Why do you say Leviticus 18:22 is about goddess worship?

by Grant
(Southeastern USA)

Ashtoreth, ancient fertility goddess

Ashtoreth, ancient fertility goddess

Because that's what experts and scholars say. Listen to James Neill and Dr. Robert Gagnon and conservative mega-church pastor John MacArthur. I don't agree with everything these men believe but in these brief quotations, they are spot on. Please be sure to click text links for additional information.

Quoting James Neill: "The condemnation of male homosexual acts in Leviticus is taken by many to be a straight forward prohibition, like the commandments of Moses. However, the origins and context of the provisions as well as the choice of words used make it clear that their original intent had more to do with... practices of foreign elements, chiefly the rituals of Baal and Asherah.

Leviticus 18, in fact, begins and ends with exhortations against following the practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, which implies that the prohibited practices listed in the chapter, which include the injunction against male homosexual acts, represent the forbidden customs of those neighboring peoples."

James Neill's book

"Among the disapproved religious practices of the Israelites' neighbors, and a longstanding concern to the priests of Yahweh, was, of course, goddess worship...

Though modern Christians and Jews would read the passage in Leviticus 18:22, "For a man to lie with another man as with a woman is an abomination," as an injunction as clear-cut as "Thou shalt not kill," the Hebrew text has a very different slant. The word in the text translated as "abomination" in modern Christian and Jewish translations is to-ebah, which means "unclean," "ritually impure" or "idolatrous."

The expression had its origins in the Egyptian word for "holy" or "sacred," which the priests appropriated and then used in a negative sense when condemning rites or practices which were holy or sacred to non-Hebrews, practices which the priests of Yahweh regarded as idolatry.

The sense of the meaning is clear in its use in the phrase to-ebah ha goyem," "the uncleanness of the Gentiles." The term is used 116 times throughout the Old Testament, nearly always in reference to idolatry. For example, when the people of Judah are denounced in 1 Kings, Chapter 14 for idolatrous worship, to-ebah is used in verse 24 in reference to the homosexual rites of the kadesh, the male temple prostitutes associated with the goddess worship alluded to in the preceding verse 23...

Why the Aaronite authors of Leviticus would single out the act of a male taking the passive role in sex with another man can be explained by their centuries-long animosity towards the male temple prostitutes, the kadesh, who performed that sexual act as part the rituals of goddess worship.

The sense that the provision is directed against the male cult prostitutes is strengthened by the use of the Hebrew word zakar to refer to the male with whom the act is performed, rather than the word ish, the most commonly used term for a male."
Quoting John MacArthur: "Judah’s syncretistic worship was reflected in the practice of swearing by the Lord and, at the same time, by Milcom, who may be either the Ammonite deity of 1 Kings 11:5, 33 or Molech, the worship of whom included child sacrifice, astrology and temple prostitution (cf. Lev. 18:21; 2 Kin 17:16; Ezek 23:37; Amos 5:25, 26; Acts 7:40-43)."

The MacArthur Bible Commentary, 2005, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, p. 1038

Quoting James Neill:"While the term zakar can refer to a male, it is primarily used to refer to males with sacred associations, such as priests or men with special religious duties, or males dedicated to Yahweh in some sense...

When one considers 1) the cultic or sacral connotations of zakar, the male with whom the act is performed, 2) the fact that the prohibited act is a male taking a female role in intercourse, 3) the priesthood's historic animosity towards goddess worship and her homosexual attendants, and 4) the religious associations of to-ebah, and its use to condemn idolatry elsewhere in the scripture, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the writers of the text had male sacred prostitutes specifically in mind in composing the verse (Lev 18:22)..."
Quoting Dr. Robert Gagnon: 1. "I do not doubt that the circles out of which Lev 18:22 was produced had in view homosexual cult prostitution, at least partly. Homosexual cult prostitution appears to have been the primary form in which homosexual intercourse was practiced in Israel.”

2. The Hebrew term qedesim/qades denotes “men at cult sites who engaged in homosexual prostitution: male temple prostitutes.” p. 101.

