A scholarly response on what the Hebrew and Aramaic Bible says concerning LGBTI people.
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17. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.”
(Leviticus 18:22 NKJV). The Hebrew literally says: “You shall not lie with a male [on] the bedding (or bed) of a woman (or wife), it is a despised thing (or despicable act).” The Bible doesn’t always tell us why something is “despised,” and hence we have to use reason. It is likely that the two men were having sex on the bed of the woman to despise her and rub it in her face that she wasn’t woman enough. Reuben slept with his father’s wife on his dad’s bed to despise his father Jacob. Also, according to the book “How the People Lived in the Bible [HPLB], on pg. 117, it states: “The women’s portion of the tent was separated by a curtain from the men’s half, and it was strictly off limits. A male stranger who entered a woman’s quarters could be punished with death. Sisera hid in Jael’s tent, but paid for it with his life (Judg. 4:18-21).”
The plural Hebrew word mish-che-ve (the bedding of) appears only 3 times in the Hebrew OT. The three places are at: Gen. 49:4, Lev. 18:22 & Lev. 20:13. The “bedding” or “bed” in tents consisted of the mattress which was stuffed with straw or feathers or animal skins spread out. [HPLB, pg. 139]. The Bible seems to support this definition. In the book of Judith, it states: : “and her maid entered and spread for her [Judith] on the ground lambskins before Elparna (Holofernes) that she took from Boga to lie down on them…” (Jud. 12:15). Nevertheless, another reference says the Jewish bed consisted of the mattress (i.e. mat), or one or more quilts (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, pg. 79 under “bed”). Or according to the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible (pg. 236); “the bed” consisted of blankets spread out on the floor of the tent.” The following verse shows that collectively, “the bedding” was considered a "bed or spread.” Jacob said this to Reuben “... you ascended onto the bedding (plural) of your father, then you defiled my bed (singular) [when] you ascended [onto it].”(Gen. 49:4).
The statement "to lie on the bed" can be worded three different ways in Hebrew like it is Aramaic. That's not counting any word order difference or if a noun doesn't have a definite article. Many Hebrew nouns don't have the definite article attached to it so we have to add the word "the" in the English translation. Also, many verb-noun combinations don't need to use a small word such as "on, in, with, etc." between them. Those words have to be added in a translation. So, the statement "to lie on the bed," can use the Hebrew word al "on" between the verb and noun. Or the preposition le can be added to the noun instead of using the separate Hebrew word al (on). That's a common variant for other same statements. Finally, the word "on" doesn't have to be used at all between the verb and noun for this same statement and others. Biblically speaking, when the word mish-cav (bedding, mattress, bed) is in the plural construct form, pronounced mish-che-ve, the word “on,” as well as the word “the,” are left out every time, and need to be inserted in the English translation. An example of this is at Gen. 49:4, which says: “Turbulent as the waters, you [Reuben] will no longer excel, for you went up [onto] your father’s bed (Lit. [the] bedding of your father), onto my couch and defiled it.” (Gen. 49:4 NIV). The word “onto” is added in our English translation because it was needed to convey the thought given. The word “on” could have equally been chosen; and that verse would say: “…, for you went up [on] your father’s bed..” The verb "to lie down" also precedes the noun "bosom." It is put in the feminine active participle state, forming a verbal noun, in the statement: "the woman lying [on] your bosom" (Mic. 7:5). The KJV and NKJV added the word "in" for that statement.
The Hebrew word mish-cav literally means “something laid upon.” This noun is made from the verb shacav “to lie upon.” In the Bible, the word mish-cav (bed) was often the” ground” (Isa. 57:7). A person’s outer garment was his layer over the ground and himself (Ex. 22:26-27; Deut. 24:12-13); and hence his covering. That is why God says to return any “cloak” as a pledge “before the sun goes down…What will he sleep in?...” The bed was also made up of spread out material. According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary, under the listing “bed” (pg. 79), it reads: “the Jewish bed consisted of the mattress, a mere mat, or one or more quilts; the covering, a finer quilt, or sometimes the outer garment worn by day.” Linen was also used as a covering on the bed (Proverbs 7:16). Other "beds" back then were similar to our modern bed with a bed-frame and mattress or bedding inside (Ps. 6:6 ; Est. 1:6).
At 1 Chronicles 5:1, the writer uses a synonym for mish-che-ve, which is ye-tzu-e “spreads, bedding.” The Aramaic translation translated this Hebrew word here collectively in the singular as tish-wi-tha “the mattress, bedding, bed, rug, and / or carpet.” So we see that mish-cav does carry the meaning of “bedding;” as it also does at 2nd Samuel 17:28 (NIV).
At Gen. 49:4, Jacob curses Reuben for sleeping with his wife (or specifically concubine – See also: Gen. 35:22) on his bed. That is why I’m thinking that the phrase “bedding of a woman” may be saying “bedding of a wife.” Ish-shah is translated as both woman and wife in our English Bible.
The Hebrew word to-e-vah is translated as abomination in Bible versions. To-e-vah comes from the root word ta-av, which James Strong defines as meaning: “to abhor.” Webster’s New World Hebrew Dictionary defines ta-av as: “to despise.” To-e-vah means an “abhorrence, abhorrent thing” (Deut. 7:25-26), “something despised” (LXX), and / or a despicable act or deed.
