Abomination (to’evah)

In chapter 9 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation, I grappled with this word “abomination.” This is a favorite anti-gay clobber word and it has been weaponized time and again. In chapter 9, I wrote:

“Law and order” kinds of Christians may pick and choose (in other words, cherry-pick or proof-text) particular verses to be used as a weapon to condemn or judge. Deuteronomy (and Leviticus) are great sources for such one-liners, including the anti-gay favorite “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination [to’evah]” (Leviticus 18:22 KJV). In my experience, this English word, “abomination,” has become almost synonymous with Christians spitting hatred at same-gender-loving people.

In chapter 9, I went on to cite TransTexts, which you can read in full at the Keshet website:

To’evah: The Hebrew word “to’evah” is most commonly translated into English as “abomination.” However, “abomination” has moral overtones that do not fully capture the Hebrew. Although this term is used to refer to forbidden sexual practices, in the book of Deuteronomy it is also used to refer to animals that are forbidden for consumption (see Chapter 14) such as deer, goat and antelope. This demonstrates that unlike the English word “abomination” the Hebrew “to’evah” is morally neutral. A better translation might be “completely off-limits.”

I advocate strongly in OtherWise Christian for listening carefully to Jewish scholars when reading such material from the Hebrew scripture. The Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) blog includes several relevant posts including a word study on this word, to’evah, in particular:

Some folks say that the word תועבה (to’evah) should be translated as “taboo,” because, as we’ve shown, cultural context matters.

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means (part 2)

For those who want to explore further into Leviticus 18:22 (a favorite anti-gay clobber passage), I recommend another series from SOJOURN:

If you read through that series to part 5, you’ll see that they point to the same “men vs unmen” heirarchy that was offered by Sean Burke in Queering the Ethiopian Eunuch and by Megan DeFranza in Sex Difference in Christian Theology. “Being a man” was about more than just certain biological characteristics in the ancient world. It was about race, class, nationality, and most especially about power.

It’s not that cross-dressing or male-on-male sex is immoral or against God’s will universally. It’s that (1) these taboo behaviors were prominent in other (i.e. non-Jewish) cultures in the ancient world and (2) these taboo behaviors would cause you to be seen as “less than” a man in the “men vs unmen” hierarchy. Nonetheless, both Jewish and Christian traditions would go on to move away from such toxic masculinity to affirm effeminate men and eunuchs.

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on July 9, 2019.

Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have corrections or are able to contribute further context or reflections.

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