Lev 20:17 - Hesed, lovingkindness, incest... wait, what?

Leviticus 20:17 (KJV) says
And if a man shall take his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness; it is a wicked thing; and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people: he hath uncovered his sister's nakedness; he shall bear his iniquity.

The italicised words correspond to the Hebrew word hesed, usually translated into English as 'lovingkindness'. Except in the above verse and a couple of others where it doesn't seem to fit:

Proverbs 14:24, :
Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.

Proverbs 25:9 (related word)
Argue your case with your neighbor without betraying another’s confidence, lest the one who hears may disgrace you

What's going on here?

One school of thought seems to be that it's a mistake, and the word was in fact a Aramaic near-homophone, chisudo (at least that's what it says here, along with some other rather more convoluted but less plausible explanations).

Does anyone have any other insights?


  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    I'm tending toward either that explanation or another where people (for whatever reason) prefer to say what they mean by saying the exact opposite, and everyone understands what is really meant: As in the Job 2:9 passage which is literally "bless God and die" but is understood to be really "curse God and die," and is so translated into English.

    A modern example ubiquitous on the Ship is "well, bless your heart," which means its exact opposite: "damn your soul". Using the opposite formulation gets you off saying the very offensive thing while everyone gets your point all the more sharply.

    But I'm not sure this works for the chesed cases above, except for the incest one. There you might well want to avoid overly vivid language and the "gimme the brain bleach" reaction to it. But what is so awful about "sin is a chesed/reproach to any people"?
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited May 31
    A modern example ubiquitous on the Ship is "well, bless your heart," which means its exact opposite: "damn your soul".
    Not really. “Bless your heart” is a diverse expression, the exact meaning of which is very context specific. It can be a genuine expression of sympathy, an insult or any number of things in-between. But it rarely if ever, at least in my experience, means anything quite as drastic as “damn your soul.” When used as an insult, the meaning is typically more along the lines of “you poor thing, you just can’t help at all how stupid (or ignorant or clueless or homely or whatever else) you are.”

    That said, “bless his/her heart” can carry the meaning of “I’m really pissed at him/her right now.”

    As for the OP and hesed, I’m afraid I’ve got nothing.

  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    Okay. Overspoke. Sorry.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    My grandmother used to say 'blessed' when she meant the opposite, e.g. 'That blessed cat has got at the milk again'. So I understand what Lamb Chopped means.
  • PortolaPortola Shipmate
    What makes this problem even more excruciating is that hesed is regarded as a defining characteristic of God. As mentioned, it is usually translated loving kindness, but within the framework of Biblical history it means God's uncompromising faithfulness to his people Israel, his absolute refusal to abandon his people, regardless of how much they might go astray. In Leviticus 20:17 Luther translates hesed as "Blutschande", meaning incest. Therefore, the word hesed encompasses the loftiest feature of divine love and the lowest type of human debasement. I think that the only solution to this apparent contradiction is to say that God in his sovereignty encompasses all of creation, that there are no God-free zones on this earth. God's hesed is involved in everything that happens - the good and the evil -, which carries the promise that his hesed will infiltrate and transform all of reality. This is a theological interpretation, of course, which goes far beyond the original context of Leviticua 20:17, but I think that this perspective reflects Biblical faith.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    There are words, 'fast' for example, that mean two opposite things.
    I think the Latin, sacer, can mean both 'holy' and 'unholy'.
  • Timo PaxTimo Pax Shipmate
    edited 12:32PM
    According to Wikipedia, @Dafyd and @Portola are onto something:


    As a sidenote - sacer is literally something 'set apart', so as @Dafyd says, either holy or accursed.
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