LEVITICUS 18:22 AND LEVITICUS 20:13
"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."
"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
Conservative Christians who know little to nothing of the First Testament, including the 10 commandments (only 1 in 10 can name them all), have somehow committed this verse to memory. I say "this verse" because most do not know that there are two versions of this passage any more than they know there are three versions of the ten commandments (Protestant, Catholic, and Hebrew appearing twice in the First Testament) and three creation stories.
Most conservative Christians I've come in contact with have little use for the First Testament: they use Isaiah to foretell the coming of Christ; Psalm 139 to condemn abortion (while conveniently omitting Psalm 137); Genesis to promote "intelligent design," the mythic story of creation formerly know as "creation science;" and selective passages of the law of Moses to condemn their victim du jour. Beyond that they believe that "Christ fulfilled the law," which explains why they have no problem flaunting the Levitical commands against eating at Red Lobster, shaving, or women wearing pants and men wearing pink or purple Ralph Lauren button-down oxfords, polo shirts, or two-tone pastel Belgian slippers with contrasting piping and tassels.
The easiest way to derail the use of "this verse" to condemn homosexuality is to ask its proponent to tell you what exactly is meant by the words "lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman." I've never met a Christian yet who didn't possess the native intelligence to know he'd be better off to "not go there." The truth is, however, that the black hole of meaning these two verses share cannot be filled with the dateless-bored-late-Saturday-night musings on hot male-on-male action. At best we have to say that we do not know exactly what is meant by "lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman," and decide that it is better not to judge the fate of those on whom we pin these vague and amorphous fantasies.
Technically it is physically impossible for a man to "lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman," if what is being imagined is copulation. This presumptuous is unsettling as the author of these verses saw fit to be more specific in his admonitions against beastiality and adultery. In these verses he used the more specific and unambiguous term translated as "copulation." Had he used this term in the "lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman" verses I would have to grant that, yes, what the conservative Christian imagines is, most likely, what the author meant.
If we are to take the Bible literally, however, we cannot do this. The author applied the Hebrew term shakab to the "thou shalt not lie with" sequence and mishkab to the "as with" woman sequence. Mishkab occurs 46 times in 44 verses, all in the books of Moses. Mishkab generally means "bed," as in Leviticus 15:4 when the scripture states if a man lies in a bed [mishkab] and a woman has bled on the sheets, he is unclean, or as in Numbers 31:17 where God commands that every woman who has been to "bed" [mishkab] with a man (and therefore might be carrying an "unborn baby") should be slain. Yada, yada, yada: all pretty self-explanatory.
Shakab occurs 213 times in 194 verses, so we have plenty of context from which to draw a closer definition of the term. I looked through each of these verses and found that in 101 instances shakab meant to go to bed, or to sleep, in the most innocuous sense. In 51 instances shakab means to "sleep with the fathers," not in any perverse Christian sex fantasy sense, but meaning that they died, as in the "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes" sense. In only one instance does shakab seem to refer to straight-forward vanilla marital sex: Leviticus 15:18, "When a man lies with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening." Taking into account the rights husbands had then, and wives didn't, it may not be that vanilla. Read on.
Shakab Means "Rape"
In 52 instances (virtually all of the sexual instances) the term shakab is used to describe a sexual encounter typified by deceit or force, in other words, some type of rape. Consider the following examples:
"Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie [shakab] with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father."
Lot's daughters rape their father, at least that's his story, and he's sticking to it.
"And Abimelech said, What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might lightly have lien [shakab] with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us."
Here Isaac tries to pass his wife, Rebekah, off as his sister. Rightly assuming that Rebekah would not have willingly had sex with any Philistine who offered, we can assume that among the Philistines it was considered a boys-will-be-boys type of issue to rape unmarried Jewish women. Even so the king, Abimelech, delivers an edict forbidding anyone to "molest" Isaac (again with the male rape thing), or his wife.
Previously, in Genesis 20, Abraham had practiced the same deceit with his wife, Sarah. Abimilech, thinking Sarah was Abraham's sister, kidnapped her, with the intention of raping her. He was forced by God to return her to Abraham, to whom he paid a fine.
Next, in Genesis 30, a conversation between two women,
"And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie [shakab] with thee to night for thy son's mandrakes."
In this verse Rachel is trading sex for drugs, letting her sister sleep with Jacob, her husband, in exchange for mandrakes.
"And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay [shakab] with her, and defiled her."
"That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie [shakab] with me, and I cried with a loud voice:"Genesis 39:14
In this story Joseph, living as a trusted slave in the house of Potifer, is sexually harassed by Potifer's wife. She's after him to have sex with her and he'll have none of it. One day he ends up alone with her and when he realizes this he rushes to get out of the house only escaping by shedding his coat which she has hold of. When Potifer comes home she cries rape, claiming as evidence the coat he "left behind." Joseph is sent to prison.
