Leviticus 18: What Was The Abomination?

[I shared some of the following in an earlier post.  However, since readers have expressed interest in this particular passage, it is now expanded and reposted with a more easily identifiable title.]

In light of all the commotion over homosexuality, one would think the Bible has a lot to say on the subject.  It does not.  There are only five or six verses in the entire Bible that have been interpreted as addressing or condemning homosexuality.  These verses, often referred to as the “clobber passages”, because they are frequently used to clobber or censure gay men and women today, are verses taken out of their contexts to proof-text the Bible’s alleged anti-homosexual stance.  One of them is Leviticus 18:22:

“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is  an abomination.”

The passage is repeated in Leviticus 20:13

“If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

STARTING POINT

I am continually reminded that one never arrives at truth by asking of the Bible, “What does it mean?”  The reason is that’s the wrong starting point. You’re really asking, what does it mean to us today, individually?”  And that’s why we end up with thousands of different answers.  Exegesis always asks, “What DID it mean?”  There’s a vast difference in those questions as a starting points.  Unless we have some idea of what the text meant THEN, we’re left to only guess at what it might mean for us NOW.

Exegesis requires that if we wish to interpret the Bible responsibly, we must seek to draw out FROM the text what it originally meant to the author and to the original intended audience, without reading INTO it the many traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it.   The reader today must somehow try to enter the world of the biblical writer and seek to understand what the writer was saying.  In contrast to this, what far too many do instead is what some theologians refer to as “frontloading”, that is to say, they read their own personal, political and prejudicial beliefs back into the Bible, instead of reading out from the Bible what the original writers were saying.  This process of reading one’s own ideas into interpretation of the Bible is called “eisegesis”.   Exegesis and eisegesis are conflicting approaches to interpreting the Bible.  Exegesis is about reading out from the Bible what the original writers were saying.  Eisegesis is about reading one’s own ideas or prejudices back into the Bible.  But exegesis does not allow us to tear a passage from its context to replace it in another age for convenience.

ARCHEOLOGY CAN HELP

As a result of the many archeological discoveries of the 20th century, our ability to do sound exegesis has increased exponentially.  In fact, today we know more about the Bible than any previous time in history, including even in later biblical times.  Case in point: Up until the early 20th century, we knew little about the Canaanites.   We knew little about their religion, their culture or their way of life.  For the most part, our only witness to the Canaanites was the texts of the Old Testament.  But in 1929, all of that that changed substantially with the discovery of what is called the “Ras Shamra” texts.  (Ras Shamra is a place on the northern coast of Syria, where the remains of the ancient Canaanite city of Ugarit have been unearthed.)  From 1929 to the present, literally thousands of texts and materials have been found.  The real treasure was not the buildings or jewelry, but large quantities of writings showing how ancient Canaanite city-life worked and revealing a wealth of information that has been invaluable in our understanding of Canaanite religion and culture.  The discovery of these texts is considered by many second only to the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls and they’ve had a profound effect on biblical studies.  How do these discoveries help us to interpret the biblical texts?

PAGANISM AND IDOLATRY

One of the most prominent and pervasive themes weaving its way through virtually every book of the Bible is that of paganism and the constant call to turn from it.  We find a continuous call to turn from the worshiping of the false or pagan gods of the day and to turn instead to the one true living God, Yahweh.  In connection with the call to turn from worshiping pagan gods is the admonition to turn from participating in a myriad of pagan rituals or practices.  Both the Old and New Testaments spend page after page condemning these pagan cult practices.  But most of us have no idea what these practices were.  They’re now extinct and therefore totally foreign to our contemporary thinking.  As a result, statements like those found, for example, in Leviticus 18:22, may appear clear on the surface, but their application and context are not.

Chapter 17 through 26 of Leviticus is referred to as “The Holiness Code”.  It is designed to provide a standard of behavior and way of living that will distinguish the Israelites from the Canaanites whose land they have now been given by God.  It is for this reason that Leviticus chapter 18 begins with a strict caution to avoid retaining the idolatries of Egypt (from where the Israelites had come), and of receiving the idolatries of Canaan (to where they were now going). This statement, according to the Matthew Henry Commentary, sums up the whole chapter of Leviticus 18.

But what were these idolatries of Egypt and Canaan that the Isarelites were to avoid retaining?  What strange practices or rituals did they include?  Well, for starters we discover in the Old Testament that the Canaanites burned their children alive in honor to their pagan gods, they practiced snake worship, they performed sexual intercourse with animals, and a host of other gross and detestable practices.

