Saturday, May 5, 2012

Marriage Violations (Deuteronomy 22:13-30)

The following quote is taken from
            "Rape is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.  Yet few people know that the Bible often condones and even approves of rape.  How anyone can get their moral guidance from a book that allows rape escapes me.  Perhaps they have been lied to about the Bible and carefully detoured around all the nasty stuff in the Bible.
            So grab your Bibles and follow along as I show you all the nasty rapes that your priests and preachers don't want to tell you about.  Note that in many places in the Bible there are references to "taking a wife".  Don't be fooled into thinking that these were voluntary marriages.  This first quote clearly shows that murder and force were used to "take" these wives." 
            Before we begin this section, there are two claims which need to be examined.  The first is the claim, "the Bible often condones and even approves of rape".  This is not the case.  The Law forbid rape, and God does not approve of it.  Rape is a sin.  In the time that the Law was written, rape was a crime that was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).
            The second claim is that marriages in the Bible usually involved rape, since they were not voluntary.  By that definition, all marriage in the Bible would be classified as rape, since marriages were almost never voluntary in the Ancient Near East.  In that culture and time period (as in some Eastern cultures today), marriages were always arranged by the parents of the bride and groom [1].  Men and women often did not even meet their spouse until the wedding day.  Marriage then was very different from today, where men and women choose their spouses and marry for love.  In the time period and culture where the Bible was written, people had little to no choice who their spouse would be.  Marriage was mostly for family alliances, protection and continuation of family property/assets, and procreation.

The following quotes are taken from

"Death to the Rape Victim - "If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife" (Deuteronomy 22:23-24, NAB)

It is clear that God doesn't give a d--- about the rape victim.  He is only concerned about the violation of another man's "property".

"Laws of Rape - "If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father.  Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her" (Deuteronomy 22:28-29, NLT).

What kind of lunatic would make a rape victim marry her attacker?  Answer: God."

Let's examine the laws found in Deuteronomy chapter 22.  You can read the full text here:

