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God, Justice, and SocietyAspects of Law and Legality in the Bible$
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Jonathan Burnside

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199759217

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199759217.001.0001

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Sexual Offenses

Sexual Offenses

(p.347) 11 Sexual Offenses
God, Justice, and Society

Jonathan Burnside

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on Leviticus 20, which considers a range of sexual behaviors, including rape, adultery, incest, homosexual sex, and bestiality. It argues that biblical law does not have a category of sexual offences as such: instead prohibited sexual relationships are understood in terms of pre-existing categories of idolatry and dishonoring parents, as well as adultery. In this way, Leviticus 20 echoes the sequence of taboos found in the Decalogue. Adultery and forms of adultery are presented schematically in biblical law as a series of binary oppositions to the norm of marriage. As a result, biblical sexual ethics is structured around a clear understanding of harm and family. Comparison with an analysis of recent sexual offences reform in England and Wales suggests that biblical law actually defines questions of consent, equality and protection, in relation to sexual behavior, differently and more broadly than modern law.

Keywords:   adultery, bestiality, binary oppositions, family, idolatry, incest, homosexual sex, Leviticus, sexual ethics, sexual offences

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