The Statutes of Leviticus 18 regarding Marriage and Sexuality

with Parallels from the Torah

Compiled by Norman E. Anderson



Contents

 



Summary

 

Leviticus 18:6-23, a list of sexual regulations, is given, with parallels to each verse from the Law of Moses and with references to related passages elsewhere in the Bible. Prohibited relationships are indexed using both male as ego and female as ego. Comment is made upon notable inclusions and omissions. Appendices cover both the sexual regulations elsewhere in the Holiness Code and the structure of Leviticus 20. Links are made to a supplement, which gives references to ancient sources that may elucidate background and hermeneutical traditions. Keywords include sexuality, marriage, incest, kinship, menstrual impurity, adultery, Molech, homosexuality, and bestiality.



Preface

 

This document is meant to assemble in a useful way, particularly a way that takes advantage of hypertext, certain textual data in translation regarding sexual and marital prohibitions in the Bible, namely Leviticus 18:6-23 and its parallels in the first five books of the Bible. These passages represent, it would appear, the very core upon which most of the later biblical comment about marriage and sexuality is built. Also assembled are related references from the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible), the Deuterocanonical Books (the Apocrypha), and the New Testament.

This document was compiled along with a supplement, which covers non-biblical references related to Leviticus 18:6-23 and to which numerous links are made.

Both practical and theoretical concerns have motivated the compilation of these documents.

The theoretical motivation has to do with Acts 15 and 1 Corinthians 5-7. A strong case can be made that the decision of the Council of Jerusalem, which is found in Acts 15, is grounded in the Holiness Code of Leviticus, and that its prohibition of porneia (that is, impurity with regard to sexual connections) has specific reference to Leviticus 18. Furthermore, a good case can be made that the Apostle Paul, following the lead of the Council, based his handling of sexual and marital issues in 1 Corinthians 5-7 in large part upon Leviticus 18-21. So in my project of reconstructing the New Testament sexual ethic, I have been led back to Leviticus.

The practical motivation is to make convenient to myself and others, for scholarly purposes, a way to view the parallels to Leviticus 18 without having to wrestle with different sequences and dispersed passages, as well as a way to access them easily by named prohibitions.

In reference to Leviticus 18, the Mishnah says that "The forbidden degrees may not be expounded before three [or more] persons" (Hagigah 2:1, Danby translation). I expect that the motivations for limiting discussion are pointless in this day and age when sexual issues are dominating the headlines of staid, mainstream news organizations. If anything, a discussion with antiquity may enable some perspective and encourage a certain amount of self-reflection.

This and the accompanying supplement are intended to be developing documents. The reasons are many. I will mention just one for each document.

First, even though the present document is meant to present textual data, it cannot help but be interpretive to some degree. Not only is translation interpretive, but decisions have to be made about what inferences minimally should or should not be drawn from the text. For example, should Leviticus 18:7 and 14 be read, in part, as prohibitions of certain kinds of homosexuality? I've decided not, at least not in their primary sense. For another example, should Leviticus 18:17 be read patrilineally or matrilineally? I've decided upon the latter. I expect to be refining my interpretations over time.

Second, the work of assembling related references for the supplement is an ongoing process. For the moment, I have focused principally upon two types of references, those that may help to elucidate the ancient Near Eastern background and those that illustrate hermeneutical traditions, especially within Judaism up through the aftermath of the Second Temple period. I hope to expand the list of references as time goes on.

One of the dangers of presenting more or less raw data in this compiled way is slighting of the historical dimension. The biblical texts mentioned may span more than a millennium. Other sources mentioned, from the Laws of Ur-Namma (circa 2100 B.C.E.) to Rashi (1040-1105 C.E.) span millennia. To collapse these sources as though they were all from one time period is to do them a serious injustice.

The danger of ahistoricism is exacerbated by the fact that Leviticus 18 in its received literary form has not been reliably dated. Martin Noth argues in A History of the Pentateuchal Traditions (c1972; originally published in German in 1948) that Leviticus 17-26, which is called the Holiness Code (H), "was once an independent unit" and that "it was not a part, at least not an original part of the P narrative" (p. 9). P refers to the Priestly narrative, which, hypothetically, is the latest stratum of material used in the formation of the Torah, that is, the first five books of the Bible. In The Old Testament: An Introduction (1965), Otto Eissfeldt tentatively assigns the Priestly narrative to the fifth or sixth century B.C.E. (p. 207) and postulates that H is older, perhaps belonging to the middle of the sixth century, while yet containing material that is much more ancient (pp. 236-239).

Regarding antiquity of content, if there is anything to the theory that concern for matrilineal descent was supplanted by concern for patrilineal descent, then possibly Leviticus 18:17-18 is a relic of days before paternity mattered, predating even Moses, who lived, possibly, in the 13th century B.C.E.

Suffice to say that the materials presented here and in the supplement are meant to be used with great care as to dating, geography, tradition, and context.

The principal translation of the Bible used is the New American Standard Bible, which was chosen because of its tendency towards precision. Quotation marks have been removed.

Versification, that is, the referencing system, may vary in other editions and translations.

It is hoped that this fresh presentation of the sexual regulations in the Holiness Code will not only assist but also stimulate further research.



Alphabetical Index

 

The ego is the person according to whom relationships are described. This list indexes relationships with both the male as ego, which is the pattern generally followed in Leviticus 18 and 20, and the female as ego. The latter is represented only in this index and not in the texts below.

Certain interpretive risks are inherent in making the necessary reversals to represent the female as ego. For instance, the question of responsibility: Lev 20 assigns equal punishment, in several cases the death penalty, to both man and woman; whereas in Leviticus 18 the same offenses are treated as deserving of the "cut off" penalty (verse 29) and, except for bestiality, only the man is mentioned as receiving the penalty. The early Christians apparently followed the pattern of Leviticus 18, at least in terms of the "cut off" penalty and perhaps on both counts (cf. 1 Corinthians 5). Use of the "cut off" penalty, by the way, allowed for restoration (John 8:3-11; 2 Cor 2:5-11; 7:8-12; cf. Psalm 31:22). Users of this document should exercise extra caution where reversals have been made to represent the female as ego.

