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Leviticus 18 is the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Leviticus in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. It narrates part of the instructions which, according to the Bible, were given to Moses by God on biblical Mount Sinai. The chapter deals with a number of sexual activities considered unclean or abominable. Although the chapter is principally concerned with incest, it also contains laws related to bestiality and "lying with a man as with a woman." This single reference in verse 22 has, in recent years, been a focus of debate among Christians and Jews regarding homosexual activity (see Homosexuality and Christianity and Jewish views of homosexuality).
"Tabernacle", Biblical illustrations, Sweet Media, 1984
|Book||Book of Leviticus|
|Hebrew Bible part||Torah|
|Order in the Hebrew part||3|
|Christian Bible part||Old Testament|
|Order in the Christian part||3|
Leviticus 18 is generally regarded as part of the Holiness Code of Leviticus 17–26, and its sexual prohibitions are largely paralleled by Leviticus 20 (except that chapter has more emphasis on punishment).
The original text of Leviticus 18, like that of most of the Hebrew Bible, was written in Hebrew. The oldest extant versions of the text in Hebrew are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Masoretic Text. An ancient Greek translation from the third century BCE, the Septuagint, also exists. Since the addition of chapter divisions in the thirteenth century CE, this chapter is divided into 30 verses.
The chapter begins with God speaking to Moses (verse 1) and giving him a message for the Israelites (2), warning them to keep God's laws rather than Canaanite or Egyptian practices (3–5). Then follows a list of people with whom sex is forbidden to do family relationships (6–19). Verse 20 prohibits sexual relations with a neighbor's wife, and 21 prohibits passing one's children through a fire to Moloch. 22 is the famous verse about "lying with a man," discussed below, while 23 forbids bestiality. The final verses (24–30) warn that breaking these laws will produce defilement, and that the Canaanites are about to be displaced from the land of Canaan as a result of following these practices, and warn of a similar fate for the Israelites if they fall into these practices.
The Bible lists several types of relationship which it regards as incestuous unions; one list appears in the Deuteronomic Code, and two lists occur in the Holiness Code of Leviticus. These lists only mention relationships with female relatives; excluding lesbianism, which implies that the list is addressed to men. These lists then compare as follows:
(blue = forbidden for men only, pink = forbidden for women only, purple = forbidden for both men and women):
|Leviticus 18||Leviticus 20||Deuteronomy|
|Grandparent's spouse (including other grandparent)|
|Uncle's/Aunt's Spouse||Father's sibling's spouse|
|Mother's sibling's spouse|
|Parent's child||Half-Sibling (mother's side)|
|Half-Sibling (father's side)|
|Sibling-in-law (if the spouse was still alive)|
|Nephew/Niece-in-law||Spouse's Brother's Child|
|Spouse's Sister's Child|
|Spouse's grandchild (including grandchild)|
One feature of all the lists is that sexual activity between a man and his own daughter is not explicitly forbidden. The Talmud argues that this is because the prohibition was obvious, especially given the proscription against a relationship with a granddaughter. The shortness of the list in Leviticus 20, and especially of that in Deuteronomy, are explained by classical Jewish scholarship as being due to the obviousness of the missing prohibitions. Note also that the explicit prohibition against engaging in sexual activity with "both a woman and her daughter", implicitly forbids sexual activity between a man and his daughter. Some biblical scholars have instead proposed that it was originally in the list, but was then accidentally left out from the copy on which modern versions of the text ultimately depend, due to a mistake by the scribe.
Apart from the questionable case of a man marrying his daughter, the list in Leviticus 18 roughly produces the same rules as were followed in early pre-Islamic Arabic culture. However, most tribal nations also disliked exogamous marriage—marriage to completely unrelated people. In several prominent cases in the Torah, the incest rules are ignored in favour of marriage to a close relative; Jacob is described as having married his first wife's sister, and Abraham as having a father in common with Sarah (rather than a mother, which would have been permitted by the list). These are not seen as illegal marriages as the incest laws were not given until Moses.
