Ishmael's Bane: The Sin and Crime of Illegitimacy Reconsidered
John Witte Jr.
Emory University School of Law
Punishment and Society: The International Journal of Penology, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2003
This essay offers a critical rereading of the Western theological and legal doctrine of illegitimacy or bastardy. The author traces the Western stigma against bastards to the Bible, particularly to the story of Ishmael, the illegitimate son of Abraham and Hagar. He then shows the systematic discrimination against bastards in classic canon law and in early modern Anglo-American common law, and the slow amelioration of their plight in legal reforms in the United States in the past century. The author concludes that the Western doctrine of illegitimacy is theologically illegitimate and suggests a few historically-informed legal remedies, notably adoption, that would help mitigate the plight of illegitimates today.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 30Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: November 3, 2003
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