 
Adultery ... Lev 18:20
Animals ... Lev 18:23
Aunt (male as ego) ... Lev 18:14
Bestiality ... Lev 18:23
Blood relative ... Lev 18:6
Brother (female as ego) ... Lev 18:9; 18:11
Brother's son (female as ego) ... Lev 18:12
Brother's wife (male as ego) ... Lev 18:16
Daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Daughter and mother (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Daughter-in-law (male as ego) ... Lev 18:15
Daughter's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:10
Daughter's daughter's husband or lover (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Daughter's husband or lover (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Father (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Father's brother's wife (male as ego) ... Lev 18:14
Father's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:9
Father's father (female as ego) ... Lev 18:10
Father's mother's husband or lover (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Father's sister (male as ego) ... Lev 18:12
Father's son (female as ego) ... Lev 18:11
Father's son, half-brother (female as ego) ... Lev 18:9
Father's wife (male as ego) ... Lev 18:8
Father's wife's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:11
Granddaughter through daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:10, cf. 18:17
Granddaughter through son (male as ego) ... Lev 18:10, cf. 18:17
Grandfather, maternal (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Grandfather, paternal (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Half-brother, maternal (female as ego) ... Lev 18:9
Half-brother, paternal (female as ego) ... Lev 18:9
Half-brother by mother's husband (female as ego) ... Lev 18:11
Half-sister, maternal (male as ego) ... Lev 18:9
Half-sister, paternal (male as ego) ... Lev 18:9
Half-sister by father's wife (male as ego) ... Lev 18:11
Homosexual acts (male) ... Lev 18:22
Husband's brother (female as ego) ... Lev 18:16
Husband's brother's son (female as ego) ... Lev 18:14
Husband's father (female as ego) ... Lev 18:15
Husband's sister's son (female as ego) ... Lev 20:20??
Husband's son (female as ego) ... Lev 18:8
Male with male ... Lev 18:22
Man other than husband (female as ego) ... Lev 18:20
Menstruant ... Lev 18:19
Molech ... Lev 18:21
Mother (male as ego) ... Lev 18:7
Mother and daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Mother's brother's wife (male as ego) ... Lev 20:20??
Mother's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:9
Mother's father (female as ego) ... Lev 18:10
Mother's husband or lover (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Mother's mother's husband or lover (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Mother's sister (male as ego) ... Lev 18:13
Mother's son (female as ego) ... Lev 18:9
Neighbor's wife (male as ego) ... Lev 18:20
Nephew (female as ego) ... Lev 18:14
Niddah ... Lev 18:19
Sister (male as ego) ... Lev 18:9; 18:11
Sister, full (male as ego) ... Lev 18:9
Sister's husband or lover (female as ego) ... Lev 18:18
Sister's son (female as ego) ... Lev 18:13
Son (female as ego) ... Lev 18:7
Son's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:10, cf. 18:17
Son's daughter's husband or lover (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Son's wife (male as ego) ... Lev 18:15
Step-daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Step-father (female as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Uncle's wife (male as ego) ... Lev 18:14
Wife of one's fellow (male as ego) ... Lev 18:20
Wife's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Wife's daughter's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Wife's grandmother, maternal (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Wife's grandmother, paternal (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Wife's mother (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Wife's sister (male as ego) ... Lev 18:18
Wife's son's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Woman and her daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Woman and her daughter's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Woman and her grandmother, maternal (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Woman and her grandmother, paternal (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Woman and her mother (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17
Woman and her sister (male as ego) ... Lev 18:18
Woman and her son's daughter (male as ego) ... Lev 18:17



Notes on Inclusions, Omissions, and Selection Principle

 

It should be stressed that this document is about understanding the Bible in context, not about addressing present-day mores and controversies. Even so, relative to present-day mores and some present-day scholarly understandings, a number of inclusions and omissions in the alphabetical index above call for comment.


Inclusions

Some of the inclusions in the list of taboo sexual connections that call for comment are:

* * * * * *

A man's full sister is a notable inclusion, since some suggest that it is not explicitly mentioned. The argument is that Leviticus 18:9 is referring only to half-sisters and that 18:11, then, is laying particular emphasis upon certain kinds of half-sisters.

I read Leviticus 18:9 differently. First, I suspect that its core is matrilineal: "You are not to take your mother's daughter." This in itself would cover either a full sister or a maternal half-sister. Paternity wouldn't matter. However, in order to establish that it meant not only half-sisters and in order to inject a patriarchal tone, the prohibition of a father's daughter was added, meaning, "your mother's daughter, even if she is also your father's daughter". To this combination was then added a prohibition against taking paternal half-sisters (18:11), in such a way as to cover systematically all types of socially recognized sisters.

In other words, I postulate three strata of development that affect meaning -- a matrilineal stratum, a patrilineal stratum, and a systematizing stratum, which itself was just the first of at least two systematizing strata. (A second systematizing stratum would have assembled 18:7-16; 18:17-18; 18:19; 18:20; 18:21; 18:22; and 18:23; prefacing the whole with 18:6. Possibly 18:8 and 15 were composed separately from the rest of 18:7-16, given that they belong to a separate sequence in chapter 20. See below, sequence 2.)

* * * * * *

The father-daughter connection is another notable inclusion, for a similar reason. Some suggest that it is not explicitly mentioned, assuming that Leviticus 18:17, which prohibits a man taking both a woman and her daughter, is actually prohibiting a man from taking his step-daughter, as distinct from his natural daughter. So the French biblical and Talmudic scholar, Rashi (1040-1105) derived a father-daughter prohibition on the basis of Leviticus 18:10, which says that a man is not to have intercourse with or to marry his son's daughter. Rashi says "We conclude (by the exegetical principle) from the minor to the major (that this applies also) to your daughter." (Contrast bYebamoth 31a-b.)

I read Leviticus 18:17 differently, as specifying relationships matrilineally. This means that whether or not the man is the natural father, the daughter of a woman he has taken sexually is forbidden to him; and correspondingly, as the parallel in Leviticus 20:14 makes explicit, so is the mother of a woman he has married.

Either interpretation leaves the problem of whether or not a change of status is brought about by the death of one woman or the other. In other words, if the mother dies, is the man who had taken her then allowed to take her daughter? And if the daughter dies, is the man who had been married to her allowed to marry the mother? These questions call for a short excursus regarding the effect of death upon prohibited sexual and marital connections.

* * * * * *

Death was clearly understood to bring about a change of relational status, relative to the prohibitions, in some cases. To give examples:

First, an explicit statement is made to that effect in the case of a man marrying sisters (Leviticus 18:18).

