Debunking Lies About The Bible (Part 6): Marrying Your Rapist
Regarding the heinous crime of rape, there does indeed exist a misogynistic and malevolent threat to civil society as we now know it. But the actual source of this assault upon Western values does not originate from Christians or the Bible, despite what some are maliciously claiming. As the Heritage Foundation reported, in a 2010 case that was later overturned by an appellate court, a “trial judge found as a fact that a defendant committed conduct that constituted a sexual assault,” but did not hold the guilty party liable due to the so-called cultural defense (“by reason of cultural insanity,” as it should more accurately be termed). In S.D. v. M.J.R., the legal proceedings concerned an unnamed, married Moroccan couple that lived together in New Jersey. The wife was repeatedly brutalized by her husband who beat and raped her over a period of several weeks.The prosecution’s evidence and exhibits were overwhelming. There were police photographs and blood stains on her pillow and bed sheets. Hospital workers treated her for severe lacerations and contusions to her breasts, thighs, arms, lips, eyes, and right cheek. Furthermore, the facts presented at the trial definitively established that the woman’s husband had told her, “You must do whatever I tell you to do. I want to hurt your flesh” and “this is according to our religion. You are my wife, I c[an] do anything to you.”
The police detective testified at the hearing, and their photographs were introduced as evidence in the case. The defendant’s Imam also testified that a Muslim wife is required to comply with her husband’s every sexual demand. Fearing greatly for her life, the woman was seeking a permanent restraining order against her violence-prone husband. However, the New Jersey trial judge, despite admitting that most of the criminal acts were definitively proven, refused to grant her request for a restraining order. This insane judge ruled that the defendant could not be held responsible because his actions were “consistent with his [religious/cultural] practices.” In other words, the judge decided that under Shari’a law a Muslim husband had the “right” to rape his wife. Sadly, we will continue to witness more cases like this from a morally-compromised and rogue judiciary. In fact, in an even more gruesome case from 2009, a Muslim man in Buffalo, New York beheaded his wife, claiming that it was an honor-killing carried out in accordance with the dictates of his faith as explicitly prescribed in the Quran. So, if you want to point to a religion or a “holy” book that condones rape and violence against women, you need look no further than the orthodox Islamic faith. While most Christians know enough to quickly reject any fraudulent claims about the God of the Bible endorsing rape, there are, on the other hand, many Muslims who unapologetically support and engage in such unspeakable conduct, supposedly all in the name of Allah. It’s not only documented in their historic texts and the life of their diabolical “prophet,” but they are also currently perpetrating and defending these odious deeds right here in the good old U.S. of A. Worse yet, we have shameless American jurists who are enabling and encouraging such shocking criminal behavior through the issuing of their Shari’a-complaint verdicts.
Where is the outrage over such indefensible actions? Well, I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but many of the politically correct leftists are simply too busy smearing Christianity and the Bible to be worried about a few inconvenient rapes or honor-killings committed by adherents to the religion of “peace.” Fact is, the Devil and his “progressive” minions are much more intent on attacking the truth rather than falsehood. Therefore, the Bible has predictably been the primary target of their ire, and Islam’s accomplices in the mainstream media have also been more than willing to give radical Muslims a pass when it comes to their violent, extremist tendencies. For instance, liberal “Rev.” Wil Gafney regurgitates an old canard in a 2013 Huffington Post article, “Shockingly, for many religious readers, God, Moses and the Torah call for the rape of women.” Shocking indeed! Shocking because I must have been absent on the day when they taught that in my childhood Sunday School class. Shocking because I also don’t recall my church conducting any religious rallies that encouraged the raping and pillaging of my local neighborhood. Come to think of it, I can’t even call to mind anything in the Bible that actually sanctions rape. The countless critics of the Bible, however, have been quick to pounce on Deuteronomy 22:28-29 as if it were God’s horrendous Biblical endorsement of the repugnant act of rape. So, what is Deut. 22:28-29 actually describing? To help begin this in-depth analysis, here’s the NIV translation of this hotly-debated passage:
Deut. 22:28-29 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
Although on the surface this verse is shocking to our modern sensibilities and seems to require that a rape victim be forced to marry her assailant, the passage nowhere sanctions, condones or even remotely approves of rape. If God did, in fact, approve of rape, then why does this text require the imposition of a punitive fine of “fifty shekels of silver” (vs. 29). While some may ignorantly quibble over the amount of the fine levied (fully discussed below), the required restitution is certainly indicative of God’s unequivocal disapproval of the commission of such sinful behavior. The scriptural statute in question merely provided guidance for the Jewish nation in the case(s) of such morally abhorrent infractions. Speaking of the man’s deed, we are also told that he had “violated” (Hebrew: `anah – shamed, humiliated) her (vs. 29), which is hardly a term indicating the action’s acceptability in the eyes of God. However, the question still remains, “What then does this text describe as having transpired?” To answer that very important question, it is necessary to take a careful look at the context (biblical, historical, etc.) and the original languages to determine if the English translation [particularly the New International Version (NIV) and scant others] accurately conveys the inspired author’s intended meaning. As we do this, we will ultimately see that this citation is not addressing a case of rape at all.
