Chick-fil-A Biblical Family of the Day

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Today’s Chick-fil-A Biblical Family of the Day: The Levite’s Concubine (Judges 19:22-30).

While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a depraved lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.”

And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.”

But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.

In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. “Get up,” he said to her, “we are going.” But there was no answer.

Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, “Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel, and speak out.'”

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  • EllieMurasaki

    Um, technically yes. She invited the general to a meal, which makes her the host and him the guest, and she’s not allowed to let him come to harm. Her breaking that rule made her a hero, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t break the rule.

  • Joshua

    If you really want:

    “Fyvg gur srzbeny negrevrf naq chzc gur purfg. Qenvavat gur syhvqf znxrf vg rnfvre gb phg hc.”

    Content note: Gory and disturbing. Dollhouse was not the happy, light show Firefly was.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think I did see that episode. I couldn’t remember.

  • Anton_Mates

    Also, in some translations, the woman is said to have been unfaithful, or even to have “played the whore.” I’m no Bible scholar, and I don’t know why that line is in some versions, while others have her leaving him for unspecified reasons.

    AFAIK, the disagreement goes well back into the B.C.E. Hebrew sources; some use a word meaning “harlot,” some just say she became angry with him, or that a rift grew up between them.  In the Babylonian Talmud, all the commentators seem to agree with the “harlot” option, but some of them argue that she was driven to adultery by his abuse, while others place the blame entirely on her.

    I’ve read somewhere that some commentators rejected the “harlot” option because it would have reflected unfavorably on the Levite and the Israelites.  I.e., if she really was “damaged goods”, then it wouldn’t make sense for the husband to try to win her back (or to spare her life, for that matter), and the Israelites wouldn’t be justified in their outrage over her murder.

    And when the attackers have been decisively defeated, their punishment for raping a woman belonging to their opponents is… being encouraged to go and rape some more such women?

    Well, the Benjaminites needed to be punished for attacking a guest who’d done them no wrong, but apparently the other Israelite tribes didn’t actually want them to go extinct.  The inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead had already committed a capital crime by failing to assemble at Mizpah with the rest of Israel, so by killing them and handing off the virgin girls to the Benjaminites, two birds were butchered with one stone.

  • Amaryllis

    Thanks for the information. I’m imagining a bunch of arguing commentators:
    “She must have been a harlot; why else would even a wife of inferior degree want to leave a perfectly good husband? And you see the trouble it caused: sin always leads to death!”
    “She can’t have been a harlot; no whore would have been worth all that!”

    Well, the Benjaminites needed to be punished for attacking a guest who’d
    done them no wrong, but apparently the other Israelite tribes didn’t actually want them to go extinct.

    Then they might have thought twice before totally destroying all the Benjmainite towns, women and children included. So that, contrary to the usual result of a war, widows and orphans and unmarried “superfluous women,” we get a remnant made up of wifeless, childless men. It’s still backwards.

    Do you know whether it was the custom for most marriages to be between people of different tribes? Or was it more usual to marry within one’s own tribe?

  • Amaryllis

    The Chick-Fil-A Poem of the Day, for Lot’s Wife and the Women of Gibeah:

     “Wife’s Disaster Manual”

    When the forsaken city starts to burn,
    after the men and children have fled,
    stand still, silent as prey, and slowly turn

    back. Behold the curse. Stay and mourn
    the collapsing doorways, the unbroken bread
    in the forsaken city starting to burn.

    Don’t flinch. Don’t join in.
    Resist the righteous scurry and instead
    stand still, silent as prey. Slowly turn

    your thoughts away from escape: the iron
    gates unlatched, the responsibilities shed.
    When the forsaken city starts to burn,

    surrender to your calling, show concern
    for those who remain. Come to a dead
    standstill. Silent as prey, slowly turn

    into something essential. Learn
    the names of the fallen. Refuse to run ahead
    when the forsaken city starts to burn.
    Stand still and silent. Pray. Return.

    – Deborah Paredez

  • Anton_Mates

    Pre-emptive tl;dr–all of the following is basically an argument that the Levite is a horrible person, but is not presented as sinful by the authors of this story, because they were also horrible people.  (At least when it came to this issue.)

    Firstly, we are clearly meant to feel sympathy for the concubine and feel at least uneasy about the Levite. Horror at what happens to her is what motivated Israel to go to war, after all, and we get that detail about her having tried to get back in.

    Sympathy for the concubine doesn’t necessarily detract from sympathy for the Levite, though.  If you have to sacrifice your prize horse or something to escape death, people will probably sympathize even more with you if your horse was really awesome and it died in a really savage way.  And I wonder if the “hands on the threshold” detail carried the same significance for the original audience as it does for us.  We read it and think about someone clawing at the door horror-movie-style, but they might think, “Aww, she used her last strength to drag herself home to her master, what a loyal second-class human she turned out to be.”  Like all those dogs in Reader’s Digest stories.

    If the authors were looking to build sympathy for her, they passed up some very big chances.  Unlike her father and husband and host, the concubine never speaks, nor are we ever told her thoughts.  That’s pretty remarkable, given that Judges otherwise gives its female characters a relatively large amount of importance and airtime: Deborah, Jael, Delilah, Achsah, Jephthah’s daughter. 

