I have followed with considerable interest the recent debate on
the meaning of arsenokoites and Paul's comments in I Cor. 6:9. I
hesitated to respond to this, as I am primarily a scholar of the Hebrew
Bible, rather than of the New Testament. Recently, however, the
discussion has turned to Lev. 18:22. Although participants began with
the LXX, they have not hesitated to quote the Hebrew text, and I feel
compelled to offer several comments on some of the recent contributions.
1. Whatever the LXX means by "KAI META ARSENOS OU KOIMHQHSH KOITHN
GUNAIKOS," the Hebrew text is rather less ambiguous. The Hebrew text,
"we-et-zakar lo' tishkav mishkevey 'ishshah," means simply, "And with a
male, you shall not lie down as with a woman." The verb shakav is used
idiomatically for sexual relations, and in the context of Lev 18 it could
hardly mean anything else. The only possible ambiguity here is the
meaning of 'ishshah, which can be read either as "woman" or "wife."
Previous contributors are correct in pointing out that many translations
supply pronouns with 'ishshah where it seems appropriate to the
translator. Thus, this word could be interpreted as "a woman," "a wife"
or "your wife." Since the verb in this verse is masculine singular,
there are three possible interpretations of this prohibition:
a. A man is forbidden to engage in sexual relations with a male as
he might with a woman.
b. A man is forbidden to engage in sexual relations with a male as
with *a* wife (possibly one of a polygamist's several wives).
c. A man is forbidden to engage in sexual relations with a male as
with his wife.
In any case, there is a distinction of the licit with the illicit.
In this generalization, a contrast is drawn between relations between a
man and a woman/a wife/his wife, on the one hand, and relations between a
man and a male, on the other. Whatever is licit in the former
relationship is illicit in the latter. The details of this commandment
are not specified, but it would seem from a plain reading of the text
that whatever sexual relations are permitted between a man and a woman/a
wife/his wife are forbidden between a man and a male. The burden of
proof is upon anyone who suggests this is not a blanket condemnation of
sexual relations between men, and that it only applies to *some* types
of homosexual relations, for example, male prostitution, for which one
might offer payment. My (admittedly cursory) reading of Boswell
does not lead me to believe that he has offered proof on this point.
2. The context of Lev. 18 tends to confirm the reading I have
suggested. This chapter forbids several different types of illicit
sexual relations. In all cases, the prohibitions seem unequivocal. One
may consider, e.g., the very next verse, Lev. 18:23, which begins,
"ubekol-behemah lo' titen shekavteka letam'ah bah . . ." (And with any
beast, you shall not give/make your lying down for uncleanness with it .
. .) I am unaware of anyone who would suggest that this refers to only
*some* types of bestial sexuality, for example those relations for which
one might offer payment. But if this latter example is a blanket
condemnation (of bestial sexuality) why should the former not be
understood as a blanket condemnation (of homosexual practice)?
3. It has been suggested by contributors that the modern reading of
such passages as Lev. 18:22 is culturally conditioned to the extent that
twentieth century European and American readers have eisegetically
imposed their own prejudice on the text, and have read into it a broad
condemnation of homosexual practice which was not in the mind of the
original writer and readers. Such a remark ignores the indigenous
interpretive tradition. From rather remote antiquity Jewish scholars
have offered their own understandings of such verses. These
interpretations, found, inter alia, in the Mishnah and Talmud are
certainly untainted by modern misconceptions, and are provided for us by
people who spoke Hebrew as a native language, and presumably understood
it better than most of us do today. It is clear from these documents
that indigenous interpreters understood Lev. 18:22 to condemn all acts of
sexual intercourse between males. Passages such as Sanhedrin 54a cite
Lev. 22 to prove that anal intecourse with a male is punished by
stoning. Sanhedrin 54b debates the age at which a child becomes legally
responsible (and thus liable to punishment) for a passive role in anal
intercourse. Yebamoth 83b specifies that the prohibition against sexual
intercourse between males applies also to hermaphrodites.
There are thus three factors which confirm the understanding that
Lev 18:22 forbids homosexual relations (and not merely homosexual
prostitution): the plain reading of the text itself (in the original
language); the context of the verse; and the indigenous interpretive
tradition. In view of this, the burden of proof still lies with anyone
who suggests a different interpretation.
I would like to suggest that the intellectually repectable course
for those who do not agree with this prohibition is for them to simply
say that they disagree with Leviticus. This is permissible (whether
others like it or not.) History is replete with those who have objected
to some parts of Leviticus (the Apostle Paul comes to mind). There may
be some who will insist that Leviticus is right, but no one can deny your
liberty to say otherwise. In any case, to disagree frankly with what is
said is certainly more responsible, and more productive of intelligent
discussion, than the attempt to re-write Leviticus to correspond to
Again, I offer my apologies to those who did not expect to see so
much Hebrew in a conference dedicated to Biblical Greek. My only defense
is that others in this conference have already raised the issue of the
Hebrew text of Leviticus.
Donn W. Leatherman