Within Leviticus, there were many moral and civil statutes set forth for adherence by the Israelite people. One such lengthy passage in Leviticus 18 dealt with terms of unlawful sexual relations, and one facet of those statutes especially caught my eye. Yep, you guessed it, yet another peculiar turn of phrase from the Old Testament. Color me shocked, everyone!
Anyway, Leviticus 18:6-18 repeatedly addressed the issue of “uncovering the nakedness” of another individual, especially as it related to the terms of relation held to the other person. It goes on at length with a whole passage, stating the degrees of relation: “‘None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the Lord. … And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.’“
First, we must understand the true implications of what “uncovering the nakedness” means. As the article in Enduring Word sets forth, it encompassed much more than just the notion of nudity itself: “This phrase (used 17 times in this chapter) is an euphemism for sexual relations. It has less to do with nudity (especially casual nudity) than with sex. However, the term uncover nakedness is broad enough to include the idea of inappropriate activity short of actual sexual intercourse. It would also include molestation and inappropriate fondling.”
This passage has both legal and moral implications, as God forbids them against committing such acts with relatives or in-laws. Legally speaking, wives were seen as the property of the husband, and likewise with unmarried daughters to the father, so committing such acts with them was also a breach of legal contract, as well as a misstep of morality.
The prompting to avoid relations with any range of one’s relatives, from sibling to parent to in-laws and many in between, also offers an interesting take, since it sets forth statutes that somewhat contradict past occurrences in the text thus far. We have seen instances of intermarriage, such as Abraham’s marriage to Sarah when she is his half-sister, not to mention countless others. Logistically, this does make sense, as the Israelite people had become so expansive in numbers, and thus it was much easier to avoid intermingling relations within families. In terms of modern science, we understand that this helped keep the gene pool from becoming to restrictive with a great deal of intermingling amongst relatives. Once again referring to the Enduring Word article, it states: “There was both a moral and genetic reason for these commands. ‘Surveys in different parts of the world where inbreeding occurs have shown that it is accompanied by an increase in congenital malformations and perinatal mortality, for which recessive genes and environmental factors respectively would be responsible.'”
The article The Boundaries of Godly Sexuality even contains a chart to show the relationships which were set forth as forbidden by God, as well as the punishments that were to accompany any infractions of them. As this article also asserts, these relationships were not limited to blood relations, so it isn’t solely limited to genetic relevance. This begins to show the evolution of the boundaries of marriages and relationships within the Israelite people, as well as the statutes set forth for them by God as their narrative continued.
It also suggests an evolution of the Israelite narrative in terms of their relationship with God. As he has led them out of Egypt and is now in the process of fulfilling his promise to them, there is also an evolving relationship as he sets forth more statutes and guidelines for them. It fosters his connection to the Israelite people, as well as establishing many of the tenets and societal norms that would come to define them in the Old Testament.
Basically, ruling out inbreeding amongst people is always a really good thing. There’s a positive takeaway, right?