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Leviticus 18 goes through a whole litany of relationships, forbidding a man from incest with his mother, step-mom, granddaughter, sister or half-sister, step-sister, aunt, sister-in-law, etc... But one relationship seems to be missing: one's own daughter.

Other parts of the Torah seem to look pretty negatively on father-daughter incest (e.g. the story of Lot and his daughters in Genesis 19). And obviously Leviticus 18 has nothing positive to say about such a relationship either. But it still seems like something of a lacuna. Why doesn't Leviticus 18 include a law explicitly forbidding it?

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  • 2
    Would it be too much an assumption to suggest each command applies to the inverse relationship as well? So if a man is forbidden from incest with his mother, it might follow everyone understood this to also forbid a woman with her father.
    – user2910
    Jul 21 '17 at 17:58
  • 3
    @MarkEdward because there is a clear hierarchy / authority structure that doesn't work both ways. The daughter is the property of the father until she is wedded into another's household. The other laws address someone else's property. But I don't have time to dig up sources so take this with a grain of salt at the moment.
    – Dan
    Jul 21 '17 at 18:39
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Although this question has been much discussed over the centuries, there is no clear consensus to explain omission of an explicit prohibition on father-daughter incest from Leviticus 18.

As with many legal subjects, the discussion of this issue can quickly become complex. Those interested in the fine details should consult the literature at the conclusion of this answer. What follows is a summary of the main considerations involved in explaining this conundrum.

Among the suggestions made to account for this omission, are the following (following Ziskind, to begin with...):

  • It was present originally, but accidentally dropped out -- although this scribal/mechanical explanation is not often seriously considered these days.
  • It was omitted to delimit the list to ten (or twelve) cases, to match the decalogue, but as Ziskind notes, there was no need to sacrifice a father-daughter clause to meet this aim.
  • Some have suggested that the explicit prohibition is omitted, since it is already implicit in 18:17 (as also argued by an existing answer), but (as Ziskind notes), this only "begs the question", since more distant relations are explicit, and (as Meacham notes), father-daughter incest is the most common form of incest.
  • Joosten, supplemented by Luciani, deepens and extends this line of thought: the omission is rhetorically motivated, and in line with rhetorical conventions, the non-mention takes on enhanced persuasiveness.
  • The rabbis noted and discussed this omission (see Meacham), and Rashi handled it in connection with 18:10 -

    The nakedness of your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter you shall not uncover their nakedness, for they are your own nakedness.

    The rabbinic discussion is a more technical version of deriving the father-daughter prohibition from the existing text.

  • Comparison with some law codes from the ancient Near East prompts the suggestion that the Levitical code is dealing with the same set of cases found in the wider ANE legal tradition -- yet this overlooks cases where father-daughter incest is explicitly proscribed (especially the Hittite laws, see Meacham, pp. 256-7).

  • Ziskind's own suggestion is that the formulation of the prohibition in terms consistent with the rest of the cases would have resulted in implicitly undermining the paternal authority in the family, with the fear that

    explicit inclusion of such a statement ... would cause a loss of credibility for his program of family law reform. He therefore chose to resolve the conflict between morality and legal principle by neither condemning incest with a daughter nor explicitly permitting it either. He simply omitted reference to it altogether. To be sure, this omission showed more political prudence than moral courage. (p. 130)

  • Meacham is unconvinced by Ziskind's proposal. She argues in turn that the cases explicitly covered by Lev 18 cover all the cases found in the patriarchal stories, or by meaningful extrapolation from them -- except for the father-daughter case. This, of course, does occur in Genesis 19, in the case of Lot and his daughters. But this episode gives rise to two of Israel's enemies (Moab and Ammon). So whereas the incestual incidents associated with Abraham's direct line might have been seen as having precedent (and thus permissible) are proscribed explicitly, the father-daughter relationship is already stigmatized and omitted.

  • Leithart offers an explanation of a very different kind (included for completeness) from an explicitly Christian framework. After carefully mapping the degrees of prohibited (and permitted) relationships, Leithart argues the omission is intentional. Why? Because otherwise God himself would be guilty of it in (e.g.) Ezekiel 16, where YHWH is adoptive father and intended husband, and Jerusalem/Zion the foundling daughter/intended bride. Leithart's prefered theological resolution is trinitarian: the tension is dissolved once one sees God as not only father and husband, but as Father and Son.

For further reflection and discussion, see the works by Johanna Stiebert, listed below.


Bibliography

See also the commentaries on Leviticus, in particular: Hartley, Wenham, and above all, Milgrom.

