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    Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it is confusion.
    Leviticus 18:23


    This passage from Leviticus clearly condemned bestiality. Even more to the point was Exodus 22:19: "Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death".

    Accusations of bestiality were difficult to refute, since evidence of a particularly dubious nature could be used to identify a guilty party. The belief seems to have been that a man who successfully inseminated a female animal could get it pregnant. Any similarity in appearance between an animal's offspring and a particular man might thus cast suspicion that he was the father. Anything like a characteristic blemish, a squint, unusual hair colour or disability might cost him his life in a credulous society that interpreted the Bible literally*.


    Jacques Ferron was a Frenchman who was tried and hanged in 1750 for copulation with a jenny (ie a female donkey). The trial took place in Vanvres. Ferron was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

    In cases such as these it was usual that the animal would also be sentenced to death, but in this case the jenny was acquitted. The court decided that the animal was a victim and had not participated of her own free will. A document, dated 19 September 1750, was submitted to the court on behalf of the she-ass that attested to the virtuous nature of the animal. Signed by the parish priest and other principal residents of the commune it proclaimed that "they were willing to bear witness that she is in word and deed and in all her habits of life a most honest creature."


    It is easy to blame simple rural folk for such folly, but learned ecclesiastics also believed and promoted it. Ecclesiastics were as keen to inflict the death penalty for this crime as for hundreds of others. Often (see page 367) the human and the animal involved in bestiality were both tortured and executed. In England, the death penalty was confirmed in 1533 after the Reformation: "The detestable and abominable crime of buggery committed with mankind or beast" remained punishable by death until 1861. For the next century it was punishable by life imprisonment.


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    §. An example of a man put to death after being suspected because a piglet had a human look about it and an eye blemish like his is given by John Winthrop in The History of New England from 1630 to 1649 (Boston, 1853), II, p 73, cited by Tannahill, Sex in History, p 314. People suffered the death penalty in Europe too.


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