[The following article is by Max Mills and appears at americablog.com]
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” – Lev 18:22“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” – Lev 20:13
“…in the Bible the term is in fact relative. For example, in the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, Joseph tells his brothers that if the Pharaoh asks them what their occupation is, they should say that they are cowherds. They must not say that they are shepherds. Why? Because, Joseph explains, all shepherds are an offensive thing (tō‘ēbāh) to the Egyptians. But shepherds are not an offensive thing to the Israelites or Moabites or many other cultures. In another passage in that story, we read that Egyptians do not eat with Israelites because that would be an offensive thing (tō‘ēbāh) to them. But Arameans and Canaanites eat with Israelites and do not find it offensive. See also the story of the exodus from Egypt, where Moses tells Pharaoh that the things that Israelites sacrifice would be an offensive thing (tō‘ēbāh) to the Egyptians. But these things are certainly not an offensive thing to the Israelites.
A former student of ours pointed out that right here in the list of laws that we are considering in Leviticus 18, naming acts that are tō‘ēbāh, are some that prohibit actions that the great patriarchs of the Bible had done. For example, Abraham marries his half sister Sarah.. (Gen 20:12) But the law in Leviticus explicitly forbids such relations with a half sister… (Lev 18:9) So what is not a tō‘ēbāh in the generation of the patriarchs has changed and become one in the generation of Moses. In a somewhat different way, the land itself can change from not being a tō‘ēbāh and can become a tō‘ēbāh as a result of the behavior of its residents on it. The prophet Jeremiah says: You defiled my land, and made my possession into an offensive thing (tō‘ēbāh). (Jer 2:7) An act or an object that is not a tō‘ēbāh can become one, depending on time and circumstances.”
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