Lev. 18:22

	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.

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 
current opinion.

	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
Southern College