The Bible verse taken to mean gays should die isn?t so clear.
?Kiss of Judas,? St. Benedict?s Cave, 14th century
?I read a number of studies on the topic, but I don?t remember any of them grappling with the punishment issue,? he replies.
He declines to say Christians should not kill gay people. Rather, the subject has been . . . insufficiently studied.
In a 2019 book, Confronting Christianity, heralded widely in the Christian world for its stirring re-affirmation of traditional morality, Rebecca McLaughlin sees Leviticus 18:22 as being ?reaffirmed multiple times,? somehow, in later biblical books.
I wrote her via her website, asking if that means gays die. No reply.
You can get the feeling a lot of Christians do think Leviticus 18:22 calls for mass death. Like when people were dying of AIDS?wasn?t that God acting as executioner? Lots and lots of Christians said so.
Somehow, Jesus saying ?love one another,? even enemies, doesn?t seem to make a dent. Not like those cherished words: ?Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.?
The truth about Leviticus 18:22, however, is not so clear.
Remember, first, this is not a Christian text. Gentile Christians had no knowledge of its existence, or ability to read it. Jesus never tells non-Jews to follow Jewish law, and neither does Paul.
Then the verse as translated is essentially made up. As Renato Lings notes, ?the original Hebrew wording of this minuscule text is so arcane that the entire verse becomes almost untranslatable.?
He suggests: ?And with a male you shall not lie down the lyings of a woman.?
Jan Joosten, formerly professor of Hebrew at Oxford (until getting caught with child porn), suggested an even more literal translation: ?And-with a male not you-will-lie ?lyings-of? a woman.?
Susan Pigott, a Christian professor of Hebrew at Hardin-Simmons, suggests this translation of 18:22: ?And with a male you will not lay (on) the couches/beds of a woman.?
She studies the Hebrew text.
Neither verse actually says ?Do not lie with a male as with a woman.? Instead, both say you should not lay with a male on the couches or beds of a woman. The New American Standard Bible has a footnote that says, ?Lit. ?those who lie? taking the word ?couches? as a participle. But it is not a participle. It is a plural noun. So what does this mean?
That?s kind of an ongoing question.
?Commentators for more than two millennia have struggled to interpret these laws,? notes Saul M. Olyan in a 1994 paper.
It?s not easy to figure out what the words are even saying, especially with translators adding in connections, creating new meanings. To break it down to the basics, we?d not see in the Hebrew of Leviticus 18:22 an ?as one does with.? As Joosten says, ?this particle is absent.?
But try to read the verse without those words: ?Do not have sexual relations with a man [as one does with] a woman; that is detestable.?
The words ?sexual relations? are also not there.
The underlying word seems to have some association with the word ?bed? and is often translated by scholars as lyings ? ?a difficult phrase,? Joosten says, ?attested only here and in the parallel verse Lev. 20:13.?
Then notice the unexpected shifts in numbering. The ?male? is singular; the ?lyings? is plural; the ?woman? is singular. A singular male acts in plural ways on a singular female?
The Septuagint or LXX, the Greek translation of the verse (in Lings? translation) may help: ?And with a male you shall not lie a woman?s bed.?
The help comes with a price. There?s a new wrinkle. In the Hebrew, ?lyings? is plural; in the LXX, ?bed? is singular.
Jewish rabbis, following the twists and turns of each word, came to surprising conclusions.
David Brodsky covers this subject in a paper, ?Sex in the Talmud: How to Understand Leviticus 18 and 20.? The rabbis asked: if the verse is about sex between men, why doesn?t the text just forbid a man ?lying with a man?? What are these ?lyings??
But for the rabbis, the text had to be respected. If it says lyings ? plural ? there must be more than one way of being sexual?
So women might be the subject? As Brodsky explains:
The rabbis interpreted the plural ?lyings of women? to mean that when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman who is Biblically prohibited to him, both vaginal intercourse and anal intercourse are prohibited, and each carries the same penalty . . .
For me, it was little eccentric that Leviticus would prohibit anal sex with married women. I kept in search.
If you respect the Biblical text ? which Christians do not ? then you?d have to acknowledge what the text does not forbid.
Even if ?lyings? were understood to mean anal intercourse, then any other intimacy between men is not forbidden. Neither is ?homosexuality? as an inclination being discussed.
Rape victims are not excluded. ?Even the question of the partner?s consent remains unmentioned,? as Joosten notes. ?The text single-mindedly focuses on the sexual act.? Olyan observes as well: the ban involves acts ?coerced and those voluntary??