3. Qedesim “...one of whose cultic functions was to offer their bodies to other men for same-sex intercourse.” p. 102.

4. “The remark in I Kgs 14:24 that the people of Judah “conformed their behavior to all the abominations (toebot) of the nations which Yahweh dispossessed” sounds remarkably like the summary in Lev 18:24-30, which followed a listing of sexual offenses that singled out in particular same-sex male intercourse as an “abomination.”” p. 103.

5. “The existence of homosexual shrine prostitutes in Judah was a recurring problem.” Dr. Robert Gagnon, p. 110.

Dr. Robert Gagnon, The Bible And Homosexual Practice, pp. 101-110, 130
Quoting James Neill: "Given the derivation of the term from an Egyptian term for sacred, its use elsewhere to condemn the religious practices of the Canaanites, the literal rendering of the words for the sex act in the text, and the cultic associations of the term used for the male with whom the act is performed, there can be little doubt that the provision was a product of the priesthood's long campaign to rid Hebrew worship of goddess worship and its sexual rituals...

There can be no doubt that the negative judgment of passive homosexual acts in Leviticus had its origins in their association in the minds of the priests of Yahweh with the homosexual rituals of goddess worship. The linkage with goddess worship cannot be avoided because of the choice of the religious term, to-ebah, in the text to relate the disapproval, and the language in the Hebrew text which specifies the prohibited act as a male taking the passive role in sex with a man.

The broadening of the condemnation to include all same-sex acts that occurred after the Jews were inundated with the detested homosexual traditions of the Greeks (in the first century A.D.) set the stage for the histrionic and visceral language that was commonly used in later periods against homosexuality."

The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies, pp. 110-113, James Neill, McFarland, January 2009
Quoting Philo the Jewish philosopher, 20 BC - AD 40: “(40) And I imagine that the cause of this is that among many nations there are actually rewards given for intemperance and effeminacy. At all events one may see men-women (androgynes) continually strutting through the market place at midday, and leading the processions in festivals;

and, impious men as they are, having received by lot the charge of the temple, and beginning the sacred and initiating rites, and concerned even in the holy mysteries of Ceres."

(Ceres is another name for Cybele, the fertility goddess first century Romans referred to as the Mater Deum or Mother of the gods). Remember, Philo lived and wrote this between 20 BC to AD 40.

"(41) And some of these persons have even carried their admiration of these delicate pleasures of youth so far that they have desired wholly to change their condition for that of women, and have castrated themselves and have clothed themselves in purple robes..."

(Philo describes castrated Galli priests who served Cybele in the first century).

"(42) But if there was a general indignation against those who venture to do such things, as was felt by our lawgiver..." (Moses was the Jewish Lawgiver. Philo refers to Moses' writings in Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 and Deuteronomy 23:17 and links those verses to the shrine prostitution he has just described.)
In case you're wondering, Philo and first century Jews also believed Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 prohibited temple prostitution.

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Ashtoreth photo by
Pablo Alberto Salguero Quiles,
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Comments for Why do you say Leviticus 18:22 is about goddess worship?

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Jul 15, 2012
pagan cultism like a Borg collective?
by: S

I've been doing some research on cult philosophy and concluded that the cult worshipers, particularly the ones mentioned in Romans and the prohibition in Leviticus, were obsessed with the concept of being androgynous and transcending the natural gender and sexual boundaries of human beings

there's this Borg-type philosophy floating around that values the concept of transcending nature and becoming like a god through combining all aspects of humanity together into one superbeing, or something like that. to me this sounds oddly similar to what was happening in these cults

what do you think?

Rick's comment: That seems like a workable hypothesis. God does not want us to be automatons. God is not interested in Christians acting like a Borg collective.

May 03, 2013
by: Anonymous

It is interesting that you pick and choose what you quote from MacArthur when in fact in his study Bible as well as his sermons he takes the opposite view. Your quote is incomplete to suit your purpose to lend credence to your view. I don't possess that particular commentary. Everything I have of his before and after state the opposite.

