Homosexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures
Books of Deuteronomy, Judges, Kings
This verse is controversial because of the many translations of the Hebrew word
"Qadesh." The same Hebrew word and same translational difficulties
also appear in:
||1 Kings 14:24, 15:12 & 22:46
||2 Kings 23:7
Some Bible translations of this verse are:
ESV: (English Standard Version): "None of the daughters of
Israel shall be a cult prostitute, and none of the sons of Israel
shall be a cult prostitute."
KJV: (King James Version): "There shall be no whore of the daughters of
Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel."
LB: (Living Bible): "No prostitutes are permitted in Israel, either men
NIV: (New International Version) "No Israelite man or woman is to become
a shrine prostitute."
NLT: (New Living Translation): "No Israelite man or woman may ever become
a temple prostitute."
RSV: (Revised Standard Version): "There shall be no
cult prostitutes of
the daughters of Israel, neither shall there be a cult prostitute of the sons of
Note that the King James Version refers here to a male "sodomite." Back in
the start of the 17th century CE, when this version of the Bible was translated, the term
"sodomite" referred to a person who engaged in what were then called "unnatural"
sexual acts of any type, including anal sex, oral sex, etc. 1 Thus, the
translators translated the Hebrew word "qadesh" into a generic term
for what was then considered "unnatural" sex. It is interesting to note how the translators of the
Century King James Version handled this verse. The publishers claim that they
text of the original King James Version wherever word meanings
have changed. The term "sodomite" in 21st century American has changed
its meaning from 1611 CE. It is now a
derisive term that refers only to male homosexuals. Yet, the translators
preserved the verse from the King James Version without change. They might have
feared economic repercussions if they upgraded the translation. People are used
to "sodomite" appearing here.
In other biblical translations listed above, one refers to a male prostitute,
and three refer to a shrine, temple or cult prostitute -- that is a prostitute
in a Pagan temple. It is obvious that at least some of these English translations
of this verse are in error.
Conservative Christians: Many Evangelicals prefer the KJV to the NIV translation of this verse. It
condemns all male homosexual activity, and is thus applicable to all
male gays today, whether they are involved in casual sex or in a
monogamous, consensual, committed relationship. The other translations
refer to male prostitutes (whether they offer services to men, women or
both) and to temple prostitutes, which are extremely rare in North
Liberal Christians and homosexual support groups: The translators of the KJV made an error in this verse
when they mistranslated the word "qadesh" in the original
"sodomite". One source speculates that the translators in
1611 CE believed that "qadesh" was in some way related to the sexual
practices of Sodom as described in Genesis 19.
2 "Qadesh" literally "means 'holy one' and is here used to
refer to a man who engages in ritual prostitution" in a Pagan temple.
3 Among Pagan religions in the Middle East, worship
often involved ritual sex in the temple, "often with a sacred
prostitute who was like a priest or priestess. This sacred sexual
activity was believed to encourage the god(s) to bestow fertility on the
earth and its creatures." [Typo corrected]. 7 There is no indication in the Bible, in other
documents of the time, or in the archaeological record, that these male
prostitutes serviced other males. When the Hebrew Scriptures were
translated into the Greek Septuagint during the 3rd and 2nd century BCE,
the translators used six different terms for the one Hebrew word. None "would
have suggested homosexuality to the theologians of the early [Christian]
The Living Bible also
contains an obvious translation error; they refer to prostitutes in general, rather than only
those prostitutes who engage in ritual sex in a ritual Pagan temple
A particularly clear example of the effect of prejudice by
translators is seen in the New King James Version which refers to
a female "ritual harlot" and a male "perverted one." Other Bible translations,
including the NIV, use accurate terms such as shrine prostitute, temple
prostitute, and cult prostitute. The term "cult" in this case means type of religious service, not an evil, mind-controlling
The entire verse seems to condemn ritual prostitution in Pagan temples, whether
by men or women. It has nothing to say about gay or lesbian sexual activity
today, within either a casual or a
A Jewish interpretation: Rabbi Gershon Caudill 5
quotes the Talmud 6 as concluding that this passage
refers to homosexual ritual sex in the temple. But he refers to Targum
Onkelos who concluded that the men provided sexual services to the
female visitors to the idolatrous temples.
An unnamed Levite visited the town of Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin, with his slaves
and a concubine. He met an old farmer and was made welcome. A gang of men appeared and
demanded that the old man send out the Levite that they might homosexually rape, or
assault him, or find out whether he was a threat to the town. (As in
the similar story about
Sodom in Genesis 19,
it is again not clear what the precise meaning of the verb to know was). The old
man argued that they should not abuse the visitor. He offered to give them both the
Levite's concubine and his own virgin daughter to be heterosexually raped. The mob
accepted the former, and serially raped her all night. She was able to make it back to the
house, where she collapsed at the front door and died. The Levite had not bothered to
check on her during the night; he only found her, dead, when he resumed his trip. He
sliced up her body into 12 pieces and sent one to each of the tribes of Israel. This
triggered a civil war between the tribe of Benjamin, and an army of 400,000 soldiers,
drawn from the remaining 11 tribes. (Judges 20). Tens of thousands died during the
fighting. Apparently all of the Benjamin towns were burned and their women systematically
exterminated during the battles.