Before proceeding any further, just a quick note regarding the art and science of Biblical interpretation: Many hostile non-believers will dispute Christian explanations of the Bible because they do not accurately comprehend the proper interpretive process that we utilize. They have heard Christians repeatedly express sentiments such as, “You must believe the entire Bible” or “You can’t pick and choose” (all of which I agree with); however, they incorrectly misconstrue these statements to mean that we strictly adhere to an absolute, purely literal approach to understanding the Bible. As a result, the God-haters will often sneer and combatively object whenever they observe a believer making any exceptions to the general rule of literalism. These instances are inaccurately perceived as convenient and selective deviations from an extreme method, which we have never claimed to unconditionally employ.
Basically, the preferred interpretive approach is best characterized as the literalistic plain reading of Scripture, in which the serious believer endeavors to discover the originally intended, accurate meaning(s) of the author(s). However, this hermeneutical quest is not conducted in a strictly wooden, hyper-literal fashion. Among other things, the thoughtful student of Scripture also knows enough to be aware of the compositional genre, terminological connotations, literary devices, and figures of speech which are all commonly utilized throughout Scripture. Each of these factors can have a significant impact on understanding the true meaning of a passage. For example, as Christians read the book of Revelation, we do not fearfully expect horse-like locusts with the teeth of a lion, human faces, thundering wings, and the tails of a scorpion to invade the earth (Rev. 9:3, 7-10). We obviously know that each of these descriptive attributes found throughout apocalyptic literature have symbolic meanings. So, while we certainly consider the entire Bible to be inspired holy writ, we also realize that the pursuit of biblical truth requires a considerable investment of serious and sincere interpretive effort. With all of this in mind, let’s move forward with a careful examination of the textual passage at hand.
What the NIV simply translates as “rapes” (vs. 28) is actually, in the original text, two distinct Hebrew words: taphas (meaning: to catch or capture, to grasp, lay hold of, seize) and shakab (meaning: to lie with, to lie down). Therefore, the NASB’s more precise translation— “seizes… and lies with” – represents a considerably superior interpretation. Whenever the word shakab is biblically employed in a sexual sense (with no additional qualifying terms), it never refers to a forced act; it is merely a general reference to sexual intercourse. Therefore, the critical word in question is taphas, and it is utilized throughout the Bible with varying shades of meaning. For example, in Jeremiah 2:8, it’s rendered as follows: “The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who deal (taphas) with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.” Moreover, as the late Christian philosopher and apologist Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen has insightfully written:
The Hebrew word taphas (“lay hold of her,” emphasized above) simply means to take hold of something, grasp it in hand, and (by application) to capture or seize something. It is the verb used for “handling” the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21), the sword (Ezek. 21:11; 30:21), the sickle (Jer. 50:16), the shield (Jer. 46:9), the oars (Ezek. 27:29), and the bow (Amos 2:15). It is likewise used for “taking” God’s name (Prov. 30:9) or “dealing” with the law of God (Jer. 2:8). Joseph’s garment was “grasped” (Gen. 39:12; cf. I Kings 11:30), even as Moses “took” the two tablets of the law (Deut. 9:17). People are “caught” (I Kings 20:18), even as cities are “captured” (Deut. 20:19; Isa. 36:1). An adulterous wife may not have been “caught” in the act (Num. 5:13). In all of these instances it is clear that, while force may come into the picture from further description, the Hebrew verb “to handle, grasp, capture” does not in itself indicate anything about the use of force. When we consider the surrounding context of Deut. 22:28, actual rape is described in verse 25; so, we clearly see that rape is not in view in v. 28.
In Israel’s Laws and Legal Precedents (1907), Charles Foster Kent, a former Old Testament scholar at Yale University, clearly distinguished between the law pertaining to rape in Deut. 22:25-27 and the law pertaining to seduction in Duet. 22:28-29. Countless other Bible scholars, commentators, and interpretive authorities such as Matthew Henry, Keil & Delitzsch, Meredith Kline, and J.A. Thompson strongly concur with this assessment.