Rick's comment: My MacArthur quote is spot on and does not take anything out of context. In my opinion, what MacArthur did is put his statement hundreds of pages away from his comments on Leviticus 18:21-22 because he knew that if he put his real view in the context of Lev 18:21-22, it would undercut his desire to present that passage as a negative blast at gays.

Since you have the MacArthur Study Bible, you may find the same quote in The MacArthur Study Bible, Revised & Updated Edition, 1997, p. 1326, note on Zephaniah 1:5.

Sep 29, 2014
by: Aaron Saltzer

Hi, Rick. Are you saying that the sexual prohibitions in Leviticus are a result of idolatry? I read that male homosexual prostitution and bestiality were idolatrous practices, but what about the numerous prohibitions against incestuous sexual relations?

Rick's comment: Hi Aaron - yes, incestuous sexual relations are linked to idolatrous practices. For example, Moses warns Israel not to do like they did in Egypt where you came from or in Canaan where you are going, Leviticus 18:3. Marrying close relatives was a relatively common practice from the time of Adam and Eve until God gives Moses the law on Mt. Sinai.

The children of Adam and Eve intermarried because there was no one else on earth for them to marry in the early days. As false religions took root across the ancient near east, brother-sister marriage became a part of pagan idolatry.

Marriage practices of ancient Egypt were linked to their false religions and that is one reason why God and Moses prohibited it.

Nov 05, 2014
Dr. Robert Gagnon does not agree
by: Aaron Saltzer

Robert Gagnon does not believe that Leviticus 18:22 referred strictly to homosexual prostitution. I'd suggest reading this link.


Rick's comment: Hi Aaron - I should point out that the Patheos link addresses Justin Lee's book, not my book and not my website.

You quibble over the word strictly. I believe you have misread my website. I never assert that Rob Gagnon believes "Lev 18:22 referred strictly to shrine prostitution."

In the article above, I quote Dr. Gagnon, who says:

"Homosexual cult prostitution appears to have been the primary form in which homosexual intercourse was practiced in Israel."

On my shrine prostitutes page, I also point out that Dr. Gagnon believes the Levitical prohibitions do not address the problem of shrine prostitution. He agrees that shrine prostitution is the context but in his opinion, those prohibitions also include gays and lesbians.

"Isn't it interesting that one of the most vocal opponents of gay Christians devotes more than ten pages of his book, pp. 100-110, to proving that shrine prostitutes were a major problem in ancient Israel, while insisting that the Levitical prohibitions do not address the problem of shrine prostitutes?"

Nov 05, 2014
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
by: Aaron Saltzer

I'd like you to state which god or goddess was appeased by homosexual prostitution? The video on your "Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13" page doesn't hold water, considering sacrificing children was a part of worshiping Moloch. Nothing else. So the fact that the prohibition of men lying with men as with women follows the prohibition of not sacrificing children to Moloch, is irrelevant and means nothing.

You cannot say that you believe what you believe bc other people have said so, especially when they don't. I don't believe Philo is referring to Leviticus 18:22 or Leviticus 20:13 when he's making that statement, considering he says nothing about men soliciting sex to other men.

Rick's comment: Hi Aaron - Did you read the article before commenting? It seems to me you are so focused on finding fault that you are not reading carefully and not thinking about what you read.

1. We are not talking about homosexual prostitution - that makes it sound like it was mostly gay men who were prostituting themselves in ancient times and no competent scholar makes that assertion. Shrine prostitutes were mostly heterosexual.

2. The goddess at issue is the fertility goddess. She had many names, depending on the ancient cultures which worshiped her.

3. Molech worship is the rubric under which God addresses shrine prostitution in the Bible. Molech's fertility goddess consort was Ashtoreth. See my shrine prostitutes page - please read it carefully and click on all of the links, for more information.

4. Concerning Philo, there are only three passages in the Old Testament which he could be citing when he refers to "our lawgiver." The Jewish lawgiver was Moses. Moses wrote Lev 18:22, 20:13 and Deu 23:17-18. All of those verses are about shrine prostitutes and Philo also describes the shrine prostitutes whom he personally witnessed, parading through the streets.

Hope this is helpful Aaron.

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