Another problem is that lesbianism is not indicated at all. The sexual reading of the verse has created a special focus on male bodies which is difficult to understand.
Is the point that men aren?t to assume feminine roles?
God loves feminine men ? Joseph, Moses, David, and many biblical heroes often carry feminine references. ?Israel is to cultivate the virtues of submission, accommodation, reconciliation, and self-sacrifice ? the virtues we have now seen are classified as feminine ones,? says Jacob Neusner.
Later in the New Testament, Paul regularly describes himself and other Christians in female terms. Israel was God?s wife, after all, as Christians are to be the ?bride? of Christ. So imagining males in female terms wouldn?t seem problematic in Jewish spirituality.
Olyan tries out the idea that Leviticus 18:22 is prohibiting semen and excrement from mixing. Biblical law might contemplate in such terms. But then there?s the problem that anal sex with a woman is not prohibited.
Maybe anal with women was ?not part of the Israelite repertoire of sexual acts,? Olyan suggests. But anal sex with women is actually noted in the Bible. F. Rachel Magdalene points to Jeremiah 13:22: ?your buttocks suffer violence??
?The exact talmudic term for male-female anal intercourse is ?penetration not according to her way,?? notes Daniel Boyarin.
If anal sex with women isn?t prohibited . . . then the prohibition also would not concern sexual acts that are non-procreative.
Is it a problem, too, that the Old Testament can seem to encourage male closeness? In Ecclesiastes 4:11, those who sleeps separately are questioned: ?How can one keep warm alone??
This ?keeping warm? language is used of sexual scenes (i.e. 1 Kings 1:2).
June Kozak Kane, studying Leviticus 20:13, puzzles over the further problems there.
Looking at the precise Hebrew words in Leviticus 20:13, it is fascinating to note what we actually see and what is not there. What the text prohibits is a sexual relationship between a ?man? (ish in Hebrew) and a male (zachar in Hebrew), not between an ?ish? and another ?ish.?
Maybe the ish/zachar difference suggests pederasty? Just her guess.
In the extensive scholarly literature, there are many theories of the offense in view, and complex maps of scriptures are used to try to understand what it might be. Incest?
Jan Joosten finds that a stretch, but he thinks it?s maybe ?a prohibition of sexual intercourse between Israelite males when either or both of them are married.?
I find male anal adultery less than obvious. Idan Dershowitz points to a possible problem earlier in Leviticus 18. Several verses have a ban, then an explanatory phrase. But in verse 14, there?s a hiccup.
Do not uncover the nakedness of your father?s brother: do not approach his wife; she is your aunt.
You?re not supposed to have sex with your dad?s brother, but the explanatory phrase shifts the prohibition to the . . . aunt. Had it not done that, Dershowitz suggests, we?d understand the ban to be on male-male sex acts with one?s uncle?but other male-male acts are fine? He wonders if the text was edited somewhere along the way.
We might note that, without Leviticus 18:22, no biblical law bans or even addresses same-sex intimacy. It?s not like it?s in the Ten Commandments?though, growing up Evangelical, you might think it was all ten.
Getting into Levitical codes is a strange, winding activity.
The debates go on and on. Why are Egyptian customs the general context, as 18:3 says ?Do not follow their practices?? Gay stuff doesn?t seem to be noted as a concern in Egypt.
Susan Pigott thinks the context is cult religious practice of some kind. As she notes, ?the law forbidding sacrificing children to Molech appears immediately prior to the oft-prooftexted 18:22, usually understood to forbid homosexuality.?
She takes a dim view of Christian efforts to use it against gays.
Out of all the verses in Leviticus that could be singled out, people filled with hate have chosen two obscure verses and ignored their context. They don?t care about the fact that Leviticus 20 also forbids sleeping with your wife if she is menstruating, and if you curse your parents you should be put to death. They don?t care that Leviticus forbids wearing garments of mixed materials. They don?t care that Leviticus contains an entire dietary code that was obviously quite important. They don?t care about this book as God?s Word. They only care about perverting two verses.
Isn?t it interesting, that when Jesus quoted Leviticus, he quoted a verse about love (Lev. 19:18)? Maybe, if we?re going to pick one verse out of Leviticus to plaster on signs, that?s the one we should choose.
Does it matter what Leviticus 18:22 means? It does if you make a false accusation.
That?s a clear offense in Jewish law?for which the penalty is to be strictly enforced. A false accuser must be punished according to the crime which had been accused (cf. Exo 20:16; Deut 19:18?21).
If a false accusation is being made against gays?that signs you up for the penalty you?d imagined for them?