How the Bible Handles Premarital Sex and Rape

How the Bible Handles Premarital Sex and Rape August 14, 2013

One of the more barbaric passages in the Bible is found in Deuteronomy 22, which comprises the Mosaic law on how to handle premarital sex and rape. It’s the chapter that says that a woman who is found not be a virgin on her wedding day is to be stoned to death.

13. “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and then spurns her, 14. and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings an evil name upon her, saying, `I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity,’ 15. then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the tokens of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate; 16. and the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, `I gave my daughter to this man to wife, and he spurns her; 17. and lo, he has made shameful charges against her, saying, “I did not find in your daughter the tokens of virginity.” And yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. 18. Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him; 19. and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought an evil name upon a virgin of Israel; and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. 20. But if the thing is true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, 21. then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.

Even leaving aside the utter barbarism of killing a woman for having premarital sex, the test they propose for her virginity is ignorant. The “tokens of virginity” could only refer to, what, bloody sheets from the bleeding hymen? But hymens can break without any sex at all. It happens quite often. Such ignorance from the men who wrote the Bible is understandable, if still dangerous and vile, but remember that this command allegedly came directly from God. God surely knows that this law will result in women who are, in fact, still virgins being stoned to death. Does he not care? Or is this just a rule laid down by ignorant men seeking to control women?

Verses 28 and 29 deal with rape:

28. “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29. then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days.

Wait, the woman has to marry her rapist? Yep. How does anyone defend such a thing? Here’s an example of the argument I’ve heard many times:

The question that has been presented is this: Why would there be a law commanding a marriage to occur in this instance? The answer is cultural. In the Ancient Near East, virginity was highly prized. Widows and unmarried women who were not virgins and had no father, brother or son who was willing to provide for them were in a desperate situation [1][2]. Women in this situation often had to sell themselves into slavery or prostitution just to survive. It was not like modern times, where women can provide for themselves and live on their own.

Again, this would make sense if the Bible were written by ignorant men bound by the restrictions of their own culture. But this law was supposedly handed down by God himself. So this can only mean that God recognized how unfair it was that women who were raped were viewed by that culture as unclean and unworthy of marriage, but his solution to that is not to tell his followers to stop viewing them that way but to force the woman to marry her rapist instead. Did he just not think of that first option? Did he not care about how horrifying it would be to be forced to marry one’s rapist? Or does he actually think this is the right thing to do?

As is nearly always the case with the Old Testament and its many barbaric laws, it all makes sense if it is just the ignorant and repulsive views of fallible men operating in a brutal patriarchy. If one views it as the word of God, one is forced to invent fanciful and incoherent rationalizations for it.

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