Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Who Is Doing What to Whom Revisited: Another Look at Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Who Is Doing What to Whom Revisited: Another Look at Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13

Article excerpt

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Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 proscribe male-on-male sexual intercourse, the latter verse even going so far as to mandate the death penalty for both parties involved. Modern translations tend to render the passages in such a way as to suggest that it is the activity of the insertive, rather than the receptive, participant in the transgression that is being addressed, for example:

You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Lev 18:22 RSV)

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. (Lev 20:13 RSV)

A groundbreaking work by Saul M. Olyan convincingly demonstrated that the proscribed sexual act was anal intercourse between males. Olyan also pressed the case that it was the activity of the insertive participant that was being addressed.1

When I had occasion to translate from the Hebrew myself, however, the gist of the passages seemed to indicate that it was the activity of the receptive, rather than the insertive, participant that was being addressed. I rendered 18:22a-TINI n^N 'ЭЭ^О ЭЭ^Л Nb ЧЭТ-as "and with a male you shall not lie down lyings down of a woman," and 20:13a-n^N 'ЭЭ^О 43TTN ЭЭ^' 4?N W>N1-as "and a man who lies down with a male lyings down of a woman" That a man would "lie down lyings down of a woman" intuitively suggests that the man was lying down the way a woman would lie down to play the receptive role in sexual intercourse. Olyan's take on the Hebrew was that the prohibitions were not directed against "lying the lying down of a woman," which he understood to be a man's experiencing of a woman's receptive role in sex, but that the prohibitions were rather directed against the experiencing of said act with a male instead of with a female.2 My follow-up research, however, indicates that I am not the only one who had doubts about whether the verses in fact dealt with the activity of the insertive party.

Jerome T. Walsh challenged Olyan's supposition about the insertive participant, correctly noting that "lie a lying down" was a cognate direct object construction like "dream a dream" or "sin a sin," describing an action performed by the subject himself, not an action performed by someone else and experienced by the subject as suggested by Olyan. For example, in 2 Sam 4:5b, Ish-bosheth is said to be "lying the lying down of noontime" (О'ЧПХП ЭЭ^О IN ЭЭФ); that is, Ish-bosheth himself is doing the lying down to take a nap as opposed to experiencing someone else's act of lying down for a nap. Therefore, a man "lying a lying down of a woman" would be a man actually lying down as a woman would in a sexually receptive capacity; he would not be the insertive party who experiences the receptive party's act of lying down as a woman would.3

Walsh also correctly noted that the description of someone's experiencing someone else's act would involve the use of "know" (pT) in the sense of "experience." Thus, in Num 31:18 a virgin is a female who does not "know a lying down of a male" (ЧЭТ ЭЭ^О pT), the "lying down of a male" being the way a male would lie down in a sexually insertive capacity.4 If the Levitical proscriptions were meant to address the activity of the insertive party, we should expect wording along the lines of "and with a male you shall not know the lyings down of a woman" The curious use of the construct plural "lyings down" is explained by Walsh as indicating that, whereas a man must necessarily be facing toward the woman during coitus, the woman may be facing toward the man or facing away from the man.5

Olyan has since responded to Walsh:

Though Walsh believes that it is the receptive partner who is the center of the law's concern, I find this difficult to accept given the way in which Lev 18:22 is phrased in Hebrew: "And with a male you shall not lie...." By implication, the addressee ("you" masculine singular) may lie "the lying down of a woman" with a woman, suggesting that it is the penetrator who is addressed, and not the receptive partner. …

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