Leviticus 18

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Leviticus 18
Book of Exodus Chapter 28-2 (Bible Illustrations by Sweet Media).jpg
"Tabernacle", Biblical illustrations, Sweet Media, 1984
BookBook of Leviticus
Hebrew Bible partTorah
Order in the Hebrew part3
Christian Bible partOld Testament
Order in the Christian part3

Leviticus 18 (the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Leviticus) deals with a number of sexual activities considered abominable, including incest, bestiality and "lying with a man as with a woman." (verse 22). It is part of the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17–26) and its sexual prohibitions are largely paralleled by Leviticus 20, except that chapter has more emphasis on punishment.


The original text of Leviticus 18, like that of most of the Hebrew Bible, is written in Hebrew. The oldest extant versions of the text in Hebrew are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Masoretic Text. An ancient Greek translation from the third century BCE, the Septuagint, also exists. Since the addition of chapter divisions in the thirteenth century CE, this chapter is divided into 30 verses.

The chapter begins with God speaking to Moses (verse 1) and giving him a message for the Israelites (2), warning them to keep God's laws rather than Canaanite or Egyptian practices (3–5). Then God is quoted as listing people with whom sex is forbidden due to family relationships (6–19). In verse 20, God prohibits sexual relations with a neighbor's wife, and in verse 21 God prohibits passing one's children through fire to Moloch. Verse 22 is the famous verse about "lying with a man," discussed below, while in verse 23 God forbids bestiality. In the final verses (24–30) God warns that breaking these laws will produce defilement and that the Canaanites are about to be displaced from the land of Canaan as a result of following these practices, and warn of a similar fate for the Israelites if they fall into these practices.


The Bible lists several types of relationship which it regards as incestuous unions; one list appears in the Deuteronomic Code, and two lists occur in the Holiness Code of Leviticus. These lists only mention relationships with female relatives; excluding lesbianism, which implies that the list is addressed to men. These lists then compare as follows:

  Forbidden for men only
  Forbidden for women only
  Forbidden for both men and women
Leviticus 18 Leviticus 20 Deuteronomy
Grandparent's spouse (including other grandparent)
Parent's spouse Parent
Uncle/Aunt Parent's sibling
Uncle's/Aunt's Spouse Father's sibling's spouse
Mother's sibling's spouse
Parent's child Half-Sibling (mother's side)
Father's child Sibling
Half-Sibling (father's side)
Brother's wife Permitted if
the brother died
childless (Levirate
Step sibling
Sibling-in-law (if the spouse was still alive)
Nephew/Niece Sibling's child
Nephew/Niece-in-law Spouse's Brother's Child
Spouse's Sister's Child
Spouse's child Child
Spouse's grandchild (including grandchild)

One feature of all the lists is that sexual activity between a man and his daughter is not explicitly forbidden. The Talmud argues that this is because the prohibition was obvious, especially given the proscription against a relationship with a granddaughter.[2] The shortness of the list in Leviticus 20, and especially of that in Deuteronomy, is explained by classical Jewish scholarship as being due to the obviousness of the missing prohibitions.[3][4] The explicit prohibition against engaging in sexual activity with "both a woman and her daughter",[5] implicitly forbids sexual activity between a man and his daughter. Some biblical scholars have instead proposed that it was originally in the list but was then accidentally left out from the copy on which modern versions of the text ultimately depend, due to a mistake by the scribe.[6]

Apart from the questionable case of a man marrying his daughter, the list in Leviticus 18 roughly produces the same rules as were followed in early pre-Islamic Arabic culture.[3] However, most tribal nations also disliked exogamous marriage—marriage to completely unrelated people.[3] In several prominent cases in the Torah, the incest rules are ignored in favour of marriage to a close relative; Jacob is described as having married his first wife's sister,[7][8][9] and Abraham as having a father in common with Sarah[10] (rather than a mother, which would have been permitted by the list). These are not seen as illegal marriages as the incest laws were not given until Moses.


