Friday, November 09, 2007

Deuteronomy 22:13–30

Deuteronomy 22:13–30: Marriage Violations

Synopsis

I haven’t been looking forward to blogging about this passage, because there are some things in here that I simply don’t like reading in the LORD’s Holy Bible. This is very similar to my thoughts on Deuteronomy 21:18–21; I think there are cultural issues that I don’t understand, as well as not having a proper perspective—meaning the LORD’s perspective—on these rules.

That being said, this passage deals with a number of things that the NIV heading classifies as “marriage violations.” I usually save my own thoughts and perspectives until the end of the post, for the Thoughts section, but for this passage, I’ll have some thoughts throughout the post, too.

  • First, the rules deal with a man who marries a woman, lies with her, and then decides that he doesn’t like her. If he tries to claim that she wasn’t a virgin, when he married her, but the girl’s father is able to provide proof that she was a virgin, the man is to be punished for slandering her. The punishment for the husband is that he has to pay the woman’s father 1 kilogram of silver. However, she must continue to be his wife; he is not allowed to divorce her.
    • This means, of course, that when a man and woman get married, and lie with each other the first time, the woman has to provide to her father the sheet (or cloth) on which they had sex, for the proof that she was a virgin.
Note that the part about not divorcing her is key, and it’s part of the whole cultural situation in which these rules are written: women, in the Israelite society, didn’t really have lives of their own, outside of being a daughter or a wife. A single Israelite woman wouldn’t really have an opportunity to go and get a job, and live on her own; the women were completely dependent on their fathers, and then on their husbands, to live. In this case, if the man were to divorce the woman, she would be completely destitute, and have nowhere to turn for survival. Not to mention that no other man would want to marry her—so even if she were to return to her father’s house, her father would eventually die, and she would still have nobody to take care of her. So when these rules forbid the man from divorcing the woman, it’s for her benefit.

  • The rules then talk about the flip side to this situation; what if the woman can’t prove that she was a virgin, when she married? In that case, she is to be brought to the door of her father’s house, and she is to be stoned to death. Verse 21 says that “… She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.” This seems draconian to me, but again, it just means that the LORD takes promiscuity more seriously than I do. (This shouldn’t be too surprising; living in 21st Century North America, I’ve been raised to think that promiscuity is no big deal.)
  • Similarly, if a man is caught sleeping with a married woman, both the man and the woman are to be executed. (No method of execution is mentioned, but I’m assuming it’s stoning again.)
The next three rules I’m going to do out of order:

  • If a man rapes a virgin, who is not pledged to be married, he is to pay the girl’s father 0.6 kilograms of silver, and marry the girl.
Being “pledged to be married” is a state akin to being “engaged,” but more legally binding.

This rule surprised me. I had been expecting that a man caught raping a woman would be executed. And the fact that the girl now has to marry the man who raped her… well, it seems counterintuitive to me. However, the cultural context is again very important here: If the man were executed, what would happen to the girl? Since she would no longer be a virgin, no man would want to marry her, and so she’d have no means of supporting herself. (And, along those lines, I’m sure the Israelites had as much of a tendency to “blame the victim” as we do in 21st Century North America—there would always be a lingering doubt, in men’s minds, as to whether she was really raped or not.)

  • If a man is out in the country—as opposed to being within a city—and comes across a girl who is pledged to be married, and he rapes her, he is to be executed. Again, no method of execution is given.
This one makes more sense to me than the previous one. The man rapes a woman, and he is executed for it. It “feels” more like justice to me, and doesn’t leave the lingering uncomfortableness that the previous rule left. However, in my mind, this law also depends on the man who is currently betrothed to the woman going through with it, and marrying her, even though she is no longer a virgin. If he didn’t, then again, the woman would be destitute, and would have nowhere to turn to provide for herself.

  • On the other hand, if the same thing happens, but within a city, both the man and the woman are to be executed: “the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife” (verse 24).
And again, this one leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t understand it. Even if the woman were being raped within a city, what are probably going to be the first words out of the man’s mouth? I’m guessing something along the lines of, “scream and I’ll kill you.” If I were writing the laws—and this is heresy, I realize that—I would have had the man executed, just as he was in the previous law.

Finally:

  • A man is not to marry his father’s wife—since it’s worded this way, I assume this means that a man cannot marry his mother or his step-mother—because this would “dishonor his father’s bed” (verse 30).

Thoughts

When I say things like, “this law makes sense to me,” or, “that law doesn’t make sense to me,” don’t think that I’m offering judgements on God’s law; I mean just what I’m saying: whether or not the laws make sense to me. As I’ve been saying in other posts, if it doesn’t make sense to me, the problem is with me, and my understanding, not with the law.

I don’t know if I’m overstating the case, when I talk about women not being able to support themselves on their own. For the most part, I’m inferring that, from other passages, and rules such as the ones in this passage.

As life goes on, and I read the Bible over and over again, I’ll continue to come to passages like this, that I don’t understand, and hopefully God will provide more understanding as time goes by.
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