Second, the prohibition against taking a neighbor's wife was understood to cease with the death of her husband (1 Samuel 25; 2 Samuel 11:26-27; Tobit 3:8, 15; 6:13; 7:11; Sirach 4:10; Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:9, 39). Regarding marriage to a widow elsewhere in the ancient Near East, see the Laws of Ur-Namma 10, which mention divorce of a widow (cf. 11); the Laws of Hammurabi 177, which discuss the estate of a widow after "she enters another's house"; and the Middle Assyrian Laws A34-35, which discuss marriage to a widow. It should be mentioned that perpetual widowhood was sometimes looked upon as an ideal (Judith 16:22; Luke 2:36-37; 1 Corinthians 7:8; 1 Timothy 5:3-16); and some wisdom literature discouraged marriage to widows, for example, the Maxims and Wisdom of Khikar (Ahikar), Armenian version, which advise: "Son, take not a widow to wife, for whenever there is any word between you, she will say: Alas, for my first husband! and thou art distressed" (Conybeare, p. 29, maxim 40; cf. the Armenian version B. recension from Bodley Arm. MS. G. 9, maxim 34; the Old Turkish text, Vienna, Codex no. 468, fol. 54b, maxim 40). However, these countervailing attitudes confirm the general principle by the very way in which they are stated.

Third, levirate marriage assumed that the prohibition against a man taking his brother's wife ceased with the death of the brother, at least in the event that the brother died without a son as heir (Leviticus 18:16 = 20:21; Deuteronomy 25:5-10). Since levirate marriage was applied not just to brothers, but to kin, it assumed more generally that several other incest prohibitions ceased with the death of the husband. To give three examples:

Some arguments can be brought to bear which suggest that death left intact the status of kinship relationships, relative to the prohibitions, in some other cases; although each of the arguments has a tenuous quality.

First, a back way approach: The law against adultery already prohibits the taking of a fellow's wife while that man is still alive (Leviticus 18:20 = 20:10). It might be argued that the contribution that Leviticus 18:8, 14, 15, and 16 make is to extend the prohibition to wives that have lost their husbands. However, this argument assumes that those prohibitions were written relative to the prohibition against adultery, which is a dubious proposition.

Second, an analogy: To take a situation similar to the father-daughter taboo, namely, the mother-son taboo, there is no evidence to be found in the Bible that it was acceptable for a man to take his mother after his father's death (cf. Leviticus 18:7), although she might come under his care (Tobit 4:3). Certainly the inheritance concern was fulfilled just by the mother having a son, which means that there was no cultural pressure for a man to marry his mother as there was for a man to marry his deceased brother's son-less wife (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-10). This argument, admittedly, is just an argument from silence.

Third, a possible example, the case of Adonijah and Abishag (1 Kings 2:13-25): The narrative explicitly states that Adonijah's father, King David, had not cohabited with Abishag (1:4). However, King Solomon may have considered her David's concubine, hence falling under the taboo regarding a father's wife (Leviticus 18:8), even after the father's death. This could have factored into Solomon's hair-trigger judgment in having Adonijah executed for asking for Abishag, even serving as the technical justification, especially if the law was already "on the books," so to speak; although clearly political factors were more significant in the situation (2:22-25). This justification would have worked only if the death of the father had been understood to leave relational status intact. (A countervailing tradition may be discernible in Jubilees 33:15, which seems to imply that Reuben's sin with his father's concubine, Bilhah, would not have been a violation of taboo if his father had been deceased.)

Fourth, a more direct example with regard to the father-daughter question, the case of Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38): Intact status would explain Lot's daughters needing to make their father drunk before they could conceive children by him. Even though their mother was deceased, Lot may have considered it taboo to take them sexually. Such a taboo would have been consistent, by the way, with both the Law Code of Hammurabi (xxxii 67-71 = 154, Roth translation) and Hittite law (189, 191, 194, 195b-c; contrast 200a; Roth translation).

So it is quite possible that, under Leviticus 18:17 and 20:14 (or if Rashi's interpretation is preferred, under 18:10), for a man to take a woman recognized to be his own daughter was not acceptable, even after the death of her mother.

* * * * * *

Now to move on to the next inclusion that calls for comment, namely, "Homosexual acts (male)." (Regarding females with females, see below.) The wording, "homosexual acts," is used in the alphabetical index for the sake of convenience of access, but it requires a caution. The word "homosexual" connotes a great deal in today's society that does not necessarily correspond to same-sex sexual activity in ancient society, or in the Holiness Code of Leviticus. It connotes a sexual orientation, marginalization, a gay subculture, a certain range of sexual activities, adoption of sexual personas (sometimes), peer relationships (generally), and moral parity between male and female homosexuals. It also evokes a set of stereotypes and a range of both medieval and modern rationales for regarding homosexuality to be wrong, along with the accompanying debate. The present-day matrix of ideas has to be set aside if we are to have a ghost of a chance of understanding either what Leviticus had in mind in prohibiting a man lying with a male as with a female or the subsequent biblical allusions to that prohibition.

In order to drive home the point, allow me to venture just a step further.

Physiologically speaking, a male cannot lie with an unaltered male in the unique way that he can lie with a female. What would appear to be the precise literal sense of Leviticus 18:22 = 20:13, if taken physiologically, would not have worked in the ancient world. So many interpret the prohibition, still physiologically, this way:

"A man may not engage with another man in any sexual acts that might be engaged in with a woman; even if he plays the part of a female, he is culpable";

or, perhaps, this way:

"Analogs of vaginal intercourse, such as anal and oral intercourse, are prohibited between males."

Both of these paraphrases emphasize kinds of sexual acts; whereas, it can be reasonably hypothesized, the levitical code on sexuality and, for that matter, the Bible more generally are concerned not with kinds of sexual acts, but with kinds of sexual and marital connections. (Hence, the word "acts" in the alphabetical index can be as misleading as the word "homosexual.") In other words, they are concerned not with the what, but the who in relation to whom; or, even more specifically, the formal type of relationship who has in relation to whom. To put it simply, the levitical code was concerned with choice of sexual partners.

Other paraphrases are possible that not only preserve the apparent concern with connections but also elicit facets of the social significance of the female in Israelite society. For instance:

"A man should not place another male under his headship sexually in the way that a female sexual partner would be under his headship."

or, more elaborately and theologically,

"A man should not deposit his seed for gestation in another male if he expects his seed to share in God's inheritance, for that is to test God's promise to Abraham, which was to be carried out through women, who are also thereby heirs of the promise under Abraham's headship." (On testing God, see Exodus 17:7 and Deuteronomy 6:16. On the mutual interdependence of men and women in relation to the divine promise of inheritance, take note of 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 and 1 Timothy 2:15, which may reflect early Christian understandings of male and female relationships to the inheritance promised by God.)

