Leviticus 18

Leviticus 18

Leviticus 18 is a chapter of the Biblical book of Leviticus. It narrates part of the instructions given to Moses by God on 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 to homosexual activity (verse 22) has, in recent years, made its interpretation a focus of debate among Christians and Jews (see Homosexuality and Christianity and Jewish views of homosexuality).

Leviticus 18 is generally regarded as part of the holiness code of Leviticus 11–26, and its sexual prohibitions are largely paralleled by Leviticus 20 (except that chapter has more emphasis on punishment).


The incest laws are given from a male perspective, and are quite extensive, comprising not only relations with immediate blood relatives, but also relatives by marriage, and blood relatives of those with whom one has a sexual relationship.


The text of 18:22 says:

:"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." 18:22 has generally been read as prohibiting at least some male homosexual acts. The major area of debate has then been over the hermeneutical question of whether and how this text applies to the modern Christian or Jewish situation (see The Bible and homosexuality and Biblical law in Christianity for that debate). As noted in the separate article on Leviticus, the book uses the word "abomination" 16 times, mostly in dietary prohibitions (for example prohibiting shellfish and pork).

However, there are debates as to the meaning of the verse:

Many authors (including Greenberg 1988:191, Wenham 1979:259, Kahn 1984:49) state that v.22 condemns “homosexuality” or “homosexual relations” without explaining what these words mean.

Alternatively, some authors state that v.22 condemns only males penetrating males (anal intercourse). These authors include 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.

The papers by Olyan and Walsh show how they conclude that v.22 refers only to men penetrating men. In brief, the verse only prohibits a male having sex (lying) with another male when the sex is “the lyings of a woman” (miškəḇē ʼiššā). The phrase “the lyings of a woman” is the opposite of “the lying of a male”, which in the Old Testament (e.g. Book of Numbers 31:17–18, 35, and Judges 21:11–12) means male vaginal penetration. The opposite of this is female vaginal receptivity—the meaning of “the lyings of a woman”. The male equivalent of vaginal receptivity is anal receptivity. Therefore v.22 prohibits a male from having anal sex (lying) with another male.

On the other hand, some authors state that v.22 condemns all sex acts between males. These authors include Gagnon 2001:143; and Wold 1998:95.

Some note that v.22 uses the Hebrew phrase, ) as being based on rather than Noahide Law.

Interpretations holding that Leviticus 18 is talking about moral law, argue that the word "to'evah" (or "ta'ba") used as "abomination," is not used for cleanliness laws. They also typically point at the Lev 20:13 pronouncement of death upon all people who betray Lev 18:22. They suggest that these are indicators that Lev 18:22 concerns moral sin, not simply ritual uncleanliness. (It is noteworthy in this context that laws of ritual purity and cleanliness such as unclean animals, are described as "abomination")

Others argue that this view is too narrow and out of context. They point the reader to passages v.24-v.30, where "to'evah" occurs 4 times, and the word defile, in derived forms from the Hebrew root word "tame," occurs 6 times. Derivatives of this same word are used throughout Leviticus 11, and it is argued that, these refer to food cleanliness the same as some interpret Jesus to have revoked.


* 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 [http://www.sbl-site.org/Publications/JBL/JBL1202.pdf here] .
* Wenham, Gordon, The Book of Leviticus, 1979
* Wold, Donald, Out of Order: Homosexuality in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, 1998
* [http://headcoverings-by-devorah.com/HebEngTaNaKh27.html Hebrew phrasing] for Lev 18.
* [http://www.anova.org/sev/ The Great Books] , for NRSV text.
* Blue Letter Bible's [http://www.tgm.org/bible.htm Bible Lookup Tools] were used to derive passage citations.
* [http://blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Lev/Lev018.html Robert Jamieson's Commentary on Lev 18] . (19th Century) (conservative).
* [http://www.geocities.com/pharsea/Leviticus.html Pharsea's treatment of Leviticus 18:22] . (balanced)
* [http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibh.htm ReligiousTolerance.org's treatment of Leviticus 18:22] . (liberal)

Further Reading
* Other translations can be viewed at [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/ Bible Gateway] .
* [http://blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Lev/Lev018.html Matthew Henry's Commentary on Lev 18] (18th Century)
*Acharei (Jewish Torah portion that includes Leviticus 18)Mentions in Media
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWqgD7lGneU YouTube 'The West Wing' clip]

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