Incest

The duty of a philosopher is clear. He must take every pain to ascertain the truth; and having arrived at a conclusion, he should noise it abroad far and wide, utterly regardless of what opinions he shocks.
- Henry Thomas Buckle

In this report we are not interested in the truth or falsity of the stories, but in their sexual morality. To keep this page within a reasonable length, I chose incest as the common denominator. Still, there was more of it than I expected. Religion's Puritanism needs no introduction, which is what makes these biblical sex stories so interesting. The Bible is no paragon of sexual probity.

I reserve my first criticism for tight-ass censors; many of these stories would not meet their criteria. My second criticism goes to moralists who seem to get a sense of satisfaction out of regulating sex by guilt or law. When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he answered because that is where the money is. Similarly, for those who crave authority, sexual control of others is where the power is. It is why clergy have devoted so much attention to it.

Let's face it, sexual desire is a powerful instinct in every animal, without which reproduction would falter. The Hebrews took Genesis 1:22 seriously, where God said to be fruitful and multiply.

22And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." (Gen. 1:22)

In complete opposite was the Christian view expressed by Paul. Paul should be taken in context with his belief in an imminent end to the world, but that significant detail has gotten lost over the years. Even then, Paul grudgingly recognized the power of sexual passions when he allowed for marriage to escape Satan's temptations.

1Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman.
2But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
3The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.
4For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.
5Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control.
6I say this by way of concession, not of command.
7I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
8
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do.
9But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. (1 Cor. 7:1-9)

The juxtaposition between Genesis and Paul bears reflection. Here, God is supposed to have given us the desire to procreate while Paul condemns it as the work of Satan. Compared to the millions of years of our evolutionary history, the licensing of sex through marriage is very recent. Even if we accept the existence of Adam and Eve, there was no organized religion or state to marry them. It makes a case for common law marriage.

Since Moses' brother Aaron was the first Hebrew priest, what about the patriarchs, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and sons or Cain and Noah? By process of elimination, they had to be married by priests who represented other gods if they were formally married.

Before we get to the prurient exploits of biblical incest, there were some strict laws against incest in the Book of Leviticus. Today, incest generally applies exclusively to blood relatives. Below, they applied to in-laws too. Even seeing one's nakedness was equated with incest.

1. Sex with your father's wife - both die.

11The man who lies with his father's wife has uncovered his father's nakedness; both of them shall be put to death, their blood is upon them. (Lev. 20:11)

20"'Cursed be he who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered her who is his father's.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' (Deut. 27:20)

2. Sex with your daughter-in-law - both die.

12If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed incest, their blood is upon them. (Lev. 20:12)

3. Sex with your mother-in-law; both shall be burned to death.

14If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is wickedness; they shall be burned with fire, both he and they, that there may be no wickedness among you. (Lev. 20:14)

23"'Cursed be he who lies with his mother-in-law.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' (Deut. 27:23)

4. Sex and nakedness with a sister or half sister - they shall be cut off.

17"If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a shameful thing, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people; he has uncovered his sister's nakedness, he shall bear his iniquity. (Lev. 20:17)

5. Sex between a man and his aunt - it is not clear if they are to die or if any children produced die.

20If a man lies with his uncle's wife, he has uncovered his uncle's nakedness; they shall bear their sin, they shall die childless. (Lev. 20:20)

6. Sex between a man and his sister-in-law - any children produced shall die.

21If a man takes his brother's wife, it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother's nakedness, they shall be childless. (Lev. 20:21)

22"'Cursed be he who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' (Deut. 27:22)

7. For a child to see his mother or father naked was equated with incest.

6"None of you shall approach any one near of kin to him to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD.
7You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. (Lev. 18:6-7)

There was one exception to incest, called a levirate or brother-in-law marriage. In short, a widow was obligated to marry the eldest brother of her deceased husband. The continuation of a name was important because the Hebrews believed that a man continued to exist as long as his name was remembered. Levirate marriages also kept property within the family.

