Homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures

The Mosaic Code & the Hebrew word To’ebah or Toevah

(Often translated as “abomination”)

The Mosaic code, and its applicability today:

The Torah is composed of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). It contains numerous laws which make up the Mosaic code. Rabbi Simlai wrote in the Talmud (Jewish traditional commentary about the Hebrew Scriptures) that God gave 613 commandments to Moses. One list finds 3 commandments in Genesis, 111 in Exodus, 247 in Leviticus, 52 in Numbers and 200 in Deuteronomy.

These included 365 prohibitions — a number equal to the nominal number of days in the year. Also included are 248 positive commandments which Rabbi Simlai said corresponded “to the number of organs and limbs in the human body.” Hundreds of these dealt with animal sacrifices and other topics that are not currently practiced. That leaves about 300 commandments that can be practiced today. 

The Holiness Code in the Torah permits:

bullet slavery (Leviticus 25:44)

The code requires:


bullet A child to be killed if he/she curses their parent (Leviticus 20:9)
bullet All persons guilty of adultery to be killed (20:10)
bullet The daughter of a priest who engages in prostitution to be burned alive until dead (21:9)
bullet The bride of a priest to be a virgin (21:13)
bullet Ritual killing of animals, using cattle, sheep and goats (22:19)
bullet Observation of 7 feasts: Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Firstfruits, Feast of Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles (23)
bullet A person who takes the Lord’s name in vain is to be killed (24:16)

The code prohibits:


bullet Heterosexual intercourse when a woman has her period (Leviticus 18:19),
bullet Harvesting the corners of a field (19:9),
bullet Eating fruit from a young tree (19:23),
bullet Cross-breeding livestock (19:19),
bullet Sowing a field with mixed seed (19:19),
bullet Shaving or getting a hair cut (19:27),
bullet Tattoos (19:28),
bullet Even a mildly disabled person from becoming a priest (21:18),
bullet Charging of interest on a loan (25:37),
bullet Collecting firewood on Saturday to prevent your family from freezing,
bullet Wearing of clothes made from a blend of textile materials; today this might be cotton and polyester, and
bullet Eating of non-kosher foods (e.g. shrimp). This prohibition has been satirized on the God Hates Shrimp website.

Of the 613 laws, most Christian denominations regard very few as binding on Christians today. Conservative Christians often accept: 


bullet the Ten Commandments found in three places — one of them being Exodus 20:3-17.
bullet Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 which relate to sexual behavior of two men.

They also accept laws which prohibit:


bullet Sexual contact between individuals who are too closely related,
bullet Bestiality: out-of-species sexual contact,
bullet Adultery, and
bullet Some laws regarding the execution of properly convicted murderers.

21st century Christians are free to wear have sexual relations during the wife’s monthly period, wear tattoos, eat shrimp, lobster, pork or meat cooked rare, wear polyester-cotton blends, seed their lawns with a grass mixture, and get their hair cut.
But most conservative Christians consider homosexual behavior — and sometimes merely having a homosexual orientation — as taboo. At first, we were unable to find any logical explanation that would justify conservative Christians concentrating so much on these two laws against homosexuality while abandoning most of the remaining 611 Mosaic laws. 

But further examination found the reason. Using an Protestant English translation of the Bible, conservative Christians believe that the validity of the two anti-homosexual “clobber” passages in Leviticus has been verified by passages in Paul’s Epistles. The NIV and KJV of the Bible clearly condemn homosexual behavior at 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Romans 1:28 in the Christian Scriptures. These translations generally interpret the Greek words “malakoi and “arsenokoitai” as referring to homosexuals.

We can be fairly certain that this is not the meaning that Paul wanted to convey. If he had, he would have used the Greek word “paiderasste.” That was the standard term at the time for males who had sex with males. We can conclude that he probably meant something different from persons who engaged in male-male adult sexual behavior.

Down through the years, Christians have interpreted these words as referring to people of lacking a high moral standing, or to masturbators, or to men who sexually abuse boys, or to boys who are the victims of sexual abuse.

Interpreting these passages as referring to sexually active homosexuals appears to be simply the latest in a long series of attempts to make sense out of obscure words.

The precise meaning is unknown; it was buried with Paul.


Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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