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Leviticus 18

Exhortation to Obedience and Life

18:1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 18:2 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them, ‘I am the Lord your God! 18:3 You must not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you have been living, 1  and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan into which I am about to bring you; 2  you must not 3  walk in their statutes. 18:4 You must observe my regulations 4  and you must be sure to walk in my statutes. 5  I am the Lord your God. 18:5 So you must keep 6  my statutes and my regulations; anyone who does so will live by keeping them. 7  I am the Lord.

Laws of Sexual Relations

18:6 “‘No man is to approach any close relative 8  to have sexual intercourse with her. 9  I am the Lord. 10  18:7 You must not 11  expose your father’s nakedness by having sexual intercourse with your mother. 12  She is your mother; you must not have intercourse with her. 18:8 You must not have sexual intercourse with your father’s wife; she is your father’s nakedness. 13  18:9 You must not have sexual intercourse with your sister, whether she is your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, 14  whether she is born in the same household or born outside it; 15  you must not have sexual intercourse with either of them. 16  18:10 You must not expose the nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter by having sexual intercourse with them, because they are your own nakedness. 17  18:11 You must not have sexual intercourse with the daughter of your father’s wife born of your father; she is your sister. You must not have intercourse with her. 18  18:12 You must not have sexual intercourse with your father’s sister; she is your father’s flesh. 19  18:13 You must not have sexual intercourse with your mother’s sister, because she is your mother’s flesh. 18:14 You must not expose the nakedness of your father’s brother; you must not approach his wife to have sexual intercourse with her. 20  She is your aunt. 21  18:15 You must not have sexual intercourse with your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife. You must not have intercourse with her. 18:16 You must not have sexual intercourse with your brother’s wife; she is your brother’s nakedness. 22  18:17 You must not have sexual intercourse with both a woman and her daughter; you must not take as wife either her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to have intercourse with them. 23  They are closely related to her 24  – it is lewdness. 25  18:18 You must not take a woman in marriage and then marry her sister as a rival wife 26  while she is still alive, 27  to have sexual intercourse with her.

18:19 “‘You must not approach a woman in her menstrual impurity 28  to have sexual intercourse with her. 18:20 You must not have sexual intercourse 29  with the wife of your fellow citizen to become unclean with her. 18:21 You must not give any of your children as an offering to Molech, 30  so that you do not profane 31  the name of your God. I am the Lord! 18:22 You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman; 32  it is a detestable act. 33  18:23 You must not have sexual intercourse 34  with any animal to become defiled with it, and a woman must not stand before an animal to have sexual intercourse with it; 35  it is a perversion. 36 

Warning against the Abominations of the Nations

18:24 “‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things, for the nations which I am about to drive out before you 37  have been defiled with all these things. 18:25 Therefore 38  the land has become unclean and I have brought the punishment for its iniquity upon it, 39  so that the land has vomited out its inhabitants. 18:26 You yourselves must obey 40  my statutes and my regulations and must not do any of these abominations, both the native citizen and the resident foreigner in your midst, 41  18:27 for the people who were in the land before you have done all these abominations, 42  and the land has become unclean. 18:28 So do not make the land vomit you out because you defile it 43  just as it has vomited out the nations 44  that were before you. 18:29 For if anyone does any of these abominations, the persons who do them will be cut off from the midst of their people. 45  18:30 You must obey my charge to not practice any of the abominable statutes 46  that have been done before you, so that you do not 47  defile yourselves by them. I am the Lord your God.’”

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1 tn Heb “As the work [or “deed”] of the land of Egypt, which you were dwelling in it, you must not do.”

2 tn Heb “and as the work [or “deed”] of the land of Canaan which I am bringing you to there, you must not do.” The participle “I am bringing” is inceptive; the Lord is “about to” bring them into the land of Canaan, as opposed to their having dwelt previously in the land of Egypt (see the first part of the verse).

3 tn Heb “and you shall not walk.”

4 tn Heb “My regulations you shall do”; KJV, NASB “my judgments”; NRSV “My ordinances”; NIV, TEV “my laws.”

sn The Hebrew term translated “regulation” (מִשְׁפָּט, mishpat) refers to the set of regulations about to be set forth in the following chapters (cf. Lev 19:37; 20:22; 25:18; 26:46). Note especially the thematic and formulaic relationships between the introduction here in Lev 18:1-5 and the paraenesis in Lev 20:22-26, both of which refer explicitly to the corrupt nations and the need to separate from them by keeping the Lord’s regulations.

5 tn Heb “and my statutes you shall keep [or “watch; guard”] to walk in them.”