Insouciant little ewes flaunting that "come hither" look.
"Whosoever lieth [shakab] with a beast shall surely be put to death." Exodus 22:19
Assuming that no ewe is "asking for it" we can assume that "lie with" in this instance refers to nonconsensual sex, or rape, albeit of an animal.
"And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman, If no man have lain [shakab] with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness with another instead of thy husband, be thou free from this bitter water that causeth the curse:"
"...If no man have shakab with thee," is contrasted with her willingly having sex with a man not her husband. If it is suspected that a woman has been raped, or had an adulterous affair, she will be forced to drink the bitter water (made from holy water and the sweepings of the church floor), which, it was believed, would make her abort.
"Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay [shakab] with her."
2 Samuel 13:14
"Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished [shakab]."
"Neither left she her whoredoms brought from Egypt: for in her youth they lay [shakab] with her, and they bruised the breasts of her virginity, and poured their whoredom upon her."
When "she" was young they "lay with her and bruised the breast of her virginity." They made this woman into a whore by raping her.
In the United States it did not become illegal for a man to rape his wife until 1993, when marital rape became a crime in all 50 states. Even now, certain exemptions are provided to a husband in the rape of his wife. How much less likely is it that a man was allowed to force himself upon his wife in the time Leviticus was written? Except for shakab there isn't a word in the First Testament used to describe what we think of as rape today. Rape is viewed as a property crime—property is defiled. The perpetrator and the property may be destroyed. Another remedy was that the rapist had to marry his victim. This remedy doesn't consider the damage to the victim, only the reputation of "the property" and the family that owned it (her).
I argue that shekab in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 means that a man shall not force, or in any way coerce, another man to have sex, in the way that a man is allowed to force sex upon his wife. In other words, man is not allowed to rape a man, it is an abomination. The story of Sodom supports this interpretation. Remember that the attempted rape of the "men" in Lot's house is seen as a horrible crime, whereas the attempted rape of his daughters, or the rape of the concubine of Gibeah in Judges 19, passes without comment. Though the verses in Leviticus condemn the rape of a man, they say nothing about healthy, mutual, consensual relations between members of the same sex.
Without the mistranslations of the verses in Genesis and Leviticus the First Testament says nothing about what we today describe as "homosexuality." The First Testament does describe loving relationships between members of the same sex. The author seems to respect the privacy of the subjects of these stories by describing the loving relationships and not the blow-by-blow accounts of hot male-on-male action desired as proof by the lurid conservative Christian. Even "heterosexual" relationships are not described this way, sex being alluded to in terms of the marriage contract, the births of children, and various rapes.
In Deuteronomy 13:6 it is written,
"If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers…"
This verse lists a man's relations in order of closeness, descending to ascending: brother, son or daughter, wife, friend which is as thine own soul. This suggests that the man in this society maintains a relationship with another man that is closer than that of his wife, a relationship which is as close "as thine own soul."
This relationship is echoed in 1 Samuel 18:1,
"And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."
For the conservative Christian who can read "homosexual sex" into the key passages of Leviticus and NOT see the "homosexual" relationship in Deuteronomy and 1 Samuel, selective literalism has been elevated to a high art form. This art form, however, remains an art, and not a valid argument that the verses in Leviticus condemn homosexuality.
Near Salambo, Carthage. Urns hold the charred remains of children sacrificed to Molech.
The key verses in Leviticus 18 and 20 are flanked by unambiguous references to idolatry. The admonitions are set in contrast to religious ritual supposedly practiced by pagan devotees in the surrounding area.
"And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones. And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name. And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not: Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people. And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people."
And at the end,
"Ye shall therefore keep all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: that the land, whither I bring you to dwell therein, spue you not out. And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people. Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine. A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them."
(Apologies to those bored by reading the context of key verses calling for the death of another human being.)
Thus all the intervening "thou shalt nots" are contextualized by the extended and detailed admonitions of God to be separate and not worship regional idols. The "thou shalt nots" can basically be condensed to prohibit having sex with "anything that moves," as do those "other people." Whether these "other people" actually had sex with animals, or engaged in other such forbidden activities, is no more substantiated than is the Vatican's claim that the sexual abuse of children by priests is the fault of homosexuals.
Occasionally someone will try to prove the Bible condemns homosexuality by relying on "traditional" interpretations of Hebrew scriptures by conservative Jews. The Christian "Old Testament" is not the same thing as the Hebrew scriptures. Christians do not rely on Jews to interpret their scriptures—otherwise Christians would have to accept the across-the-board, rather than just traditional, Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah. We cannot treat the Hebrew scriptures like a salad bar any more than we can the Christian scriptures