The event in Gibeah is similar to that that at Sodom. However, there are some
differences between the two stories:
||Gibeah was a Hebrew town of the tribe of Benjamin whereas Sodom and Gomorrah were
||This time, the mob accepted the offer of a woman to rape in place of the visitor; the
woman was killed by the mob.
||The people of Gibeah were not punished by God but were killed by fellow
This war of genocide generated a major problem: The men of the remaining 11 tribes had
earlier sworn an oath to not let any Benjamin man marry any of their daughters. Thus, the
surviving Benjamin men had no way to obtain replacement wives. Since marriage to non-Jews
was prohibited, the tribe was destined to eventually die out. The remaining
distressed that one entire tribe would be wiped off the face of the earth. They conspired
to find wives for the Benjamin men in two ways:
||Because no men from Jabesh Gilead had assembled with the 11 tribes at Mizpah to prepare
for the civil war, an army was sent there to kill every man, woman and child
in the tribe, sparing only
400 young women who were lucky enough to be still virgins. The latter were kidnapped and
given to the men of Benjamin. The oath was not broken, because none of the Jabesh Gilead
fathers had given their daughters in marriage; all had been killed in the battle.
||The elders engaged in a conspiracy with the men of Benjamin to kidnap girls from Shiloh
during their annual festival. Since the girls were to be taken against their will and
against the will of their fathers, the oath was not broken; none of the fathers gave
permission for their daughters to marry the Benjamites.
Through much bloodshed and kidnapping, the surviving few hundred men of Benjamin were
able to seize sufficient brides. Eventually, the tribe was rebuilt.
Various interpretations of Judges 19:14-29:
Conservative Christians: Most theologians would consider this event to be entirely separate in time
and place from the story of Sodom in Genesis 19. The Schofield Bible dates
Genesis 19 to 1898 BCE and Judges 19 to 1406 BCE --
almost a half millennium apart. Similarities between the two stories are simply coincidences. The
citizens of the town were degenerate and sinful because they originally demanded to have
homosexual sex with the male visitor. This was compounded by their rape and killing of the
concubine. The passage condemns both homosexuality and the sexual assault of women.
Liberal Christians: Most theologians would assume that this is simply a retelling of the original
Genesis 19 story, in a different location and era. Either or both events
Surprisingly, there was no condemnation against the Levite for causing the
death of his
concubine, or for committing an indignity to her body by mutilating it. Judges 20:5
emphasizes that the aim of the mob was to kill the stranger -- the ultimate act of
inhospitality. It appears that these passages condemn abusive treatment of visitors. If
they actually refer to homosexual activity, then they would have condemned homosexual rape, which
crime of power. Its purpose would have been to humiliate the strangers. It would
have been unrelated to consensual homosexual activity.
I Kings 14:24, 15:12 and 22:46; II Kings 23:7
These verses describe wiping out male prostitutes, either "in the land"
or "in houses of male prostitution around [or in] the Temple." The key
Hebrew word qadesh is again translated (incorrectly) as sodomite in the King
James Version, but (correctly) as male cult prostitutes, or male
shrine prostitutes in some other versions of the Bible. The Living Bible mistranslates "qadesh"
simply as "homosexuality" in I Kings 14:24.
Conservative Christians: These are four more verses which show God's condemnation of homosexuality.
They reinforce and confirm earlier passages in the Old Testament
Liberal Christians: This again condemns male prostitution in Pagan temple cult rituals. It is
unclear whether the male prostitutes had male or female customers. The verses are
unrelated to today's consensual homosexual activity.
Various Christian groups interpret Bible passages in totally different ways, and reach
mutually exclusive conclusions:
Conservative Christians: God's Word in the Old Testament refers repeatedly and consistently to homosexuality as a
forbidden, detestable practice deserving of the most severe punishment by God or mankind.
Since God does not change, these prohibitions must be equally valid today.
Liberal Christians: These Hebrew Scriptures refer repeatedly to punishment of prostitutes
who engage in ritual sex in Pagan temples, and punishment of people who rape
women. The Hebrew Scriptures are silent on same-gender sexual behavior,
whether in the form of casual sex, or within committed, consensual,
loving homosexual relationships.
Inge Anderson, "What is an abomination to God?" at:
"Curious 'translations' and editings," at:
"Deuteronomy 23:17," Whosoever, at:
Rev. Lindsay Louise Biddle, "Biblical self-defense source on lesbian,
gay and bisexual concerns," at:
http://www.mlp.org/ You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
Reb Gershon Caudill, "A Heterosexual Jewish Rebbe's View on the
(Supposedly) Homosexual Texts in the Hebrew Bible," at: at:
- BT Sanhedrin 54B.
"Free to be gay: A brief look at the Bible and homosexuality,"
Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, at:
Copyright © 1976 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update and review: 2009-FEB-14
Author: B.A. Robinson