While not an exhaustive list by any means, the KJV, NKJV, 21st Century KJV, NRSV, ESV, ASV, NASB, RSV, CEB, EXB, LEB, NCV, NLV, NLT, Amplified, Douay-Rheims, Darby, 1599 Geneva Bible, Wycliffe Bible, Webster Bible, World English Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, Complete Jewish Bible, and Rotherham are all translations of the Bible that do not explicitly interpret the word taphas (vs. 28) as rape. In the pursuit of greater accuracy, the overwhelming majority of highly trained Bible scholars who specialize in the translation of Hebrew wisely avoid using this provocative term because it is really not the best or clearest rendering.
Earlier in the chapter, Deuteronomy 22:25-27 had already unambiguously indicated God’s extreme condemnation for the rape of an innocent female victim, and the Torah Law mandated the swift execution of the guilty male perpetrator by means of stoning (vs. 24). (See also Part 3 in this series for further information about the Biblical directives concerning stoning for capital offenses). That the traumatized woman in these verses (vss. 25-27) was definitely coerced to have sex without her consent is evidenced by the precise Hebrew word that was used to indicate a forced rape (chazaq)(vs. 25) and her desperate screams for rescue (vs. 27). However, all of these critical details are conspicuously absent from vss. 28-29. If the inspired author was actually denoting a rape in v. 28, then he could have simply repeated the identical word (chazaq) and should have also retained the death penalty provision.
Consequently, it would make absolutely no sense for God to denounce rape in one verse (vs. 25), and then to immediately turn around and say the exact opposite just a few verses later (vss. 28-29). As all of this clearly illustrates, God certainly does not condone rape as demonstrated by the fact that it was designated as a capital offense. Jewish jurisprudence commanded a lethal verdict for any convicted and contemptible rapist. Whenever described in the Bible, rape is also graphically depicted as a gross violation of God’s design for the treatment of any human body.
So, if forceful, violent rape was the intended focus of this passage (vss. 28-29), then why didn’t the author utilize the exact same word that was employed only three verses prior? The fact that chazaq is not used in vs. 28 should give us further pause against reading rape into this citation. Additional Old Testament passages support this understanding. Wherever a portion of Scripture is undeniably referring to rape, the less intense taphas is never used. Instead, the Hebrew verb chazaq is the typical grammatical descriptor to designate rape. For example, in describing the actual rape of King David’s daughter Tamar, the author intentionally included the word chazaq in 2 Samuel 13:14 to denote an utterly non-consensual sexual assault. The close proximity of these two words (chazaq – vs. 25; taphas – vs. 28) in the selected Scripture portion definitely diminishes the possibility that the author either forgot the correct word or inadvertently used the incorrect term.
In the Bible, there are only three exceptions to the standard use of chazaq when specifying an occurrence of rape. First, in both Duet. 28:30 and Zechariah 14:2, the words shakab (lie with, sexual intercourse) and shagal (ravish) are employed together, specifically referring to the sexual assault of Jewish female war captives by Israel’s enemies. Second, Judges 19-20 detail a gruesome incident regarding the brutal rape of an unnamed Levite’s concubine. In these two chapters from the book of Judges, the context and linguistic modifiers also clearly indicate the commission of a rape. The unidentified woman was abused/severely mistreated (`alal, 19:25), humiliated/forced/defiled (`anah, 20:5), and murdered (muwth, 20:5; ratsach, 20:4). Therefore, there is no doubt that a brutally violent, involuntary act had occurred. This actual scenario also sparked a full-scale war between the remaining eleven tribes of Israel which promptly rallied themselves against their Benjamite brothers, who were defiantly refusing to turn over the perpetrators of the grisly assault to an executioner’s sword (Jud. 20:13, 37, 48). If the ancient Greeks recorded Helen of Troy as the “face that launched a thousand ships,” then the violated woman of Judges 19-20 should hereafter be memorialized as the assault victim who mobilized four hundred thousand troops (Jud. 20:2) that were deployed to severely punish and decimate every town complicit in harboring her brutal rapists (Jud. 20:48). An astounding, combined total of 40,030 male members of the Hebrew military gave their lives in bloody battlefield combat to defend the honor of a single brutalized woman, and that does not include the extremely high number of casualties inflicted upon the Benjamites during the course of this abbreviated, but gory civil war (20:21, 25, 31, 39). That’s quite an overwhelming and rapid response for a Torah Law-abiding nation that many Bible antagonists wrongheadedly presume sanctioned the rape of its vulnerable young women. Quite to the contrary, Israel understood that it was their divinely ordained duty to completely “purge the evil” and the guilty criminals from their land (Jud. 20:13). (The deplorable incident in 2 Samuel 13, which was recounted earlier in this column, likewise provoked a similar deadly response. Tamar’s brother Absalom was so infuriated by the rape of his virgin sister that he plotted and later meted out a lethal form of vigilante justice upon the guilty felon.) Even today, rational individuals are extremely repulsed by, and favor harsh punishment for, vile sex offenders. Moreover, in each of these three scriptural instances, the linguistically weaker taphas is conspicuously absent, and each of these exceptions also contain clearly identifiable contextual clues, making rape the only logical conclusion for the biblical translators and their readers. The same cannot be said of the often misrepresented Deut. 22:28-29 passage, which as we shall further confirm does not actually describe rape.