5"If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.
6And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
7And if the man does not wish to take his brother's wife, then his brother's wife shall go up to the gate to the elders, and say, 'My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband's brother to me.'
8Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak to him: and if he persists, saying, 'I do not wish to take her,'
9then his brother's wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot, and spit in his face; and she shall answer and say, 'So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.'
10And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, The house of him that had his sandal pulled off. (Deut. 25:5-10)

There are two stories where the levirate regulation surfaces. The first is between Judah and Tamar, already discussed, and the second between Ruth and Boaz in the Book of Ruth. By a curious coincidence, both were descendants of David. The above biblical laws against incest do not seem to apply when marriage between family members fulfills levirate obligations.

Paul would not likely condone exceptions. Responding to an incident of incest in the Church of Corinth, Paul stated in no uncertain terms that it was immoral and that the man should be "delivered to Satan for destruction" so that he may be saved when Jesus Christ returns. In other words, kill him.

1It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife.
2And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
3
For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment
4in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,
5you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 5:1-5)

In Mark 12:18-27, Jesus was presented a problem relating to levirate marriage. The Sadducees who didn't believe in resurrection asked him about a woman who was married to seven brothers before she died, leaving no children. "In the resurrection, whose wife shall she be?" Jesus' answer was that there are no sexual relationships in heaven.

These would be dysfunctional families by today's standards. But to be fair, despite the proscriptions against incest, discussed above, most of these stories involve what I would call, Judaism's royalty. The writers saw fit to configure the stories to demonstrate the purity of their race. Incest was practiced up to medieval times; for to mix with commoners would contaminate the royal bloodlines. 

Adam and Eve

As absurd as it is for a man to give birth to a woman, rib or no rib, it sets up Eve as Adam's daughter.

21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh;
22and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Gen. 2:21-22)

Then Eve became Adam's wife and had two children, Cain and Abel.

1Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD."
2And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. (Gen. 4:1-2)

Cain

Literally interpreted, Cain's wife had to be either Eve or an unnamed sister.

17Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. (Gen. 4:17)

It is more likely that the writers meant to show that Cain's bloodlines went in a different direction. The word "Cain" resembles "Canaan."

Noah and Ham

The man who God saw as the most righteous on earth had a drinking problem. No sooner did the ark settle on land when he planted a vineyard. One day Noah got drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. Ham walked in accidentally and saw his nakedness. When Ham told his brothers, they carefully walked in backwards and covered him up. The puritan Noah cursed him to be a slave to his brothers. The reference to what Ham had done to Noah could imply something beyond casual looking.

20Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard;
21and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent.
22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.
23Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness.
24When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him,
25he said, "Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers." (Gen. 9:20-25)

Abraham and Sarah

Abraham's wife Sarah was his half sister by the same father.

12Besides she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife. (Gen. 20:12)

When entering Egypt, Abraham had had her pass off as his full sister.

10Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.
11When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, "I know that you are a woman beautiful to behold;
12and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife'; then they will kill me, but they will let you live.
13Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account." (Gen. 12:10-13)

Abraham was richly rewarded for pimping his wife to Pharaoh.

14When Abram entered Egypt the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.
15And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.
16And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, he-asses, menservants, maidservants, she-asses, and camels. (Gen. 12:14-16)

Yahweh later inflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarah. When Pharaoh made the connection he let them both go with their gifts. In Genesis 20 Abraham and Sarah tried to pull the same hoax on King Abimelach. This time Yahweh revealed to Abimelech, before he had sex with Sarah, that she was married to Abraham. When Abimelech confronted Abraham over his treachery, Abraham revealed she was his half-sister by the same father. Still, Abimelech demonstrated his generosity by lavishing gifts, among them was 1,000 pieces of silver. For some reason Yahweh punished Abimelech by sterilizing all the women in his household. To Abraham's credit he appealed to Yahweh to lift the curse, and it was lifted.

