Registered: July 2019
This is a long post, but important!
It may be that only those with theological backgrounds or religious leanings care about textual criticism and related research, but it is the foundation upon which doctrines are rightly or wrongly derived. In the Judeo/Christian sphere, many are from the Old Testament, and the most significant, such as the Ten Commandments and the Clobber Passages, are from the oldest books written in ancient and difficult to translate Hebrew.
There's always been debate about some things. When I was in seminary, the subjects being hotly debated were the ordination of women and homosexuals, but what was not questioned was the traditionial understanding of the translation of Leviticus 18:22, the central biblical passage condemning homosexuality, and the one upon which all the others are built.
Well, the times they are a changing, and Jonathan Poletti just published a superb survey article of recent scholarship that is titled:
Leviticus 18:22 is a Christian hoax!
And it's subtitled: The religion made up its favorite verse.
Even if you didn't grow up in a church and don't recognize the reference, almost everyone will recognize the verse itself. Here's how Poletti's article begins (he's given me permission to quote extensively):
It might be the #1 verse of Christianity--the sacred words that center the religion for millions. But there's a problem they don't tell you about Leviticus 18:22.
I've been going over a pile of papers by Bible scholars who say that the verse, in the Hebrew text, is different from the English translations.
"And with a male you shall not lie the beds of a woman."
I don't remember that Leviticus 18:22. I remember this one:
"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman..."
What he's getting at is that the passage everyone is taught and on which most of the doctrine is based comes from bible translations and there are many problematic translations. Suffice it to say that the translations from old Greek and Hebrew texts was done by later clergy with access to limited old texts for comparative purposes. A key question: how fluent were they in ancient Greek and ancient Hebrew?
It turns out, not very. Poletti goes on:
I puzzle over this strange phrase.
I read it again and again. "And with a male you shall not lie the beds of a woman."
What does "the beds of a woman" mean? I thought I knew a little bit about the Bible, but I'm at a loss. The beds of a woman.
Do gay guys get into that? I learn new things all the time.
But then it turns out that "the beds of a woman" is an interpretation. The scholar Renato Lings notes that "the original Hebrew wording of this minuscule text is so arcane that the entire verse becomes almost untranslatable." He tries this:
"With (a) male you shall not lie (the) lyings (of a) woman."
The Hebrew scholar Jan Joosten offers his very literal translation:
"And-with a male not you-will-lie 'lyings-of' a woman."
So we see that this text, like many others, not only has huge language challenges, but deals with cultural and religious concepts totally foreign to the mind of later translaters. This is true of the Latin Vulgate Bible and the English King James Bible, and what happened was they translated difficult words they way they thought they should be translated, and added words where necessary, as Poletti tells us the latest textual scholrs point out:
The familiar words of 'Leviticus 18:22' guide much of Christianity.
They are the origin of endless arguments, splits, wars of every kind. What everyone knows about 'Christians', very often, is just the religion's views on 'homosexuality'.
They never tell you that two words in the Christian translation were completely made up. The translation has "as with," so the reader thinks two kinds of sex--a good kind and a bad kind--are being compared.
But there is no "as with." In the Hebrew text, as Joosten notes, "this particle is absent."
Various "filler" words get added, and filters are applied.
To achieve coherence, a huge range of Bible verses and translations are invoked. Along the way, "lyings-of" is often thought to mean "beds."
Susan Pigott is an Evangelical professor of Hebrew at Logsdon Seminary, and she translates Leviticus 18:22 this way:
"And with a male you will not lay (on) the couches/beds of a woman."
Looking at that, and Leviticus 20:13, she writes: 4
"Neither verse actually says 'Do not lie with a male as with a woman.' Instead, both say you should not lay with a male on the couches or beds of a woman."
What does it mean?
Pigott answers: "Well, first it means that translators have taken great liberties in smoothing out these verses."
She notes the verse is layered in a context of idolatry, so she thinks maybe that was the subject. One thing Christians never understood about the Bible is that a temple is called a bed.
In Isaiah 57:79, we see a "bed" on a mountaintop. They're not taking a nap. They're performing sacrifices, etc.
The most difficult challenge in textual studies and textual criticism is getting beyond one's own beliefs and understanding what the original authors intended and why. In this case that means understanding ancient Hebrew and what certain words mean in ancient times. There are a lot of different takes, but a key one is the early Jewish Rabbinic tradition. Poletti continues:
But a huge range of theories exist.
The paper in 2022 by Mark Preston Stone assesses the research on Leviticus 18:22. There are, he says, twenty-one major approaches to the verse.
Interestingly, Jews don't tend to read it as concerning 'homosexuality'--a fact I learn in David Brodsky's 2009 paper, "Sex in the Talmud: How to Understand Leviticus 18 and 20."
The rabbis focused on the "lyings-of" being plural. To be plural means there's at least two of something. But two of what? Bodily orifices in the area of the groin capable of having a penis inserted in them?
Such a wealth of orifices is not found on men. On women, it's another story. As Brodsky explains:
"The rabbis interpreted the plural 'lyings of women' to mean that when a man has sexual intercourse with a woman who is Biblically prohibited to him, both vaginal intercourse and anal intercourse are prohibited, and each carries the same penalty..."
So for Jewish rabbis, Leviticus 18:22 ended up prohibiting anal adultery with women. You'd definitely avoid that.
I'll stop quoting the article because Poletti has now peeled back the different layers of recent textual research to show where the problem lies and how the hoax was propogated. He's provided a Friend Link that allows you to read the entire article on Medium and bypass the paywall by clicking here.
Needless to say, everyone should read it. It has a very fun image of a gay Jesus that I won't reproduce here... because it's important to go read the entire article. It's well researched and has lots of references for those so inclined.
The most recent LGBTQ rights event was the Bishops of the Church of England voting to affirm that the C of E will not perform same-sex marriages. On what doctrine do you suppose this "traditional" decision is based? Yes, indeed.... It goes all the way back to Leviticus 18:22!
[Updated on: Wed, 01 March 2023 17:41]