FERTILITY CULT PROSTITUTION

Why did they do such bizarre things?  What was the motivation behind them?  FERTILITY!   Fertility was highly prized in Ancient times in ways that are completely foreign to our modern thinking. Fact is in many ways their lives literally depended on it.  As a result of the great value placed on fertility, Canaanite religion was replete with practices believed to appease the fertility gods of the day and thereby win them the blessing of fertility: fertility of the land in the form of rains to ensure and boost crop production, fertility in the way of life through pregnancy and birth, fertility for the reproduction of their livestock, and so on.  Israel’s survival hinged on fertility and Baal was a god of fertility.  This meant that Baal was the power behind the rain and the dew.  And with rainfall levels unreliable, famine was always a real possibility.

As Bible commentaries reveal, Canaanite culture also depended on pagan cult prostitution as a way of promoting fertility.  Says the IVP Bible Background Commentary:

“The Canaanite culture utilized cult prostitution as a way of promoting fertility.  Devotees … would visit the shrine and use the services of the [male and female] cult prostitutes prior to planting their fields or during other important seasons … In this way they gave honor to the gods … in an attempt to ensure fertility and prosperity for their fields and herds.”

In the New International Biblical Commentary: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, to cite another example, authors Harris, Brown and Moore, state the following:

“… in order to ensure fertility of people, animals and crops, a person would engage in sexual intercourse with a cult prostitute, male or female, at the local Baal shrine. The purpose was to inspire [the Canaanite god] Baal to act likewise on the person’s behalf and thus to ensure fertility in all areas of life.”

THE TEXT

As you can hopefully begin to see, sometimes we encounter things in the Bible that require some background and clarification in order to understand the text.  If you read your Bible long enough and attentively enough, questions are going to arise that notes on the bottom of the page don’t satisfy.  But now equipped with a bit of background on the text, let’s go back look at the Leviticus passage again, but this time in context:

Leviticus 18:21-23

21  Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
22  Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.
23 Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.

If we look at the passage in context, considering both what comes immediately before and after the passage, we notice the prohibition here in Leviticus 18:22, against engaging in sex with a cult prostitute, is sandwiched right between two other forbidden pagan cult rituals: one in verse 21 against child sacrifice to the Canaanite god Molech, and another in verse 23 against women having sexual relations with animals.  Both rituals as illustrated were practiced by the Canaanites and Egyptians in their fertility worship.  Why did women have sex with animals?  This too was believed to increase their fertility.  In the New Bible Commentary, scholar Christopher Wright says the following with reference to Leviticus 18:

“Genital-anal intercourse between men, and both male and female intercourse with animals, are all known to have been part of pagan worship in Egypt, Canaan and elsewhere.”

So if we refrain from ripping the passage from its context and instead read the passage in context, we begin to see that the Holiness Code of Leviticus prohibits these acts for RELIGIOUS reasons, not MORAL ones.  The concern is to keep Israel distinct from their idolatrous neighbors.   God’s covenant with his people required that the Israelites serve no other god but Yahweh.  If Israel is thought to be bound to God in an exclusive covenant relationship, then Israel can be said to commit adultery (or “play the harlot”) whenever they look to powers other than Yahweh for sustenance, comfort or protection.  “Playing the harlot”, as the English translations tend to put it, became a common idiom for the Israelites worshipping of other gods.   Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, we find time and again that Israel frequented places of idol worship.   “On every high hill and under every green tree you sprawled and played the harlot,” says God through the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 2:20).   Over and over, we see that the Israelites did not only borrow from the Canaanite pagan ways of worshipping idols and false pagan gods, but constantly relapsed into them.

If we don’t catch the fact that male-to-male pagan rite prostitution was a common practice in Bible times for the purpose of promoting and ensuring fertility, we will completely miss the point of the biblical condemnation and misconstrue verses like Leviticus 18:22 to forbid any and all same-sex behavior.  As F.F. Bruce, biblical scholar and one of the founders of the modern evangelical understanding of the Bible, aptly put it:

“It is not enough to say, ‘the Bible says’ without at the same time considering to whom the Bible says it, and in what circumstances.”

ABOMINATION

As to the claim that homosexuality is an abomination it should be noted that the term “abomination” is abominably misunderstood.   The Hebrew word “toevah” (translated in the English as “abomination”) functions in a very precise way in priestly literature.  It generally, if not always, means a practice that is unacceptable because it is one of the cult practices of the pagan religions surrounding God’s people. The thing may be innocuous in itself, but in order for Israel’s faithful to be safeguarded, even otherwise innocent practices were forbidden.   It may also be something that is intrinsically evil.  But the key is that it is part and parcel of the cult practice of the pagan religions.  Remember that the next time someone tells you that this or that is an abomination to God.  An “abomination” (toevah) is a pagan cult practice often utilized to seek fertility.

