[b-hebrew] Incest, the Patriarchal Narratives, and Leviticus

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 27 14:53:58 EST 2007

Kenneth Greifer:
You wrote:  “I think Leviticus 18:6 can mean a father and daughter are 
forbidden to each other.”
1.  Here is what Leviticus 18: 6 says:
“None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover 
their nakedness.  I am the LORD [YHWH].”
The rest of chapter 18 of Leviticus then gives a very detailed account of 
what exactly is, and is not, prohibited incest.  Since father-daughter unions 
were not generally prohibited in the ancient world (and were commonplace in 
Egypt, for example), we would need to see a specific prohibition against that 
practice in chapter 18 of Leviticus.
2.  Here is what JewishEncyclopedia.com says about this issue at: 
“A notable omission from the list of those with whom sexual intercourse, 
according to Lev. xviii., constitutes incest is a daughter, in regard to whom the 
prohibition is explained by the Talmud as "self-evident" or implied from the 
expressed proscription against a granddaughter (Yeb. 3a).”
Thus the later Hebrews and Jews prohibited father-daughter unions.  But there’
s nothing in Leviticus that prohibits father-daughter unions.
3.  Here again is what Leviticus 18: 17 says:
“Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter; thou shalt 
not take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her 
nakedness:  they are near kinswomen;  it is lewdness.”
What was the primary purpose of Leviticus 18: 17?
Let’s say you marry a nice woman, but she has no brothers.  Your 
mother-in-law now makes her daughter insist that you provide your mother-in-law with a 
son.  To protect against that type of pressure from son-less mothers-in-law, we 
have Leviticus 18: 17, which nicely cuts off the son-less mother-in-law’s 
argument completely.
That is the point of Leviticus 18: 17.  By contrast, once a man’s wife had 
died, as in Lot’s case, later Mosaic law did not prohibit the son-less widower 
from trying to sire a male heir by impregnating his deceased wife’s daughter 
(whether she was the man’s own daughter or not).  There is no blanket 
prohibition in Leviticus against father-daughter unions.
The Patriarchal narratives reflect pre-Mosaic law anyway.  But as late as the 
composition of Leviticus, father-daughter unions were not prohibited in early 
The main point of the incest laws in Leviticus is to protect men against 
assertive mothers-in-law, aunts, sisters-in-law, sisters, etc. who were son-less.  
That was the problem being addressed.  There is no real attempt in this 
section of Leviticus to protect daughters from their fathers.  That concern 
developed only later in Judaism, long after the era of the Patriarchal narratives.  I 
of course applaud that development.  I am only saying that the development in 
Judaism of prohibiting father-daughter unions was a fairly late development, 
post-dating by many centuries the composition of the truly ancient Patriarchal 
4.  This is actually a fairly important issue in understanding the 
Patriarchal narratives, in their secular historical context.  The author of the 
Patriarchal narratives saw Lot’s two youngest daughters as being heroines, not as 
being villainesses.
The problem with Lot, from the standpoint of the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives, was precisely that Lot (unlike virtuous Abraham) did not focus 
sufficiently on trying to sire a male heir.  So Lot comes off as basically a 
neutral figure.  Lot should have been more assertive in dealing with his wife.  Yet 
the real sinner, from the standpoint of the author of the Patriarchal 
narratives, was Lot’s wife, who valued her own health (being worried about getting 
pregnant in middle age) over her duty to do whatever might be necessary to try to 
provide her husband with a son and male heir.
The point of chapter 19 of Genesis is not to cast aspersions on Lot or Lot’s 
two youngest daughters.  Those three individuals are portrayed as being 
divinely saved from Sodom’s destruction.  No, the point of chapter 19 of Genesis is 
to cast aspersions on Lot’s wife.
Interestingly, every other woman throughout the Patriarchal narratives 
behaves properly, always trying to bear a son for her man -- be he her husband (the 
four Matriarchs and Hagar), or her father (Lot’s two youngest daughters), or 
her father-in-law (Tamar, re her father-in-law Judah;  by the way, that 
relationship is condemned as incestuous in Leviticus, as is Jacob’s marriage to two 
sisters).  All of those various women are praised in the text.  Only Lot’s wife 
is condemned.  Lot’s wife is the only one of all those women who did not bear 
her man a son.
>From the standpoint of the author of the Patriarchal narratives, the 
paramount duty of a woman was to bear her man a son, no matter what.  That theme is 
emphasized over and over and over again throughout the Patriarchal narratives.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

**************************************See AOL's top rated recipes 

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list