Lot and his daughters

Lot's daughters got him drunk and conceived children. How Lot could be drunk and be able to get an erection is problematic. How he could ejaculate while being oblivious to his daughters' presence also defies reconciliation. If we assume he was asleep, wet dreams cannot be timed. Perhaps, Lot faked his unconsciousness.

31And the first-born said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth.
32Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring through our father."
33So they made their father drink wine that night; and the first-born went in, and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.
34And on the next day, the first-born said to the younger, "Behold, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring through our father."
35So they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.
36Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father (Gen. 19:31-36)

Another one of Lot's memorable gracious acts was to offer his virgin daughters to the men of Sodom to do as they please.

6Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him,
7and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.
8Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof." (Gen. 19:6-8)

Hagar and Isaac

There is one possible incident of sibling molestation. The question is what did Sarah see when she saw the son of Hagar "playing" with her son Isaac? Hagar was Abraham's concubine who had already produced a son through him named Ishmael.

9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. (Gen. 21:9)

Whatever it was, it was enough for Sarah to convince Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael away. We could interpret the phrase "the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac" to mean their "playing" could elevate to an incestuous homosexual relationship. It is the suddenness of Sarah's change of heart that makes the incident suspicious.

10So she said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac."
11And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son.
12But God said to Abraham, "Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named.
13And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring."
14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. (Gen. 21:10-14)

Isaac and Rebekah

Isaac's marriage to the daughter of his father's brother would make Rebekah his cousin.

15Before he had done speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her water jar upon her shoulder. (Gen. 24:15)

In Genesis 26, Isaac tried pimping his wife to Abimelech as Abraham had, saying that Rebekah is his sister. Fortunately Abimelech saw them petting before he had the chance to take her into his harem.

Jacob, Leah and Rachel

Jacob married his cousins Rachel and Leah. From this polygamist marriage, the namesakes of the twelve tribes of Israel were born.

15Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?"
16Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. (Gen. 29:15-16)

When Jacob arrived at his uncle Laban's house and saw the youngest daughter Rachel, it was love at first sight. Jacob offered to work for seven years to earn Rachel as his wife. When his time was completed, Laban ordered a feast that day. In the evening, with Jacob expecting Rachel to come to his bed, Laben sent his oldest daughter Leah instead. It wasn't until morning that Jacob realized that he had consummated his marriage to Leah instead. So Jacob worked another week for Rachel, but he had to work another seven years for Laban.

God made Leah have four sons first because she was unloved, while Rachel had none. Frustrated that she could have no children, Rachel offered her servant Bilhah as a surrogate. Bilhah had two sons while Leah went through a dry spell. Then Leah gave her maid Zilpah to Jacob, producing two sons. Leah bribed Jacob with mandrake plants, a reputed aphrodisiac and fertility drug. That gave her a sixth son and a daughter. Finally, Rachel bears Joseph (Gen. 29-30).

Reuben rapes Bilhah

When Reuben lay with his father's concubine, the scandal spread throughout Israel.

22While Israel dwelt in that land Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine; and Israel heard of it. (Gen. 35:22)

His father Jacob upbraided him in front of his brothers.

4Unstable as water, you shall not have pre-eminence because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it-you went up to my couch! (Gen. 49:4)

Moses and Aaron

Their father married their aunt.

20Amram took to wife Jochebed his father's sister and she bore him Aaron and Moses .. (Ex. 6:20)

Moses was a violent man. But since the topic is sex, his marriage to the Midianite Zipporah (Ex. 2:15-22) makes for a great hypocrisy when we take into consideration his hostility to foreigners. He warned the men of Israel against marrying daughters who served other gods.

3You shall not make marriages with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons.
4For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. (Deut. 7:3-4)

Regardless, he took a Cushite woman for a second wife, for which his sister Miriam and his brother Aaron criticized him.

1Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman;
2and they said, "Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?" And the LORD heard it. (Num. 12:1-2)

Yahweh's reaction was to inflict Miriam with leprosy (Num. 12:3-16). When his own men fraternized with Midianite females, he had the tribe massacred except for the virgins (Num. 31).

