Sexism in the Bible: Rape, Part One

This post is part of an ongoing series. The series is introduced here.

One of the most difficult things for the raging mob to understand about the Old Testament law is that the majority of it falls under the heading of case law, much like the vast majority of American law. Under case law, a judge or jury weighs evidence and circumstance in a given case to decide to what extent the law has been broken and what punishment, if any, should be handed down. Case law deals with people. It isn’t Boolean logic, where under a given set of circumstances the same verdict is rendered in every case. A starving man caught stealing bread might be punished, but not so severely as a rich man caught stealing bread.

If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

“But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her. (Deuteronomy 22:23-27)

Amnon got it in the end, remember?
Amnon got it in the end, remember?

The SJWs have a field day with this one, when they get to it. It does seem pretty awful. Really? You’re holding a woman responsible for her own rape just because she didn’t cry out? No. From the earliest Jewish commentaries, this was a test of culpability. If a couple engage in consensual premarital sex, then both of them would be put to death; God hates fornication. JPS says that the mention of crying out provides a rule of thumb: fear, isolation, and other methods of coercion to prevent discovery were treated under this heading.

What doesn’t get pointed out very often is how counter-cultural this is. How many ancient cultures cared about rape? How many modern cultures, for that matter? It is not the case, as is suggested by the Code of Hammurabi (for example), that rape is a property crime against a woman’s father. It is not the case that the woman is always at fault. It is not the case that what happens to the woman doesn’t matter. In the end, when all is considered, what emerges is that God cares about women. He cares. He is the God of the orphan, the widow, the foreigner.

I know many faithful believers have read this and scratched their heads over it– for many years I avoided this passage in Deuteronomy because it made me uncomfortable. But this, like the other texts we have examined, is an instance, not of God’s hatred toward women, but of the holiness of God and the love that he has toward vulnerable and oppressed peoples. God loves purity, and God hates rape. Those who have committed rape, like the rest of us, will perish, unless they repent and believe in the Lord Jesus. In a world full of wickedness, the gospel holds out hope to rapist and victim alike.

One thought on “Sexism in the Bible: Rape, Part One

  1. Pingback: Sexism in the Bible: Rape, Part Two – Cultus and Culture

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