Biblical references to incest

Biblical references to incest

In the "Tanakh", nearly all incidental Biblical references to incest occur in the "Torah", especially in Genesis (בראשית "Bereshit"), prior to the establishment of Jewish law as described in Leviticus. A few books contain narratives describing the circumstances of particular instances of sexual intercourse among family members, which may be construed as incest and/or endogamy.

Jewish law does not explicitly forbid cousins from marrying, but it does prohibit sexual relations with in-laws, aunts but not uncles (Lev 18: 6–18).



*Sometimes Adam and Eve are considered siblings, as the first men on Earth and 'children of God'.

*The Abrahamic belief holds that human life originates from incest, ie between the children of Adam and Eve

*Noah brings aboard the Ark his wife, his three sons and their wives. After the Flood destroys all other life on Earth, the children of Noah's sons would have to reproduce among themselves, even though they were first cousins.

*Some scholars believe that Genesis 9:22, "And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without." may be a reference to homosexual father-son incest.

*While Lot and his two daughters are living in a mountain cave after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the girls believe that the rest of humanity has been exterminated, so they conspire to get Lot drunk so that he will impregnate them, as they believed they were the only 3 people alive, and thus, that they could not otherwise have children. The plan succeeds, and both daughters became pregnant with sons. The first was named Moab (Hebrew, lit., "from the father" [meh-Av] ). He was the patriarch of the nation known as Moab. The second was named Ammon or Ben-Ammi (Hebrew, lit., "from our nation"). He became the patriarch of the nation of Ammon. The resulting unusual complicated family relationships are explored in a riddle in the Exeter Book, which says that of Moab and Ben-Ammi, each is the other's uncle "and" nephew.

"That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. "The next day the older daughter said to the younger, 'Last night I lay with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.' So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. "So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father." (Gen 19:33–36)

*In one of the tales of a wife confused for a sister, Abraham claims that his wife Sarah is also his half-sister. Abraham tells the Philistine King of Gerar that Sarah and Abraham are siblings, but he does not tell him that they're married, so the king takes Sarah for his harem. However, a voice in the king's dream tells him that Sarah is a married woman and so he accuses Abraham of deception, to which Abraham responds that Sarah is his half-sister:

"Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife." (Gen 20:12)
However, in the rabbinic literature, Sarah is considered to be Abraham's niece (the daughter of his brother, Haran).

*Isaac, a son of Abraham, married his grand-niece Rebekah, granddaughter of his uncle Nahor:

"Some time later Abraham was told, 'Milcah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.' Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milcah bore these eight sons to Abraham's brother Nahor." (Gen 22:20–23)

*Esau married two of his first cousins/half-cousins, the sisters Mahalath and Basemath:

"Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had. (Gen 28:8–9;

"Esau took his wives from the women of Canaan: Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite—also Basemath daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth." (Gen 36:2–3)

*In Genesis 29, Jacob marries two of his first cousins—daughters of his mother's brother, Laban. While living with his uncle, Jacob falls in love with Laban's daughter, Rachel. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years to be allowed to marry Rachel, but at the end of the seven years, Laban gives his older daughter Leah to Jacob instead, citing their custom to marry-off the eldest daughters first. Jacob and Leah are betrothed, and a week later Laban gives Rachel to Jacob in exchange for an additional seven years of indentured servitude. Since Jacob prefers Rachel to Leah, God causes Rachel to become infertile, and Leah becomes pregnant with Reuben.

*In Genesis 38, Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, mistakes his daughter-in-law Tamar for a prostitute while she is veiled. Without knowing her identity, he impregnates her. About three months later, someone misreports to Judah that Tamar became pregnant while prostituting herself; furious, Judah orders her to be burned to death. He rescinds the order after learning that he himself perpetrated the incident. Tamar gives birth to twin sons, Perez and Zerah.


*Amram married his paternal aunt:

"Amram married his father's sister Jochebed, who bore him Aaron and Moses. Amram lived 137 years." (Exod 6:20)


*God commands that each of Zelophehad's five daughters should marry endogamously since Israelite land inheritances are passed through the patrilineage. Each of the girls subsequently marries one of their paternal cousins:

"Then at the Lord's command Moses gave this order to the Israelites: 'What the tribe of the descendants of Joseph is saying is right. This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad's daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within the tribal clan of their father. No inheritance in Israel is to pass from tribe to tribe, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal land inherited from his forefathers. Every daughter who inherits land in any Israelite tribe must marry someone in her father's tribal clan, so that every Israelite will possess the inheritance of his fathers. No inheritance may pass from tribe to tribe, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits.'

So Zelophehad's daughters did as the Lord commanded Moses. Zelophehad's daughters—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah—married their cousins [Some scholars assert that, in this passage, the word "cousins" refers to paternal relatives more distant than first cousins.] on their father's side. They married within the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in their father's clan and tribe." (Num 36: 5—12)


2 Samuel

In 2 Samuel 13, Amnon, King David's eldest son and heir to the throne, rapes his beautiful half-sister Tamar. Tamar's brother, Absalom, learns of the incident, and offers Tamar sanctuary in his house. Two years later, Absalom orders his servants to have Amnon killed.



*Akerly, Ben Edward, "The X-Rated Bible: An Irreverent Survey of Sex in the Scriptures" (Feral House, 1998) ISBN 0-922915-55-5; pp. 1-13

ee also

*Sex in the Bible

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