Sex in the Hebrew Bible

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Sex is considered repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible. Some references provide unambiguous ethical regulations, such as the laws given in Leviticus or Deuteronomy. Others are more ambivalent, most famously the potentially homosexual actions of Ham with his father, Noah. Its depictions of homosexuality, rape, prostitution and incest have spurred considerable academic and theological attention.


The Hebrew Bible possibly refers to homosexuality three times,[1][2] though the word itself does not occur in many English translations.[3] These passages are interpreted differently.[4][5][6] Leviticus 18:22 says:

"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination."[7]

Leviticus 20:13 says:

"If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them."[8]

Ham's actions in Genesis 9:20-25 possibly refer to homosexual behavior with his father Noah, while the latter was passed out drunk in his tent.[9][10]


Although the Hebrew Bible contains numerous references to rape, this was mostly unrecognized by commentators until the 20th century. It was not until the late 1970s, with the emergence of the anti-rape movement due to second-wave feminism, that feminist scholars reanalyzed Biblical scenarios in terms of sexual violence.[11] Hebrew contains several verbs that can refer to rape, making interpretation difficult.[11]

Portrait of Lot with his daughter, painted by Altdorfer.
The Biblical character Lot slept with his own daughters.

A commonly-cited example of Biblical rape is the Levite's concubine found in Judges.[12][13]


Lot's daughters had sex with him after they got him drunk for the purpose of becoming pregnant.[14]


Two different words for prostitute occur in the Hebrew Bible, zonah (זונה) and kedeshah (קדשה). This led to the belief that kedeshah were not ordinary prostitutes, but sacred harlots who worked in fertility temples.[15]


Exodus 20:14, as the seventh commandment, prohibits adultery. Second Samuel 11:3-5 describes King David's act of adultery with Bathsheba:

"And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, 'Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?' 4 And David sent messengers, and took her, and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house. 5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, 'I am with child."


See also


  1. ^ "Homosexuality - Thematic Subject Guide". BlueLetterBible.
  2. ^ "Bible Verses about Homosexuality". BibleStudyTools.
  3. ^ "Bible Search Results for "homosexuality"". BlueLetterBible.
  4. ^ "Translations and interpretations of Leviticus 18:22; all views". Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  5. ^ "Translations and interpretations of Leviticus 18:22; all views next page". Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  6. ^ "comparing-beliefs-about-homosexuality-and-its-cause(s)". Retrieved 2019-09-19.
  7. ^ "Lev 18:22 NKJV - Bible Gateway".
  8. ^ "Lev 20:13 NKJV - Bible Gateway".
  9. ^ Genesis 9:20-23
  10. ^ David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, Astrid B. Beck, Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing: 2000), p. 543
  11. ^ a b Scholz, Susanne (2010). Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-1-5064-8203-3. OCLC 1241446783.
  12. ^ Bergant, Dianne (1985). "Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. By Phyllis Trible. Overtures to Biblical Theology, 13. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984. xiv + 128 pages. $7.95 (paper)". Horizons. 12 (2): 371–372. doi:10.1017/S036096690003509X. ISSN 0360-9669.
  13. ^ Hodgetts, Pauline (August 1996). "Fragmented Women: Feminist (Sub)versions of Biblical Narratives. By J. Cheryl Exum. Sheffield Academic Press, 1993. Pp. 223. £27.50". Scottish Journal of Theology. 49 (3): 384–386. doi:10.1017/S0036930600048407. ISSN 0036-9306.
  14. ^ Genesis 19:30-36
  15. ^ The Oxford dictionary of the Jewish religion. Adele Berlin (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. 2011. p. 596. ISBN 978-0-19-973004-9. OCLC 660161906.CS1 maint: others (link)
  16. ^ Genesis 38:13-24
  17. ^ Judges 16:1
  18. ^ Hosea 1:2
  19. ^ Dancy, J. The Divine Drama: the Old Testament as Literature, (ISBN 0718829875, ISBN 978-0-7188-2987-2), 2002, p. 92
  20. ^ Genesis 38:8-10
  21. ^ Patton, Michael S. (June 1985). "Masturbation from Judaism to Victorianism". Journal of Religion and Health. Springer Netherlands. 24 (2): 133–146. doi:10.1007/BF01532257. ISSN 0022-4197. PMID 24306073. Social change in attitudes toward masturbation has occurred at the professional level only since 1960 and at the popular level since 1970. [133] ... onanism and masturbation erroneously became synonymous... [134] ... there is no legislation in the Bible pertaining to masturbation. [135]
  22. ^ Kwee, Alex W.; David C. Hoover (2008). "Theologically-Informed Education about Masturbation: A Male Sexual Health Perspective" (PDF). Journal of Psychology and Theology. La Mirada, CA, USA: Rosemead School of Psychology. Biola University. 36 (4): 258–269. ISSN 0091-6471. Retrieved 12 November 2011. The Bible presents no clear theological ethic on masturbation, leaving many young unmarried Christians with confusion and guilt around their sexuality.
  23. ^ Proverbs 5 (King James Version)


  • Akerly, Ben Edward, The X-Rated Bible: An Irreverent Survey of Sex in the Scriptures (American Atheist Press, 1985) ISBN 0-910309-19-1
  • Smith, Morton H., Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession Standards, (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group) 1999.

Further reading

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