prohibition of sexual idolatry almost identical with this, and like 18, its manifest purpose is to elaborate a system of ritual "cleanliness" whereby the Jews will be distinguished from neighboring peoples. This was also the interpretation given by later Jewish commentaries such as those of Maimonides. Boswell also references much Jewish historic discussion about the non practice of the death penalty which is also mandated for violating the Sabbath, cursing one's parents and many infractions listed in the Talmud.

Internet Reply to My Leviticus:
From Royce Buehler buehler@space.mit.edu.
Internet Subject "Where does which Bible condemn Homosexuality":

"As they stated, it does not mean something inherently evil, but something taboo, something ritually unclean. Of course, some acts that are "toevah" were more serious than others.

The most serious act of "toevah" was idolatry. It too carried a death penalty. Now, one common form of idolatry among the peoples surrounding Israel was male sacred prostitution. It is quite natural that engaging in that specific form of idolatry would also carry the death Penalty.

Of course, if something carries the death penalty, it is of particular importance to the Lord. If you draw up a list of all the offenses given in Leviticus for which the death penalty is prescribed, you will find every one of them (with some minor shifts concerning particular forms of sanguinity in incest) is forbidden expressly once again in Deuteronomy.

There is one exception. Only one. Of all the capital crimes, only one was so unimportant to God that He didn't bother to bring it up again. Guess which one. :-)

However, interestingly enough, Deuteronomy does forbid male sacred prostitution. And Leviticus does not. Do you think, juuust maybe, that God did forbid it in Leviticus? Say, around 20:13?

No, if that were true, God would probably have put commands against other kinds of idolatry in the same place. You know: no fortunetelling, no wizardry, no sacrifices to Moloch.

Oops, what do you know, those are all right there in the same section of Leviticus too. Chapter 20. And when 1 Kings tells about the sacred male prostitutes being kicked out of the Temple, it repeats not just the word "toevah", but the assertion which closes chapter 20, that the former peoples were kicked out of the promised land for doing "all these toevah". Apparently male sacred prostitution made the writer of Kings think of Leviticus 20, rather than of Deuteronomy. Odd, that.

And we never once see a concrete example of a condemned homosexual act in the old testament which is not an act of temple prostitution. (unless you argue that the Sodomites must have been frowned on for their homosexuality, since we all know that rape-murder of angels is just fine with God). And here those nasty male temple prostitutes get kicked out again over in 2 Kings.

How come you never see Clark Kent and Superman at the same time? How come you never see a condemned homosexual act in the bible without being told that the actors were either idolaters, or actual male temple prostitutes?

Could all this possibly, juuust maybe, be more than a wild coincidence? Are all those thousands of gay teenagers committing suicide over a stupid misunderstanding? Would it be all right to treat gay people as if they were ordinary human beings, and God wouldn't even get thundering mad? Comme un fou se croft Dieu, nous nous croyons mortels" (As a fool believes himself to be God, we beleive believe ourselves to be mortal)

In addition, the Hebrew theology of women was based on the fact man was made in the image of God and should be treated with the same respect as God. Women, however were created in the image of men, so they were one step further removed from God and not deserving of the same respect. As a result a women was under the domination of a man and used sexually at the whim of their husband. If a man were to treat another man in the same manner that would be degrading God. So to "lie with a man as with a women" was blasphemous degrading God to a mere possession as a women.

The struggle over the issue of Christian and the Mosaic law was a serious area of confusion for the new converted Christians. Paul addresses this in Gal 5:1-2 urging Christians not to be "entangled again with the yoke of bondage" or to give "heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth," for "unto the pure all things are pure" (Titus I: 14-15). Jesus said aside the purity laws and gave the commandment of love.

Almost no early Christian writers appealed to Leviticus as authority against homosexual acts. Those few that did, exercised extreme selectivity in selecting which Levitical laws to say are legitimate for Christians and which are not, whatever suited their personal prejudice. It was clearly not their respect for the law which created their hostility to homosexuality but their hostility to homosexuality which led them to retain a few passages from a law code largely discarded. Most of Leviticus is simply not appropriate for Christians. We no longer make animal sacrifices to God as commanded in Leviticus. Most of us eat shrimp and lobster which is forbidden. Many people eat that unclean animal the pig. How many are guilty of rounding off the hair on their temples and marring the edges of their beard (Lev 27)? Jesus set aside all of these obsessive-compulsive purity laws and gave the commandment of love.

Further Discussion Of "Toevah" In Leviticus As Not Immoral

Regarding the Leviticus reference to toevah being false translated and having nothing to do with homosexuality: A further evidence of this is toevah is used throughout the OT to designate those Jewish sins which involve ethnic contamination or idolatry and very frequently occurs as part of the stock phrase "toevah ha-goyim" "the uncleanness of the Gentiles" (e.g., 2 (4) Kings 16:3).

The significance of toevah become clear when your realize the other Hebrew word "zimah" could have been used - if that was what the authors intended. Zimah means, not what is objectionable for religious or cultural reasons, but what is wrong in itself. It means an injustice, a sin. For example, in condemnation of temple prostitutes involving idolatry, "toevah" is employed (e.g. 1 (3) Kings 14:24), while in prohibitions of prostitution in general a different word "zimah," appears (e.g. Lev. 19:29). Often but yes, not always, "toevah" specifically means "idol" (E.g., Isa. 44:19; Ezek 7:20, 16:36; Jer. 16:18; cf. Deut. 7:25-26).

Clearly, then, Leviticus does not say that a man to lie with man is wrong or a sin. Rather, it is a ritual violation, an "uncleanness"; it is something "dirty" ritualistically. Lev 18 is specifically designed to distinguish the Jews from the pagans among whom they had been living, or would live, as its opening remark make clear - "After the doings of the land of Egypt, .....etc and the prohibition of supposedly homosexual acts follows immediately upon a prohibition of idolatrous sexuality (the female temple prostitutes worshipping the pagan fertility gods) (often mistranslated fornication but a obvious mistranslation in the proper context).

This conclusion finds further support in the Septuagint where the toevah is translated with the Greek word "bdelygma". Fully consistent with the Hebrew, the Greek bdelygma means a ritual impurity. Once again, other Greek words were available, like "anomia", meaning a violation of law or a wrong or a sin. That word could have been used to translate toevah. In fact, in some cases anomia was used to translate toevah- when the offense in question was not just a ritual impurity but also a real wrong of an injustice, like offering child sacrifice or having sex with another man's wife, in violation of his property rights. The Greek translators could have used anomia; they used bdelygma.

Evidently, the Jews of that pre-Christian era simply did not understand Leviticus to forbid male-male sex because it is wrong in itself. They understood Leviticus to forbid male-male sex because it offended ancient Jewish sensitivities: it was dirty and Canaanite-like, it was unjewish. And that is exactly how they translated the Hebrew text into Greek before Christ. It makes no statement about the morality of homosexual acts as such. In today's society similar unclean acts might include picking ones nose, burping or passing gas.

I think its not that useful to get all hung up on Lev cleanliness codes which made meat eating and matching of fibers just as terrible sins. The NT is more significant for Christians following Christ instead of Jews trying to follow the OT rituals to be accepted by God. Jesus said not a word even mistranslated about homosexuality.


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