Clearly, a simple blog post does not afford a thorough discussion of this or the few other passages that have been interpreted as addressing or condemning homosexuality.  But I hope I’ve offered enough to chew on.  As G.K. Chesterton fittingly said, “The purpose of an open mind is the same as that of an open mouth, to close it again on something solid.”

See also the following related posts on this blog:

Exegesis: Not for the Faint in Heart
Romans 1: What Was Paul Ranting About?
Romans 2: Paul’s Bait and Switch
Why No One in the Biblical World Had a Word for Homosexuality

Refer to the “Archives” page for other posts.

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About Alex Haiken

Born to a Jewish family in New York City, I came to faith in Christ in 1982 after trying to disprove the Bible. I found so much evidence in support of the claims of Jesus and the Bible that it required more faith to reject it than to believe it. I hold a Master’s degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and among other things am a lecturer, teacher, blogger and conference speaker. I came out as gay at a young age but was taught when I came to faith that I could not be both Christian and gay. I served for a time as a leader of an ex-gay ministry but shifted my views after recognizing that when the few passages generally appealed to in this debate are examined more closely and in context, the traditional anti-gay interpretations do not hold up to scrutiny. I learned that the ex-gay route is a scripturally unsound mirage, a specious illusion that deceitfully draws people not to a life-giving oasis but to a deeper and deeper spiritual desert. Seeing the immense need for education in this area, I began to speak and write about my experience and new-found convictions. I am also passionate about helping the Church better understand her rich Jewish roots; helping other Jewish people understand Jesus as their Jewish Messiah; and helping other gay people integrate a theologically sound, committed Christian faith with their sexuality. It is my hope that the reflections in this blog will prompt you to explore the paths they suggest, leading to your own more eloquent thinking, exploration and action. If you want, visit the “Contact” page and let me know what you think.
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21 Responses to Leviticus 18: What Was The Abomination?

  1. If Leviticus 18:22 forbids sexual intercourse between a male as with a woman only because of its association with idolatry viz. pagan fertility cult ritual, then it would logically follow that Leviticus 18:23 sexual practices with an animal, and Leviticus 18:21 infant child sacrifice are also forbidden only because of their association with pagan idolatry.

    Could you show how infant child sacrifice (18:21) and intercourse with animal (18:23) are morally binding today despite their association with idolatry, while sexual practices between a male as with a woman(18:22) is not?

  2. Alex Haiken says:

    Your argument is not a sound one. In the Leviticus passage’s context these acts are prohibited because of their association with pagan idolatry. Hence Leviticus chapter 18 begins with a strict caution to avoid retaining the idolatries of Egypt (from where the Israelites had come) and of receiving the idolatries of Canaan (to where they were now going). According to the Matthew Henry Commentary, this strict caution to avoid these idolatries “sums up the whole chapter of Leviticus 18.”

    All of the prohibitions in Leviticus are bad because of what they represented at that time. Some are bad in and of themselves, such as sacrificing children to fire, forcing yourself on animals, forcing yourself on another man’s wife, etc. For example, the illegitimate taking of a human life (child sacrifice/Lev 18:21) and the sexual abuse of an animal (bestiality/Lev 18:23) are indisputably exploitive and abusive under ANY context or circumstance, while the same does not hold true for what we know of today as “homosexuality”, which often encompasses a committed, faithful and loving monogamous partnership or marriage.

    Remember, as you and I have already discussed, the purpose of exegesis is not to reduce the biblical passages to ordinary text, but to determine the true, objective meaning of each passage, quite apart from the various traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it. That means we must try to avoid reading into the text our own opinions and prejudices (i.e., eisegesis).

    Jesus also provided a very important hermeneutic tool to help his followers negotiate their way through moral debates about OT law. He identified one Levitical command as the key to understanding the rationale behind all the others. Quoting Lev 19:18, He said: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This suggests that when trying to determine why an OT law was given and what its relevance is to a modern Christian, two vital questions must be asked: (1) What HARM to neighbor was this command intended to PREVENT? And (2) what GOOD to neighbor was this command intended to PROMOTE? And though Lev 19:18 was not all that popular in the days of the OT, it is the verse from the Torah, or first five books of the Bible, that is the most frequently cited in the NT. It’s a summary and a fulfilling of the Law that was repeatedly referred to by Jesus, Paul and James.

    Hope this helps.

  3. Alex,

    Your premise is wrong; “So if we refrain from ripping the passage from its context and instead read the passage in context, we begin to see that the Holiness Code of Leviticus prohibits these acts for RELIGIOUS reasons, not MORAL ones. The concern is to keep Israel distinct from their idolatrous neighbors. God’s covenant with his people required that the Israelites serve no other god but Yahweh.”

