Hebrew In Israel | Leviticus 18 – Learn Torah

homosexuality in the bible, leviticus 18,

Hebrew In Israel | Leviticus 18 – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

The debate is up regarding Leviticus 18 and the context it is in.  Due to the request of many for me to speak on this matter, I will be dealing with material that some might find offensive.  However, we need to remember that we are dealing with an aspect of life, and nothing which is said here is outside of this scope.

The Verse

The specific verse in question is Lev 18 verse 22:

וְאֶת זָכָר לֹא תִשְׁכַּב מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תּוֹעֵבָה הִוא

You shall not lie with a man, as with woman: it is an abomination

To understand this verse correctly we must break it down:

וְאֶת זָכָר– and a male

לֹא תִשְׁכַּב– you will not lay (in a sexual manner).  The root שכב is very common in Hebrew to represent a sexual act.

מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה– (lit) the layings (plural!) of a woman

תּוֹעֵבָה הִוא– it is an abomination.  The word תועבה is found with the general meaning of abhorrent act, and in some cases in two contexts which are idolatry and sexual iniquities.  In some places we find these two together, but in this case, as I will demonstrate, there is no evidence that they are connected.


The context of the full section beginning at verse 1 is the immoral sexual acts of Egypt and Canaan (verse 2).  There is no mentioning of idolatry anywhere to be found in the text, hence there is no connection to temple prostitution.  The argument that the word תועבה (abomination) makes this into a ritual act is unfounded due to the fact that we cannot change context on the fine point of one word.  The word appears in a context of iniquities in both a ritualistic and non-ritualistic state, and the reader must evaluate the context things are in.  This can be clearly seen when looking at the appearances of the word in a Hebrew concordance such as the Even Shushan p.1223.  To create a connection between subjects on the basis of one word which does have several contexts is a falsehood, and is wrong both in understanding Hebrew and the Hebrew text.  This is a form of word study that I keep on seeing which ignores the multi-functionality of Hebrew words which use context together with etymology.


Besides the word explained in the verse parsing, there are more words in other verses that need to be spoken about.  The biblical text has a special word to represent temple prostitution which is קדש– Qadesh.  We find this term in Deuteronomy 23:18-19

לֹא תִהְיֶה קְדֵשָׁה מִבְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְלֹא יִהְיֶה קָדֵשׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.   לֹא תָבִיא אֶתְנַן זוֹנָה וּמְחִיר כֶּלֶב, בֵּית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְכָל נֶדֶר:  כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ גַּםשְׁנֵיהֶם

No woman of Israel is to engage in ritual prostitution (Qadesha), and no man of Israel is to engage in ritual homosexual prostitution (Qadesh).

Nothing earned through heterosexual (Zonah) or homosexual prostitution (Kelev) is to be brought into the house of YHWH your God in fulfillment of any vow, for both of these are abhorrent to YHWH your God.

These two verses are important for our study because they distinguish between temple rituals and regular practice.  The main word for us is KELEV which based on its parallelism to ZONAH is the male equivalent, i.e. a male prostitute.  The form כלבם are found in Phoenician inscriptions and Kalbi in Mesopotamian theophoric names which indicate that there was some kind of temple servant that had this title and would also have it as part of their name.  The word תועבה also appears in this text, and this time the context is ritual depravity in bringing a gift to the temple, but not that a sexual act is done in the temple.  The word  תועבה is used to express the dislike of God to these acts to the extent that even the payment is seen as tainted.

These two verses show that not only is temple prostitution is forbidden, but also that there is a social taboo on the subject.  I will point out that this type of prostitution (if it did exist) was part of a fertility ritual, and I do not see the point of lying with a man as part of fertility because such an act is not fertile.  In the ancient worlds acts were done with a meaning, hence it probably was men lying with women where the men were prostituting themselves in a heterosexual way. 

I will point out that some scholars doubt the existence of male temple prostitution calling it an “assumption”, making the whole debate pointless (Zondervan Bible commentary p.497, IVP commentary p.197).  This would mean that the KELEV is not a prostitute, but a temple servant.  This would mean that even the ritual male prostitution was a taboo.


Prostitution is forbidden in Leviticus 19:29

אַל תְּחַלֵּל אֶת בִּתְּךָ לְהַזְנוֹתָהּ; וְלֹא תִזְנֶה הָאָרֶץ, וּמָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ זִמָּה

Do not debase your daughter by making her a prostitute, so that the land will not fall into prostitution and become full of depravity

The historical context of this section is the act of selling one’s daughter to prostitution.  This type of action was common with poor families who would sell their children to pay creditors or for any other reason (Biblical encyclopedia, Bialik institute vol.2 col.936).  We find in this verse that there is a moral problem with prostitution, so how come the Torah forbids bringing the price of a prostitute?  Does this not mean that prostitution is common?  The answer is yes, and this is due to the fact that the Torah also realizes that no matter what you do, sin will exist and those sinners will still try to show up at the temple because they have not abandoned their faith.