Interestingly enough, the Apostle Paul's castigation of "men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error" (Romans 1:27) suggests that his interpretation of the levitical prohibition placed the emphasis upon the socio-theological significance of the prohibition, albeit with a universal cast, rather than upon the physiological possibilities. Otherwise, the penalty to which he referred must remain impossibly cryptic.

It was stated in the preface that, even though the point is to present textual data, this document cannot help but be interpretive. However, it can avoid piling layer upon layer of interpretation. So I shall stop short of attempting to give a synthesis of my own regarding what lying with a male as with a female meant at various points throughout the Bible, other than to give a couple of indications of the direction of my thinking.

First, I suspect that some sort of physiological understanding, a headship concept, and an inheritance motif may be three strands of an implicit early Christian ethic regarding male "homosexuality," but not the only strands. Note, for instance, the "sensual conduct" mentioned in 2 Peter 2:7.

Second, I suspect that the implicit ethic just referred to was conditioned by the Hebrew Bible and a particular way of understanding it, much more than by Greco-Roman culture. This way of understanding the Hebrew Bible was in all probability as sophisticated as any of its day.


Omissions

Some of the notable omissions in the list of taboo sexual connections include:

* * * * * *

Regarding first cousins, a number of arguments are sometimes used to show that Leviticus does in fact imply the prohibition of first cousin marriages.

One is that the prohibition of "approaching" a blood relative, as in Leviticus 18:6, means, at least in terms of some kinds of relationships, remaining yet one degree further removed. However, the idea of degrees seems to be a later development.

Another is that some of the terms used in Leviticus are more inclusive than they seem at first glance. For instance, the term "brother" is sometimes inclusive of close kin. See Abraham speaking of his brother's son, Lot (Genesis 13:8; 14:14, 16) and Jacob of his mother's brother, Laban (Genesis 29:12; cf. verse 15). More to the point, considering Leviticus 18:9 and 11 (female as ego), first cousins are called brothers in 1 Chronicles 23:22 and perhaps in Tobit 7:2-4 (codices Vaticanus and Alexandrinus). However, the levitical code on incest appears generally to use terms in their precise sense.

Besides, a number of examples of first cousin marriages can be found in the Bible, none of them condemned and some of them explicitly commended:

Clearly first cousin marriage was considered to be an acceptable, even a desirable, practice throughout the span of the Bible's composition.

* * * * * *

Regarding a sister's daughter (male as ego) = mother's brother (female as ego): Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Damascus Document, extrapolating from Leviticus 18:13, and the Temple Scroll both condemned such pairing (see CD 5:11 and 11QT 66:15-17).

* * * * * *

Regarding a brother's daughter (male as ego) = father's brother (female as ego): This is also condemned in the Dead Sea Scrolls (same locations), although an example may be found in the Torah, namely Nahor and Milcah in Genesis 11:29. Compare the rumination of Sarah in Tobit 3:15.

* * * * * *

Regarding a mother's brother's wife (male as ego) = husband's sister's son (female as ego): Taking the wife of a mother's brother was prohibited in some brands of Judaism. See Philo, De specialibus legibus 3:26; the legend of Ahikar from a Syriac MS. in the University of Cambridge (Cod. Add. 2020 = S2 (Conybeare, p. 114); and bYebamoth 21a.

* * * * * *

Regarding a woman other than one of the prohibited kinswomen or a neighbor's wife (male as ego): The implicit definition of adultery in Leviticus 18:20 = 20:10 is for a woman to take any man other than her one husband and for a man to take any wife of his fellow. This double standard fit the polygynous culture of ancient Israel.

* * * * * *

Regarding a female with a female, the Hebrew Bible contains no explicit reference to lesbianism. Rabbinical rules of interpretation provided no avenue for extrapolating a prohibition of female with female sexual activity from the prohibition in Leviticus 18:22 = 20:13 of a man lying with a male as with a female, although Pseudo-Phocylides 192, which is tentatively dated between 30 B.C.E. and 40 C.E., may contain a hint that in one Jewish tradition such an interpretation was possible. It says simply, "let not women imitate the sexual role of men." (See bYebamoth 55b for another hint, albeit even fainter and more dubious.)

The midrash called Sifra (3rd or 4th century C.E.) derived a prohibition of a woman marrying a woman not from Leviticus 18:22 = 20:13, but from 18:3, which says, "You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt ... nor ... of Canaan" (see Aharei mot, parasha 8.8 = 337a, on the passage). In one school of thought, women who had engaged in such acts were forbidden to priests on the basis of Leviticus 21:7 (yGittin 8 II D-F = 8.49c.58; bShabbath 65a-b; and bYebamoth 76a). Maimonides (1135-1204), the great Jewish philosopher and codifier, rejected that position. He also said that those who engaged in lesbian practices deserved flogging, not for the practices themselves, but for disobedience (Mishneh Torah, Kedushah, Issurei bi'ah = Code. Book 5, Holiness. Treatise 1, Forbidden intercourse 21.8). This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the death penalty for male with male sexual activity prescribed in Leviticus 20:13.

Many have said that the Apostle Paul condemned lesbian activity in Romans 1:26, however my investigations have led me to conclude that he was probably referring instead to bestiality as a way of evoking all violations of the levitical code on sexuality by women. In other words, rather than innovating, he was highlighting the clearest example of a sexual offense mentioned in Leviticus that would be initiated by a woman. (Conceivably, Paul's condemnation of "inventors of evil" in Romans 1:30 could have been intended to cover lesbian among other activities, but that is to take a huge hermeneutical leap.)


The Mystery of Selection

Having noted salient inclusions and omissions, this is an appropriate point to raise the issue of selection. Why is the sexual code of the Hebrews as reflected in Leviticus 18 and 20 constructed as it is? Why is it about choice of sexual partners and not about kinds of sexual acts or relational dynamics or control of human passions? Why are the particular sexual partners that are prohibited so prohibited? What is the principle of selection? Of all the mysteries about the treatment of sexuality in the Bible, the principle of selection is arguably the most difficult.

One possibility is that there is no principle of selection, that the statutes are simply arbitrary, conforming to what was perceived as an inscrutable divine word, or accidental, emerging out of interaction with a particular social context.

However, other theories are possible. I'll mention one in particular, even at the risk of being inconsistent with the discussion of male homosexuality above.

