Does the Bible Really Call Homosexuality an "Abominati on"?
- July 1, 2010
Does the Bible Really Call Homosexuality an "Abomination"?
This word, used for centuries to justify an anti-gay posture, has been badly
translated and even more poorly understood.
Jay Michaelson is completing his Ph.D. in Jewish Thought at Hebrew
University. Recently named to the "Forward 50" list of the most innovative
Jewish leaders in America, he is the Executive Director of Nehirim, the
leading national provider of programming for LGBT Jews, partners, and
allies, and his work as an activist for LGBT people in faith communities has
been covered by the New York Times, NPR, and CNN. A columnist for the
Forward, Huffington Post, and Tikkun, Michaelson is the author of 3 books
and 200 articles on religion, spirituality, and sexuality. Recently a
visiting professor at Boston University Law School, Michaelson holds a J.D.
from Yale and B.A. from Columbia. In 2008-09, he spent five months on
silent meditation retreat in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition, mostly in
Nepal. His most recent book is Everything is God: The Radical Path of
Nondual Judaism (Shambhala, 2009).
Homosexuality is abomination. The Christian Right says so all the time, and
non-religious LGBT activists say it too, to relegate religion to humanity's
dustheap. After all, isn't that what it says in the Bible?
No-and progressive religionists should not use the word. It's a
mistranslation and a misconception, doing harm to LGBT people and religious
The word "abomination" is found, of course, in the King James translation of
Leviticus 18:22, a translation which reads, "Thou shalt not lie with
mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination." Yet this is a thoroughly
misleading rendition of the word toevah, which, while we may not know
exactly what it means, definitely does not mean "abomination." An
"abomination" conjures up images of things which should not exist on the
face of the earth: three-legged babies, oceans choked with oil, or
Cheez-Whiz. And indeed, this is how many religious people regard gays and
lesbians. It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Homosexuality is unnatural,
a perversion, a disease, an abomination.
Yet a close reading of the term toevah suggests an entirely different
meaning: something permitted to one group, and forbidden to another. Though
there is (probably) no etymological relationship, toevah means taboo.
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