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[[Category:Essays by {{{1}}}|Leviticus 18]]

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Leviticus 18 is a chapter of the Biblical book of Leviticus. It narrates part of the instructions given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. The chapter deals with a number of sexual activities considered 'unclean' or 'abominable'. Although the chapter is principally concerned with incest, it also contains laws related to bestiality and "lying with a man as with a woman." This single reference in verse 22 has, in recent years, made the interpretation of this verse a focus of debate among Christians and Jews regarding homosexual activity (see Homosexuality and Christianity and Jewish views of homosexuality).

Leviticus 18 is generally regarded as part of the holiness code of Leviticus 11–26, and its sexual prohibitions are largely paralleled by Leviticus 20 (except that chapter has more emphasis on punishment).


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, this implies that the list is addressed to men. Since the lists would then describe women with whom it is forbidden for a man to have a relationship, they also indirectly imply a list of men with whom it is forbidden for a woman to have a relationship. These lists then compare as follows (blue = forbidden for men only, red = forbidden for women only, purple = 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)
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 own daughter is not forbidden. The Talmud argues that this is because the prohibition was obvious, especially given the proscription against a relationship with a granddaughter[1], although 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[2]. As with the case of a man's own daughter, the shortness of the list in Leviticus 20, and especially of that in Deuteronomy, are explained by classical Jewish scholarship as being due to the obviousness of the missing prohibitions[3][4].

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[5][6][7], and Abraham as having a father in common with Sarah[8] (rather than a mother, which would have been permitted by the list).


The text of 18:22 has been interpreted as:

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination."

While the direct translation from masoretic is

"and with a man, do not lay layings of a woman."

This verse has been interpreted as prohibiting male homosexual acts. The major area of debate has then been over the hermeneutical question of whether and how this text applies to the modern Christian or Jewish situation (see The Bible and homosexuality and Biblical law in Christianity for that debate). As noted in the separate article on Leviticus, the book uses the word "abomination" 16 times, with the Hebrew word "sheqets" being used in describing dietary prohibitions (for example prohibiting shellfish and pork), mostly in Leviticus 11, and once for physical uncleanness (Levitcus 7:21), while "tô‛êbah" is used often for idolatry (Dt. 32:16) and specific other sins (Deuteronomy 24:4), for people who disobey God (Deuteronomy 25:16), and collectively for lists of sins. Leviticus 18:27–30; Proverbs 6:16-19).

However, there are debates as to the meaning of the verse, with some authors[9] stating that v.22 condemns "homosexuality" or "homosexual relations" and other authors maintaining that v.22 condemns only males penetrating males (anal intercourse) [10].

In any event, Leviticus delineates between the sins of sexual immorality and child sacrifice, for which God judged the native inhabitants of the land (Leviticus 18:27–28 ), and the ceremonial ordinances, such as dietary laws, which functioned to distinguish the children of Israel from neighbor nations (Leviticus 20:22–26 ; see also Deuteronomy 14:21 ).


  1. Yebamot 3a
  2. Cheyne and Black, Encyclopaedia Biblica, Marriage : choice of bride
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. Incest
  4. Samuel ben Meir, Commentary, ad loc.
  5. Genesis 29:16
  6. Genesis 29:23
  7. Genesis 29:28
  8. Genesis 20:12
  9. Greenberg 1988:191, Wenham 1979:259, Kahn 1984:49
  10. 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.


  • 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).
  • Pharsea's treatment of Leviticus 18:22. (balanced)
  •'s treatment of Leviticus 18:22. (liberal)

Further reading

pt:Levítico 18