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Question: How do you explain to a non-believer how God sanctions rape in Old Testament times?
First of all, in some passages God seems to tacitly sanction rape. In the Old Testament Moses encourages his men to use captured virgins for their own sexual pleasure, i.e. to rape them. After urging his men to kill the male captives and female captive who are not virgins he says: "But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves" (Numbers 31: 18). God then explicitly rewards Moses by urging him to distribute the spoils. He does not rebuke Moses or his men (Numbers 31: 25-27).
Second, when rape is condemned in the Old Testament the woman's rights and her psychological welfare are ignored. 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" (Deuteronomy 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.
In the case of the rape of a betrothed virgin in a city, the Bible says that both the rapist and victim should be stoned to death: the rapist because he violated his neighbor's wife and the victim because she did not cry for help (Deuteronomy 22:23-25). Again the assumption is that the rapist dispoiled the property of another man and so must pay with this life. Concern for the welfare of the victim does not seem to matter. Moreover, it is assumed that in all cases that a rape victim could cry for help and if she did, she would be heard and rescued. Both of these assumptions are very dubious and sensitive to the contextual aspects of rape.
On the other hand, according to the Bible, the situation is completely different if the rape occurs in "open country." Here the rapist should be killed, not the victim. The reason given is that if a woman cried for help in open country, she would not be heard. Consequently, she could not be blamed for allowing the rape to occur. No mention is made about the psychological harm to victim. No condemnation is made of a rapist in open country, let alone in a city, who does not get caught.
Answer: First, whether or not the woman cried out or not really isn't addressing whether or not she is a victim or a consenting participant. In the context of the law, I believe there is an insistence by God that a person not be falsely accused and convicted. The Scripture is insistent on two or three witnesses. The point is, in the scenario given, there was no way to prove the woman's charge was accurate and the man guilty. There were no DNA testing or rape kits.
Notice in the "city" scenario that there is a subtle (yet not so subtle) difference in the description: There is no hint to the woman actually being forced as opposed to the scenario when the woman did cry out. The "city" scenario in no way is addressing contingencies (as was suggested) where the woman was threatened if she cried out.
The distinction the text draws is that there is no way of knowing if the act was not consensual if none heard the woman cry out. Without a witness who had heard it would have simply been a matter of she said, he said. And, again, the Scripture is rightfully insistent, as is all true justice, that none should be convicted without evidence.
The availability of so many ways to gathered evidence on an alleged rape today is the reason some see this passage as unjust to the woman because she did not cry out. Then, there would have been no other evidence (unless some one had actually seen the act and then the point and passage would have been moot.)
The other part about slaughtering the non-Israelite people and the keeping some of them as slaves is a bit more difficult for one who already has preconceived ideas about God and the OT. The key to understanding is that God used Israel as His agency not only of redemption but of judging.
No one faults a policeman who shoots a known child molester who is fleeing with a young child. No one faults a policeman who kills a hostage taker who has been eliminating his hostages. The folks God had Israel kill were killing children in child sacrifice, forcing young women and men into perverted sexual rituals in worship of false gods, etc.
I heard a renowned archaeologist once related that at one time he had rejected the God of the Old Testament who would order Israel to slaughter the nations around her. Then he became an archeologist and began to dig up the relics of their culture and religion. When he became aware of the horrible, perverted, atrocious acts they committed, many involving children, he then wondered "why God waited as long as He did."
Those virgins and children that God allowed Israel to keep were truly rescued. A further reading of the Law also shows how God mandated a protection and rights for these captives of war that would have been afford to no other captives by any other ancient people.
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This page was last updated February 17, 2012.
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