According to Deut. 22:29, the offending party must pay the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, but this means little or nothing to the modern reader. The historically uninformed probably assume, on the surface of things, that the amount of this financial penalty seems rather negligible, especially given the nature of the violation. However, as we shall see, it is actually an amount that is much more appreciably burdensome than initially meets the eye.
There are several ways to determine the value of 50 shekels in terms that we can understand today. First, we can start by considering the current cost of the silver content in an ancient shekel. Although the value fluctuated over the centuries, a shekel contained about 15 grams of silver (a little more than .5 ounces); therefore, 50 shekels equaled 750 grams or 26.5 ounces. As of the writing of this column, the market value for silver bullion was around $21/ounce. In other words, this essentially equates to $550. For a modern worker making $20/hour, that would be about 3-1/2 day’s wages. It’s at this point that Bible critics typically end their investigation into the monetary significance of 50 shekels, if they even go this far. The adversaries of God prefer instead to go off on a contemptuous diatribal tangent against the Bible. Some will even make mocking references to this amount and equate it with the current expense for a marriage license and a cut-rate Vegas style wedding. Although this amount doesn’t seem like much, it doesn’t accurately reveal the whole story because a shekel was worth considerably more than the modern dollar value of its silver content in terms of real buying power. Admittedly, it is always quite difficult to translate the values of the ancient world into today’s terms. The present relative value (after adjustments for inflation) of goods and services is entirely different than that of Bible times. To put it plainly, 50 shekels during the Old Testament period could purchase a great amount more than $550 presently does.
For the purposes of the valuation of the shekel, a simple method involves considering the number of day’s wages that 50 silver shekels represented in Antiquity. The New Testament describes a denarius, which originally derived its name from the price of ten donkeys, as equal to one day’s wages of an unskilled laborer (Matt. 18:28, 20:2, 9; Mark 6:37, 14:5; John 6:7, 12:5). The shekel, on the other hand, was valued at approximately 4 denarii. Therefore, 50 shekels is the same as 200 denarii (200 days’ wages) or just over ½ (.548) of a year’s wages. This constitutes an amount that is considerably more sizable than $550 would be to a contemporary worker. Based upon recent Census Bureau data on household incomes, the average American with a high school diploma or a Bachelor’s Degree earns about $26,000 and $43,000, respectively. During this period of a little more than ½ (.548) of a year (200 days), a U.S. worker would approximately earn a minimum of $14,248 (.548 X $26,000) to a maximum of just over $23,564 (.548 X of $43,000).
Furthermore, the Code of Hammurabi, which dates from the Bronze Age sometime midway between Abraham and Moses, prescribed a monthly wage for a common laborer of one shekel (12 annually). In this case, that would mean that 50 silver shekels represented over 4 year’s (4.17) wages or a total of $108,420 to $179,390. Perhaps the best estimate, however, for the relative value of 50 shekels at the time of Deuteronomy’s writing would be to calculate the average of all of these possibilities ($61,334 – $101,477).This is undoubtedly a more appropriate way of ascertaining the comparative value of the shekel in ancient times. Ultimately, we should never lose sight of the fact that 50 shekels of silver meant vastly more to the Mosaic law-breaker than today’s basic market rate for 26.5 ounces of silver ($550).
We can also estimate the relative worth of the shekel by comparing it to property values. During the time of the biblical Patriarchs, an average field cost four shekels per acre, and garden land cost 40 shekels per acre. In my home state of Indiana, an acre of tillable land can range anywhere from $5,000 to $12,000 with the average being about $7,500. Based upon the patriarchal period’s average cost per acre of land, 50 shekels of silver could purchase somewhere between 1.25 to 12.5 acres with a value in modern Indiana that ranges from $9,375 to $93,750. Prime real estate, though, would cost considerably more.
David purchased the parcel of land upon which the Jewish Temple was built for 50 shekels of silver (2 Sam. 24:24). In other words, the price of restoring this young woman’s honor was equivalent in value to the most holy site in all of Israel. This provision, therefore, indicates the very high regard that the Bible bestowed upon Jewish virgins.
