Thursday, March 18, 2010

Who Says Homosexuality is a Sin?

This is a question Joel Hoffman has asked.  And the answer is:  "The NLT does, right there in its 'translation' to Leviticus 18:22."

"Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin."

Hoffman goes on to say "that’s not what the Hebrew says" and explains how "what the NLT has here is an interpretation, not a translation."

I think how translator Robert Alter translates and how he explains is also useful:

With a male you shall not lie as one lies with a woman. It is an abhorrence.
The explicitness of this law–the Hebrew for ‘as one lies’ is the plural construct noun mishkevei, ‘bedding,’ used exclusively for sexual intercourse–suggests that it is a ban on intercourse and intercrural intercourse (the latter often practiced by the Greeks). Other forms of homosexual activity do not seem of urgent concern. The evident rationale for the prohibition is the wasting of seed in what the law appears to envisage as a kind of grotesque parody of heterosexual intercourse [i.e., for procreation primarily?]. (Lesbianism, which surely must have been known in the ancient Near East, is nowhere mentioned, perhaps because of no wasting of seed is involved, though the reason for the omission remains unclear). There is scant textual evidence to support the apologetic claim of some recent interpreters that the ban on homosexual congress is limited to the preceding list of incestuous unions. One may apply here the proposal of Mary Douglas that this is a culture that likes to keep lines of categorical distinction clear: no human-beast couplings are allowed (in contrast to the imaginative freedom on this topic of Greek myth), and any simulation of procreative heterosexual intercourse by the insertion of the male member in an orifice or fleshy crevice of another male is abhorrent.
Now, here's the Hebrew (at least it's the MT).  And then with all that Greek talk, we might compare the Greek (remembering how Aristotle, or at least a pseudo-sound-alike Aristotle used the word βδελυροὶ to express his disgust when discussing the shapes of women's body parts when they are unshapely and when they compare by his objective standard, sometimes, to κίναιδοι, or "catamites"):

וְאֶת־זָכָר לֹא תִשְׁכַּב מִשְׁכְּבֵי אִשָּׁה תֹּועֵבָה הִוא׃

καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν

Is Alter's translation a myopic one?  Is the Greek translation, if it's a translation, a myopic one?  Isn't the NLT something else altogether (committing what Alter calls the "heresy of explanation" as if the explanation is a good one)? 

I'm out of time for now, but as always am interested in what you see and how you feel about these sorts of things.