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."

"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."

NOTE: "The broadening..." is opinion presented as if it is fact when the reality is, it is NOT a biblical fact.

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,
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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.

Feb 24, 2015
You still haven't mentioned the issue of beastiality or murder of children.
by: Asher

So after reading through your FAQ section, you did not answer the question on beastiality, murder/sacrifice or for that give much on incest. Im pretty sure that Christ summed up everything in Matthew 22:37-40 "...and all the law and prophets are in these two commands".

Rick's comment: Hi Asher - I address Beastiality at this link.


Murder and sacrifice of babies by the Molech cult are addressed at these links.



Taking into account that early humans were incestuous and brother and sister did marry, reproduce, but in Levitical law its prohibited. Does that mean I can marry my sister, or should I still be concerned about social norms, but wait for the faith to evolve again for this to be acceptable.

Rick's comment: No, you cannot marry your sister.

If homosexuality is "idolatry" isn't that one of the "big ten", I heard someone ask?

Rick's comment: Why do you believe homosexuality is idolatry? That is not what the Bible says. Context Context Context Asher. It's as simple as that.


So will beastiality become a norm of our ever changing culture?

Rick's comment: Anti-gay folks allege that beastiality will become the norm. They use that scare tactic to dirty and vilify gays, to impugn our honor and character. By linking us to awful crimes like beastiality and pedophilia and murder, they hope their intellectually challenged followers will conclude we are like that.

Are the Ten Commandmants a part of the Mosaic Law or is there a distinction between that and Levitical law. So some is for all and some is for a few. Thats fine.

Rick's comment: I address the law and how Christians relate to Old Testament Law beginning on this page.


So what about the fact that we are adopted into the family of Abraham and become brothers and sisters in Christ who by the way was a Jew, Nazareen.

Rick, I by no means mean am an articulate fellow, I also not very good at grammer. My apologies, my spelling is also pretty bad, not even sure which one is right with spell checker. Please don't judge me too harshly. I also mean no offense by anything I wrote. Just questions :D. Let us reason one with another. If we still disagree thats okay cuz Christ has brought grace. I believe Ill see you on the other side too. However, I do strongly disagree with your message. It is a confusing view of who God is and our personal relationship with Him. Hence He made them Man and Woman. Gen 1:27-28, Mal 2:15 "For what purpose were they brought together to be one, to produce godly offspring."

In scripture and in original texts you can not argue that the sexual attribute given to God in grammatical form is that of a male, therefore we are the bride. If this does not stay true then is a corrupted image, "Idolatry". From beginning to end the message is the same. He is the same then, now and forever more.

Rick's comment: Gay men and lesbians, by virtue of their salvation by the blood of the Lamb, are already part of the Bride of Christ. https://www.gaychristian101.com/Christs-Bride.html

In nature we do see certain animals go from what would seem natural to also in scientific sence of the word "homo" sexual tendencies. But thats because when man and woman fell, the whole world did as well, and all kinds of bad stuff happend because of that.

Anyway Love ya, love those that struggle with this, love those that don't, love those believe they're right but ain't, love those who know their wrong and are, love those believe they're wrong but ain't, and will also love in truth as much as I can by God's grace through Christ Jesus my Lord. Really in the end its all about if Jesus died and rose from the grave on the third day and sits at the right hand of the Heavenly Father. Am I right?

Rick's comment: It's really all about - are you saved by the blood of the Lamb?

Jul 08, 2015
Hosea 4:14
by: Aaron Saltzer

Some translations actually mention lesbianism occurring in this verse, Hosea 4:14.

Rick's comment: Hi Aaron - I'm not aware of any translation which mentions lesbianism in Hosea 4:14 in 19 translations.

"I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall."

Here is the Hebrew text of Hosea 4:14.

Here is the Septuagint Greek text of Hosea 4:14.

I don't see anything about lesbianism in the Hebrew or Greek or English. What specific translations are you referring to?

