The Bible and Incest

During Bible study we read through the Scripture passages about family members having children from family members - one in particular I noticed is Genesis 19:36: "Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father."

The question raised from our Bible study member was this: At what time period, historically, did people realize/consider the health concerns of this and when did it shift to not allowing children with people of one's family? As well as the focus of monogamy vs. polygamy?

So I ask a few questions on several levels as follows: When did the wider social norms change? When did a new awareness begin and when did new thoughts and morals/ethics form around it?

Asked By: 
Normative vs. historical texts

These our good questions.  You are correct, Heather, in thinking in terms of progressive revelation.  God does not give a timeless word sheet that ignores where people are in their development and thought.  There is strong condemnation of incest, however, such as Lev. 18.6-18.  Scholars differ in how to date the legal materials.

A point that I would make is that the historical materials of the Bible are not necessarily normative.  They are historical. At times an action would be followed by punishment or blessing thus likely bringing the normative in.  It is possible that the Moabites and Ammonites, who were the descendants of this sexual action, are being given a negative status by it (Gen. 19.37-38).  If so, the action would be under criticism.

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Author: Stephen Charles Mott
Incestuous behavior not reflective of accepted practice.
The story in Genesis 19:30-38 is intended to be read as a sorry tale, not reflective of accepted practice!  The daughters connive to get their father drunk so he won't know what he's doing, and have sex with him to get pregnant.  All this is also intended to disparage the results:  the nations of Moab and the Ammonites, both nations treated later in the exodus/wilderness-travel accounts as enemies, idolators, etc. 
The actions of the women go flatly against the commands about near-kin sex in Leviticus 18, for example.  Near-kin incest is pretty widely and cross-culturally one of the things condemned.  I'm not an anthropologist, so I can't say with authority, but I doubt that there ever was a time and culture in which it was acceptable for fathers to have sex with their daughters!
Author: Larry W. Hurtado




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