The Abominable Prawn

So far in looking at homosexuality in my previous two blogs I have cited various scriptures and the catechism, but have left out the most obvious and frequently quoted scripture.

It is this;

“Thou shall not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination.”  Leviticus 18: 20 (King James Version).  In other translations detestable is used instead of abomination.

I can recall, a few years back, Jeremy Hardy commenting on Radio 4’s News Quiz that people often quote the above scripture to say that homosexuality is an abomination.  He then pointed out that according to the bible so is eating prawns.

That is found in Leviticus chapter 11 which is about dietary laws.  It says;

“These shall you eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.  And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:  They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination.    Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you.”  Leviticus 11: 9-12

As prawns have neither fins nor scales they would come in the abomination category.  Mr Hardy was quoting this as a sort of argument stopper or trump card, and quite a successful one it has been.

But then I made this discovery.  I looked up the word ‘abomination’ in Strong’s exhaustive concordance of the bible and saw this;



Now James Strong gave each of the Hebrew words used in the bible a number, called a Strong’s number, so that they could be looked up in a Lexicon.  You will notice that the word abomination used in Lev 11: 10-12, and that used in Lev 18-22 have different Strong’s numbers.  That used in relation to diet being 8263 and that in relation to homosexual practice being 8441.  This means that these are two different Hebrew words which have been translated into English with the same word, abomination.

Here are the two different words from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon;



In transliteration the Hebrew word seqes/sheqets is used for the abominable prawn (Lev 11:9-12) and the Hebrew word to’eba is used in relation to homosexual practice.

Why use two different words?  Have a look back at the citings in the extract from Strong’s concordance.  There are occurrences of seqets ( Strong’s number 8263) with the phrase unto you, and occurrences of to’eba (Strong’s number 8441) with the phrase unto the Lord.  I would suggest that one word is a lesser abomination, the prawn one used in Leviticus chapter 11, and the other a greater abomination, the sexual one used in Leviticus chapter 18.

By way of emphasis here is an extract from another concordance, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible;


What then is the purpose of these dietary restrictions, lesser abominations, which we, who are non-Jews, no longer follow.

That is given in Leviticus 18: vs 1-5 which says:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them; “I am the Lord your God.  You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you.  Do not follow these practices.  You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees.  I am the Lord your God.  Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them.  I am the Lord.”  (New International Version)

The purpose then of these Old Testament Laws, for the Israelites and the Jews, is for them to be a people set apart and different from all others, to be an example and a blessing to others.

How do you go about overturning an Old Testament prohibition?

Look for anything that Jesus said or did which enables you to do that.

For instance, in relation to the dietary laws, the abominable prawn, we have Jesus saying this in Mark 7:14-23.

He (Jesus) called the people to him again and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand.  Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.”  When he had gone back into the house, away from the crowds, his disciples questioned him about the parable.  He said to them, “Do you not understand either?  Can you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot make him unclean,  because it does not go into his heart but through his stomach and passes out into the sewer?”  (Thus he pronounced all foods clean.)  And he went on, “It is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.  For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean.”  (Jerusalem Bible)

Here, we have a clear setting aside of the dietary laws and a reinforcement of the sexual laws, amongst others.

We also have Peter’s vision in Acts 10: 9 -16;

Next day, while they were still on their journey and had only a short distance to go before reaching Jaffa, Peter went to the housetop at about the sixth hour to pray.  He felt hungry and was looking forward to his meal, but before it was ready he fell into a trance and saw heaven thrown open and something like a big sheet being let down to earth by its four corners; it contained every possible sort of animal and bird, walking, crawling or flying ones.  A voice then said to him, “Now, Peter, kill and eat!”  Nut Peter answered, “Certainly not, Lord; I have never yet eaten anything profane or unclean.”  Again, a second time, the voice spoke to him, “What God has made clean, you have no right to call profane”.  This was repeated three times, and then suddenly the container was drawn up to heaven again.  (Jerusalem Bible)

Here we have a definite move on the dietary laws in order to bring the message of salvation to the gentiles, non-Jews.

But remember that on things sexual Jesus emphasised that marriage was between a man and a woman and was for life.  Divorce had only been allowed, by Moses, because of the hardness of men’s hearts. (Matthew 19:1-9)

Jesus also took a much harsher approach to the matter of adultery saying that even to look at a woman lustfully was to commit adultery in one’s heart. (Matthew 5:28).

We have then, examples of the dietary laws being set aside or loosened and examples of the sexual laws being tightened.  This corresponds with the matter of a lesser and greater abomination which I have covered earlier in this blog.  The abominable prawn is not so abominable.  Though the wisdom of eating filter feeders if water quality is dubious is questionable.

How then should we regard the law?

There are 10 commandments given by God which were expanded into 613 laws for the Israelites to live by, through discussion between God and Moses, and now even though we are “not under law but under grace”  (Romans 6:14), Jesus gives us over 1100 imperatives in the New Testament about how we are to behave and all we are called to be.   Have a read of the Gospels and look for every time that Jesus gives an instruction which is essentially a command, an example would be “love your enemies” Luke 6:27.

This is the third blog I have done on this subject and it is a difficult one.  You may be asking the question – just where is he going with this?

The Church is under pressure to change its teaching on this issue in the name of fairness and inclusivity.  Unfortunately I can’t find a reason to do that in Scripture, looking across the whole bible, or in the Catechism.  I say unfortunately because the humanist in me, and some left wing politics, might make me want to be more liberal on this.

So, what to do?

I think I will follow the example of those nuns I can remember who worked in various parishes I have been in over the years.  They got alongside people, they did’t judge, they didn’t condemn, they didn’t condone, they ministered.

This weekend I found a good example from a Church within our diocese.  There was a little note in our bulletin.  Here’s what it said;

LGBT Mass – Saturday, 2nd November 2019, 2.00pm, at the Sacred Heart Church, 25 Mere Road, Leicester, LE5 3HS, to remember those who have been tortured, died and killed because of their gender/identity/sexuality.

In summary then I would see this as a matter of being true to Scripture, being true to the teachings of the Church and reaching out to others, irrespective of background, with the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.


Next Blog – The Book of Isaiah – The thorny problem of authorship