The text of 18:22:
"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." King James Version
"Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman: that is detestable". Contemporary English Version
The Hebrew wording of Leviticus 18:22 has been generally interpreted as prohibiting some or all homosexual acts, although which precise acts, and in which situations, is a matter of ongoing scholarly debate.
Some authors state that verse 22 condemns "homosexuality" or "homosexual relations" and other authors maintaining that it condemns only males penetrating males (anal intercourse). The Talmud maintains the law prohibits all male homosexual activity including pederasty. Since the practice is allotted the death penalty for both the active and the passive partners in Leviticus 20 the law appears to have only applied when both participants were men above the age of majority, which is set at 20 years old in the Torah.
Lesbianism is not explicitly prohibited in the Torah; however, the rabbi and Jewish scholar Maimonides ruled in the twelfth century that lesbianism was prohibited nonetheless and deserving of punishment by beating.
- Yebamot 3a
- Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. Incest
- Samuel ben Meir, Commentary, ad loc.
- Leviticus 18:17
- Cheyne and Black, Encyclopaedia Biblica, Marriage : choice of bride
- Genesis 29:16
- Genesis 29:23
- Genesis 29:28
- Genesis 20:12
- For an overview of some of the scholarly views on the question, see Walsh, Jerome T. "Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who Is Doing What to Whom?" Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 120, no. 2, 2001, pp. 201–209. JSTOR 3268292.
- Greenberg 1988:191, Wenham 1979:259, Kahn 1984:49
- Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 54a and b; Josephus, Against Apion 2.199; and Philo, Abraham 135. Some modern authors stating this view include Alter 2004:623, 632; Boyarin 1995:339, 343; Brooten 1996:61; Cohen 1990:6; Daube 1986:447; Milgrom 2000:1568; Olyan 1994:185; Thurston 1990:16; and Walsh 2001:208.
- "Homosexuality and Halakhah (Jewish Law)". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2017-03-02.
- Parashah calendar
- Alter, Robert, The five books of Moses: a translation with commentary, 2004
- Boyarin, Daniel, "Are there any Jews in ‘The History of Sexuality’?", Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol 5 no 3 (1995)
- Brooten, Bernadette, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, 1996
- Cohen, Martin, "The Biblical Prohibition of Homosexual Intercourse," Journal of Homosexuality, Vol 19(4) (1990)
- Daube, David, "The Old Testament Prohibitions of Homosexuality." Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung fur Rechtsgeschichte Romantische Abteilung 103 (1986)
- Gagnon, Robert, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, 2001
- Greenberg, David, The Construction of Homosexuality,1988
- Kahn, Yoel, "Judaism and Homosexuality: The Traditionalist/ Progressive Debate," Homosexuality and Religion, ed Richard Hasbany 1984
- Milgrom, Jacob, Leviticus 17–22, 2000
- Olyan, Saul, "And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying Down of a Woman": On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13", Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol 5, no 2, (1994)
- Thurston, Thomas, "Leviticus 18:22 and the Prohibition of Homosexual Acts," in Homophobia and the Judeo-Christian Tradition, ed. by Michael L. Stemmeler & J. Michael Clark, 1990
- Walsh, Jerome, "Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who Is Doing What To Whom?" Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol 120, No 2, (2001) Also available here.
- Wenham, Gordon, The Book of Leviticus, 1979
- Wold, Donald, Out of Order: Homosexuality in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, 1998
- Hebrew phrasing for Lev 18.
- The Great Books, for NRSV text.
- Blue Letter Bible's Bible Lookup Tools were used to derive passage citations.
- Robert Jamieson's Commentary on Lev 18. (19th Century) (conservative).
- Pharsea's treatment of Leviticus 18:22. (balanced)
- ReligiousTolerance.org's treatment of Leviticus 18:22. (liberal)