Law, Legend, and Incest in the Bible: Leviticus 18-20

Law, Legend, and Incest in the Bible: Leviticus 18-20

Law, Legend, and Incest in the Bible: Leviticus 18-20

Law, Legend, and Incest in the Bible: Leviticus 18-20


Interpreting the perennially perplexing sexual regulations of Leviticus 18?20 in a radically new way, Calum M. Carmichael offers a key to understanding not only the texts themselves but also the nature of lawgiving throughout the Pentateuch. Carmichael identifies and offers solutions to puzzles such as why the lawgiver explicitly prohibits certain obviously wrongful acts (such as a son's intercourse with a mother), but not others (such as full brother with sister), why he censures children instead of adults in taboo couplings, and why rules not connected with incest (prohibiting Molech worship and intercourse with a menstruating woman) are included with rules about incest. Reading these laws against the events described in Genesis, Carmichael asserts that the conduct of biblical ancestors--from Lot's fathering of children with his daughters to Abraham's marriage to his half-sister--was the inspiration for the incest rules in Leviticus. He maintains that the Levitical codes cannot be separated from their larger narrative framework. Invaluable for biblical interpretation, Carmichael's approach also has broader applications, clarifying as it does the tendency of lawmakers to formulate general rules in response not to obvious but rather to idiosyncratic problems.


In this volume I expand my theory about the methods and intent of biblical lawgivers, begun in my earlier work (The Origins of Biblical Law [Ithaca, 1992] and Law and Narrative in the Bible [Ithaca, 1985]) concerning the rules in the Book of the Covenant (Exod 2123:19) and those in Deuteronomy 12-26, by applying it to the Priestly rules in Leviticus 18-20 about incest and other matters. I claim that a single thesis explains how every law in the Pentateuch came to be formulated and why the Pentateuch is a unique combination of law and narrative.

In quoting biblical texts I have relied on the King James Authorized Version of 1611, but I made changes where these were called for. I used this version because it is almost always a more literal rendering of the Hebrew original than any other translation. It also has the merit of reminding the reader of something I consider to be very important, that biblical literature is a product of the past and hence of a quite different culture from our own.

Calum M. Carmichael

Ithaca, New York . . .

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