It could be that the principle of selection was determined according to a covenantal purpose for polygyny. In this theory, polygyny was a way of producing proportionately more children of the patriarchal covenant, that is, the religious covenant into which their fathers had entered; and the sexual code was written to maximize the effect.

If a group has a covenantal philosophy that creates an impetus to produce children to inherit and dominate the earth or a region thereof, polygyny could easily be thought to be an effective means of implementing such a philosophy; for the net result would be, one would think, that the proportion of children of polygynists would increase, children who would carry on the covenantal idea. How would it work?

Let's assume nothing more than a slight imbalance of the sexes, not limiting ourselves to Israel but to all the peoples with whom they had dealings. The imbalance would probably be in the form of more women than men, but that supposition is inconsequential.

Now polygyny, extensively practiced, would drain women from the pool, leaving deprived men with several options. Those options would be:

For a son of the covenant to engage in homosexual practices, let us say, defeats the point and places him in the practicing company of those from whom the land is to be slowly and steadily wrenched for the children of the covenant. Thus such practices, along with the sharing of wives and bestiality were officially discouraged.

Notice that the preceding list accounts for all of the sexual prohibitions in the Hebrew Bible in summary fashion, with four exceptions:

Let's discuss each in turn, relative to the theory.

Regarding kinship regulations, if polygyny was indeed to be practiced with a purpose, namely to advance the dominion of the covenantal group, it became critical to break up smaller enclaves of control that could defeat that purpose. The wider world might be deprived of women, but no man within the covenantal group, under this philosophy, should be deprived of women because of a man retaining women within his own family, whether in addition to other women or not. The solution was to disallow men from marrying certain women within their own families, and the line would be drawn according to when the woman was more of a gift (leaving aside any bride price) or more under direct family influence. Thus the kinship regulations are explained, at least in their generality.

Regarding the prohibition of a man having sex with a menstruant, this could also be explained relative to polygyny. Menstruation, in this theory, could have been a signal that a man was not to be abstinent for the duration, but should instead visit another wife; and if he didn't have another wife sufficient for his needs, he should acquire one. In other words, this prohibition created an incentive to engage in polygyny. Any number of reasons could be adduced as to why a menstruating wife should be avoided, but the fundamental motive was to maximize progeny of the covenant through polygyny. Even if some other motive for the prohibition were assumed, such as a blood taboo, the prohibition is most easily accommodated by polygyny.

Regarding the prohibition of offering one's children to Molech, it reinforces the covenantal aspect of the theory. Whether the reference is to child sacrifice or to turning one's children over to a heathen upbringing, implementation of the covenantal purpose is diminished.

Regarding the prohibition of a woman having sex with an animal, it likewise reinforces the covenantal aspect of the theory. Three points about that:

In this theory, the entire sexual ethic of the Bible is oriented to and revolves around the use of polygyny within a covenantal framework. However, as I said, thus far this is just a theory, one of several; and it has a number of problems, among them these:

Despite the problems, this theory may be a step in the direction of understanding the selection principle behind the sexual code of the Hebrews.


Concluding Comment

When accretions of interpretation and cultural adaptation are peeled away, the levitical code on sexuality and marriage reveals itself as containing many contrasts to present-day sexual mores and to some scholarly opinion as to the code's meaning. Furthermore a variety of hermeneutical traditions have existed, possibly since the very origins of the code, as to what can be properly inferred from it.



Leviticus 18:6-23, with Parallels



Blood relative

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Leviticus 18:6

None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness; I am the LORD.

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Related biblical references

Might Leviticus 18:6 be interpreted in light of 21:2-3, which lists certain close relatives, including mother, father, son, daughter, brother, and virgin sister?

The blood relative prohibition was limited. See, for example, Genesis 4:17, 26; 5:6-7 (Cain and Seth would presumably have had available to them only their sister); 10:1 (each grandson of Noah would presumably have taken his father's brother's daughter); 11:29 (Nahor took Milcah, his brother's daughter); 24:15 (Isaac took Rebeccah, his father's brother's granddaughter); 28:9 = 36:3 (Esau took Mahalath and/or Basemath, his father's half-brother's daughter); 39 (Jacob took Leah and Rachel, his mother's brother's daughters); 1 Chronicles 23:22-23 (each son of Kish took his father's brother's daughter); 2 Chronicles 11:18 (David took Abihail, his brother's daughter); 11:18 (Rehoboam took Mahalath, his father's half-brother's daughter); 11:20 (Rehoboam took Maacah, his father's half-brother's daughter); Tobit 3:15; 6:9-14; 7:2-5, 10-13 (Tobias took Sarah, his father's cousin's daughter according to Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus; his father's brother's daughter, according to Codex Sinaiticus).

 

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Mother

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Leviticus 18:7

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, that is, the nakedness of your mother. She is your mother; you are not to uncover her nakedness.

******

Related biblical references

See Ezekiel 22:10 (however, this may allude instead to Leviticus 18:8)

 

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Father's Wife

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Leviticus 18:8

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife; it is your father's nakedness.

******

Leviticus 20:11

If there is a man who lies with his father's wife, he has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

******

Deuteronomy 22:30 [23:1]

A man shall not take his father's wife so that he shall not uncover his father's skirt.

******

Deuteronomy 27:20

Cursed is he who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father's skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.

******

Related biblical references

Regarding a father's wives in general, see 1 Chronicles 2:24 (highly dubious); Ezekiel 22:10 (which may allude instead to Leviticus 18:7); 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5 and maybe 7:11-12).

Presumably the "father's wife" was understood to include a father's concubine. See Genesis 16:3; 30:4, 9; 35: 22; 37:2; 49:4; 2 Samuel 16:21-22; 1 Kings 1:1-4; 2:13-25.

Presumably the prohibition was extended to cover even prostitutes with whom the father has had intercourse (Amos 2:7). In the view of the Apostle Paul, they are one flesh with him under the creation principle expressed in Genesis 2:24 (see 1 Corinthians 6:16; cf. Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12).

 

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Father's Daughter or Mother's Daughter; Sister

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Leviticus 18:9

The nakedness of your sister; either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether born at home or born outside, their nakedness you shall not uncover.

******

Leviticus 20:17

If there is a man who takes his sister, his father's daughter or his mother's daughter, so that he sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace; and they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness; he bears his guilt.

******

Deuteronomy 27:22

Cursed is he who lies with his sister, the daughter of his father or of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.