Another way to accurately ascertain the purchasing power of the shekel is by comparing it to the value placed on other particular items and individuals in the Bible. To begin with, we could evaluate the shekel in terms of shelter. The Good Samaritan gave the inn keeper two denarii (equivalent of 1/2 of a shekel) to provide lodging and care for the waylaid traveler (Luke 10:35). This would make the two denarii worth about $5.25 at the current price of silver, which would certainly not be enough to rent a single night in a room at the cheapest of today’s motels, let alone provide medical care. Rather, those two denarii (1/2 shekel) represented far more value. If, and that’s a very big if, the hypothetical injured man required only a single night stay, then we can assess the value of 50 shekels by relating it to the comparable cost of lodging in our day. A safe and modest average to figure would be $50 a night at a moderately priced hotel. With ½ shekel being the relative equivalent of $50 (1 shekel = $100), that would put a modern day value of $5,000 on 50 shekels of silver.
By way of another comparison, Abimelech, the illegitimate son of the fleece-flying Gideon, was able to raise, support and equip a small-scale army that was comprised of “four divisions” with an expenditure of “seventy shekels of silver” (fifty shekels would therefore be enough to finance three troop divisions) (Jud. 9:4, 34). This military force possessed the formidable ability to govern and protect the entire nation of Israel for three years until Abimelech’s untimely death in battle (Jud. 9:22, 52-55). There was also an additional illuminating example that involved an Ephraimite named Micah (not the same individual as the more well-known biblical prophet by the same name) who paid a Levite from Bethlehem “ten shekels of silver” as an annual salary to be his personal priest during the morally adrift period in which the judges ruled Israel (Jud. 17:10). Since both of these historical events transpired over three hundred years after the issuing of the Torah Law generally, and Deuteronomy specifically, we can rather confidently extrapolate that a sufficient amount of time had elapsed to allow for inflation to diminish the buying power of a silver shekel (Jud. 11:26). In other words, a silver shekel was much more valuable at the time that Deut. 22:29 was composed, which again supports the contention that the fifty silver shekel fine was nothing to be sniffed at, but rather constituted a substantially onerous levy to be placed upon the offender.
In Exodus 30:11-13 (Matt. 17:24, 27), an annual temple tax was required of every male 20 years of age or older. The amount of this religious contribution, which was designated for the service and upkeep of the Lord’s habitation, was a half shekel, and it was literally described as a “ransom for his soul” (vs. 11). So, the Torah levied a penalty for violating a Jewish virgin that was 100 times as much as the price to ransom a male’s soul. The point being that the honor of a young Jewish maiden was so precious and sacred that the monetary fine was designed to place an excessive financial burden on the perpetrator.
Most interesting, in the New Testament, “pieces” is derived from the Greek term “argurion” (Matt 26:15; 27:3,5-6,9), which was utilized in the account of the betrayal of our Lord for “thirty pieces of silver.” Moreover, in the parallel passage of Zechariah 11:12-13, which the Apostle Matthew states was prophetically fulfilled in the amount that Judas Iscariot received for his treachery against Christ, we find the words “thirty shekels of silver.” There is little doubt that a “piece” is the equivalent to the “shekel.” This means that the violated woman of Deut. 22:28-29 was valued at roughly twice the bounty that was placed on our Lord’s head by the Temple authorities.
Regardless of how one figures the financial significance of 50 shekels, it was certainly not an amount to be scoffed at. The male offender certainly did not get off easy. Even if one should select the most modest estimate, the relative value in terms of today’s purchasing power is quite substantial. That’s a considerable amount of money for anyone to ever assume that God callously sanctions or overlooks the rape of (or more accurately in this case, the seductive fornication with) a Hebrew virgin maiden. Common sense dictates that if God actually did approve of rape, then there would have been no fine levied at all. Moreover, this was only the beginning of the young man’s financial liability as he was also required to marry and provide for the deflowered woman. He would essentially pay for his sin for the rest of his life.
To more fully understand the meaning of Deut. 22:28-29, we must examine an absolutely crucial parallel companion text. Any questions or concerns about the meaning of the Deuteronomy passage are conclusively put to rest upon further examination of Exodus 22:16-17.
Exodus 22:16-17 “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.”
