Chick-fil-A Biblical Family of the Day

Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy: “We support biblical families.”

Today’s Chick-fil-A Biblical Family Rule of the Day: Female captives (Deuteronomy 21:10-14).

When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive, suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house for a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The part about “letting her go free and not sell[ing] her for money” makes a weird sort of sense, although the rationale being “dishonored her” makes me go “BWUH? O.o ”

  • wendy

    to put it another way: 

    “you’ve already raped her and now she’s bald and maybe pregnant; that’s enough spoils of war for one captive, you don’t get to make money off her on top of that.” 

  • ohiolibrarian

    Doesn’t say anything about providing for her though. Because wouldn’t she be unmarriagable? And in a strange country without relatives or resources.

    After being raped, I guess the girl would have little choice but to take up the oldest profession. But, at least not a slave.

    Biblical dating advice. Ugh and yuck. [and other disgusted noises]

  • ohiolibrarian

    Also, “not satisfied with her”? Is she supposed to be enthusiastic?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    And people don’t bother to make laws to encourage worse behavior than they see around them. So I think we can assume that the standard of the time was “Okay, she’s pretty, rape her tonight right after the battle, and when you’re bored with her see if you can make a buck by selling her off to a slave dealer.”

  • hidden_urchin

    Yeah, a month is totally long enough to heal after seeing your loved ones slaughtered, home destroyed, and being enslaved. Then one of the men responsible wants to marry you. I don’t see any problems with this reasoning at all. /s

    On a more serious note, I guess marriage would be the most positive outcome for a woman in that situation based on the culture of the time but it sure doesn’t make any of that less ugly.

  • Photon

    okay, the mosaic law doesn’t condemn forced marriage and marital rape, that sucks. Outside of that, this is actually a huge amount of rights and protection for ancient war captives.

    1. He is not allowed to rape her there and then.
    2. He is also not allowed to simply take her as a slave, he has to marry her.
    (3. Her captivity is ritually ended.)
    4. He has to leave her alone for a whole month to mourn her dead family.
    5. If he changes his mind, he has to go through a regular divorce and let her go free.

    Of course that’s still babaric compared to modern standards. But don’t we also consider Athen’s democracy as a good thing even though it wasn’t really democratic? (But yeah, not the “biblical family” one should support.)


    Doesn’t say anything about providing for her though. Because wouldn’t
    she be unmarriagable? And in a strange country without relatives or
    resources.

    After being raped, I guess the girl would have little choice but to take up the oldest profession. But, at least not a slave.

    I don’t think so. She could also becoma a beggar, a day laborer or a servant. (She might even find a way back into her home country to some extended family, if it’s not too far away.)

    Also, I don’t think she is unmarriagable, divorce and remarriage don’t seem to be that uncommon at this time. Of course her market value is lower than that of a virgin, but on the other hand there would be no bride price. This situation even leaves her in a legal loophole, where she is able to decide if and who to marry on her own.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     I don’t think so. She could also becoma a beggar, a day laborer or a
    servant. (She might even find a way back into her home country to some
    extended family, if it’s not too far away.)

    Also, I don’t think she is unmarriagable, divorce and remarriage
    don’t seem to be that uncommon at this time. Of course her market value
    is lower than that of a virgin, but on the other hand there would be no
    bride price. This situation even leaves her in a legal loophole, where
    she is able to decide if and who to marry on her own.

    That’s…that’s some weapons-grade rationalization there.  The odds of any of those things happening in the ancient world were vanishingly rare.  Yes, the rules in general are far better than being raped to death at the point of a sword, but none of the likely endings get anywhere close to happy for the woman in this situation.

  • Jo Walton

    While it’s still awful, it’s not only better than most of the ancient world, it’s a massive improvement on the situation for women in the US slave-owning states.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I wonder if anyone’s ever written stories from the perspectives of women who’ve been subjected to these kinds of “rules”. It would make for some sobering reading, especially to those who romanticize Biblical times as some kind of lost Golden Era.

  • Photon

    That’s…that’s some weapons-grade rationalization there.  The odds of
    any of those things happening in the ancient world were vanishingly
    rare.  Yes, the rules in general are far better than being raped to
    death at the point of a sword, but none of the likely endings get
    anywhere close to happy for the woman in this situation.

    Yeah, most of these things are unlikely. I tried to find out, what the likely outcome would be, but it’s not easy. Most likely, she would be somewhere in the group of “widows, orphans and poor (also resident aliens, I think)”. You are right, that’s far from happy and dependent on the charity of others. (Prostitution doesn’t seem to be the only option for women in this group, though.) The bible tries to establish some laws to help them. But, judging from the biblical prophets, they don’t seem to have been followed often.