******

Related biblical references

See Genesis 4:17, 26; 5:6-7; Ezekiel 22:11 (which may instead allude to Leviticus 18:11); 3 Maccabees 1:1.

 

See also the references under Leviticus 18:11.

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Son's Daughter or Daughter's Daughter

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Leviticus 18:10

The nakedness of your son's daughter or you daughter's daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for their nakedness is yours.

 

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Father's Wife's Daughter; Half-Sister

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Leviticus 18:11

The nakedness of your father's wife's daughter, born to your father, she is your sister, you shall not uncover her nakedness.

******

Related biblical references

Contrast Genesis 20:12. Compare 2 Samuel 13 (cf.3:2-3 and 1 Chronicles 3:1-2); Ezekiel 22:11 (which may instead allude to Leviticus 18:9).

 

See also the references under Leviticus 18:9.

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Father's Sister

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Leviticus 18:12

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's sister; she is your father's blood relative.

******

Leviticus 20:19

You shall also not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister or of your father's sister, for such a one has made naked his blood relative; they shall bear their guilt.

******

Related biblical references

See Exodus 6:20 (Amram and Jochebed; cf. Numbers 26:58-59).

 

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Mother's Sister

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Leviticus 18:13

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister, for she is your mother's blood relative.

******

Leviticus 20:19

You shall also not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister or of your father's sister, for such a one has made naked his blood relative; they shall bear their guilt.

 

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Father's Brother's Wife; Aunt; Uncle's Wife

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Leviticus 18:14

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's brother; you shall not approach his wife, she is your aunt.

******

Leviticus 20:20

If there is a man who lies with his uncle's wife he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness; they shall bear their sin. They shall die childless.

 

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Son's Wife; Daughter-in-Law

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Leviticus 18:15

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law; she is your son's wife, you shall not uncover her nakedness.

******

Leviticus 20:12

If there is a man who lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed incest, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

******

Related biblical references

See Genesis 38; Ezekiel 22:11.

Regarding Genesis 38, one line of interpretation suggests that Judah's principal sin in this passage was that he lay with the betrothed wife of his living son, Shelah (note especially verse 11). Another line of interpretation suggests that his principal sin was that he failed to provide a husband to Tamar according to the levirate custom. In any case, observe that the levirate purpose was fulfilled in the case of Tamar with her father-in-law, just as it was in the case of Ruth and her husband's close kinsman, Boaz. In fact, both Tamar and Ruth were direct ancestors of King David (Ruth 4:12, 17-22).

The son's wife may have been understood to imply even a prostitute with whom the son had had intercourse. See Amos 20:12.

 

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Brother's Wife

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Leviticus 18:16

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife; it is your brother's nakedness.

******

Leviticus 20:21

If there is a man who takes his brother's wife, it is abhorrent; he has uncovered his brother's nakedness. They shall be childless.

******

Related biblical references

See Matthew 14:3-4; Mark 6:17-18; Luke 3:19.

Regarding levirate duty by the woman's husband's brother, see Genesis 38:8-11, 14, 26; Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Ruth 1:11 (tentative; the reference could be to pregnancy); 4 ("closest relative"); Matthew 22:23-28; Mark 12:18-23; Luke 20:27-33.

Regarding levirate duty by the woman's husband's half-brother, see Ruth 1:11 (tentative; the reference could be to fertility).

Regarding levirate duty by the woman's husband's half-brother, see also Matthew 1:15-16 in relation to Luke 3:23-24. Levirate marriage has been used as a way of explaining part of the divergency in the genealogies of Jesus, so that Joseph, the father of Jesus, was the biological son of Jacob (Matthew 1:16) but the legal son of Jacob's half-brother Eli (Luke 3:23), by Eli's widow. See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1.7.

 

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Mother and Daughter;

Mother and Her Son's Daughter;

Mother and Her Daughter's Daughter

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Leviticus 18:17

You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, nor shall you take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; they are blood relatives. It is lewdness.

******

Leviticus 20:14

If there is a man who marries a woman and her mother, it is immorality; both he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no immorality in your midst.

******

Deuteronomy 27:23

Cursed is he who lies with his mother-in-law. And all the people shall say, Amen.

******

Related biblical references

Genesis 19:30-38; Ezekiel 22:9 (the "lewdness" may be an allusion to Leviticus 18:17, but more likely it is a collective reference to the offenses mentioned in Ezekiel 22:10-11); cf. Sirach 7:24 (dubious); 1 Corinthians 7:36 (dubious).

 

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For discussion of the prohibition against a man taking both a mother and a daughter, see above.


Woman and Her Sister

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Leviticus 18:18

And you shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.

******

Related biblical references

Some doubt exists as to whether Leviticus 18:18 refers to sisters in the sense of blood relations. In two passages of the Temple Scroll (11QTemple 57:17-19; 66:15-17), the Hebrew phrase for "a woman in addition to her sister" is employed, apparently as referring to co-wives that are not necessarily blood relations. The first Temple Scoll passage enjoins monogamy upon the king. The second is a regurgitation of the sexual part of the Holiness Code of Leviticus, although mention is not made of the prohibition contained in Leviticus 18:18. If, in Leviticus 18:18, co-wives generally is meant, it is hightly doubtful that a prohibition of polygyny is intended, given that polygyny, far from representing a moral problem for the Hebrews, was sometimes even an obligation, as in the case of some levirate marriages. Conceivably the prohibition has to do with not using one wife to vex the other with regard to conjugal rights; but this interpretation has a number of problems, one of them being that it doesn't fit with the pattern in Leviticus 18 and 20 of prohibiting kinds of sexual partners. This interpretation does have the virtue of being consistent with both polygyny and the otherwise uncondemned practice of marriage to sisters. See Genesis 19:30-38; 29:15-35; 30:1-24; Judges 15:2; Jeremiah 3:6-10; and especially Ezekiel 23:2, 4, remembering that Ezekiel has an especially close relation to the Holiness Code. (Compare Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:1-45; 12:1-8. It is speculated that the sisters, Mary and Martha, were wives of Jesus, who surely would not have broken this law if he understood it as applying to blood-related sisters.)

 

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Menstruant; Niddah

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Leviticus 18:19

Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness during her menstrual impurity.

******

Leviticus 20:18

If there is a man who lies with a menstruous woman and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow, and she has exposed the flow of her blood; thus both of them shall be cut off from among their people.

******

Leviticus 15:24

And if a man actually lies with her, so that her menstrual impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days, and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.

