Thursday, August 2, 2012

Does the Bible Teach that a Rape Victim has to Marry her Rapist?

by Matt Flannagan

In our recent discussion on the Bible’s teachings on slavery John Loftus asked Madeleine, “if you were raped you should marry your rapist? Get real. … Would you want to be treated the way the Bible says women and slaves should be treated?” Loftus then dedicated a post on Debunking Christianity to Madeleine’s “stupidity” for her answer where he elaborated on his interpretation of various verses on the treatment of women in the comments section. 
Loftus is not alone in contending that the Bible teaches that rape victims had to marry their rapists. Michael Martin states that,
when rape is condemned in the Old Testament the woman’s rights and her psychological welfare are ignored.[15] For example: “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father fifty skelels of silver, and she shall be his wife, and he may not put her away all of his days (Deut:22; 28-29).” Here the victim of rape is as treated the property of the father. Since the rapist has despoiled the father’s property he must pay a bridal fee. The women apparently has no say in the matter and is forced to marry the person who raped her. Notice also if they are not discovered, no negative judgment is forthcoming. The implicit message seems to be that if you rape an unbetrothed virgin, be sure not to get caught.[1] [sic]
Martin is not alone is making this claim, I often hear this claim brought up in dialogues and discussions with those skeptical of the Christian faith. Not long ago a correspondent cited that most medieval commentators taught, on the basis of Deut 22:28-29, that a woman who had been raped was commanded by God to marry her rapist. In particular he referred me to Maimonides who wrote, “by this prohibition a man is forbidden to divorce a woman whom he has raped.”[2] 

In this post I want to address this line of argument. My response is two-fold, first I will argue that Martin’s translation of Deuteronomy is mistaken, second, I will suggest that the medieval commentators my correspondent referred to actually utilised a different definition of rape to that used today. My conclusion will be that this law does not command a woman to marry her rapist; it rather commands men who have sex with women to follow their sexual advances up with marital commitment, and teaches that failure to do so is forbidden by God.

Martin’s Translation of Deuteronomy 22:28-29
Martin cites Deut 22:28-29 as dealing with a situation where “a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her.” He immediately states, without argument, that this refers to acts of rape. Although he does not say, it appears this conclusion is based on the verb “seizes” in the English version he cites. Martin imports into this word the connotation of violent, coercive, abduction so that the sexual intercourse that follows is a rape. There are several problems with this claim.

First, and most obvious, the English word “seizes” is not in The Torah. The word in The Torah is tabas; in Hebrew, tabas “does not in itself indicate anything about the use of force.”[3] While the word can refer to the capture of a city,[4] it is also used for “handling” the harp and flute,[5] the sword,[6] a sickle,[7] a shield,[8] oars or a bow,[9] “taking” God’s name[10] or dealing with the law of God.[11] The word simply means to “lay hold of,” “to take hold of something” or to “grasp it in hand.” The more formal King James translation interprets the passage as, “If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her and lie with her.”

Second, there are good reasons in this context for interpreting the word in a manner where it does not have a connotation of force or violence. Here I will mention three.

The first reason is that the context strongly suggests it. Had the author intended to refer to rape then he would have used the word chazak which does carry the connotations Martin plays on. This is reinforced by the fact that three verses earlier the author does refer to a rape. The law immediately preceding this one begins, “But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her …” here the word used is chazak, which suggests a violent seizure is used. Bahsen notes, “Just three verses later (Deut. 25:28), the verb is changed to simply ‘take hold of’ her – indicating an action less intense and violent than the action dealt with in verse 25:25 (viz., rape).”[12]

The second reason is that Deut 22:28-29 actually repeats a law which has already been laid down in the book of Exodus. When one examines this law it is clear it does not refer to rape. The word “Deuteronomy” in Greek means “second law;” throughout the book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeats laws already laid down in the book of Exodus, sometimes expanding on them. The Decalogue, for example, which was delivered on Sinai in Exodus 20, is repeated again in Deuteronomy 5. The laws about releasing an ebed (or indentured servant) in Exodus 21:1 are repeated and expanded on in Deuteronomy 15:12-18. The same occurs with the law under discussion. Gordon Wenham points out that that Deut 22:28-29 is a repetition of a law spelled out in Exodus 22:15, which states “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.”[13] Here, the penalty for sleeping with an unbethrothed virgin is that the man must marry the woman which is why the man must pay the mohar or “bride-price” to the bride’s father. A mohar was security money (50 shekels) that the groom paid to the bride’s father. It was held in trust for the woman in case the man later abandoned her or divorced her without just cause.[14] Such money protected women from the poverty that could occur if they were abandoned with children. What is important, however, is that we are left in no doubt that in Exodus 22:15 the case deals, not with rape, but with what was traditionally called seduction.

The third reason is that, to interpret the law in Deut 21:28-29 as a rape is to make God the commander of a morally heinous command. Martin is correct, given what we know about the psychological harm that rape inflicts upon its victims to command that a woman marry her rapist is cruel and hence clashes with strong moral intuitions. Elsewhere I have defended the claim that if one interpretation of divine commands coheres better with our moral intuitions than another then that fact constitutes evidence for the former interpretation. All else being equal, an interpretation that coheres with our pre-theoretical moral intuitions is always preferable. This hermeneutical principle applies here.

