Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tale as Old as Time

This blog is about relationship rights for all adults, especially the right to marry any and all consenting adults. It is not about criticizing nor promoting any philosophy towards religion, spiritual considerations, superstitions, the paranormal or supernatural, any religious text or writings/traditions/beliefs/practices/systems/organizations considered sacred, inspired, of authoritative by some, nor skepticism when it comes to such things.

There are both allies and opponents of relationship rights and full marriage equality in just about every religion and among those who claim no religion, and I welcome allies no matter what tradition, if any, they prefer or reject.

With that out of the way…

Considering the Bible as literature, which anyone can do whether they are a devout Christian, a Deist, a Hindu, an Atheist, or an Antitheist or take some other path, one can see that the Bible implies, outright portrays, and further addresses consanguineous sex.

Frequently, someone will ask “Where did Cain get his wife?” or “Did Adam and Eve’s children have sex with each other?” or some variation. Whether someone considers this speculation about fanciful myths or actual history is irrelevant to analyzing what the text itself says.

One common response says that there were other people aside from Adam and Eve, even claiming that Genesis 1:26-27 describes the creation of people other than Adam and Eve. That may work for someone who can find some other explanation for Genesis 3:20, which calls Eve the mother of all living, and other passages which indicate Adam and Eve were the parents of all humans.

Romans 5 says that sin and death came into the world through one man, Adam, and 1 Corinthians 15 says that in Adam all die. These passages imply that the Bible portrays every human as a descendant of Adam.  There’s a mention of Eve in the Apocrypha that agrees with this, in the prayer of Tobit (Tobit 8:6): "Thou madest Adam, and gavest him Eve his wife for a helper and a stay; of them came the seed of men…"

That the Bible portrays Adam and Eve as the ancestors of all humans is the interpretation publicly affirmed by a diverse group of Bible enthusiasts, who often vehemently disagree with each other on other matters about what the Bible says. For a few examples, see here, here, here, here, and here. Some of those sources disagree very much on other aspects of Genesis, especially the first few chapters, but agree as to the Bible teaching that Adam and Eve are the ancestors of all humans (and please note that Genesis 5:4 says Adam, in addition to the named sons, had other sons and daughters), and so it appears that the Bible portrays the origin of human beings as the result of consanguineous (incestuous) sex. Adam and Eve’s children reproduced with each other, if not also Adam and Eve.

It is also of note that the Bible portrays Noah, his wife, their three sons, and the sons' wives were the only human beings left (at least in that part of the world) after The Flood. (Genesis 6:18, 7:7, 9:1,7,18-19). Whether or not the Bible allows for a “local” Flood and other human beings in other parts of the world, Genesis 6:19 portrays least the people in that part of the world as all descended from Noah’s family. That would mean that the area (or the entire world) was repopulated through pairing up people who were no more distant than first cousins, coming from a pool of no more than eight total ancestors (Noah, his wife, and the parents of each of Noah's three sons), most perhaps even just six (the sons and their wives), three of whom were first-degree relatives.

In the Biblical narrative, it wasn’t until much later that the first prohibition was placed on incest, in Leviticus, along with many other prohibitions (prohibitions on mixing fabrics, for example) that may have been listed to distinguish Israel from the other nations/tribes surrounding it. The narrative describes tribes who have left Egypt, where incest was common and accepted, and surrounded by other nations/tribes where incest was common and accepted. These were laws for the ancient theocracy of Israel. Also of note is that the concept of rights for women and children was very different than it is now; same goes for protecting the elderly. There was no domestic violence shelter, no secular county or state department with social workers attempting to protect people against child abuse or elderly abuse.  Children were literally the property of their parents to do with almost anything they wanted (note that the Torah says that parents must get permission from an authority to kill a disobedient child; presumably, there was no such requirement before.) As such, prohibitions on incest could have often been about preventing sexual assault or molestation.

However, applying the Biblical prohibitions to consensual sex, very few people who consider the Bible as an authority in their lives actually live by Mosaic law, nor want Mosaic law as national or state/province law. Secular laws should not keep any consenting adults from having sex or getting married.

Incest has always been a theme in literature and storytelling. See: Greek mythology. The fact is, incest has always been a part of life, in all socioeconomic and geographic areas. Even though a majority of people don't get involved, enough people do get involved in consensual incest that you know people who are involved.

Marrying a first cousin is legal and common in much of the world today, and for thousands of years most people married a first, second, or third cousin, once or twice removed or not.

From the perspective of science, DNA reveals inbreeding, and thus incest, in our past. In some cases, it might have helped to spread helpful characteristics.
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  1. According to the apocryphal Book of Jubilees (4:9), Cain married his sister Awan. In the book, three more generations thereafter are parented by siblings, whereafter the early humans begin marrying their paternal first-cousins instead (father's brother's children). To this day, that is the preferred union across the Middle East.

    As a Jew, I've often pointed out to my coreligionists that our father Abraham and our mother Sarah were half-siblings on their father's side (Genesis 20:12). Abraham's brother Nahor married their niece Milcah (G. 11:29). Abraham's son Isaac married his cousin (G. 24:15), as did Isaac's sons Esau (G. 28:9) and Jacob-Israel (G. 29). The parents of Moses, Aaron and Miriam were paternal aunt and nephew (Exodus 6:20)

    Besides these, there are also 1 to 3 incidents of non-consensual incest in the Bible, hetero- and possibly homosexual: 2 Samuel 13, Genesis 19:32-35 and, according to Sanhedrin 70a of the Babylonian Talmud, Genesis 9:20-27. Some interpret 2 Samuel 13:13 to mean that the marriage of siblings, or at least half-siblings, in spite of the prohibition set out elsewhere in the Bible, could be acceptable in the United Monarchy of Israel.

    Tangentially, in the Hebrew-biblical love poem Song of Songs, the cantor repeatedly refers to his lover as "my sister, my bride" (NIV 4:9-12, 5:1) or "my sister, my spouse" (KJV ibidum). Now, since they're not really siblings (Song 8:1-), it's uttered merely as a gesture of affection, not unlike how friends today may call each other "bro" or "fam."

  2. There is also the story of Lot and his daughters in Genesis. 19:30-36 although that's not consensual since they each got their father drunk.


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