    The concern of the “Holiness code of Leviticus” as are ALL things in creation is the GLORY of GOD. The concern was NOT just to keep Israel distinct from their idolatrous neighbors (especially as they were commanded to make the vast majority of their idolatrous neighbors extinct). The concern was that their behavior would GLORIFY the true and living GOD, YAHWEH.

    Hence these abominable practices including and highlighting homosexuality detract and pervert the GLORY that all of HIS creation and its practices are supposed to render unto HIM. Be they religious or moral.

    True and Faithful Biblical exegesis begins and ends not with the historical background (as important as that is); it begins and ends with the glory of God. It is not enough to say, “it is not enough to say, ‘the Bible says’, without at the same time considering to whom the BIble says it; and under what circumstances” . . . without realize that it ALL must be read through the rubric of the GLORY of GOD!

    An Abomination is anything that contends against God’s glory and that includes a man lying with a man as a man lies with a woman. The primary purpose of sexual intercourse is to bring forth godly seed (which glorifies God) which homosexual intercourse simply is incapable of (does NOT glorify GOD).

  4. Alex Haiken says:

    Keith, while I fully agree that the concern in all things is the glory of God, this doesn’t give us permission to simply read the Bible in a vacuum and dismiss how fundamental God’s continual call to the Israelites to turn from worshipping the pagan Canaanite gods and from partaking in their cultic rituals is to understanding the text.

    This is not an isolated admonition found here in Leviticus only. Rather it’s one of the most pervasive themes running all through the Bible. This is why the Israelites were said to commit adultery (or “play the harlot”) whenever they looked to powers other than Yahweh for sustenance, comfort or protection. Playing the harlot, as the English translations tend to phrase it, became a common idiom for the Israelites’ worshipping of foreign gods, which we discover God took them to task for time and again.

    Often we encounter things in the Bible that require background and clarification in order to understand the text. Remember in their minds Baal was the force of the life-giving rain, the fructifying influence who brought life and fertility. All this was done in place of the worship of the One God who stood entirely outside of nature and made nature continue. That’s what made it idolatry. Miss this and you miss one of the most significant and recurring themes in the Bible.

    I submit the reason you miss it is because of your personal aversion to what we know of today as homosexuality. The end result is that you read your own personal and prejudicial beliefs back into the Bible (eisegesis), instead of reading out from the Bible what the original writers were saying (exegesis). I would suggest you read my posts on “Why No One in the Biblical World Had a Word for Homosexuality” and “Exegesis: Not for the Faint in Heart,” links to which may be found on the “Index” page.

    You also state “the primary purpose of sexual intercourse is to bring forth godly seed.” Your presupposition is that it is the only purpose. Virtually all churches reject the notion that God created sex for procreation only despite the fact that the first man and woman were commanded to be fruitful and multiply. An argument based on an inability to procreate is all the more problematic to defend given the vast number of marriages that never lead to having children. Some couples marry at ages when childbirth is no longer an option. Other couples are childless because of impotence, infertility, health restrictions or genetic concerns. Still others opt to not have children for a variety of reasons. The lack of children doesn’t invalidate these relationships nor does it devalue them.

    Undoubtedly, the male and female sex organs are designed to complement one another and are necessary to produce babies. But sexuality means much more than reproduction. This insight seems to be confirmed by the complementary account of creation provided in Genesis 2. We’re told that God was strangely sympathetic to the loneliness of Adam, observing that within the universe he had so conspicuously pronounced “good” there was, nevertheless, a significant omission: “It was not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). Significantly, this was declared by God in paradise before the fall and while man was still in unbroken fellowship/relationship with God. In the following verses, we’re given another account of the purpose of sexuality: not procreation this time, but companionship. In other words, a primary creation purpose of sex is inter-personal intimacy, not just procreation.

    Sex as a profound expression of love and mutuality is something most of us accept gratefully as a good part of God’s good world. It is a marvel, a mystery and a grace that babies can come from ecstasy, but the ecstasy does not require babies to justify it. We can readily extrapolate four values that the Apostle Paul thought constitute marriage. They are fidelity, mutuality, truthfulness, and permanence. Notably, nowhere in any of Paul’s letters do we find child production as a rationale for marriage.

  5. Crayola says:

    So, let me get this straight. You say that these prohibitions in Leviticus were referring solely to practices performed as part of the religious belief at that time, and those prohibitions no longer apply. Therefore, according to your logic, it is quite ok for me to burn my children or have sex with animals.

    See how shallow and ludicrous your argument is?

  6. Alex Haiken says:

    Crayola, I already responded to a similar inference above. Please see my reply to Keith Tolbert above. Remember that the purpose of exegesis is not to reduce the biblical passages to ordinary text, but to determine the true, objective meaning of each passage, quite apart from the various traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it. We don’t get to make things up as we go along and we don’t get to rip passages from their context and replace them in another age for the sake of convenience. Like it or not, we’re stuck with the internal interpretation of the text as the primary meaning.