            The laws found in Deuteronomy 22:13-30 describe situations in which the marriage covenant has been violated, such as slander, cases of adultery, and instances of rape.  In the verses just preceding the above passage, the death penalty is given for a man who raped a woman in the country: "But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.  Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death.  This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her" (Deuteronomy 22:25-27, NIV).  Rape was a crime that was punishable by death.
            We find in this chapter three cases for three specific situations.  This passage, like the ones preceding it, must be considered in a cultural and historical context.  In the Ancient Near East, a woman was entirely subject to the men of her family [1].  She was first a virgin in her father's household, and then she was married and became a wife and mother in her husband's household.  In ancient Israelite culture, it was almost unheard of for a person to remain single their entire life.  People, especially women, were expected to marry and have children.  This was a cultural mandate [2][3].
            The first situation described here concerns a man who slept with a woman who was engaged to someone else, in a town (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).  The implication here is that the woman consented to sex and did not scream for help, since her cries would have been obvious in such close proximity to others living nearby.  People who were engaged were already considered to be married; a broken engagement was as serious as a divorce (Matthew 1:18-19).  In light of this, and of God's command against adultery (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:18), this was a crime that both the man and woman committed, that warranted the death penalty.  If the woman was being raped and had screamed for help, only the man would be executed (verses 25-27), which was the second situation described.
            The third situation was unique, since it did not involve a woman who was already engaged, but a virgin woman who was not yet engaged to anyone.  The question that has been presented is this: Why would there be a law prescribing a marriage to occur in this instance?  The answer is cultural.  In the Ancient Near East, virginity was highly prized.  Widows and unmarried women who were not virgins and had no father, brother or son who was willing to provide for them were in a desperate situation [1][2].  Women in this situation often had to sell themselves into slavery or prostitution just to survive.  It was not like modern times, where women can provide for themselves and live on their own.
            One example of this situation can be found in the story of Amnon and Tamar (2 Samuel chapter 13).  In this story, Amnon, King David's oldest son and heir to his throne, fell in love with his half-sister, Tamar.  After tricking her into coming into his bedroom, he raped her.  Afterwards, he commanded her to leave, but her response might be considered puzzling to a modern reader: she wanted to stay, and to marry him.  “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me" (2 Samuel 13:16, NIV).  Why would Tamar want to stay with Amnon after he raped her?  She knew of her situation: she was no longer a virgin, and in that culture would therefore be unmarriageable, except to the one who had taken her virginity.  She preferred marriage over the alternative of living single as "a desolate woman", which is what happened when Amnon sent her away (2 Samuel 13:17-20).  Amnon was eventually murdered by his half-brother Absalom, who was disgusted over the great evil that had been done to Tamar (2 Samuel 13:21-38).
            We must consider a few other things here.  Different Hebrew words are used in this passage to refer to the different sexual acts, which do not necessarily imply rape.  For example, the word used in verse 23 is shakab, meaning "to lie down with", used to refer to sexual intercourse.  This is not quite the same term as in verse 25, where in addition to shakab the word chazaq is added, meaning "to seize, overpower, take hold of, prevail".  In verse 28, the word taphas is used, but has a slightly different meaning than chazaq, though the two terms are similar.  So in verses 25 and 28 the description is that the man seized and had sex with a woman, but this does not explicitly refer to rape.  The differences in the words used in verses 25 and 28 could be interpreted as verse 25 referring to rape, while verse 28 refers to consensual sex.  These two terms are also not the same Hebrew words used for rape as in other passages (Genesis 34:2; Judges 19:25, 20:25; 2 Samuel 13:14; Zechariah 14:2). [4] [5].
            Lastly, in addition to marrying the woman, the man who had sex with her also had to pay a substantial fine of fifty shekels of silver.  This was no small sum; at that time it represented at least 6-8 months' wages for the average person [6].  The man was now responsible for the protection and care of the wife he had taken.  Though the Law permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), in this instance, the man who committed this crime was not ever permitted to divorce the woman.  This law protected her and provided her with a home, provisions and a future.  For a woman in the Ancient Near East, this situation was better than the alternative of being forced into slavery or prostitution to provide for herself. 
             There is one more thing to consider when reading this passage, and that is a parallel law from the book of Exodus: "If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins" (Exodus 22:16-17, NIV).  A marriage was not necessarily required to occur if an unbetrothed woman had been raped (or engaged in consensual pre-marital sex).  Since unmarried women in the Ancient Near East were under the authority of their fathers, it was up to the father to decide whether to give her in marriage to the man or not.  The father had the right to refuse, and if he did, the man involved had to pay the substantial bride price anyway.
            This passage is not saying that rape is acceptable.  In these passages, rape is treated as a serious crime.  So how should this passage be interpreted and applied today?  Does this mean that today, a rape victim is supposed to marry her rapist?  The answer is no.  In the first place, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 more likely seems to be describing an instance of consensual pre-marital sex, rather than rape (see the parallel law in Exodus 22:16-17).  Secondly, people tend to take the commandments in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) as laws that were supposed to apply to every person in every culture, throughout history. This is not the case. The commandments in the Law (Torah) were specifically given to the nation of the Israelites. They were not intended to be for people of all nations and all time periods. God gave the Law to the Israelites to reveal his character, make all of us aware of our sin and to reveal our need for a Savior (Romans 3:19-31, 5:20-21, 7, 10:4; Galatians 3). We must keep that in mind when reading passages such as this in the Old Testament. This does not mean that there is nothing to be learned from the Old Testament; but what it means is that there is a specific audience that this passage was written for, and we will not understand it unless we consider it in context.

UPDATE 11/23/14: It appears that those who created the NLT Bible translation have updated their translation in order to correctly interpret the language of the Hebrew in Deuteronomy 22:28 - in their 2013 translation, the act is considered pre-marital consensual intercourse, rather than rape: "Suppose a man has intercourse with a young woman who is a virgin but is not engaged to be married.  If they are discovered..." (Deuteronomy 22:28, NLT 2013).

[1] Exploring the World of the Bible Lands, Roberta L. Harris, 1995.  Pg. 35.
[2] The Gospel of Ruth, Carolyn Custis James, 2008.  Pgs. 77-78.
[3] Life and Society in the West: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Constance Brittain Bouchard, 1988.  Pg. 33.
[4] Gesenius's Lexicon, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (translated by Samuel P. Tregelles), 1847