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    I upvoted your answer not because I believe there is any "real" leg to stand on to exclude one's own daughter from "a woman and her daughter" statement, but because your answer is "useful" for showing the extended discussion that has occurred when one has ignored the obvious.
    – ScottS
    Jul 22 '17 at 16:51
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The Specific is Covered in the More General

Leviticus 18:17a states (NKJV):

You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter

If a man has a daughter, he certainly (at least in that time before in vitro fertilization, etc.) has experienced sexual relations with the "woman" who is the mother of both "her daughter" and his daughter. Now 18:17a would generally include stepdaughters as well, but that general statement also includes the specific case you are inquiring about of one's own daughter. So there was no need to specify "your daughter," when this more general statement already explicitly included the instance of one's own daughter with a woman.

So while many commentators have spent time discussing a supposed "gap" in Leviticus 18 because one's own daughter was not singled out for mention, and even gone further to try to figure out "why the gap is there in the first place,"1 a singling out is not needed because 18:17 covers her case. That is:

  • "A woman" explicitly covers any woman one might have had sexual relations with (wife, concubine, prostitute)
  • "her daughter" explicitly covers any female born from that woman who [the woman, not the daughter] one has had sexual relations with

There is no explicit exception clause, nor reason to infer, that "except one's own daughter that is from your sexual relations with 'a woman.'" All B of A are included, that is, all daughters of a woman whom a man has uncovered the nakedness of are off limits.

This statement, made so, expands the prohibition to be more than merely one's own daughter, but its wording in no way indicates one should exclude one's own daughter from the set of daughters that are off limits from a woman he has had sexual relations with. And the reverse implication is that a woman's mother is off limits as well (in the case of the sexual relations being with the daughter). The point is that a man had to choose one, not both, to interact with sexually. Clearly, if the man fathered the daughter, the choice was to interact with her mother.


NOTES

1 Jonathan R. Ziskind, "The Missing Daughter in Leviticus XVIII," Vetus Testamentum 46:1 (Jan 1996), 126.

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    Sorry. Trying again. The law says: "a woman and her daughter", not "a woman and your daughter". So literally as framed it refers most naturally to a step-daughter, not a biological daughter. The former is explicit; the latter is implied. It's simply a fact that 18:17a does not "explicitly include the instance of one's own daughter..." -- that is exactly what is left implicit, and has thus given rise to centuries of discussion. Hope that's more clear! :)
    – Dɑvïd
    Jul 22 '17 at 16:06
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    I agree on what is stated, but disagree what is implied. Explicitly any mother/daughter relation is forbidden (step daughter, mother/daughter prostitution, and one's own daughter). "Your daughter" would have narrowed the focus, but not been any more explicit. One has to (irrationally) imply it does not refer to one's own daughter to think that such might be an exception. There are many passages of scripture that are clear, yet "centuries of discussion" occur because of man's sinfulness and/or ignorance (at some level).
    – ScottS
    Jul 22 '17 at 16:37
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    "'Your daughter' would have narrowed the focus, but not been any more explicit." But Scott -- that's precisely what it would have been: explicit. As it is, the law, framed as it is, does not require a biological relationship between the "you" addressed by the law, and some woman's daughter. It really is that simple: it's not sinful blindness!
    – Dɑvïd
    Jul 22 '17 at 17:07
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    @Dɑvïd We clearly are going to disagree on this, and I agree it does "not require a biological relationship," but it does include that relationship. Explicitness is not the same as specificity. Any woman and her daughter is explicit. But it is not merely one's own daughter, but more than that, hence stated to include more than just one's own daughter.
    – ScottS
    Jul 22 '17 at 17:28
  • 3
    Have to agree with ScottS on this. You can always work down from the general to specific, and his explanation covers every case. A more explicit father-daughter command would not have fully addressed this issue, whereas the woman-daughter command does.
    – vbnet3d
    Jul 26 '17 at 18:28
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Leviticus 18:6 answers that pretty clearly, I think:

Leviticus 18:6: "None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness; I am the LORD." (ESV)

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    Can you please elaborate a bit more? It is not that clear for all of us. Thank you. Jan 16 '19 at 17:05
  • The sin in this verse is violating the property rights of another man, which is not the case with one's own daughter.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 17 '20 at 17:27
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Am I missing something here because I’m struggling to understand the premise of your question?

Where is there an instance that a man can have a daughter whilst at the same time not have had intercourse with the daughter’s mother?

When that could occur in those ancient times then one can argue it’s not in the text for the father to lay with his own biological daughter.

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.” ‭‭Leviticus‬ ‭18:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

They are relatives, the mother and daughter are relatives. The father and mother are not relatives, the father is a relative to his own daughter by his wife who is the mother of the daughter. It’s in the text.

And obviously it’s not referring to at the same time together but with both of them on separate occasions, though I guess it can include the former.