The critical connection between Deuteronomy and the three book collection of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers must never be underestimated. Any serious student of biblical exegesis simply cannot carelessly disregard the inextricable link between these Old Testament books. Literally, the word “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” The initial or first rendering of the Mosaic Law is found in the three preceding books (Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers). Deuteronomy, the second proclamation, is basically a collection of Moses’ sermons through which he delivered divinely inspired messages that further expounded on (Deut. 1:5) the meanings and nuances of his earlier articulation of the Torah’s divine statutes. Deuteronomy obviously contains the theological elaborations and legal extrapolations that were necessary for the consistent enactment and application of the Jewish law. Deuteronomy demonstrates that undeniable fact by expanding on the details of the situation being described in Exodus 22. For example, Moses outlines various case scenarios and other key intricacies (i.e.: town/country, pledged/not pledged to be married, screams/doesn’t scream) (vss. 25-27). Like today, the judges of ancient Israel, who were tasked with the application and enforcement of the OT laws, were not mind readers or omniscient. It was therefore understandably necessary for them to typically rely upon external evidentiary cues or to look for testimonial discrepancies to determine if an actual infraction of the law had occurred. That is exactly what Deuteronomy is accomplishing as it is intended to provide greater clarification to the former three books of the Torah.
The clear link between Deut. 22:28-29 and Ex. 22:16-17 is absolutely beyond question. Both passages share four crucial components: 1. The reference to “a virgin who is not pledged to be married,” 2. The utilization of the word shakab to indicate sexual intercourse, 3. The levying of a punitive fine (called a “bride-price,” or dowry in Ex. 22:17), and 4. The required marital union of the couple. That is a considerable amount of similarity for just two verses. The only differences being that the Exodus citation specifically included the idea of seduction (“seduces” vs. 16) and underscored the father’s ultimate discretionary authority over his daughter’s future marriage plans. If the father refused to grant permission to marry his daughter, the male instigator of their illicit liaison was still required to pay the 50 shekels (even if he didn’t get a wife). For this reason, Exodus 22:16-17 is extremely relevant when it comes to understanding the much bigger picture of this extremely sensitive issue.
The violator in this case is guilty of fornication, but not rape. The use of the Hebrew term pathah (Ex. 22:16) reveals that the male participant has seductively, and possibly deceitfully, won the young virgin’s consent. The verb pathah refers to “coaxing”(Jud. 14:15), “luring”(Jud. 16:5; Hos. 2:14), and “enticing” (Prov. 1:10, 16:29). According to this scriptural portrayal, the male offender deviously employs his powers of persuasion and persistent enticements to emotionally overcome the unbetrothed woman’s initial expressions of refusal and/or her general reluctance due to her personal moral inhibitions. The high pressure tactics of this typical young male with raging hormones have, in other words, succeeded in pressuring the virgin maiden into having sexual relations with him. More specifically, he may have “captured” (taphas, not chazaq) her consent through deceitful promises of commitment, professions of steadfast love, manipulative threats to terminate their relationship, or merely the exploitation of her natural human feelings of infatuation. There are numerous conceivable explanations as to why a Jewish virgin girl would ever succumb to a young man’s entreaties and risk indulging in the hedonistic sin of fornication, but regardless of the details, this kind of thing has been happening since time immemorial. The negative influence of an unbridled human sex drive is nothing new. In fact, sexually immoral behavior of this type happens in America every day, unfortunately with increasing regularity.
Then, having succeeded in his scheming seductions and wily persuasions, the male youth possibly proceeds to passionately clasp onto (taphas, not chazaq) the vulnerable young maiden and ravishes (taphas, not chazaq) her in what may also appear to be, at least to some extent, a forceful (taphas, not chazaq) manner. It’s easy to imagine the scenario. We’ve all witnessed our share of Hollywood-produced cinematic presentations in which the leading male actor aggressively pulls the feigningly-reluctant female co-star of his desires close to his body, and with brief token resistance she pulls away, only to later yield to his brazen advances. Likewise, the hypothetical woman in our biblical text may have repelled the sexual overtures of her male counterpart at first, but the consent was ultimately given and the couple eventually engaged in mutually agreed upon, but biblically forbidden, physical intimacy. That is a reasonable approximation – based upon the scriptural evidence – of what is being described in these two companion citations. Along these same lines, Deut. 22:28 contains the illuminating phase “they are discovered” (rather than “he/it is discovered”), which reveals that there is a measure of shared guilt and equal accountability. Both are involved, and although she required some coaxing or seductive pressure, what eventually ensued was not against her will. Nevertheless, this law stands as a strict caution against devising or succumbing to any such erotic enticements. The consequences would be experienced for life.
While many feminists often balk at the patriarchal hierarchy of Biblical society (vs. 17), the role of a father as the protector of his daughter(s) remains naturally in effect to this very day. The purpose of this law was not for a father to force his daughter into an unbearable or unsafe marriage, but to secure a future for her and her children. Besides, what loving, God-fearing father would ever consider approving of his daughter’s marriage to a dangerous, violent rapist? If rape was actually being discussed, no normal father would approve. Instead, a daughter, who was actually raped, would most often remain in the home of her family as a spinster, which was exactly the case with David’s daughter Tamar (2 Sam. 13).