  • Fade Manley

    I think the Biblical example we have for what happens to women in a strange country without attached men would be Ruth & Naomi, actually. And it appears to consist of gleaning (special rules to make sure the destitute could get some scraps of food!) and finding someone to marry post-haste.

    Reading laws like this sometimes feels a lot like getting into discussions about the feminist themes in Heinlein. It’s hard to talk about what was actually impressive and revolutionary and feminist for its time when one is continually distracted by everything being done wrong, and of course some people want to focus on just the one or the other of those. I think it’s important to notice both that this was a major step up compared to many customs and laws in societies–some of them very close to us–and still horribly unjust. It can be both at once.

  • CoolHandLNC

    I wonder if anyone’s ever written stories from the perspectives of women who’ve been subjected to these kinds of “rules”. It would make for some sobering reading, especially to those who romanticize Biblical times as some kind of lost Golden Era.

    I would like to think so, but that was normal for them. Human beings have an incredible ability to accept things as being normal that don’t seem so to the uninitiated. In Exodus the people complain to Moses that he has brought them out of Egypt to die in the desert**. At least slavery was normal and familiar.

    (** I make no claim as to whether Exodus is a historical account. It works as well as myth or fable. Modern example abound, but it is useful to have a little distance.)

  • banancat

    I don’t think a kidnapped bride would have the same outcome as Ruth and Naomi because one of them was actually part of the tribe and looking out for the other. A complete stranger would probably be technically allowed to glean but nobody would be related too her so she wouldn’t have anyone looking out for her.

  • AnonymousSam

    I’m terrible with moral relativism. At times I can’t see subjectively enough to form a bias one way or the other, and at other times, such as this, I look on what was radical thinking for the time and say “Ooh. Ahh. I am a-mazed. Would you like a tiny party for that accomplishment? Here. *Rubs fingers together* This is your confetti. Whee.”

    Here’s what trips me up: This was God we’re talking about. Omnipotent, omnipresent, capable of striking people down wherever they stood. Why should he bother to do things half-assed and wait thousands of years for justice when he can set a purely arbitrary constraint and smite anybody who disobeys? After all, he does just that in Exodus and Leviticus, actually setting two priests on fire for failing to observe the proper rituals for bringing fire to the altar. Arbitrary, ridiculous rules are well and good and enforceable by divine smiting, but human rights are not?

    It makes me a very sad Nu.

  • Ursula L

    Hmm…

    This rule seems strangely specific.  It’s about someone seeing a woman in a group of captives, and deciding to make her his wife.  

    But captives were generally made slaves, as far as I know.  And it doesn’t say anything about how to treat a female slave.  But we do see men having sex with female slaves in their household, in other OT contexts.  

    This is a rule about raping captive women.  Raping a captive woman you want to make your wife.  It is quite silent on the matter of raping a captive woman whom you are not interested in marrying.  

    In a way, this rule seems designed to discourage Israelite men from marrying enslaved foreign women captured in war.  Perhaps because marrying a foreign captive would give her a status too close to the status of an Israelite wife.  And it would make the children of a foreign captive woman heirs to Israelite property.  It would be a way for foreign beliefs and practices to enter Israelite culture, as the mothers would teach their children their own way of doing things.  

    So the rule says, if you want to make her your wife, you have to shave her head (making her unattractive by that culture’s standards, so perhaps you won’t want to anymore?), wait a month before raping her, and if you change your mind, you forfeit the right to sell her.  

    But if you just make her a slave, there are no rules against raping slaves, and no benefits of inheritance and citizenship for the children of slave women.  

  • ReverendRef

     I wonder if anyone’s ever written stories from the perspectives of women who’ve been subjected to these kinds of “rules”.

    I’m not sure if this is what you’re looking for, but Francine Rivers wrote a series of short books called “Lineage of Grace” that used Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary as her subjects.

    I thought they were quite good, especially at depicting life as an outcast female in the patriarchal society of biblical times.  And they certainly opened some eyes within the group that read them at church because Rivers does a good job at delving into the parts of the text that we gloss over because they are icky.

  • Photon

    Why should he bother to do things half-assed and wait thousands of years
    for justice when he can set a purely arbitrary constraint and smite
    anybody who disobeys?