The text is brilliantly formulated so that you cannot exclude your own daughter unless by some miracle you can have a biological daughter without intercourse with your wife (who is a woman with a daughter).

I guess you are asking in the case of adoption if there is no blood ties between the adopted daughter and, you didn’t also have intercourse with her mother could you then technically marry your adopted daughter? That’s a different question you didn’t ask.

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Its condemned here:-

[] Added

NWT Leviticus 20:14 "‘If a man takes a woman [his daughter] and her mother [his wife], it is an obscene act. They should burn him and them in the fire, so that obscene conduct may not continue among you."

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  • The added material between the brackets is inaccurate. It could just as easily be that the daughter is the wife and he is sleeping with her mother. Also, I find that some people (IE: at least one moderator) penalize you (or well, me) for such bracketed text, suggesting that it is a sinister attempt to pretend it is original text) so I have taken to adding "IE: " to the front of the suggestion to more clearly identify it as my own comment. Peace.
    – Ruminator
    Jan 13 '19 at 14:09
  • Surely your not suggesting that this law addresses situations where a man sexually interferes with his daughter? How would one convict such a man? Who would complain? Jan 13 '19 at 14:21
  • @Possibility In case of doubt The Priests would go to Jehovah via the Urim & Thummin lots to find out the truth!
    – user26950
    Jan 13 '19 at 14:48
  • @Ruminator Thats just your poinion.
    – user26950
    Jan 13 '19 at 14:49
  • @ethos - Doubt of what? Who would accuse him - and, by extension, the woman and her mother? Jan 13 '19 at 14:58
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First, we must understand that this is a law and not a story or a poem where we are at liberty to interpret the way we want. No one has the right to add or subtract from a law. Lord Jesus said “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” This is how the law should be treated. Even law of a country is treated the same. So, in Leviticus 18 there is no case of missing words or letters but must be taken it as it is given by the Supreme law giver. God is Almighty and He does not mix-up letters and words. Law should be interpreted as it is written. These laws are specifically given to men but not to women. When it is necessary it specially addresses to women as in verse 23.

There are several words used for the sexual conduct in Leviticus 18 such as “uncover the nakedness”, “take” and “lie”. These three words are not the same obviously and does not mean the same sexual conduct. The biggest mistake most of us are doing is we replace these three words with “sex” which is not correct. If we give the literal meaning to the word “uncover” and interpret the “uncover the nakedness” it is simply uncovering or exposing the nakedness but not having sex. The Hebrew word that is used is “לְגַלֹּות” which means uncover, reveal, disclose, expose etc. Then uncovering the nakedness is an act that takes place before the act of having sex. The word “take” is to take in marriage. The first known used of the word “marry” was in 14th century according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary. In the Biblical times it was giving and taking. A daughter is given away by the father and the man, the intended husband, takes the daughter. The next word is “lie” which means to have casual sex without any marriage commitment. Example Genesis 35:22 “…Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine:”

The daughter is father’s property owned and possessed by the father and wife is husband’s property owned and possessed by the husband. No one has the right to touch another man’s daughter without the permission of the father because she is his property. This is the Biblical Law concerning daughters. In Leviticus 18 this law is broken in many cases and this is the reason for the prohibition. Example “Leviticus:18:8, The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover” – father’s wife is father’s property therefore the son cannot violate it.

When a law is interpreted as law everything prohibited in a law is prohibited and everything that is not prohibited should be taken as allowed, if it is not prohibited elsewhere in another law (meaning within the law books of the Bible, Torah). For example, according the Leviticus 18:22 man and man having sex is prohibited but not women with woman. Therefore, lesbianism is allowed. Same way Leviticus 18 or anywhere else in the law does not prohibit “uncover”, “take” or “lie” with one’s own daughter so it should be taken as allowed. This omission is not due to letters and words going missing. On the other hand, if we say this omission is due to some words and letters going missing then the accuracy of the rest of the law is also questionable. One must read Numbers 30 to understand the relationship between husband and his wife and father and his daughter. Regarding ownership and vows to God both relationships are same and identical. Give is to transfer the ownership and take is to receive the ownership. In taking(marriage) father transfers his ownership to the husband. Father do not need to take(marriage) the daughter because he already owns her. According to Talmud “THE DAUGHTERS OF ISRAEL ARE NOT OWNERLESS PROPERTY…”.

In Leviticus 18:17 the prohibition is for a woman and her daughter. Here the woman is not the man’s wife. The law is very clear because the word wife is used in the same chapter seven times where it means man’s wife, very specific. Here it is only a woman where man has not taken in marriage and the daughter is also not the man’s biological daughter. The law is very specific and it says “thy father”, “thy mother”, “thy sister” etc., to refer to one’s own father, mother, sister etc. Further in verse 10 it refers to his own biological daughter as “thy daughter’s daughter”. So, this is not the man’s own daughter.

