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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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an unlawful conjunction of persons related within the degrees of kindred prohibited by God. In the beginning of the world, and again, long after the deluge, marriages between near relations were allowed. In the time of Abraham and Isaac, these marriages were permitted, and among the Persians much later; it is even said to be esteemed neither criminal nor ignominious among the remains of the old Persians at this day. Some authors believe that marriages between near relations were permitted, or, at least, tolerated, till the time of Moses, who first prohibited them among the Hebrews; and that among other people they were allowed even after him. Others hold the contrary; but it is hard to establish either of these opinions, for want of historical documents. The degrees of consanguinity within which marriage was prohibited are stated in Leviticus 18:6-18 . Most civilized people have looked on incests as abominable crimes. St. Paul, speaking of the incestuous man of Corinth, says, "It is reported commonly, that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife:" 1 Corinthians 5:1 . In order to preserve chastity in families, and between persons of different sexes, brought up and living together in a state of unreserved intimacy, it is necessary, by every method possible, to inculcate an abhorrence of incestuous conjunctions; which abhorrence can only be upholden by the absolute reprobation of all commerce of the sexes between near relations. Upon this principle, the marriage, as well as other co- habitations, of brothers and sisters, of lineal kindred, and of all who usually live in the same family, may be said to be forbidden by the law of nature. Restrictions which extend to remoter degrees of kindred than what this reason makes it necessary to prohibit from intermarriage, are founded in the authority of the positive law which ordains them, and can only be justified by their tendency to diffuse wealth, to connect families, or to promote some political advantage. The Levitical law, which is received in this country, and from which the rule of the Roman law differs very little, prohibits marriages between relations within three degrees of kindred; computing the generations, not from, but through, the common ancestor, and accounting affinity the same as consanguinity. The issue, however, of such marriages are not bastardized, unless the parents be divorced during their life time.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Incest'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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