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Via Facebook, a friend of mine was wondering if the translation of Leviticus 18:22 presented in this article was accurate:

And with a male, thou shalt not lie down in a woman's bed; it is an abomination.

The Hebrew and a traditional translation is:

וְאֶת־זָכָר לֹא תִשְׁכַּב מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תּוֹעֵבָה הִוא [TNK]
You shall not lie with a man, as with a woman. That is detestable. [WEB]

I read through the article, and it doesn't seem to be totally wrong, but then again, I have practically no knowledge of Hebrew. Hence, that's why I'm bringing this question here.

The two main questions I have would be: is the translation accurate? and is it accurate in context?. Any other important details to note would be appreciated.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The passage can be made to mean what the author wants it to mean, although the meaning produced is absurd. "For whatever reason," the author shrugs, two men who lay down in a bed that belonged to a woman should be put to death. Whatever reason, indeed! As this person correctly notes at the bottom, men were forbidden from "lying in the bed" of a woman at certain times; in other words, while she was menstruating. Curiously, Leviticus 20:21 doesn't mandate the death penalty for lying in a menstruant's bed, but Leviticus 20:13 somehow mandates the death penalty if another man is with him when he does?

A far simpler and considerably more logical explanation (however repugnant the author of that piece may or may not find it) is that the word mishkav (which is not a noun, but a participle) denotes not only a "bed", but also "the act of lying down" - a bivalency of meaning common to all Biblical Hebrew participles - and "the act of lying down" is a euphemism for coitus. In that case, משכבי אשה (mishkevei isha) does not mean "the beds of a woman", but "the lying-down of a woman" - ie: a female way of having sex.

Truth be told, this word has long posed problems for Hebrew grammarians, and not only in this form. One of the ways in which Hebrew refers to semen is שכבת זרע (shikhvat zera') - eg: Leviticus 15:16. If you wanted to be an extreme literalist, you could translate this as "the lying down of seed", only that's clearly not what it means.

Ultimately, if this is what you want the Hebrew passage to mean, you can make the words mean that, however incongruous or absurd that might make the passage, and however bereft of historical precedent such a reading is. The fact that nobody has ever suggested this in the past is not because "the Jewish people consider the text of the Hebrew Bible so sacred, that they will not alter even simple grammatical errors", but because it takes a special type of arrogance to think that untold generations of people failed to recognise a simple grammatical error that you, yourself, can see.

The study of Hebrew grammar is a way of making sense of the biblical text; not a scientific endeavour to which we can then subject the Hebrew Bible as a way of spotting mistakes that its authors made. And while I'm criticising the historical presuppositions:

  1. There is ample evidence of dialectal variation long before the mediaevals (indeed, even within biblical, extra-biblical and early post-biblical texts);
  2. Ancient Hebrew originally featured what's known as an epicene pronoun (for which reason הוא can sometimes represent what is usually conveyed by היא);
  3. The scholars who produced the Masoretic Text made numerous emendations to it, both in the realm of lexis and of grammar;
  4. The scholars who translated the text into Aramaic (the Targums), into Greek (the Septuagint), into Syriac (the Peshitta) and into Latin (the Vulgate) didn't find this passage confusing, and rendered it as a prohibition of same-sex intercourse;
  5. The scholars who have studied the text closely over the last two millennia haven't all been Jews.

Also, although you can take this with a grain of salt, there is no reason to suppose that the Pentateuch was composed by a single person, and even if you were to suppose this (and were to suggest that he didn't understand Hebrew as well as the author of that website does), then you need to reckon with the fact that these same "mistakes" are made in subsequent texts of the Hebrew Bible as well. That sounds like a pretty tall order to me.

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Literally: And direct-object male not you-shall-lie lying of-woman abomination it.

“lie lying” is what in linguistics we call a figura etymologica: a verb followed by a noun from the same root. It does not work in English, but it works in Hebrew and many other languages. “Lie the lying of a woman” means “lie the way you would lie with a woman”. The KJV comes about as close as you can to a literal English version: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”.

The translation in your link is wrong.

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What does Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 mean by “lie with”?

There are many Hebrew words that are translated in English “to lie with” that have multiple meanings…

  • Shekobeth used on the verses surrounding 18:22 that refer to bestiality and adultery literally and only means sexual intercourse. ( not used in 18:22 or 20:13).

  • Mishkab used in these verses to refer as a comparison to “Lying with a woman” has several definitions: Lying on a couch, laying on a bed, and lastly “Lying down in submission for sex.” It is states 46 times in 44 verses when speaking sexually, it always refers to a woman submitting to sex with a man. The word used to refer to a male lying with a male is Shakab and has many definitions. (can be found 213 times in 194 verses in the Bible.) 101 incidences used Shakab to simply mean “lie down to sleep.” 51 of the verses used Shakab as “to lie down in death.” There are 52 incidences in which Shakab is used in a verse which means “to MAKE ONE lie down” as well as sex by deceptive coercion which is descriptive is “sex by force” which by modern definition would be rape.


Genesis 19:32 “Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie (Shakab) with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” (Lot’s daughters intoxicated their father to rape him.)

Genesis 34:2 “When Shechem...saw her, he took her and lay with her by force (shakab).”

(Shechem rapes Dinah)

Genesis 39:14 “she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie (shakab) with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.”

(A woman falsely accuses Joseph of raping her.)

2 Samuel 13:14 “But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay (Shakab) with her.”

(Amnon rapes his sister Tamar.)

Zechariah 14:2 “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped (Shakab).”

(Speaking of the rapes of women in opposing cities.)

Ezekiel 23:8 “...for in her youth men had lain with her and handled her virgin bosom and poured out their whoring lust upon her.”

(Metaphorical rape of Jerusalem.)

Deuteronomy 22:23-24 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies (Shakab) with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” None of the verses above used shakab as meaning traditional intercourse.

“A man should not rape of force sex (shakab) upon another man just as a woman submits to sex (mishkab) with a man.”

denounces both rape and nonconsensual sex between two males.

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Lora - your posting is very gracious and kind. However, your posting did not develop the meaning of זָכָר, which means male/man; and also you did not contrast מִשְׁכָּב with male/man. That is, מִשְׁכָּב here would include the sense of consensual sex between male/men. –  Joseph Jun 17 at 3:09

protected by Dan Jun 17 at 12:46

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