Amnon rapes Tamar

2 Samuel 13: Amnon was so infatuated with his half sister Tamar that it tormented him to the point of illness. He didn't know how to get to her since she was still a virgin and it was difficult because of the custom of segregating young men and women from one another. Anmon's crafty cousin Jonadab suggested that he feign sickness and then ask his father David to allow Tamar to serve him.

The trick worked. Before Tamar came, Amnon sent the men away from his chamber so they could be alone. When she entered his bedroom with food, he asked her to lay with him. She refused, saying it would cause her shame. But if he asked David for her hand in marriage, he would not refuse. Then there would be no scandal.

But Amnon would not listen to reason. He forcible raped Tamar and his hatred exceed his love for her for having refused him.  Then Amnon chased her away. As she left, she rent her clothes, put ashes on her head and wept. Surprisingly, Tamar was more upset at being chased away (verse 16) then being forcibly raped.

Her brother Absalom tried to console her, but David was clearly angry. Absalom masked his anger by treating Amnon as if nothing happened. Two years later he had Amnon killed. David, his sons and his servants wept, but Absalom was comforted over Amnon's death. Absalom fled and stayed away for three years. David mourned over the second loss every day.

Absalom's dirty deed

The full story of Absalom's failed coup d'etat is told in 2 Samuel 14-18. At one point David and his servants fled Jerusalem for safety, leaving ten concubines to keep house.

16So the king went forth, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. (2 Sam. 15:16)

On advice, Absalom had coitus with his father's concubine as a way of showing his strength and his contempt for his father David.

20Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, "Give your counsel; what shall we do?"
21Ahithophel said to Absalom, "Go in to your father's concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened."
22So they pitched a tent for Absalom upon the roof; and Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel. (2 Sam. 16:20-22)

After David returned to Jerusalem he disowned the ten concubines which Absalom violated. They remained in house arrest and were kept in sexual quarantine for the rest of their lives.

3And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house, and put them in a house under guard, and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood. (2 Sam. 20-3)

Absalom's head got hooked in a tree when riding his mule, leaving him hanging. David's general Joab impaled him in the heart with three darts while he was still alive. Then ten of Joab's armor-bearers struck him until he was dead (2 Sam. 18:9-15). David mourned over the loss of his son.

Solomon and sister

Solomon earned his reputation for wisdom for settling a motherhood dispute between two prostitutes by threatening to divide the baby in half (1 Kings 3:16-28). He is said to compose 3,000 proverbs and 1005 songs, some of which can be found in the Bible: Proverbs and Song of Solomon.

Solomon's appetite for women was equally legendary. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines of all different nationalities. To give a sense of his virility, he would have to have sexual intercourse roughly three times a day to get through his entire collection in a year.

1Now King Solomon loved many foreign women: the daughter of Pharaoh, and Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women,
2from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods"; Solomon clung to these in love.
3He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. (1 Kings 11:1-3)

But it is in the Book of the Song of Solomon where we find out that one of his wives was his sister. His erotic writing makes for the kind of reading you would not expect in the Bible.

9You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.
10
How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride! how much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11
Your lips distil nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon.
12
A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed. (Song of Solomon 4:9-12)

1I come to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gather my myrrh with my spice, I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends, and drink: drink deeply, O lovers!
2
I slept, but my heart was awake. Hark! my beloved is knocking. "Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night." (Song of Solomon 5:1-2)

Jesus

The Gospel spin on Mary's divine conception would technically leave Jesus a bastard child, even if the father was a man unknown to Joseph. If God is the Father, then we are his children. So it would mean that Jesus was conceived out of incestuous sex. It's just a thought.

If Jesus was a real person, the only explanation is that he had a human father. If Mary and Joseph were aware of a miraculous birth, it leaves open the question of why Jesus was subjected to the purification rites like any other Hebrew child. And why did Mary perform ceremonial purification rites for herself like any other Hebrew mother?

21And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22
And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord
23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord")
24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."(Luke 2:21-24)

End