6 tn Heb “And you shall keep.”

7 tn Heb “which the man shall do them and shall live in them.” The term for “a man, human being; mankind” (אָדָם, ’adam; see the note on Lev 1:2) in this case refers to any person among “mankind,” male or female. The expression וָחַי (vakhay, “and shall live”) looks like the adjective “living” so it is written וְחָיָה (vÿkhayah) in Smr, but the MT form is simply the same verb written as a double ayin verb (see HALOT 309 s.v. חיה qal and GKC 218 §76.i; cf. Lev 25:35).

8 tn Heb “Man, man shall not draw near to any flesh (שְׁאֵר, shÿer) of his body/flesh (בָּשָׂר, basar).” The repetition of the word “man” is distributive, meaning “any (or “every”) man” (GKC 395-96 §123.c; cf. Lev 15:2). The two words for “flesh” are combined to refer to emphasize the physical familial relatedness (see J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 282, and B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 119).

9 tn Heb “to uncover [her] nakedness” (cf. KJV, ASV, NASB, NRSV), which is clearly euphemistic for sexual intercourse (see J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 282, and B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 119). This expression occurs a number of times in the following context and is generally translated “have sexual intercourse with [someone],” although in the case of the father mentioned in the following verse the expression may be connected to the shame or disgrace that would belong to the father whose wife’s sexuality is violated by his son. See the note on the word “mother” in v. 7.

10 sn The general statement prohibiting sexual intercourse between close relatives serves as an opening summary statement for the following section, which gives details concerning which degrees of relationship are specifically forbidden.

11 tn The verbal negative here is the same as that used in the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:4-5, 7, 13-17). It suggests permanent prohibition rather than a simple negative command and could, therefore, be rendered “must not” here and throughout the following section as it is in vv. 3-4 above.

12 tn Heb “The nakedness of your father and [i.e., even] the nakedness of your mother you shall not uncover.”

sn Commentators suggest that the point of referring to the father’s nakedness is that the mother’s sexuality belongs to the father and is forbidden to the son on that account (see B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 120, and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 294). The expression may, however, derive from the shame of nakedness when exposed. If one exposes his mother’s nakedness to himself it is like openly exposing the father’s nakedness (cf. Gen 9:22-23 with the background of Gen 2:25 and 3:7, 21). The same essential construction is used in v. 10 where the latter explanation makes more sense than the former.

13 tn Heb “the nakedness of your father she is.” See the note on v. 7 above. This law refers to another wife of the man’s father, who is not that man’s mother. The laws in the Pentateuch sometimes assume the possibility that a man may have more than one wife (cf., e.g., Deut 21:15-17).

14 tn Heb “the daughter of your father or the daughter of your mother.”

15 tn Heb “born of house or born of outside.” CEV interprets as “whether you grew up together or not” (cf. also TEV, NLT).

16 tc Several medieval Hebrew mss, Smr, LXX, and Syriac have “her nakedness” rather than “their nakedness,” thus agreeing with singular “sister” at the beginning of the verse.

tn For a smooth English translation “either of” was added.

17 sn That is, to have sexual intercourse with one’s granddaughter would be like openly exposing one’s own shameful nakedness (see the note on v. 7 above).

18 tn Heb “The nakedness of the daughter of your father’s wife born of your father, she is your sister; you must not uncover her nakedness.” That is, a half sister, the daughter of the man’s father by another wife, who is not the man’s mother, is to be considered a true sister. Therefore, the man must not have sexual intercourse with her.

19 tc A few medieval Hebrew mss, the LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate all read “because she is the flesh of your father,” like the MT of v. 13.

20 tn Heb “you must not draw near to his wife.” In the context this refers to approaching one’s aunt to have sexual intercourse with her, so this has been specified in the translation for clarity.

21 tn As in v. 12 (see the note there), some mss and versions have “because she is your aunt.”

22 sn Regarding the last clause, see the notes on vv. 7 and 10 above.

23 tn Heb “You must not uncover the nakedness of both a woman and her daughter; the daughter of her son and the daughter of her daughter you must not take to uncover her nakedness.” Translating “her” as “them” provides consistency in the English. In this kind of context, “take” means to “take in marriage” (cf. also v. 18). The LXX and Syriac have “their nakedness,” referring to the nakedness of the woman’s granddaughters, rather than the nakedness of the woman herself.

24 tc Heb “they are her flesh.” The LXX reads “your” here (followed by NRSV). If the LXX reading were followed by the present translation, the result would be “They are closely related to you.”