  7. Hi Alex,

    You have done a wonderful job of explaining how to interpret the text, and giving much background information on the pagan practices of the time.

    Throughout the Bible, God is continually having to punish Israel for failing to follow Him and turning to false (pagan) gods and pagan practices. When you state that the admonitions given are to refute the practice of paganism, and separate Israel from the Canaanites, it would seem that this is only half of the story.

    I think you would agree that God has given us all free will. With this will comes responsibility. While all things may be permissible, they are not beneficial. Certainly, each of us has both the right, and the opportunity to act in which ever manner we wish, and God already knows what we will do before we do it.

    When the Bible says to not lay with a man as you would a woman, that seems pretty clear to me. While it is almost certain that this was addressed because of pagan customs, is that the only reason it was stated? As I read, it seems to me that God is saying: “You have seen, and participated in many different practices of the pagans. I am telling you that despite what you see this is not the plan I have for you. I have something better in mind. If you listen to what I tell you, and obey me, you will have a much better life.”

    Now I know these are not the direct words of God, but I think you would agree that God has a better plan than we could imagine. We are to follow Jesus, and God’s instructions to have the best life possible. Sure there will still be difficulties, and things we do not understand, but overall God’s plan is the best plan.

    I can lie, cheat on my wife, take a gay lover, and do whatever else I want to do. But is this what God wants me to do? From the text you cite here, and the Ten Commandments, I would have to conclude that God does not want me to do these things.

    Certainly homosexual relationships can be just as loving as heterosexual relationships, and probably run the entire gambit from loving to abusive just as heterosexual relationships. But I do not believe that the admonition against laying with a man is no longer relevant in our times. If God did not want it practiced before, He has most likely not changed His mind on the issue.

    Thank you for a great read and interesting discussion.

    God Bless,

    Greg

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Greg:

      I think your problem lies with your statement: “That seems pretty clear to ME.” We don’t begin by asking: “What DOES it mean [to me]?” That is the wrong starting point. You’re really asking, “What does it mean to us today, individually?” and that’s why we end up with hundreds of different answers that can be answered by anyone subjectively. If you have 25 people, you’ll end up with 25 different opinions, resulting in 25 different doctrines, every one of which may be wrong, even though they all sincerely and completely believe they are correct. Exegesis always asks: “What DID it mean?” Specifically, what did it mean to the author and to the original indented audience? There’s a vast difference in those questions as starting points. Our job is to somehow try to enter the world of the biblical writer and seek to understand what the writer was saying and what it meant at the time. If we fail to pay attention to the world in which the Bible was written, we will run amuck almost every time and our understanding will be misunderstanding. For more detail on this, see my post, “Exegesis: Not for the Faint in Heart.” A link may be found on the “Archives” page.

      -Alex

  8. Alex, thank you for the link here to your blog. You have been quite thorough in your interpretive attempt, but your conclusions are absurd. You claim that “Leviticus prohibits these acts for RELIGIOUS reasons, not MORAL ones”. Then you must conclude that there is also nothing wrong morally with bestiality or child sacrifice.

    You’re right that we should be wary about bringing our own predetermination to the text; unfortunately, it is clear that is exactly what you have done. You are not being honest with the text, and the results are bad exegesis and a wrong interpretation. Without delving too deeply into another subject, I’ll say simply this is the best reason for an interpretive authority.

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Chris, thanks for your comment but your presumption of what I’ve concluded is incorrect. As already stated, in the Leviticus passage’s context these acts are prohibited because of their association with pagan idolatry. Hence Leviticus 18 begins with a strict caution to avoid retaining the idolatries of Egypt (from where the Israelites had come) and of receiving the idolatries of Canaan (to where they were now going). According to the Matthew Henry Commentary, this strict caution to avoid these idolatries “sums up the whole chapter of Leviticus 18.”

      Moreover, while it is also true that the illegitimate taking of a human life (child sacrifice/Lev 18:21) and the sexual abuse of an animal (bestiality/Lev 18:23) are indisputably exploitive and abusive under ANY context or circumstance, the same does not hold true for what we know of today as “homosexuality” which often encompasses a committed, faithful and loving monogamous partnership or marriage.

      Remember the purpose of exegesis is not to reduce the biblical passages to ordinary text, but to determine the true, objective meaning of each passage, quite apart from the various traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it. That means we must try to avoid reading into the text our own opinions and prejudices (i.e., eisegesis).