The case of Judah and Tamar in regards to the Adullamite friend calling Tamar a Qadesha has to do with the friend hiding the purpose of visiting a Zonah by claiming it was a ritual prostitution.  This demonstrates that there were certain taboos in Canaanite society as well.  This in no way proves that Qadeshah and Zonah are the same.

Some do argue that this is also temple prostitution, but as demonstrated it uses different words to describe the action, making it secular prostitution and not temple prostitution.

The Ancient Near East

In the Neo Assyrian laws, tablet A laws 18-20, we find laws which deal with sexual iniquities where one would claim against another that a consensual sexual act was done on a man or a woman.  In all cases, the law indicates that these acts are shameful for the accused:

A18 If a man tells another man, either privately or in a brawl, “Your wife is promiscuous; I will bring charges against her myself,” but he is unable to substantiate the charge, and cannot prove it, he is to be caned (forty blows), be sentenced to a month’s hard labor for the king, be cut off, and pay one talent of lead.

A19 If a man has secretly started a rumor about his neighbor saying, “He has allowed men to have sex with him,” or in a quarrel has told him in the presence of others, “Men have sex with you,” and then, “I will bring charges against you myself,” but is then unable to substantiate the charge, and cannot prove it, that man is to be caned (fifty blows), be sentenced to a month’s hard labor for the king, be cut off, and pay one talent of lead.

A20 If a man has had sex with his neighbor (and) he has been charged and convicted, (then) he is to be considered defiled and made into a eunuch.

These laws show that in the ancient northern world (which is clearly a closer relative of Israelite culture), it was a social taboo to lay with a man in regular life.  It is however unclear if it was allowed in a ritual.  The act itself was a form of humiliation, and in both laws about men and women we find that one was intending to create a social upheaval due to the claim.  The ending of law 20 shows how serious such a claim is, that the punishment allowed others to rape the accuser and make him into a woman by castrating him (Mallul, Law collection 2010 p.191).

In Egypt it seems that sexual behavior was very loose, and it could be that if both sides were consenting, then there was no problem with this act.  This would explain why the text shows a dislike of Egypt and Canaan (which was under Egyptian influence at the time).  The hypersexuality of Egypt can be seen in the Turin sex papyrus which depicts many sexual acts, and demonstrates the attitude of the Egyptians toward the matter.  We do however find that in the book of the dead one confesses that they did not lay with a boy, which demonstrates the need for consent.  However, even Egyptians had some standards such as “I have not penetrated the penetrate of a penetrator; I have not masturbated” (Book of the dead chapter 125, London collage translation).

Homosexuality was seen in different ways in the ancient world.  In Greece it was part of the bonding between a teacher and a student or between soldiers (Ancient Greece, Open U vol.11 p.75), but all of these men also married, and it was not part of their sexual orientation.  In the East it was a form of humiliation done to show dominance over a fellow man (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 149a).  We also find a rape case in Egyptian mythology where Seth rapes Horus out of envy and a will to humiliate Horus (Richard Parkinson: Homosexual Desire and Middle Kingdom Literature. In: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology (JEA), vol. 81, 1995, pp. 57–76.).  Whatever the case maybe, it was not seen as something which was done in a normal relationship such as marriage.


As shown above, we find that not only is there a problem with arguing male homosexual prostitution in temples, and that it is part of a ritual which is forbidden in Israel, we also find that it was forbidden in everyday life.  It was seen a social taboo by other nations, and is forbidden in Israel.  I find it ridiculous to argue that the Torah forbade the ritual, but allowed it in regular life when it was a taboo amongst the nations.  This notion does not fit the overall attitude the Tanakh has to sexual behavior (such as used in Ezekiel).

This is another case of westerners trying to distort the original meaning of a text with modern thought.  It is wrong on many levels to try and explain a culture from the perspective of another and claim it is correct.  This is, to this very day, a mistake made over and over again by modern man who does not understand that he is not the only one out there.  Whatever the ideals of one man, he must never assume it is the same with another.  This is the same as when people argue that David and Jonathan had a sexual relationship, when there is nothing in the text to indicate it.  The fact that David loved Jonathan is no basis for such an argument, and demonstrates the perverse attitude of some people who are looking for anything to prove their perverted thoughts.

There is a lot more that can be said about this subject, and one can find many articles which deal with this subject.  I have attempted to give an overall description of the subject from my perspective, but I am aware that there could be other points of discussion.  I might have to revisit this article and update it when I look at more points and details.


Originally Published:  2 July 2015

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