The cultural elitists among us might argue that due to the harsh realities of Antiquity, fathers who lived during that epoch were probably too calloused or not sophisticated enough to care about the general welfare of a daughter. Although there will always be rare examples of individuals characterized by such depraved indifference, the typical father always has a natural inclination to love and care for all of his children, regardless of their gender. As a matter of fact, a similar situation as relates to the topic at hand, actually occurred in Gen. 34 to Jacob’s daughter Dinah.
Like Deut. 22:28-29, Genesis 34 does not contain the word chazaq (the distinctive Hebrew word denoting rape). Both Duet. 22:28-29 and Gen. 34 utilize the general term for sexual intercourse (shakab), and they also employ less intense grammatical Hebrew modifiers (Deut. – taphas; Gen. – laqach), which do not indicate rape. Most importantly, in the Gen. 34 account, we are told that a man named Shechem “spoke tenderly to” Dinah (vs. 3), and that comports quite well with the phrase “a man seduces (pathah) a virgin,” which is found in the text of Ex. 22:16. Unfortunately, the NIV once again mistranslates Gen. 34:2 as rape, but once again, this conclusion is not supported by the vast majority of scholars and other Bible translations.
In this particular situation, Shechem’s act is characterized as a “disgraceful thing” (vs. 7), and Dinah is described as having been humiliated/violated/shamed (`anah) (vs. 2) and defiled (tame‘) (vss. 13, 27). Clearly, this reveals that there is absolutely no approval or cultural indifference regarding what has taken place. Her family is grieved, enraged, and deeply offended. Dinah’s brothers, Simon and Levi, seeking to retaliate, deceptively plotted and carried out the murder of Shechem and every associated male (vss. 25-26); They defiantly declared to their father Jacob that nobody should ever get away with treating their sister like a prostitute (zanah) (vs. 31), which is the exact word applied to the prostitute Rahab (Josh. 2:1). In fact, every time the word zanah is found in the Old Testament, it is used in a mutually consensual, albeit exploitative, context without exception.
Just like Deut. 22:28-29, there is no approval for what has happened, but it was not rape. The claims of the critics notwithstanding, Dinah’s family did, in fact, display great concern for her and did not permit Shechem to become her husband. Clearly, the patriarchs were not the strife-hardened individuals that many of their detractors portray them as. A typical Jewish father would never consent to his daughter’s marriage to an unfit man and certainly not a dangerous rapist.
THE CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER:
In a nutshell, Deut. 22:28-29 is not at all describing a case of rape. Rather, what we have described here is an instance in which a young man seduces a reluctant woman to consent to sexual intercourse (by whatever means and for whatever reason), and their transgression (fornication) was eventually discovered via confession, eye witnesses, or a pregnancy. Since the man seems to bear the greater burden of responsibility for this moral infraction, he is therefore held financially accountable for the rest of his life. In an honor/shame culture, the young man’s sexual indiscretion could permanently tarnish and socially damage the young lady’s irrecoverable reputation, effectively causing her to become unmarriable in the eyes of the community; therefore, with the father’s permission, the man was required to marry the unbetrothed woman and no subsequent divorce was permitted (vs. 29). It’s comparable to the American colloquialism known as a “shotgun wedding” to avoid embarrassment to the family. Furthermore, it’s also easy to understand how the incurring of such a long-term, financial penalty would effectively function as a strong deterrent to any other youths who might contemplate indulging in similar sexual indiscretions or inappropriate liaisons, especially considering the unavailability of prophylactics. To be clear, the Torah strictly prohibited men from exploiting young Jewish virgins solely for sexual gratification and then callously discarding them like trash. Our current society, in fact, could learn a lot from the Mosaic Law’s censure of the objectification of women. It is also interesting to note that the woman, on the other hand, received no explicit punishment or monetary fine for her role in the incident. Therefore, far from being a barbaric provision, the male perpetrator was compelled to fulfill the legal/cultural means of protection and provision for this woman; thus, preventing the woman from being consigned to a life of humiliation and possibly destitution, which would have most certainly been the case otherwise.
Bringing together all of the above information contained throughout this very comprehensive column, let me provide an expanded translation of Deut. 22:28-29, one which incorporates the contextual subtleties of meaning into the verse.