******

Related biblical references

Leviticus 15:19-33; Ezekiel 18:6; 22:10.

Conceivably 1 Corinthians 7:5 could imply that the Apostle Paul did not regard coitus during menstruation as falling under the Council of Jerusalem's prohibition of porneia (Acts 15:20, 29).

Regarding menstrual impurity in general, see Genesis 31:35; Leviticus 12:2, 5; Lamentations 1:9; Baruch 6:29 (tentative).

 

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Neighbor's Wife; Adultery

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Leviticus 18:20

And you shall not have intercourse with your neighbor's wife, to be defiled with her.

******

Leviticus 20:10

If there is a man who commits adultery with another man's wife, one who commits adultery with his friend's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

******

Exodus 20:14

You shall not commit adultery.

******

Deuteronomy 5:18

You shall not commit adultery.

******

Deuteronomy 22:22

If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel.

******

Related biblical references

Exodus 20:17 = Deuteronomy 5:21; Leviticus 19:20-22; Numbers 5:11-31; Ezekiel 18:6; 22:11; and numerous other locations in the Bible that mention adultery.

Regarding violation of the virgin wife of another, see Deuteronomy 22:23-25.

Regarding prohibition of marriage to another's divorced wife, see Matthew 5:32 (which alludes to Deuteronomy 24:1-4) and Luke 16:18. Cf. Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12.

Regarding the accused wife, see Deuteronomy 22:13-19.

 

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Molech

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Leviticus 18:21

Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.

******

Leviticus 20:1-5

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, You shall also say to the sons of Israel, Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will also set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name. If the people of the land, however, should ever disregard that man when he gives any of his offspring to Molech, so as not to put him to death, then I Myself will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut off from among their people both him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after Molech.

******

Deuteronomy 12:31

You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.

******

Deuteronomy 18:10a

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire.

******

Related references

Narrative passages that may bear on the Molech prohibition include the account of Abraham in Genesis 22:1-19 (the Akidah); Jephthah in Judges 11:30-40; David in 2 Samuel 12:30-31 = 1 Chronicles 20:2-3; Solomon in 1 Kings 11:5-7, 33; cf. 2 Kings 23:13; Mesha in 2 Kings 3:4, 27; Ahaz in 2 Kings 16:3, 20 = 2 Chronicles 28:3, 27; Hoshea in 2 Kings 17:17; the Sepharvites in 2 Kings 17:31; Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:6, 18 = 2 Chronicles 33:6, 20; and Josiah in 2 Kings 23:10, 13 = 2 Chronicles 34:33.

Other possible passages include Exodus 34:13-17 (dubious, but mentions sons and daughters); Leviticus 26:27-33; 27:29; Psalm 106:37-38; Isaiah 30:33; 57:5, 9; 66:3; Jeremiah 2:23; 3:24; 7:31-32; 19:5-6, 11; 32:35; 49:1-3; Ezekiel 16:20-21, 36; 20:25-26, 30-31; 23:36-39; Daniel 9:27; 11:31; Hosea 13:2; Amos 2:1; 5:26; Micah 6:7; Zephaniah 1:5; Wisdom 12:5-6; 14:23; Sirach 34:20; Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:20; and Acts 7:43.

For the general prohibition of idolatry, the locus classicus is Exodus 20:3-5 = Deuteronomy 5:7-9.

It would seem that the Molech prohibition does not preclude death by burning in the event of certain purity violations. See Leviticus 20:14; 21:9.

 

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Male with Male

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Leviticus 18:22

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.

******

Leviticus 20:13

If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

******

Related references

Genesis 19:5 (the sin of Sodom; the primary offense may have been violation of hospitality); Leviticus 18:7 and 14 (highly dubious references); Judges 19:22-24 (cf. 20:6; this story echoes that of Sodom; however, here the violation of hospitality was subsequently compounded by murder; lewdness was considered part of the cluster of crimes committed; and, at least as canonically presented, the incident presupposes the law in Leviticus against a man lying with a male as with a female); 1 Samuel 18:1-4; 2 Samuel 1:26 (this and the preceding reference, regarding David and Jonathan, are dubious references); Romans 1:27 ("men with men committing indecent acts"); 1 Corinthians 6:9 (malakos, arsenokoites); 1 Timothy 1:10 (arsenokoites); 2 Peter 2:7 (reference to the sensual conduct in Sodom); Jude 7 (reference to Sodom as going after strange flesh); Revelation 21:8 (dubious); 22:15 (dubious; but compare Deuteronomy 23:18).

Regarding male prostitution, mostly cult prostitution, see Deuteronomy 23:17-18; 1 Samuel 2:22 (male with female); 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 17:17 (dubious); 23:7; Ezekiel 16:33-34 (males selling themselves to females); Wisdom 3:13 (dubious; were male prostitutes used for fertility?).

 

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For discussion of homosexuality, see above.


Bestiality

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Leviticus 18:23

Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.

******

Leviticus 20:15-16

If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death; you shall also kill the animal. If there is a woman who approaches any animal to mate with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

******

Exodus 22:19 [18]

Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death.

******

Deuteronomy 27:21

Cursed is he who lies with any animal. And all the people shall say, Amen.

******

Related biblical references

Genesis 37:2 may be an allusion to the lewd behavior or conversation of shepherds.

Romans 1:25-26. In the concentric structure of the passage, verse 26 is parallel to verse 25 (about "the creature"), not to verse 27 (about "men with men"). The "Amen" of verse 25 is the center of the concentric structure. Both verse 26 and verse 27 are meant to evoke the whole code of sexual violations, verse 26 violations by females and verse 27 violations by men; hence the use of the word "similarly." In other words, verse 26 is quite possibly an allusion to Leviticus 18:23 on bestiality and not an innovation by the Apostle Paul against lesbianism; yet it evokes the range of sexual offenses by women as specified or implied in the levitical code.

 

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- Appendix 1 -

The Sexual Regulations of Leviticus 19, with Parallels


Slave Woman

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Leviticus 19:20-22

Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed, nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free. And he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD to the doorway of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him.

******

Exodus 20:17

You shall not covet your neighbor's ... female servant

******

Exodus 21:7-11

And if a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do. If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. And if he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. And if he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.

******

Deuteronomy 5:21

You shall not desire your neighbor's ... female servant

Note: I am here using the NASB, 1996 edition, since "female servant" was inadvertently omitted in the 1973 edition.