The Aramaic text collectively translates the Hebrew word “bedding” (pl.) as “bed” (sing.). It closely matches the literal Hebrew translation, saying: “You shall not lie with a male [on] the bed of a woman, it is an abhorrence (ta-ma).” The Aramaic text doesn’t need to use the word “on” when the verb “to lie down” precedes the noun “bed;” as in this example and in the following example. The following is an example of the Aramaic language not using the word “on” in conjunction with “bed;” when it is needed to express the meaning into English. 2 Samuel 4:5 literally says this in the Aramaic: “…and they came about the heat of the day to the house of Esh-Bashol* (Heb. - Ish-Bosheth). And he was lying [on] the bed at noon.” As you can see, the Aramaic didn’t use the word “on” in the text. But “on” was needed to convey the meaning into English.
(* See details about the name Esh-Bashol near bottom of page)
The Aramaic word ta-ma literally means “unclean” or "unclean thing" (Isa. 52:11, 2 Cor. 6:17). I gave two meanings because when an Aramaic adjective stands alone, it has a noun meaning. Ta-ma can also mean “an abhorrence (despised thing) and abomination” like how Dr. Lamsa and A Compendious Syriac Dictionary define it. The word “unclean” got the meaning of “an abhorrence” because anything unclean was despised. It should be noted that the Hebrew word to-e-vah, which means “something despised” also means “unclean.” This is evident in that to-e-vah was translated as “unclean” in some places in both the Aramaic and Greek Old Testament. The defining of to-e-vah as “unclean” would make sense at Deuteronomy 14:3, which would then say: “You shall not eat any unclean thing.”
REFERENCES FROM STRONG’S CONCORDANCE:
4904 mish-cab a bed
8581 ta-ab ; a prim. Root; to loathe, i.e. (mor.) detest:- (make to be) abhor (-red), etc.
8441 to-e-bah ; fem. act. part. of 8581; prop. something disgusting (mor.), i.e. (as
noun) an abhorrence; espec. idolatry or (concr.) an idol: - abomination [113x], abominable
thing [2x], abominable [2x]
(THE NEW STRONGS EXPANDED EXHAUSTIVE CONCORDANCE OF THE
BIBLE WITH THE BEST OF VINE’S)
[NOTE: The 2nd Hebrew letter, Beth, has a “b” and a “v” sound. James Strong pronounces mish-cav as mish-cab, to-e-vah as to-e-bah and ta-av as ta-ab.]
* Saul’s fourth son Ish-Bosheth (“man of shame”) was originally given the name Esh-Baal (1 Chr. 8:33; 9:39), meaning “man of Baal.” Though the Hebrew word Baal means “lord, owner,” it is also the name of a Canaanite god. Because of the Hebrew peoples’ aversion to Baal, the word bosheth was used as its substitute; as it is at (Jeremiah 11:13; Hos. 9:10). So we see how Esh-Baal got the name Ish-Bosheth.
The Hebrew names Esh-Baal and Ish-Bosheth were both transliterated as “Esh-Bashol” in the Aramaic Old Testament. Esh-Bashol is mainly from the Hebrew name Esh-Baal but the vowel (“o”) and the letter sound (“sh”) are from the word bosheth, which were reversed and put into the name. This reversing of the vowel (“o”) plus a consonant also occurs in some other names which were transliterated from the Hebrew.
Note: It wouldn't be reasonable to conclude that the Aramaic Old Testament translation supports the opinion that the name Esh-Baal was sometimes changed to read Ish-Bosheth, or possibly that only the word "Baal" was changed to read "Bosheth" in the Hebrew Old Testament. Because of this opinion, the New American Bible translates Ish-Bosheth as Ish-Baal. However, many people in the Bible are referenced by more than one name or have an abbreviated (or contracted) spelling for their name. The translator(s) of the Aramaic Old Testament sometimes choose one of the names of a person and use that same name in other places where that person is mentioned in the Bible regardless of what the original Hebrew text says. There are many examples of this but I will give one example. The following is how the Hebrew and Aramaic text reads regarding Shaul's sons:
"... and Shaul fathered Yehonathan and Malchi-Shua and Avinadav(Aḅinadaḅ) and Esh-Baal." (1 Chron. 8:33; 9:39 Hebrew Text).
"... and Shaul fathered Yonathan and Malchi-Shua and Yishwi(Ishui) and Esh-Bashol." (1 Chron. 8:33; 9:39 Aramaic Text).
You will notice that the name of Shaul's (Saul's) third son is different and unrecognizable phonetically and in writing in the Aramaic text versus the Hebrew text. So why would a translator translate Avinadav as Yishwi? The reason is because Avinadav is also called Yishwi (Ishui - KJV) at 1 Samuel 14:49 and the Aramaic translator wanted to continue translating Shaul's third son by this name irrespective of what the Hebrew text says. This translation tradition is what Paul may have had in mind when he said to "... avoid a foolish dispute (debate) and narrations of genealogies ..." (Titus 3:9).