    I’m not sure. You describe exactly my theological problems with texts like this. Doing things half-assed is a very consistant character trait of him throughout the bible, though. (And also of his son: The resurrected Jesus appears only to a few selected followers, not to everyone.)

    I tend to disagree with God on a few issues. But to me it still makes a difference if his rules makes a bad situation a little less bad or if it makes it worse.

  • Photon

     But we do see men having sex with female slaves in their household, in other OT contexts.

    Where does that happen? The examples I remember all involve some kind of marriage. (Which also seems to be implied by other slave laws I know about.)

    I probably missed them, I think.

  • Ursula L

    Where does that happen? The examples I remember all involve some kind of marriage. (Which also seems to be implied by other slave laws I know about.)

    We see Abraham having sex with Sarah’s slave Hagar.  Also Jacob having sex with the slaves of Leah and Rebekah when they send their servants to him as surrogates.  

    The distinction between slave and servant is somewhat unclear.  The lack of agency and disregard of consent for women who are considered slaves or servants is very, very clear.  In the story of Onan, we also see that a married man can have sex with a prostitute, with no censure for having sex with a woman he is not married to or otherwise obliged to have sex with.  

    Plus, there is the general knowledge that slaves are property, not people.  This rule is quite clear – there are a large number of captive women, and one woman is attractive enough so  that an Israelite man considers not just making her his slave and raping her, but making her his wife, with the various legal differences between “wife” and “slave” none of which have to do with a woman’s consent to sex.  

    A slave is property, and has no right to refuse the demands of their so-called “owner.”  A servant is an employee, and has the legal right to refuse the orders of their employer, although the retaliation for refusing to comply may be awful enough that a “servant” doesn’t dare refuse, and is effectively a “slave” when it comes to consent.  

    In the context of this rule, it doesn’t really matter if captive women are considered “slave” or “servant.”  This rule is for the specific situation where a man wants to call a captive woman “wife.”  And the rule is written to place limits on a man who wants to call a captive woman his “wife.”  The rule is entirely silent on the fate of captive women in general, and says nothing about an Israelite man having sex with a captive women whom he has claimed as a slave.  The rule is not “don’t exploit captive women.”  Rather, the rule is “don’t treat captive women as equal to Israelite women.  Exploit them as slaves, but don’t make them wives.  And if you want to make a captive woman your “wife” then you have all sorts of bureaucratic rules to deal with, when it would be easier for you to make her a slave and rape her as you choose.”

  • Trixie_Belden

    So the rule says, if you want to make her your wife, you have to shave her head (making her unattractive by that culture’s standards, so perhaps you won’t want to anymore?)

    Well, the text as quoted actually says she shall shave her head.  As I read it, it was more of a mourning custom that she would be expected to follow.  I haven’t studied the subject, but in general reading about other cultures I’ve come across mourning customs that often require some (slight) ritual scarification or sacrifice or  abstention from certain things.  IIRC, there are followers of a Muslim martyr who will lightly cut themselves on the day of the anniversary of his death.  Here in the West, until well into the twentieth century it was generally expected that people would wear dark and drab clothing for a certain period of time after the death of a family member.

  • ohiolibrarian

     Not sure I understand why it matters who shaves her head. The rule that it will be shaved is the conqueror’s rule.

  • Trixie_Belden

    Let me clarify my point:  as I see it, it’s not clear just from the text if the head-shaving in question is some sort of mark of conquest (“the conqueror’s rule” as you put it), or if it is a culturally required gesture of mourning.  IIRC, there are references to shaving the head as a sign of mourning in other cultures, and some references to shaving the head as a sign of mourning in the bible.  Conversely, sometimes shaving of the head is considered a sign of shame, so it gets complicated.   I think alternate explanations are relevant as we evaluate the treatment of this captive: i.e., is a captive being forced to eat bread and water for three days when he would rather eat something else or is the captive eating bread and water for three days because that’s what everyone is expected to do after a family member dies?

  • Anton_Mates

    Photon,

    Wall O’ Text!

    Outside of that, this is actually a huge amount of rights and protection for ancient war captives.

    I think this was pretty standard for Mesopotamian cultures, actually.  War captives might be killed on the spot or sacrificed in the temples, but they weren’t usually enslaved.  By and large they were bumped up to free or “semifree” status, employed as servants, mercenaries or bodyguards if they had the right skills, and otherwise resettled in sparsely populated areas of the victor’s territory where they could become productive subjects of the state.  That’s what happened to the Hebrews when Assyria conquered them, for instance.

