An Investigation into the Place and Nature of Sexual Offenses in Leviticus 18-20

Leviticus 18-20 contains a long list of sexual offenses among other sins which violate the holiness of the individual and the community. The penalties for such offenses range from required guilt offerings to death. This paper will investigate the place and nature of sexual offenses in Leviticus 18-20 and demonstrate that the prohibitions of and penalties for sexual offenses function as a means to maintain the holiness of Israel.
Leviticus 18 and 20 are the primary texts in the Torah which provide details on God’s expectation for the sexual behavior of his people. The place of these two chapters within the Code of Holiness indicates the primary purpose of the prohibitions and penalties; however, the unique arrangement of the specific laws in each chapter indicates a distinct function of each list. Additionally, the placement of Leviticus 19 (which only contains two laws regarding sexual behavior) between the two pseudo-parallel lists impacts the interpretation of these two passages.
Beyond the unique arrangement of specific laws between Leviticus 18 and 20, the nature of the laws are distinct in the two passages. Leviticus 18 contains apodictic law, while Leviticus 20 contains casuistic law, which includes the prescribed penalties for specific sexual offenses. All of the sexual offenses listed in Leviticus 20 come from chapter 18; however, not all of the offenses listed in chapter 18 find a parallel in chapter 20.
Surprisingly, neither chapter contain a prohibition against incest with one’s own daughter. This omission is known as the missing daughter problem. Additionally, both chapters include a prohibition against child sacrifice to Molech, a seemingly random inclusion in the midst of the surrounding sexual prohibitions. Both the missing daughter problem and the unexpected placement of the Molech prohibition provide insight into the purpose of the passage: the holiness of God’s people in the midst of the Egyptians they left behind and the Canaanites they were displacing.

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