Leviticus 18:22 in the Hebrew Bible:

וְאֶ֨ת־זָכָ֔ר לֹ֥א תִשְׁכַּ֖ב מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אִשָּׁ֑ה תּֽוֹעֵבָ֖ה הִֽוא:[11]

Leviticus 18:22 word-by-word text analysis:[12]

Hebrew Transliteration English
וְאֶ֨ת־ wə-ʾɛṯ- And with
זָכָ֔ר zå̄ḵå̄r, a male
לֹ֥א not
תִשְׁכַּ֖ב ṯiš-kaḇ‎ You shall lie
מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י miš-kə-ḇē‎ as with/on a bed of
אִשָּׁ֑ה ʾiš-šå̄h; a woman
תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה tō-ʿē-ḇå̄h [is] an abomination
הִֽוא׃ it

Note: The word מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י‎ (miš-kə-ḇē‎), in this exact form, appears only three times in the Bible – twice in Leviticus and once in Genesis.[13] Its translation in Leviticus is "as with," while the same word is translated as "bed" in Genesis 49:4.[14] The word comes from the root שכב‎, which has to do with lying/sleeping.[15] However, it is unclear whether this conjugation should be interpreted as מִ + שָׁכַבֵ֣י‎ (as + the act of lying with) or מִשְׁכָּב + י‎ (bed + possessive). Therefore, מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אִשָּׁ֑ה‎ can mean either "as with a woman" or "on a bed of a woman."[16]

Leviticus 18:22 has been translated in common English versions as:

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."[17] King James Version

"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."[18] Revised Standard Version and English Standard Version

"It is disgusting for a man to have sex with another man."[19] Contemporary English Version

The Hebrew wording of Leviticus 18:22 has been generally interpreted as prohibiting some or all homosexual acts, although which precise acts, and in which situations, is a matter of ongoing scholarly debate.[20] Some authors[21] state that verse 22 condemns "homosexuality" or "homosexual relations" and other authors maintaining that it condemns only males penetrating males (anal intercourse).[22][23] Others believe due to study of the language used in the original Hebrew, that the restriction is only relevant in specific situations.[24][22][25][26][27][28][29]

Lesbianism is not explicitly prohibited in the Torah; however, the rabbi and Jewish scholar Maimonides ruled in the twelfth century that lesbianism was prohibited nonetheless and deserving of punishment by beating.[30]

Weekly Torah portion[edit]