Jul 11, 2015
Hosea 4:14
by: Aaron Saltzer

Rick's question: I don't see anything about lesbianism in Hosea 4:14, in the Hebrew or Greek or English. What specific translations are you referring to?

Aaron's answer: The KJV.

Rick's comment: Hi Aaron - I provided the KJV reading of Hosea 4:14 in the previous comment plus the Hebrew and the Septuagint Greek translations. There is nothing in Hosea 4:14 about lesbians or lesbianism in Hebrew, Greek or English.

If someone says Hosea 4:14 is about lesbians and lesbianism, they must prove from the text that that is so. Where is the proof in the text of Hosea 4:14? Simply asserting that it's about lesbians is not proof.

Mar 10, 2018
What John MacArthur really believes
by: Peter W

Hi Rick, I notice that you often reference selective quotations from mainstream authors and pastors (as well as scripture) to support your various assertions about God's view of homosexual acts. Just in case you & others aren't aware, here are a few Youtube clips of sermons from "mega church pastor" John MacArthur, who you claim is supportive of your own viewpoint on these matters:

Rick's comment: Hi Peter - Your statement is factually incorrect. I assert that Pastor John MacArthur agrees with me on the context of the clobber passages.

That is radically different from what you wrote, that I say John MacArthur supports my views on these matters.

I deleted links to videos because I do not, as a general rule, allow people to post links in the Comments section.

I trust that any of your readers who are genuinely concerned about these matters will prayerfully review these clips and, with God's grace & help, respond accordingly. God bless.

Mar 12, 2023
Who's taking what out of context?
by: Pastor H.

I'm not going to cite any biblical commentaries or quote Hebrew, but just note that your assessment of the context of Lev. 18.22 seems skewed.

Rick's comment: Hi Pastor H- I will briefly address your comments.

The page on which you are commenting isn't my assessment of the context of Lev. 18:22.

It is the assessment of James Neill, John MacArthur, Robert Gagnon and Philo the ancient Jewish philosopher, who was a contemporary of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul.

Unless the RSV has mistranslated vv. 19-23, any conclusions drawn about v. 21 don't really apply to verse 22 any more than they do to vv. 19, 20, or 23. Each verse is its own prohibitory statement.

If your logic holds then as long it's not part of a godless rite it's OK for me to sleep with my neighbor's wife or have sex with his dog. You're not saying that, are you?

No, of course I am not saying that. I answer that specious argument - superficially plausible but factually wrong - on my shrine prostitutes page.

The blue links are clickable and lead to more information.

I would also be curious to know why I can't find one single translation out of dozens I checked on BibleGateway.com that says, "...with a male prostitute." They all say with a male, man, mankind... period.

Instead of making a biblical argument based on what the text says in context, you're setting up a straw man argument.

No one suggested that Leviticus 18:22 should be re-translated to say "with a male prostitute."

It seems to me, you make that specious argument to avoid dealing with the truth that even the most conservative Christian, anti-gay scholars admit that:

the context of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 is shrine prostitution.

It's also curious that it is only in the last few decades that the biblical justification for homosexuality has taken root.

Christians like Aristides, who lived within 70 years of the apostle Paul, understood Romans 1 to be referencing shrine prostitution.

Philo the famous Jewish philosopher, almost two thousand years ago, linked Leviticus 18:22 to the Greek word, arsenokoitai, indicating, even from a secular source like Philo, that arsenokoitai described shrine prostitutes.

That view isn't recent. It is about 2000 years old.

Amazing how centuries of Christian theology has been proven wrong in just a few short years!!!

Well, to go any further is fruitless, I'm sure. I fear this debate will only be settled on judgment day.

The truth is, your view is the recent, culture war view. You view is not the view of ancient Christians and is not the view of Christians for the last two thousand years.

Pastor H, instead of assuming you are right, without any facts to support your conclusion, and I am wrong, with no facts to support that conclusion, why not discipline yourself to do more study?

If facts and truth count for anything with you, then you owe it to yourself and the people you pastor, to not give up now.

The LORD of Glory has a lot more truth for you to discover if you are willing to search it out.

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