Deut. 22:28-29 28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and persuades her to have sex with him by seductively capturing her heart and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
In particular, the above amplified rendering of v. 28 is confirmed, not only through a preponderance of the evidence previously discussed, but also by the translators of the New Living Translation and the Contemporary English Version of the Bible, which are both superior at conveying the intended sense of the citation:
“Suppose a man has intercourse with a young woman who is a virgin, but is not engaged to be married. If they are discovered…” (vs. 28) (NLT)
Better still is the CEV’s ability to capture the precise nuance of the verse:
“Suppose a woman isn’t engaged to be married, and a man talks her into sleeping with him. If they are caught…” (vs. 28) (CEV)
To reiterate, this “controversial” text has nothing to do with rape, but it is intended as a practical guideline that instructs the nation of Israel on how to respond to the probable and problematic youthful acts of premarital fornication. This biblical provision also has a primary focus on protecting the seduced woman from the permanent, negative social repercussions of her actions. Her youthful indiscretion committed in the passionate “heat of the moment” need not ruin the rest of her life. As for the young man, he is reminded that he can never get away with such reckless behavior towards any of the Jewish virgins of Israel.
Finally, the critics of the Bible are often quick to point to Numbers 31 (or other similar passages), which permitted the Israelites to take female captives from the nations they had conquered. The accusation is that these passages are examples of the Bible condoning, or even promoting, rape. However, the passage says nothing about raping these women. First of all, the Israelites were instructed to retain only the virgin survivors of any vanquished towns or villages. (Num. 31:18). However, it is a huge leap to presume that these captive women were to be raped. Again, as we have seen, Deuteronomy 22:25-27 condemns rape, even advocating the death penalty for the perpetrators of such a contemptible offense. In the Numbers 31 passage, the victorious soldiers were commanded to purify themselves and their captives (vs. 19). Rape would have obviously constituted a serious violation of this spiritual decontamination directive, and according to Deut. 21:14, Jewish husbands were strictly prohibited from degrading these foreign wives by treating them inhumanly as human property with whom they could do whatever they pleased. So, a more biblical assumption to make is that these women were taken into Hebrew homes where they would eventually become the wives of the male Jewish warriors. This would essentially entail a process of winning the favor of such foreign maidens, not necessarily the sexual abuse of them. In time, these women would be incorporated into the community of faith and ultimately become fellow recipients of Israel’s rich spiritual legacy and blessings. They, in effect, became full Gentile proselytite members of God’s chosen people, and their future children would also become the legal beneficiaries and co-heirs of every associated right and privilege of citizenship, much to the same extent as the Old Testament heroines of Rahab (a survivor of Israel’s conquest of Jericho) and Ruth, the godly great grandmother of King David. Each of these women became two of the great foremothers of Christ and Christianity. Therefore, this practice actually turns out to be an extremely powerful expression of the inclusive and unconditional love of God, which is given an even more thorough articulation in the New Testament, and as a result, proves to be quite a merciful provision.
Although the New Testament never specifically mentions rape, the Jewish culture and the Biblical authors would have definitely considered it to be a form of sexual immorality. As such, both Jesus and His followers spoke forcefully against any type of carnal impropriety. The Bible allows for only one appropriate form of sexual expression, and that is within the loving bonds of holy matrimony. Moreover, since rape would obviously constitute an extreme violation of peace in the home, it is also designated as justifiable grounds for divorce (1 Cor. 7:15). Not only is the raping of one’s spouse prohibited, but when it comes to an individual who is not your husband or wife, Jesus established a standard so stringent that he even went so far as to prohibit any lustful thoughts about the opposite sex (Matt. 5:28). In other words, the New Testament expressly forbids even the visual “raping” of another person in your mind, not to mention a physical rape.
To draw this scriptural analysis to a definitive close, let me issue an important challenge. Everyone realizes that playing the incendiary “gotcha game” in the political arena is nothing new, to say the least. It has long been a well-established and go-to tactic by many, regardless of where they may fall along the ideological spectrum. But for something as important as the Bible, though, we really should strive for much better. As this column has hopefully illustrated, eternal realities and matters of such magnitude deserve, and require, a much more level-headed and in-depth exegetical effort. Sound bites will simply not suffice in ultimately arriving at the truth, but will only perpetuate adversarial entrenchment and a degeneration of the conversation into personal attacks or unproductive attempts to validate preferred vices. Therefore, it is my profound desire that people will cease relegating such discussions to “cherry-picking” a few brief bombastic blurbs that disingenuously and with ill-intent take the Bible out of context in a futile effort to score points against an “opponent.” Since these kinds of issues are much too important to get wrong, we really should strive for a much higher standard in our public discourse. In the end, the ascertainment of the accurate meaning of any biblical text must remain our supreme priority and goal. Any other approach certainly calls into question the sincerity of a person’s motives.
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