25 tn The term rendered “lewdness” almost always carries a connotation of cunning, evil device, and divisiveness (cf. HALOT 272 s.v. I זִמָּה 2, “infamy”), and is closely associated with sexual and religious infidelity (cf., e.g., Lev 19:29; 20:14; Job 31:11; Jer 13:27; Ezek 16:27; 22:9). Recent English versions differ on how they handle this: NAB “would be shameful”; CEV “would make you unclean”; NIV “wickedness”; NLT “horrible wickedness”; NRSV “depravity”; TEV “incest.”

26 tn Or “as a concubine”; Heb “And a woman to her sister you shall not take to be a second wife [or “to be a concubine”].” According to HALOT 1059 s.v. III צרר, the infinitive “to be a second wife” (לִצְרֹר, litsror) is a denominative verb from II צָרָה A (“concubine; second wife”), which, in turn, derives from II צר “to treat with hostility” (cf. J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 283, and B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 122).

27 tn Heb “on her in her life.”

28 tn Heb “in the menstruation of her impurity”; NIV “during the uncleanness of her monthly period.”

29 tn Heb “And to the wife of your fellow citizen you shall not give your layer for seed.” The meaning of “your layer” (שְׁכָבְתְּךָ, shÿkhavtÿkha) is uncertain (see B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 122, “you shall not place your layer of semen”; but cf. also J. E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC], 283, and the literature cited there for the rendering, “you shall not give your penis for seed”).

30 tn Heb “And from your seed you shall not give to cause to pass over to Molech.” Smr (cf. also the LXX) has “to cause to serve” rather than “to cause to pass over.” For detailed remarks on Molech and Molech worship see N. H. Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers (NCBC), 87-88; P. J. Budd, Leviticus (NCBC), 259-60; and J. E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC), 333-37, and the literature cited there. It could refer to either human sacrifice or a devotion of children to some sort of service of Molech, perhaps of a sexual sort (cf. Lev 20:2-5; 2 Kgs 23:10, etc.). The inclusion of this prohibition against Molech worship here may be due to some sexual connection of this kind, or perhaps simply to the lexical link between זֶרַע (zera’) meaning “seed, semen” in v. 20 but “offspring” in v. 21.

31 tn Heb “and you shall not profane.” Regarding “profane,” see the note on Lev 10:10 above.

32 tn Heb “And with a male you shall not lay [as the] lyings of a woman” (see B. A. Levine, Leviticus [JPSTC], 123). The specific reference here is to homosexual intercourse between males.

33 tn The Hebrew term תּוֹעֵבָה (toevah, rendered “detestable act”) refers to the repugnant practices of foreigners, whether from the viewpoint of other peoples toward the Hebrews (e.g., Gen 43:32; 46:34; Exod 8:26) or of the Lord toward other peoples (see esp. Lev 18:26-27, 29-30). It can also designate, as here, detestable acts that might be perpetrated by the native peoples (it is used again in reference to homosexuality in Lev 20:13; cf. also its use for unclean food, Deut 14:3; idol worship, Isa 41:24; remarriage to a former wife who has been married to someone else in between, Deut 24:4).

34 tn See the note on v. 20 above.

35 tn Heb “to copulate with it” (cf. Lev 20:16).

36 tn The Hebrew term תֶּבֶל (tevel, “perversion”) derives from the verb “to mix; to confuse” and therefore refers to illegitimate mixtures of species or violation of the natural order of things.

37 tn Heb “which I am sending away (Piel participle of שָׁלַח [shalakh, “to send”]) from your faces.” The rendering here takes the participle as anticipatory of the coming conquest events.

38 tn Heb “And.” The Hebrew conjunction ו (vav, “and”) can be considered to have resultative or even inferential force here.

39 tn Heb “and I have visited its [punishment for] iniquity on it.” See the note on Lev 17:16 above.

40 tn Heb “And you shall keep, you.” The latter emphatic personal pronoun “you” is left out of a few medieval Hebrew mss, Smr, the LXX, Syriac, and Vulgate.

41 tn Heb “the native and the sojourner”; NIV “The native-born and the aliens”; NAB “whether natives or resident aliens.”

42 tn Heb “for all these abominations the men of the land who were before you have done.”

43 tn Heb “And the land will not vomit you out in your defiling it.”

44 tc The MT reads the singular “nation” and is followed by ASV, NASB, NRSV; the LXX, Syriac, and Targum have the plural “nations” (cf. v. 24).

45 sn Regarding the “cut off” penalty see the note on Lev 7:20.

46 tn Heb “to not do from the statutes of the detestable acts.”

47 tn Heb “and you will not.” The Hebrew conjunction ו (vav, “and”) can be considered to have resultative force here.

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