    As for the Levite, we learn that she wanted to leave him, that it was he who personally threw her out*, that he seems to act incredibly callous the next day, and that he fails to mention his own role in her death when recounting the tale.

    Well, to take those point by point: 

    The fact that she leaves him probably counts against her, more than it counts against him.  Even if she wasn’t “playing the harlot,” it would be unlawful for her to abandon her husband; the Torah offers no provision for wife-initiated divorce.  For his part, the fact that he’s willing to try to win her back, and that her father views him with such affection, suggests that he isn’t a bad husband…by the authors’ standards.

    The fact that he throws her out the door is a bad thing…if the authors/audience thought that a man shouldn’t sacrifice the women of his household to save his own life & chastity.  I’d give that more credence if the Tanakh contained any suggestion along those lines, but I’m really not aware of one.  Not that I’m remotely an expert in that area, so feel free to point out examples I’ve missed!  But so far as I can see, Abraham and Lot both threw their womenfolk under the bus and it didn’t affect their “righteous” designation at all.  Conversely, I can’t think of a male character who actually sacrifices himself to protect a wife or female relative from an equally dire fate.

    The fact that he callously tells her to get up might be mitigated by a) his anxiety to escape the city before they’re attacked again, and b)  his surprise on seeing her in the first place.  She was carried off by the mob the night before, and he probably assumed that she ended up dead somewhere or *cough* under new management.  Once he sees that she actually managed to walk back to the house afterwards, he might guess that she’s still relatively healthy.
    As for not mentioning his role in her death: again, the import of that depends on whether he had any guilt to hide.  Maybe it just didn’t need to be mentioned, because who wouldn’t do the same in his shoes?  He’s certainly up front about the fact that he cut her to pieces afterwards, which isn’t exactly standard Jewish burial practice, and the Israelites don’t bat an eye at that.

    It would be very difficult to read any of this as a triumph for anyone.

    Yep.  Divine justice isn’t what it used to be.

    I don’t think this describes the way humans need to look after themselves now that God’s stopped his direct interventions, either, since the last sentence of the book places the Time of Judges in the undesirable pre-kingdom past.

    I’m not sure that the bulk of the text actually is very pro-kingdom, but I’ll save that for another post. 

    *I think this detail suggests a parody. In both stories it is the guest, rather than the host, who uses his power to protect the people of the house, virgins included. However, if this was a story illustrating hospitality, shouldn’t the victim have been the daughter instead of the concubine?

    Well, just as in the Lot story, the crowd doesn’t want the daughter.  Or do you mean that the host shouldn’t have offered the concubine to them in the first place?  My thought is that, if the guest-host obligations were primarily between men, then the Levite’s personal safety is paramount to the host.  If the host isn’t sure that his daughter will satisfy the crowd by herself, then he needs to make them the most persuasive offer he can which would still spare the Levite, and that’s to throw in the concubine (who, after all, is half of what the crowd wanted in the first place.)  It’s a shame to sacrifice his guest’s property, but if it saves his guest’s ass (literally and figuratively), it’s the right thing to do.

    I don’t see any reason to think Lot would have done things differently; like the Levite’s host, he offered up all the women in his house at the time.  (Except his wife, which arguably makes Lot less generous.  But maybe his wife was as old as he was, and he figured she’d be of no interest to your average roaming pack of rapists.)

    The writer specifically wanted to echo this element of the original, even though it leaves a plot hole; the men originally rejected the offer of both the daughter and the concubine, yet are satisfied with just the concubine after the Levite throws her to them.

    True, that bit is weird.  I guess once the men actually had the concubine, they were too distracted to stick around and demand more?

  • Anton_Mates

    Then they might have thought twice before totally destroying all the Benjmainite towns, women and children included.

    Yeah, but they were really angry then.  (Which is historically realistic, at least–a lot of civilian massacres and sacked cities are the result of an invading army basically getting carried away, even if its leaders didn’t really intend for that to happen.)

    As I understand it, tribal conflicts often kill as many women and children as men, because even though the men do most of the fighting, they’re also much more likely to survive the fight.  Even if their side starts to lose, they can turn tail and flee, defending themselves from pursuers.  The women and children, on the other hand, are sitting ducks if a raiding force actually makes it into their lands.

    Do you know whether it was the custom for most marriages to be between people of different tribes? Or was it more usual to marry within one’s own tribe?

    Definitely more usual to marry within the tribe, I think, unless there was a need to cement a political alliance.  Mosaic law said that inherited property couldn’t pass from one tribe to another, so one of the families involved in an intertribal marriage was going to lose out.  (For similar reasons, you see all these cousin-marriages and half-sibling marriages and so on; nothing better to make sure the family’s property stays in the family.)

    All of this is with the huge caveat that we’re talking about the culture and history of the legendary Israelites, as envisioned by Jews living around five hundred years later, probably in Babylon.  We have no idea whether anything resembling the twelve-tribe structure actually existed.  Still, there were certainly different tribes or lineages, and rabbis were actively discussing the rules about marriage between them right down into the Roman era, so the historical Israelites probably really did have a strong prejudice against intertribal marriage.