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  • You offer some excellent points, which are unfortunately obscured by controversial points you make in your first two paragraphs (without adding much weight to your overall argument). Jan 13 '19 at 10:30
-1

You can't forbid it if you can't enforce it

Leviticus 18 lists all the forbidden sexual relations with women who are under the protection or possession of another man. These are all the situations in which another man would have cause for dispute. It forbids sexual relations with the daughters of your son, who are under the protection of your son, as well as the daughters of your daughter under the protection of your daughter's husband and his family.

Leviticus 18:17 in particular covers any and all sexual relationships a man may have with a woman (who is not necessarily his wife), and seeks to protect her daughter and granddaughters from harm. While it does imply his own daughter as well, only those women who are under someone else's protection (ie. someone else's property) are genuinely protected by this law.

Later, Leviticus speaks out against father-daughter incest more specifically:

Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry and the land become full of wickedness. (Leviticus 19:29)

The translation makes it difficult to decipher as incest, but it remains an express warning against sexual behaviour between father and daughter that the written law is unable to prevent or punish. The way this is worded (and the fact that it isn't assigned a punishment other than threatening corruption of the land) points to the main problem with the law in protecting young women and girls from their father.

A daughter is the property of her father until she marries. She lives under his protection, and her virginity is protected and preserved as a valuable commodity for her future husband. The law appears to protect a young woman during this transition from father to husband, should her virginity (and thus value) be questioned during the process:

If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and then spurns her, and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings an evil name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity,’ then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the tokens of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate; and the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to wife, and he spurns her; and lo, he has made shameful charges against her, saying, “I did not find in your daughter the tokens of virginity.” And yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him; and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought an evil name upon a virgin of Israel; and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. But if the thing is true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you. (Deuteronomy 22: 13-18)

If this condemnation has been caused by her father, then her blood is spilt on his doorstep. But because he is the one who must produce these tokens of virginity, the incestuous father is in a position to protect both himself and his transaction.

It should be mentioned, too, that an unmarried woman is unable to accuse her father of incest, because any vow she takes can be annulled by him:

when a woman vows a vow to the Lord, and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house, in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself, and says nothing to her; then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father expresses disapproval to her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself, shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her, because her father opposed her. (Numbers 30: 3-5)

Likewise, a woman has no recourse to speak up against her husband to protect her daughter.

Conclusion

While the law does in fact speak against father-daughter incest, it nevertheless provides no genuine protection against it, nor punishment for anyone who commits it, because it can neither be tried nor enforced.

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  • A vow is not an accusation, so does Numbers 30 really apply?
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 16 '20 at 3:56
  • @curiousdannii - It demonstrates the capacity of a woman to make any statement in conflict with her father. If even a vow - which would otherwise stand as strong as any signed declaration - can be annulled by her father simply by his disapproval, where is there recourse or protection, anywhere in the Law, for a young woman to speak against her father? Dec 17 '20 at 5:32
  • A vow sets up an obligation to be fulfilled at a future time. It is that obligation that the father must assume or dispose of. An accusation or other declaration of truth to the authorities does not set up an obligation to fulfil in the future.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 17 '20 at 5:34
  • My inclusion of this quote is to illustrate the inability of the Law to protect the word of a young woman - whether a vow or an accusation - against her father, making it impossible for any case of incest to be tried. Can you show me where I am mistaken in this? Dec 17 '20 at 5:50
-1

Any morally upright person would agree that mankind should be working to prevent and heal diseases rather than causing more problems.

Anyone that commits incest is just asking for a good rap-sheet of health problems. God would never allow such a thing. If you would dare make such an argument, your family must be diseased because of it. I have no mercy for you whatsoever. However I do have mercy for your diseased family members if they pray, and fast, and stave through the diseases that you have created, and work, and live to make themselves better human beings, conscientious of the health of their own offspring that you have affected from generations past, by lust, and desperation. Never inspiring a young woman to save her virginity for marriage, out of genuine chastity, genuine uprightness.

Leviticus 18:6: "None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness,"

Are you going to argue that Leviticus 18 does not forbid cousins to marry either? Take a wild guess what that would do to their children? It would cause diseases and deformation. That is why it's against Moses's law and by God it's against natures' law.

Argue, please.

2
  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your contribution. Please take the tour (link below) to better understand how this site works. How does this answer the question from a biblical reference?
    – Dottard
    Dec 16 '20 at 11:42
  • The sin in Leviticus 18:6 is violating the privacy of another man, which is not the case with one's own daughter. Leviticus 18:7 extends that to the mother's privacy as well.
    – Ruminator
    Dec 17 '20 at 17:31

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