You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13) (emphasis added)
The Hebrew word toevah, here translated “abomination,” does not usually signify something intrinsically evil, like rape or theft (discussed elsewhere in Leviticus), but something which is ritually unclean for Jews, like eating pork or engaging in intercourse during menstruation, both of which are prohibited in these same chapters. It is used throughout the Old Testament to designate those Jewish sins which involve ethnic contamination or idolatry and very frequently occurs as part of the stock phrase toevah ha-goyim, “the uncleanness of the Gentiles” (e.g., 2 Kings 16:3).
Chapter 20 begins with a prohibition of sexual idolatry almost identical with this, and like 18, its manifest (and stated: 20:3–4) purpose is to elaborate a system of ritual “cleanliness” whereby the Jews will be distinguished from neighboring peoples. Although both chapters also contain prohibitions (e.g., against incest and adultery) that would seem to stem from moral absolutes, their function in the context of Leviticus 18 and 20 seems to be as symbols of Jewish distinctiveness.
In the Greek, then, the Levitical enactments against homosexual behavior characterize it unequivocally as ceremonially unclean rather than inherently evil.
“Abomination” is a translation of the word toevah. This term could also be translated “uncleanness” or “impurity” or “dirtiness.” “Taboo,” what is culturally or ritually forbidden, would be another accurate translation.
The significance of the term toevah becomes clear when you realize that another Hebrew term zimah could have been used—if that was what the authors intended. Zimah means, not what is objectionable for religious or cultural reasons, but what is wrong in itself. It means an injustice, a sin.
Clearly, then, Leviticus does not say that for man to lie with man is a sin. Leviticus says it is a ritual violation, an uncleanness; it is something “dirty.”
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