      As the old time radio teacher, Dr. J. Vernon Magee, used to say, “A text without a context is a pretext.” The dictionary defines a pretext as, “An effort or strategy intended to conceal something.” In other words, unless you consider the context of Scripture — meaning the entire context including the historical setting — you are, purposely or not, engaging in a strategy to conceal the teachings of the Bible.

  9. thelyniezian says:

    And yes, there’s the word “to’ebah” which seems to mean the breaking of some ritual custom (i.e. a taboo)- yet from what I understand, the roots of the word can mean “abomination”- is that perhaps an accident of context?

  10. Alex Haiken says:

    Thelyniezian,

    The Hebrew word “toevah” which is commonly translated into the English as “abomination” functions in a very precise way in priestly literature. It always means a practice that is unacceptable because it is one of the cult practices of the pagan religions surrounding God’s people. The thing may be innocuous in itself, but in order for Israel’s faithful to be safeguarded, even otherwise innocent practices were forbidden. Or it may be something that is intrinsically evil. The key is that it is part and parcel of the cult practice of the pagan religions. Remember that the next time someone tells you that this or that is an abomination to God. Toevah = practices used specifically as part of the ritual and cultic acts of the pagan Canaanite religion, often to seek fertility. Sorry, but you and I do not get to make things up as we go along, and we’re stuck with the internal interpretation of the text as the primary meaning.

  11. Xander says:

    “It always means a practice that is unacceptable because it is one of the cult practices of the pagan religions surrounding God’s people. The thing may be innocuous in itself, but in order for Israel’s faithful to be safeguarded, even otherwise innocent practices were forbidden. Or it may be something that is intrinsically evil. The key is that it is part and parcel of the cult practice of the pagan religions.”

    Now you are just making up stuff Alex. The first use of the word is in Gen 43:32 and means neither of these thing. I will give your readers the opportunity to read for themselves.

    A. Noun.
    to`ebah (H8441), “abomination; loathsome, detestable thing.” Cognates of this word appear only in Phoenician and Targumic Aramaic. The word appears 117 times and in all periods.
    First, to`ebah defines something or someone as essentially unique in the sense of being “dangerous,” “sinister,” and “repulsive” to another individual. This meaning appears in Gen_43:32 (the first occurrence): “…The Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.” To the Egyptians, eating bread with foreigners was repulsive because of their cultural or social differences (cf. Gen_46:34; Psa_88:8). Another clear illustration of this essential clash of disposition appears in Pro_29:27 : “An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked.” When used with reference to God, this nuance of the word describes people, things, acts, relationships, and characteristics that are “detestable” to Him because they are contrary to His nature. Things related to death and idolatry are loathsome to God: “Thou shalt not eat any abominable thing” (Deu_14:3). People with habits loathsome to God are themselves detestable to Him: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deu_22:5). Directly opposed to to`ebah are such reactions as “delight” and “loveth” (Pro_15:8-9).
    Second, to`ebah is used in some contexts to describe pagan practices and objects: “The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire; thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God. Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house…” (Deu_7:25-26). In other contexts, to`ebah describes the repeated failures to observe divine regulations: “Because ye multiplied more than the nations that are round about you, and have not walked in my statutes, neither have kept my judgments, neither have done according to the judgments of the nations that are round about you;… because of all thine abominations” (Eze_5:7, Eze_5:9). To`ebah may represent the pagan cultic practices themselves, as in Deu_12:31, or the people who perpetrate such practices: “For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee” (Deu_18:12). If Israelites are guilty of such idolatry, however, their fate will be worse than exile: death by stoning (Deu_17:2-5).
    Third, to`ebah is used in the sphere of jurisprudence and of family or tribal relationships. Certain acts or characteristics are destructive of societal and familial harmony; both such things and the people who do them are described by to`ebah: “These six things doth the Lord hate; yea, seven are an abomination unto him:…a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations,…and he that soweth discord among brethren” (Pro_6:16-19). God says, “The scorner is an abomination to men” (Pro_24:9) because he spreads his bitterness among God’s people, disrupting unity and harmony.
    B. Verb.
    ta`ab (H8581), “to abhor, treat as abhorrent, cause to be an abomination, act abominably.” This verb occurs 21 times, and the first occurrence is in Deu_7:26 : “Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house….”

  12. Alex Haiken says:

    Xander,

    You and I have been around this block before. I stand by what I said. The Hebrew term “toevah” functions in a very precise way in priestly literature. It ALWAYS means a practice that is unacceptable because it is associated with one of the cult practices of the pagan religions surrounding God’s people.