      Very few ancient states wanted a large population of foreign-born slaves…too much risk of discontent and rebellion.  (The big exceptions were Rome and Sparta, which coped with this risk through exceptionally powerful and well-organized militaries.) 

    1. He is not allowed to rape her there and then.

    It doesn’t really say anything about what he’s allowed to do at the moment of capture–it’s probably fine for him to rape her or kill her or mutilate her or whatever he wants.  Even in the relatively civilized Middle Ages, rabbis like Maimonides interpreted the Torah and Talmud to say that you could rape a captured woman–but you could only do it one time, and you had to go indoors instead of just doing it on the battlefield.

    This passage covers the period after the battle, when the captives are all rounded up.  That probably involves a change in their status from active enemies to prisoners–that generally implied different rules of treatment in the ancient world.

    2. He is also not allowed to simply take her as a slave, he has to marry her.

    Rather (as Ursula pointed out), this is what he has to do if he wants to marry her.  He could take her as a slave and none of this would apply.

    (3. Her captivity is ritually ended.)
    4. He has to leave her alone for a whole month to mourn her dead family.

    These rules would probably lessen her trauma, which would certainly be a good thing, but I don’t think they’re established for that purpose.  This is an initiation ritual, just like those used for millennia by military organizations, cults and religious orders.  She’s being ritually stripped of her former cultural identity–clothes, hair, familial bonds–purified through isolation, and then reborn as a proper Israelite.  Her parents may not in fact be dead, but they’re not part of her new society, so she has to formally behave like an orphan.

    5. If he changes his mind, he has to go through a regular divorce and let her go free.

    This is true if he changes his mind after consummating the marriage.  I don’t think the language implies that he has to do the same if he changes his mind beforehand.

    It’s all about inheritance.  The function of marriage is to produce legitimate offspring.  If you marry a captive woman, have sex with her and then abandon her, there are two reasons why you can’t sell her into slavery.  First, she may bear your children, who would be free persons and your legitimate heirs since they were conceived in wedlock.  It would be unthinkable for a Hebrew freeman to have an enslaved mother, given that society’s emphasis on filial piety–imagine if their father died first and they ended up inheriting ownership of their own mother!  

    Second, since you’ve taken this woman’s virginity and recently had sex with her, her current market value as a spouse is rock bottom–she won’t be able to produce legitimate offspring for any other man for at least a year.  So, yeah, you’ve done enough to her.

    Also, I don’t think she is unmarriagable, divorce and remarriage don’t seem to be that uncommon at this time. Of course her market value is lower than that of a virgin, but on the other hand there would be no bride price.

    Generally speaking, I agree with this.  Divorced and widowed women were fairly common in ancient society, and not every man could afford a virgin wife.  Her chance of remarriage is probably pretty good, provided she ends up in a position where prospective husbands can be assured of her recent chastity.

    On the other hand, saying that she can “decide if and who to marry on her own” is pushing it.  As a woman with no family and no male protector, her position is extremely precarious.  And again, her market value isn’t just low, it’s terrible.  Not only is she not a virgin, but she’s very recently been in a sexual relationship, so paternity is suspect for any children she has for the next several months.  And she has no dowry or other assets to sweeten the deal.

    She probably has to marry the first willing man who comes along, to avoid worse victimization.  And if she can’t, she may need to go into debt-slavery, from which she could rise to wife-status if her new master chooses her as a sex partner.

    Where does [men having sex with their own females slaves] happen? The examples I remember all involve some kind of marriage. (Which also seems to be implied by other slave laws I know about.)

    Some supplemental evidence to go with Ursula’s examples:

    Nowhere in the OT, or in rabbinic literature, do we find a prohibition against a man having sex with his slave.  This despite the fact that there are punishments for having sex with a woman who isn’t quite your slave–a slave woman promised in marriage to someone else, or a woman who was born into slavery but was freed before age three.  (Under the Talmudic model, female virginity basically “activates” at age three.  Sexual abuse of a girl under three was legal and did not affect the girl’s virginity status, presumably because there was no chance of her bearing the abuser’s children.)

    The Babylonian Talmud says that a man isn’t liable for a fine if he has sex with a woman captured in war, nor with a former slave who was freed after age three.  This pretty clearly implies that sex with a woman who’s still your slave is completely kosher; the possibility of punishment doesn’t even come up.  The Talmud also explains that the offspring from such a union are automatically born into slavery.

