To win the hand of Michal, King Saul’s daughter, the young David must prove his manliness by performing posthumous circumcision on a hundred slain Philistines. The episode recalls the ancient Egyptian practice of keeping dead enemies’ manly appendages as trophies of war. In a memorable putdown elsewhere, the Prophet Ezekiel derides Egyptians as priapic fornicators whose “emissions are like those of horses” (Ezk. 23:20).
In court we swear to tell the truth with a hand placed on the Bible. But in the book itself, Jacob, nearing death in Egypt, asks Joseph to swear an oath not to bury him there by “put[ting] your hand under my thigh” (Gen. 47:29). Earlier in Genesis, Jacob wrestles with God, who touches “the hollow of his [Jacob’s] thigh” (32:25). “Thigh” happens to be a biblical euphemism for male genitalia; it’s from Jacob’s “thigh” or “loins” that his numerous offspring sprang. The practice of swearing an oath while touching one’s or someone else’s testicles was common in the ancient Near East (Abraham also orders a servant to do just that in Genesis 24:2). Its linguistic memory survives in our word “testify”—testis being the Latin both for “witness” and the male generative gland.
…Taken together, the Bible advocates a rather curious set of “family values.” Take incest. Adam and Eve’s sons and daughters couldn’t have perpetuated the human race without it. And while early Israelites prized virginity, they also considered it a mark of hospitality to offer their wives and daughters to male guests for complimentary sexual services, just as it was a father’s right to sell his daughter to be a “maid servant” (Ex. 21:7).
In the famous story of Sodom, Lot, the nephew of Abraham, volunteers his virgin daughters to placate randy Sodomites seeking to “know” his male guests—two angels in disguise, as it happens. Later, while he’s in a drunken stupor sheltering in a cave after God’s destruction of Sodom, Lot is raped by these same daughters to “preserve the seed of our father” (Gen. 19:32).