Lost (and Mistakenly Found) in Translation

Translation is interpretation. There's no way around that. There are words and concepts in one language that don't exist in other languages, and it's the translator's job to make them comprehensible. Some may choose to use a literal translation; others will choose to find the "tone" or "intention" of the original text. No matter which method is chosen, the translator's own views are almost always inserted on top of the text. To illustrate that, let's take a look at Leviticus 18:22 and some of the many translations that are out there. 

Here's the original verse, in Hebrew:

 

ואת זכר לא תשכב משכבי אשה תועבה הוא

V'et zakhar, lo tishkav mish-ka-veh isha, to-eh-vah hee.

 

And here are the myriad of translations for this one verse:

 

Jewish Publication Society

Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.

Richard Elliott Friedman:

And you shall not lie with a male like lying with a woman. It is an offensive thing.

Rabbi Steve Greenberg:

And with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman: it is abhorrent.

The Judaica Press

You shall not lie down with a male, as with a woman: this is an abomination.

New International Version:

Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

21st Century King James Version:

Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.

New Living Translation:

Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman.

It is a detestable sin.

English Standard:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.

God's Word Translation

Never have sexual intercourse with a man as with a woman. It is disgusting.

Good News Translation

 No man is to have sexual relations with another man; God hates that.

The Living Bible

Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an enormous sin.

Wycliffe Bible

Thou shalt not be meddled, [(or) mingled,] with a man, by lechery of a woman, for it is abomination. (Thou shalt not be mixed together with a man, like in fleshly coupling with a woman, for it is an abomination.)

 

So what does the actual verse mean? That's a really great question. And it's not one that we can answer here simply.  But, looking at the original Hebrew, we can safely say that the bible makes no mention of homosexuality as an identity. It only refers to male-male anal sex as a prohibition. Whether or not sex and sexuality are inextricably linked is another conversation, and is what is at the heart of much of this debate.

We'll be exploring these ideas much more in the coming days and weeks, and in the next post, we'll start to include some of the interpretations of these verses, using references to other biblical passages and Jewish theology.

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Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at robbie@sojourngsd.org.