  • Anton_Mates

     AFAIK, the only references to women shaving their heads in the Bible are in metaphorical versions of precisely the context we have here–prophets advise Jerusalem to “shave her hair” because she’s been abandoned by her divine husband, captured by foreigners and her children are being sold into slavery.  I can’t think of any cases of a Hebrew woman shaving her head in mourning while remaining within Israelite society.  (Oh, and Corinthians says it’s shameful for a woman to shave her head, but that hardly applies to the Torah.)

    Nail-paring isn’t mentioned anywhere other than this passage AFAIK, and clothes are usually ritually torn, rather than being “removed and discarded” as we see here.  (And here the emphasis is on those being her “captive’s garb,” i.e. her original clothing)

    So my guess is that this is a mark of conquest.  As I suggested above, I don’t think it’s intended to shame or humiliate the woman, but to strip her of her past identity and initiate her into Israelite society.

  • Anton_Mates

    One other thing: isolating the captive woman from sexual contact for a month is an excellent way of determining whether she was pregnant when captured.  That’s a very important thing to know re: treatment of her future kids.

  • Amaryllis


    Why should he bother to do things half-assed and wait thousands of years for justice when he can set a purely arbitrary constraint and smite anybody who disobeys?

    Why, indeed? The Chick-fil-A “Questions” of the Day (well, yesterday), by R. S. Thomas, poet and priest.

    Prepare yourself for the message.
    You are prepared?                                   
    Silence.Silence is the message.The message is… Wait.Are you sure? And echo?And echo of an echo?                                     Sound.Was it always there                       with us failingto hear it?                       What was the shell doingon the shore? An ear endlessly                        drinking?              What? Sound? Silence?Which came first?                                  Listen.I’ll tell you a storyas it was told to me by the teller                of stories.Where did he hear it?By listening? To silence? To sound?              To an echo? To an echo                                                             of an echo?                                                                      Wait.

  • Photon

    We see Abraham having sex with Sarah’s slave Hagar.  Also Jacob having
    sex with the slaves of Leah and Rebekah when they send their servants to
    him as surrogates.

    Yeah, but in all these cases the text goes like: “[Sarai/Rachel/Leah] gave [Abram/Jacob] her servant [Hagar/Bilhah/Zilpah] as a wife.” Their children are also counted as legitimate children of their father.

    So the “owner” could make his female slave his wife or give her as a wife to someone, but it was still a status change. However, as Anton_Mates wrote, this doesn’t mean slaves couldn’t be sexually exploited. (Even though I wished it would.) The bible itself doesn’t seem to say anything about it.

  • Photon

     Wall O’ Text!

    Thanks for all that information. This helps me to see this rule more in context and probably also less favorable then I originally did.

  • Anton_Mates

    Yep, Hagar, Bilhah and Zilpah represent a special case since they’re selected as reproductive surrogates by the main wives, specifically for the purpose of producing legitimate offspring.  (Rachel and Leah even name those offspring themselves, emphasizing that Bilhah and Zilpah are only their proxies.) That’s a different matter from the male head of the household selecting a female slave as an official wife or a recreational sex partner.

    And, while semi-legitimate, these slave-wives and their children are still of reduced status.  The clearest example of this is Hagar.  Even after Hagar is given to Abraham, she remains Sarai’s slave, and Abraham gives Sarai carte blanche to punish Hagar severely for disobedience and disrespect provided she has Abraham’s permission.  Eventually, at Sarah’s urging, Abraham frees Hagar and her son and exiles them into the wilderness with nothing but a tiny amount of food and water–something that would be unthinkable if Hagar were a “true” wife (even if divorced) and Ishmael were a legitimate son.  Ishmael is compensated somewhat by receiving a supernatural inheritance from Abraham–God arranges for him to father some nations of his own–but he gets nothing material.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I think it is reasonably safe to say that if a law says “Here is how to treat someone after you have invaded their land, murdered their family, burned down their home, scattered their people, destroyed their civilization and urinated on their holy places, as we have authorized you to do and have absolutely no moral objection to…”, there is pretty much nothing in the second half of that sentence that is going to add up to a moral position we approve of.

    “Good” is pretty much off the table at that point.

  • Anton_Mates

     I wouldn’t say that, generally speaking.  We have things like the Geneva Conventions precisely because most people feel that it’s okay to invade another country and topple its government and rain down death and destruction upon its inhabitants, but it’s not okay to do that in a way that’s, y’know, mean.  Obviously most ancient conflicts were one long war crime from our POV, but a law that says “If you’re going to commit an atrocity, try not to make it too atrocious” is still better than none.

    That said, again, I don’t think this passage is such a law.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X