The passage then does not refer to a rape. The Hebrew word does not, by itself, indicate rape and interpreting it this way both ignores the context where the word chazak is used to designate a rape. It also makes the second law inconsistent with the exposition of the same law in Exodus 22:15 and also with our prior moral discernment about what is right and wrong. Seduction, however, is consistent with the meaning of tabas, the context it is used in, the original law it was derived from and it coheres with our moral intuitions. These factors, to me, provide decisive reasons for rejecting Martin’s interpretation.

It is worth noting that the fact that this passage refers to a seduction and not rape is really not news. Bahnsen notes that, “one will find that many competent authorities in Biblical interpretation understand Deuteronomy 22:28-29 to apply to cases of seduction, not forcible rape;”[15] he lists several,
Meredith Kline: “The seducer of an unbetrothed virgin was obliged to take her as wife, paying the customary bride price and forfeiting the right of divorce” (Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy, p. 111).

Matthew Henry: “. . . if he and the damsel did consent, he should be bound to marry her, and never to divorce her, how much soever she was below him and how unpleasing soever she might afterwards be to him” (Commentary on the Whole Bible, ad loc.).

J. A. Thompson: “Seduction of a young girl. Where the girl was not betrothed and no legal obligations had been entered into, the man was forced to pay the normal bride-price and marry the girl. He was not allowed, subsequently, to send her away (Deuteronomy: Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Series, p. 237).

In Israel’s Laws and legal Precedents (1907), Charles Foster Kent (professor of Biblical Literature at Yale University) clearly distinguished between the law pertaining to rape in Dt. 22:25-27 and the law pertaining to seduction in Dt. 22:28-29 (pp. 117-118).

Keil and Delitzsch classify Deuteronomy 22:28-29 under the category of “Seduction of a virgin,” comment that the crime involved was ‘their deed” – implying consent of the part of both parties – and liken this law to that found in Exodus 22:16-17 (Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 3, p. 412).

John Calvin: “The remedy is, that he who has corrupted the girl should be compelled to marry her, and also to give her a dowry from his own property, lest, if he should afterwards cast her off, she should go away from her bed penniless” (Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony, vol. 3, pp. 83-84.

J. C. Connell: “Although she consented, it was still his responsibility to protect her from lifelong shame resulting from the sin of the moment by marrying her, not without payment of the regular dowry” (“Exodus,” New bible Commentary, ed. F. Davidson, p. 122).

Adam Clarke: “This was an exceedingly wise and humane law, and must have operated powerfully against seduction and fornication; because the person who might feel inclined to take advantage of a young woman knew that he must marry her, and give her a dowry, if her parents consented” (The Holy Bible . . . with a Commentary and Critical Notes, vol. 1, p. 414).

Alan Cole: “If a man seduces a virgin: . . . he must acknowledge her as his wife, unless her father refuses” (Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Series, p. 173).
James Jordan: “the punishment for the seducer is that he must marry the girl, unless her father objects, and that he may never divorce her (according to Dt. 22:29)” (The Law of the Covenant, p. 148).

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.: “Exodus 22:16-17 takes up the problem of the seduction of a maiden who was not engaged . . .. Here the seducer must pay the ‘bride-price’ and agree to marry her” (Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 107).[16]
Hence a skeptic who was interested in what the passage actually says could easily have discovered what I have noted by consulting a commentary. 

Medieval Commentators
If many post enlightenment and modern commentators realise that this passage is about a seduction and not a rape how does one explain the fact, alluded to above, that many medieval commentators apparently interpreted the passage to refer to rape? Here one needs to be attentive to the fact that words change their meaning over time. Medieval writers utilised a wider definition of rape than modern people do. In the middle ages the word ‘rape’ could include not only what we call rape today but also what was called “seduction,” where a man seduces a virgin he is not married to with her consent.

Isidore De Seville, for example, stated “seduction [stuprum], or rape, properly speaking, is unlawful intercourse, and takes its name from its causing corruption: wherefore he that is guilty of rape is a seducer.”[17] Similarly, Thomas Aquinas wrote,
They [rape and seduction] coincide when a man employs force in order unlawfully to violate a virgin. This force is employed sometimes both towards the virgin and towards her father; and sometimes towards the father and not to the virgin, for instance if she allows herself to be taken away by force from her father’s house. Again, the force employed in rape differs in another way, because sometimes a maid is taken away by force from her parents’ house, and is forcibly violated: while sometimes, though taken away by force, she is not forcibly violated, but of her own consent, whether by act of fornication or by the act of marriage: for the conditions of rape remain no matter how force is employed.[18]
Hence it is not entirely accurate to read the word “rape” in Medieval commentaries as we understand it today.

In conclusion then, it is very doubtful that Deut 22:28-29 commands women who have been raped to marry their rapists.

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