Sexual Offenses

Jonathan Burnside

in God, Justice, and Society

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199759217
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199827084 | DOI:
Sexual Offenses

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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

Chapter.  18369 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public International Law

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