******

Related biblical references

See Leviticus 25:44-46; Deuteronomy 15:12-18; 28:68<?>; 2 Chronicles 28:10; Isaiah 14:2

 

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Making Daughter a Harlot

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Leviticus 19:29

Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land may not fall to harlotry, and the land become full of lewdness.

******

Deuteronomy 23:17-18

None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute. You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God.

******

Related biblical references

See Leviticus 21:9; Hosea 4:13-14; 2 Esdras 15:47; Sirach 42:9-11.

 

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- Appendix 2 -

The Sexual Regulations of Leviticus 20 in Textual Sequence


Leviticus 20:1-5 (see 18:21)

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, You shall also say to the sons of Israel, Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will also set my face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name. If the people of the land, however, should ever disregard that man when he gives any of his offspring to Molech, so as not to put him to death, then I Myself will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut off from among their people both him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after Molech.

 

Leviticus 20:10 (see 18:20)

If there is a man who commits adultery with another man's wife, one who commits adultery with his friend's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

 

Leviticus 20:11 (see 18:8)

If there is a man who lies with his father's wife, he has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

 

Leviticus 20:12 (see 18:15)

If there is a man who lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed incest, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

 

Leviticus 20:13 (see 18:22)

If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

 

Leviticus 20:14 (see 18:17)

If there is a man who marries a woman and her mother, it is immorality; both he and they shall be burned with fire, that there may be no immorality in your midst.

 

Leviticus 20:15 (see 18:23)

If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death; you shall also kill the animal.

 

Leviticus 20:16 (see 18:23)

If there is a woman who approaches any animal to mate with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

 

Leviticus 20:17 (see 18:9)

If there is a man who takes his sister, his father's daughter or his mother's daughter, so that he sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace; and they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness; he bears his guilt.

 

Leviticus 20:18 (see 18:19)

If there is a man who lies with a menstruous woman and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow, and she has exposed the flow of her blood; thus both of them shall be cut off from among their people.

 

Leviticus 20:19 (see 18:12 and 18:13)

You shall also not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister or of your father's sister, for such a one has made naked his blood relative; they shall bear their guilt.

 

Leviticus 20:20 (see 18:14)

If there is a man who lies with his uncle's wife he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness; they shall bear their sin. They shall die childless.

 

Leviticus 20:21 (see 18:16)

If there is a man who takes his brother's wife, it is abhorrent; he has uncovered his brother's nakedness. They shall be childless.

 



- Appendix 3 -

Notes on the Structure of Leviticus 20


Organization

Is an organizing principle to Leviticus 20 detectable? I see a series of pairs organized, within a chiastic sandwich, according to a descending order of seriousness of punishment, as follows:

Chiastic sandwich (c,b,a,a,b,c pattern):

Pair 1. Turning to others instead of the LORD:

Pair 2. Despising inheritance issues:

Pair 3. For or regarding fathers:

Pair 4. Two of a kind:

Pair 5. Bestiality:

Pair 6. Sisters:

Pair 7. Regarding brothers:

Odd placement:


Relationship to Leviticus 18

Assuming for a moment that Leviticus 18 was earlier than Leviticus 20 or that the two chapters shared a common source, is there discernible any preservation of the order of Leviticus 18? The answer is yes, three sequences can be detected as being intact (albeit broken up), provided that simple inversions and overlapping of sequences are allowed. Those sequences are:

Sequence 1:

Sequence 2:

Sequence 3:

When the reverse exercise is done, that is, finding sequences of chapter 20 in chapter 18, they can, of course, be found -- in fact five of them; but they show nothing of the elegance or meaningfulness of the above sequences. So one is tempted to conclude at this point that Leviticus 18 is earlier than chapter 20. However, an explanation is still needed for the omissions from chapter 20.

Those omissions are:

The omission of 18:7 can be explained if the compiler of chapter 20 subsumed the mother under the father's wife (18:8 = 20:11).

The omission of 18:10 can be explained if the compiler of chapter 20 subsumed the son's daughter and the daughter's daughter under mother and daughter by way of allusion to the fuller prohibition, which also prohibits taking a woman and her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter (18:17 = 20:14).

The omission of 18:11 can be explained if the compiler of chapter 20 subsumed the father's wife's daughter under the father's daughter or mother's daughter (18:9 = 20:17).

The omission of 18:18 can be explained if the compiler of chapter 20 took the verse as containing enough of a qualification not to warrant penalty. Rivalry between sisters was its own penalty. By the way, if this was indeed the view, it, along with the variety of penalties assigned in chapter 20, might suggest that the compiler of chapter 20 was not aware of the uniform "cut off" penalty of 18:29. This may mean that 18:29 was added later, since the death penalty was associated with theocratic and monarchic forms of government, whereas the "cut off" penalty for the same offenses was associated with later occupation and exile. (See my essay on the death penalty.)

So it appears that a deliberate effort, not only at organization, but also at contraction is faintly discernible in Leviticus 20. In conjunction with the placement of 20:18, on the menstruant, which appears to be influenced by chapter 18, I am led to conclude that Leviticus 18 is indeed earlier than Leviticus 20. However, it is quite possible that an earlier form of chapter 20 shared a common source with chapter 18, and that chapter 18 itself merely influenced the redaction of chapter 20.

Below, only those verses that are parallel to Leviticus 18:6-23 are given.



- Appendix 4 -

The Sexual Regulations of Leviticus 21-22: Priests


Leviticus 21:7

They [priests] shall not take a woman who is profaned by harlotry, nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for he [each priest] is holy to his God.


Leviticus 21:9

Also the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by harlotry, she profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire.

 

Compare Leviticus 19:29.


Leviticus 21:10, 13-15

And the priest who is the highest among his brothers, on whose head the anointing oil has been poured, and who has been consecrated to wear the garments ... he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or one who is profaned by harlotry, these he may not take; but rather he is to marry a virgin of his own people; that he may not profane his offspring among his people: for I am the LORD who sanctifies him.


Leviticus 22:12-13

And if a priest's daughter is married to a layman, she shall not eat of the offering of the gifts. But if a priest's daughter becomes a widow or divorced, and has no child and returns to her father's house as in her youth, she shall eat of her father's food, but no layman shall eat of it.



Posted, March 19, 1998; new url, January 28, 2004; last modification, January 24, 2004

Bible translation copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973 by the Lockman Foundation

Other matter copyright ©1998-2004 by Norman E. Anderson


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Go to supplement: Non-Biblical References Related to Leviticus 18:6-23.

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