[b-hebrew] Incest, the Patriarchal Narratives, and Leviticus
JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 27 14:53:58 EST 2007
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
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
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.
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