In this chapter, we get to hear all about the punishments that are to be given for breaking the ordinances we’ve already covered. And, since I live with the compulsion to categorise things, I will be organizing by type of punishment. Please hold on and keep your arms and legs inside the ordinance at all times.

Punishment: To be cut off from the people

If a person knows that someone is sacrificing his child(ren) to Molech and does nothing, the whole family and anyone following that person is to be cut off from the people.

I’m not a fan of the “guilt by association” aspect of this, but I do agree with condemning those who know that child sacrifice is going on but fail to do anything to prevent it. The only problem with this is that “the whole family” would apply to any of the children who haven’t been sacrificed yet as well, and that’s obviously problematic.

Leviticus 20 - MolechIf someone turns to “mediums and wizards” (v.6).

After the somewhat recent kerfuffle with Sylvia Brown (yes, again), there’s a part of me that definitely wants to agree with this one.

If a man has sex with his sister, his aunt (by blood or marriage), or his brother’s wife. Both should be cut off and, for some of these, they shall die childless.

Not sure how the childlessness would be enforced. I assume it’s a God curse thing, but would there have been earthly repercussions as well? For example, would a man who had slept with his aunt be denied the right to have an heir? Would any of his (or her) children be considered bastards?

If a man has sex with a menstruating woman, both should be cut off from the people.

Some women report better sex while menstruating (extra lubrication, hormonal softening of the cervix and other tissue in the genital region, increased libido, etc). This just seems mean-spirited towards those women.

Punishment: Death penalty

If a man sacrifices his children to Molech. This applies to both Israelites and to “sojourners,” and the punishment is death by stoning.

You know what? That’s fair. Even applied to non-Jews or to non-Israelites, this is one case where I can get behind a universal law. We can debate the ethics of the death penalty, but I think that we can all agree (I’d hope, though the next one makes me wonder) that killing your children is a bad bad thing.

If someone curses one (or, presumably, both) of his parents.

No “and your parents were very nice to you and never abusive” or anything like that. Just straight up cursing your parents warrants the death penalty. This is what a patriarchal society looks like – authority is valued far above anything else.

If a man has sex with his neighbour’s wife, his father’s wife, or his daughter-in-law. Both get the death penalty.

If a man marries both a woman and her mother. All three must be burned to death with fire.

I’m assuming that any mention of “neighbour” in these rules refers to fellow Israelites, and not to literal neighbours. I’m also assuming that, though the language lists only  men as the active parties, that it applies only if the women are willing participants.

If a man has sex with a man.

If either a man or a woman has sex with an animal. Both person and animal are to be killed.

Take it away, Collins!

The juxtaposition of the prohibition of male homosexuality with that of bestiality and the fact that the death penalty is prescribed for all parties in both cases shows that the issue is not exploitation of the weak by the strong.


Procreation is the common theme. Waste of reproductive seed is an issue here. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p. 80)

If someone is a medium or wizard.

I don’t think I need to go into how much suffering this one has caused (and continues to cause).

The chapter concludes with a bunch of jabber about the importance of not violating the ordinances, yadda yadda. At one point, God describes himself as the one who has “separated you from the peoples” (v.24). As in countless stories, from the Tower of Babel on, God is standing in the way of good relations between Israel and its neighbours – and is proud of it.

And we finish up with a reminder to “make a distinction between the clean beast and the unclean” (v.25).