So we’ve talked about the bad things you can do; what are the penalties? There seem to be three: death, being “cut off from the people,” and being childless.

Crimes punishable by death: giving your children to Molech, cursing your parents, committing adultery, sex with your mother/step-mother or daughter-in-law, sex with another man, sex with a woman and her mother, sex with an animal, being a medium or wizard (necromancer and spirit medium in the NCT).

Crimes punishable by being “cut off”: consulting mediums or wizards, sex with a sister, sex with a menstruating woman.

Crimes punishable by childlessness: sex with an uncle’s wife, sex with a sister-in-law.

It’s unclear whether that last one is a divinely induced barrenness or whether perhaps they expected priests to see to it that the couple never had children. And yes, I am implying that maybe primitive abortion or even infanticide was involved. It’s very unclear.

As for the death sentences, all of them involving sex are mutual penalties. There’s no discussion of consent, and it clearly wasn’t important. Why else would they have the animals in an act of bestiality put to death? It’s not like they had any agency in seducing the human or agreeing to the sex. But they’ve been dirtied by the violation, and so they can’t be allowed to live.

That has scary implications for these death penalties. What if a man raped his daughter-in-law? It doesn’t matter, she dies with him. What if a man raped another man? Well, that poor guy got turned into a woman, so he has to die too.

Later rabbinical interpretation would read consent back into these passages by saying that in order for them to be just, both parties had to have agreed to the sin. But again, the moral and the ritual don’t seem as clear in these early portions. These aren’t sins because they hurt people, it’s because they violate boundaries of holiness. Boundaries of family, boundaries of gender, boundaries of species, boundaries between life and death (in the case of mediums). It doesn’t matter if one side was the instigator, death is the only way to eliminate the violation.

Maybe there was even an idea that the victim might want to die rather than live with the shame of what was done to them. It’s all relatively horrid to consider, and it’s small wonder that rabbis found ways of reinterpreting them. But given how the passages on male same-sex intercourse get used as cudgel verses, it’s not a bad idea to put them in that horrid context to realize that we can’t, with our post-prophetic understanding of justice, accept these verses at face value.


The Japanese: narau “to imitate, to follow” (v 5), kuchiyose “spiritualism, necromancy” (v 6), chitsujo “order, regularity” (v 12), arawanisuru “to expose, to lay bare” (v 18), ken’o suru “to hate, to be disgusted by” (v 23), shokoku “various countries” (v 24).