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

by Calum M. Carmichael Cornell University Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 209 pages
AU$126.00 NZ$129.57
Product Status: Available in Approx 14 days
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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.
Calum M. Carmichael is Professor of Comparative Literature and Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell University. He is the author of Law and Narrative in the Bible: The Evidence of the Deuteronomic Laws and the Decalogue and The Origins of Biblical Law: The Decalogues and the Book of the Covenant, both from Cornell, and Ideas and the Man: Remembering David Daube and the editor of several books.