  1. ^ Interpreter's Bible. 2. Abingdon Press. 1953. pp. 93 & 103 – via Internet Archive. 16. There is curiously no reference here to the so-called Levirate marriage, at one time practiced in Israel, whereby, if a man died childless, his brother would take his wife in order to raise up descendants for him. (Deut. 25:5-10).{...}21. So-called Levirate marriage is presumably excepted (see Deut. 25:5 ff.).
  2. ^ Yebamot 3a
  3. ^ a b c Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. Incest
  4. ^ Samuel ben Meir, Commentary, ad loc.
  5. ^ Leviticus 18:17
  6. ^ Cheyne and Black, Encyclopaedia Biblica, Marriage : choice of bride
  7. ^ Genesis 29:16
  8. ^ Genesis 29:23
  9. ^ Genesis 29:28
  10. ^ Genesis 20:12
  11. ^ "Leviticus 18:22". www.sefaria.org. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  12. ^ "Leviticus 18:22 Hebrew Text Analysis". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  13. ^ "Hebrew Concordance: miš·kə·ḇê -- 3 Occurrences". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  14. ^ "Genesis 49:4 Hebrew Text Analysis". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  15. ^ "Strong's Hebrew: 7901. שָׁכַב (shakab) -- to lie down". biblehub.com. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  16. ^ "The Bible and Homosexuality". www.bibleodyssey.org. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  17. ^ "Leviticus 18:22 KJV - Bible Gateway". www.biblegateway.com.
  18. ^ "Leviticus 18:22 RSV;ESV - Bible Gateway". www.biblegateway.com.
  19. ^ "Leviticus 18:22 CEV - Bible Gateway". www.biblegateway.com.
  20. ^ For an overview of some of the scholarly views on the question, see Walsh, Jerome T. "Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who Is Doing What to Whom?" Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 120, no. 2, 2001, pp. 201–209. JSTOR 3268292.
  21. ^ Greenberg 1988:191, Wenham 1979:259, Kahn 1984:49
  22. ^ a b "Translations and interpretations of Leviticus 18:22; all views". www.religioustolerance.org. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  23. ^ Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 54a and b; Josephus, Against Apion 2.199; and Philo, Abraham 135. Some modern authors stating this view include Alter 2004:623, 632; Boyarin 1995:339, 343; Brooten 1996:61; Cohen 1990:6; Daube 1986:447; Milgrom 2000:1568; Olyan 1994:185; Thurston 1990:16; and Walsh 2001:208.
  24. ^ "In Hebrew, does Leviticus 18:22 really say "while with" a woman?". www.gaychristian101.com. Retrieved 2019-06-18.
  25. ^ "(Re)Reading Leviticus 18:22". Velveteen Rabbi. 17 May 2004.
  26. ^ Ian Paul (21 January 2015). "The Grammar of Leviticus 18.22". Psephizo.
  27. ^ "Leviticus 18:22/20:13 in Context: The Prohibition of Using Sex to Humiliate". Sojourn. 12 May 2016.
  28. ^ Willie E. Honeycutt (May 2012). "The Meaning and Continuing Relevance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13". Liberty University.
  29. ^ "Leviticus 18:22/20:13 in Context: The Prohibition of Using Sex to Humiliate — SOJOURN". 2016-08-29. Archived from the original on 2016-08-29. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  30. ^ "Homosexuality and Halakhah (Jewish Law)". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2017-03-02.
  31. ^ Parashah calendar


  • Alter, Robert, The five books of Moses: a translation with commentary, 2004
  • Boyarin, Daniel, "Are there any Jews in ‘The History of Sexuality’?", Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol 5 no 3 (1995)
  • Brooten, Bernadette, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, 1996
  • Cohen, Martin, "The Biblical Prohibition of Homosexual Intercourse," Journal of Homosexuality, Vol 19(4) (1990)
  • Daube, David, "The Old Testament Prohibitions of Homosexuality." Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung fur Rechtsgeschichte Romantische Abteilung 103 (1986)
  • Gagnon, Robert, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, 2001
  • Greenberg, David, The Construction of Homosexuality,1988
  • Kahn, Yoel, "Judaism and Homosexuality: The Traditionalist/ Progressive Debate," Homosexuality and Religion, ed Richard Hasbany 1984
  • Milgrom, Jacob, Leviticus 17–22, 2000
  • Olyan, Saul, "And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying Down of a Woman": On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13", Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol 5, no 2, (1994)
  • Thurston, Thomas, "Leviticus 18:22 and the Prohibition of Homosexual Acts," in Homophobia and the Judeo-Christian Tradition, ed. by Michael L. Stemmeler & J. Michael Clark, 1990
  • Walsh, Jerome, "Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: Who Is Doing What To Whom?" Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol 120, No 2, (2001) Also available here.
  • Wenham, Gordon, The Book of Leviticus, 1979
  • Wold, Donald, Out of Order: Homosexuality in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, 1998
  • Hebrew phrasing for Lev 18.
  • The Great Books, for NRSV text.
  • Blue Letter Bible's Bible Lookup Tools were used to derive passage citations.
  • Robert Jamieson's Commentary on Lev 18. (19th Century) (conservative).[citation needed]
  • Pharsea's treatment of Leviticus 18:22. (balanced)[citation needed]
  • ReligiousTolerance.org's treatment of Leviticus 18:22. (liberal)[citation needed]
  • Olyan, Saul M. (1994). ""And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying down of a Woman": On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 5 (2): 179–206. ISSN 1043-4070. JSTOR 3704197. PMID 11639358.

Further reading[edit]