    As for the Wisdom Literature (e.g. Proverbs), as you may know, it is part of the Royal Theology of Judah. The opening part of the book of Proverbs is clearly said to be a manual for the devout young man who believes in the Lord to learn how to act at the court, and thus advance himself, his family, and the Lord’s work. The ostensible collector of such wisdom is Solomon, though that is doubtless a cipher. Later we see that King Hezekiah had significant additions made to the book. In other words, the Wisdom Literature is comparatively late, and inherits much of the traditions of Yahwism without needing to go into elaborate theology. Hence it deals with the practical and everywhere assumes that the reader in not a FOOL, and does not need further elaborate instruction in the theology of the true faith. Hence, when you get a powerful term, already set in its meaning for many centuries, you find its use in Proverbs very interesting.

    Do you actually think such a theologically-laden buzzword could ever in later years be divorced from its primary meaning? In every one of these verses you mentioned and more, the wise young man knows that certain kinds of things are for the devout young man who believes in Yahweh, and listens to the instruction of the wise wisdom teachers. There are certain kinds of things that he should figure out are as if he were a pagan utterly mired in some bloodlust infant burning (one of the cult practices of the pagan religions). A wise Hebrew youth, ready to advance in wisdom, knows that arrogance before God is “toevah”. You might as well try to advance your cause by burning your firstborn alive. An arrogant demeanor, a character that typically lies, a murderer who sheds innocent blood to advance himself, someone who devises evil plans — again to advance himself — someone who lies in testimony for the same reason, these and many other things are accounted by God to the young man who has been trained in God’s will as toevah! He will be mown down by God’s wrath as surely as if he were the last survivor of the seven Canaanite nations.

  13. Xander says:

    According to your understanding of scripture and how toevah works, are you stating that incest was permissible as long as it was not a part of a cultic practice? I was curious as to your take on having sex with a female prostitute since it is not listed as one of the “cultic practices” that are an abomination to the Lord.

    My reference source was Vines for the Old Testament. Standard reference material for any student of Hebrew or Greek, but if you want to discount what it states then that is your business.

  14. Alex Haiken says:

    Xander,

    I’m surprised you would need to ask. But for the record: No, I’m not stating that incest was permissible as long as it was not a part of a cultic practice. Nor do I believe that child sacrifice (Lev 18:21) or bestiality (Lev 18:23), the two forbidden pagan cult rituals that appear immediately before and after Lev 18:22 — the verse from Leviticus you like to quote to espouse your antigay doctrine — are permissible so long as they’re not a part of a cultic practice.

    But in the Leviticus passage’s context these acts are indeed prohibited because of their association with pagan idolatry. It is for this very reason, as stated in the post, that Leviticus 18 begins with a strict caution to avoid retaining the idolatries of Egypt (from where the Israelites had come) and of receiving the idolatries of Canaan (to where they were now going). As the Matthew Henry Commentary avers, this strict caution to avoid these idolatries “sums up the whole chapter of Leviticus 18.”

    That said, it is also true that the illegitimate taking of a human life (child sacrifice/Lev 18:21) and the sexual abuse of an animal (bestiality/Lev 18:23) are indisputably exploitive and abusive under ANY context or circumstance, while the same does not hold true for what we know of today as “homosexuality”, which often encompasses a committed, faithful and loving monogamous partnership or marriage.

    Remember, as you and I have discussed ad nauseam, the purpose of exegesis is not to reduce the biblical passages to ordinary text, but to determine the true, objective meaning of each passage, quite apart from the various traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it. As always, this means that we’re stuck with the internal interpretation of the text as the primary meaning.

    Regarding your second comment, pagan cult prostitution involved both the male AND female priest-prostitutes of the Canaanite fertility cults. As cited in the main post above [“Leviticus 18: What Was the Abomination?”], these practices were performed to appease the fertility gods so their devotees would be granted the gift of fertility: fertility of the land in the form of rains to ensure and boost crop production, fertility in life through pregnancy and birth, fertility for the reproduction of their livestock, etc. Moreover, if Israel is thought to be bound to God in an exclusive covenant relationship, then Israel was said to commit adultery (or “play the harlot”) whenever they looked to powers other than Yahweh for sustenance, comfort or protection. “Playing the harlot”, as the English translations tend to phrase it, became a common idiom for the Israelites worshipping of other gods.

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  17. Alex Haiken says:

    Dear A,

    Excellent question! As you may know, the Wisdom Literature is part of the Royal Theology of Judah. The opening part of the book is clearly said to be a manual for the devout young man who believes in the Lord to learn how to act at the court, and thus advance himself, his family, and the Lord’s work. The ostensible collector of such wisdom is Solomon, though that is doubtless a cipher. Later we see that King Hezekiah had significant additions made to the book. In other words, the Wisdom Literature is comparatively late, and inherits much of the traditions of Yahwism without needing to go into elaborate theology; hence it deals with the practical and everywhere assumes that the reader in not a FOOL, and does not need further elaborate instruction in the theology of the true faith.

    Hence when you get a powerful term, like “toevah,” already set in its meaning for many centuries, you find its use in Proverbs very interesting. Do you think such a theologically-laden buzzword could ever, in later years, be divorced from its primary meaning? In each case in Proverbs, the wise young man knows that certain kinds of things are for the devout young man who believes in Yahweh, and listens to the instruction of the wise wisdom teachers, he should figure out are as if he were a pagan utterly mired in some bloodlust infant burning! A wise Hebrew youth, ready to advance in wisdom, knows that arrogance before God is “toevah”. You might as well try to advance your cause by burning your firstborn alive. An arrogant demeanor, a character that typically lies, a murderer who sheds innocent blood to advance himself, someone who devises evil plans — again to advance himself — someone who lies in testimony for the same reason, these and many other things are accounted by God to the young man who has been trained in God’s will as “toevah”! He will be mown down by God’s wrath as surely as if he were the last survivor of the seven Canaanite nations! And so forth. We don’t get the power of these texts until we apply the meaning of “toevah” to the situation being scrutinized. Go back and read the texts again. They constitute a real threat!

    As for “toevah” in the book of Ezekiel, see post titled, “Genesis 19: What the Bible Really Says Were the Sins of Sodom.”

  18. A says:

    Hey what does these verses mean in the use of toeveh

    Throughout the Old Testament the word Toevah is applied to murder (Jer. 7:9; Ezek. 22:6; Prov. 6:17), swearing falsely (Jer. 7:9; Ezek. 22:9, 12; Prov. 6:19), habitual lying (Prov. 6:16; 12:22; 26:25-28), oppressing or not aiding the poor, alien, widows, and orphans (Ezek. 16:47-52; 18:7, 12, 16; 22:7, 29), and appointing to official positions in the temple those who are not loyal to Yahweh (Ezek. 44:6-8),

  19. Alex Haiken says:

    Dear A,

    I believe you are mistaken. The Hebrew word “toevah” is not translated as murder in either Jer. 7:9 or Eze. 22:6.

    To avoid repeating what has already been said, please review the comments above. Key to remember is that the Hebrew word “toevah” functions in a very precise way in Priestly literature. IT ALWAYS MEANS A PRACTICE THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE BECAUSE IT IS ONE OF THE CULT PRACTICES OF THE PAGAN RELIGIONS SURROUNDING GOD’S PEOPLE. The thing may be innocuous in itself, but in order for Israel’s faithful to be safeguarded, even otherwise innocent practices were forbidden. Or it may be something that is intrinsically evil. The key is that it is part and parcel of the cult practice of the pagan religions.

    In Ezekiel 16 — from where several of the refs you inquired about come — we read that the prophet, speaking for God, says that Jerusalem had not only imitated the vile deeds of the Sodomites, but had become even more corrupt. Then throughout this chapter Ezekiel spells out in striking in-your-face detail explicitly what these detestable things were.

    Jerusalem we’re told has a resemblance to her “sister” Sodom (see 16:46, 16:48, 16:49, 16:56). God repeatedly calls them sisters because they are kindred spirits in wickedness. They are also both ancient CANAANITE cities. Sodom was a leading Canaanite city (Gen. 10:18) and according to Ezekiel a city where people would do anything to maintain their surfeit of wealth and ease and power. Sodom’s sister Jerusalem was also an old Canaanite city (16:1-3), conquered by King David who made it his new national capital. And here in Ezekiel 16, the prophet critiques the many CULTIC CANAANITE PRACTICES Jerusalem has adopted. But from the viewpoint of Ezekiel, this isn’t surprising since Jerusalem was descended from pagans in the first place.

    Ezekiel 16:1-3 says: “The word of the Lord came to me … confront Jerusalem with HER DETESTABLE PRACTICES and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites…”

    Key is that: THE ROOT OF THE UNITARY NATURE OF THESE “DETESTABLE PRACTICES” IS EVERYTHING THAT HAD TO DO WITH THE EXERCISE OF THE PAGAN CANAANITE RELIGION.

    As we read thru Ezekiel 16, we discover the detestable practices included, juss to cite a few: (1) making “gaudy High Places of idol worship where they carried on their prostitution”. This was “toevah”. (2) Making male idols” and engaged in cultic prostitution. This was “toevah”. (3) “Sacrificing their sons and daughters as food to the idols”. This was “toevah”. (4) “Making a lofty shrine in every public square” to worship their pagan idols. This was “toevah”. The chapter goes on and on.

    As for its use in the Wisdom literature (e.g. Proverbs), kindly see my comment directly above this one.

    -Alex

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