Chick-fil-A’s Biblical Family of the Day

Chick-fil-A’s Biblical Family of the Day October 9, 2012

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

Today, a Chick-fil-A Biblical Law for Biblical Families: Sotah (Number 5:11-31)

If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, if a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act; if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain-offering of jealousy, a grain-offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.

Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain-offering of remembrance, which is the grain-offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you” — let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman — “the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”

Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. The priest shall take the grain-offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain-offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; and the priest shall take a handful of the grain-offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterwards shall make the woman drink the water. When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.

This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife; then he shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall apply this entire law to her. The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.


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  • aunursa

    The Israelites anxiously awaited as Moses descended the mountain.  Finally he arrived at the camp and began his report.
    “I’ve got good news and bad news,” he said.  “The good news is I got Him down to Ten.”
    The people breathed a collective sigh of relief.
    Moses continued.  “The bad news … Adultery is still in.”

  • The_L1985

     But God never divinely sanctioned any abortions, oh no.  That’s a completely separate thing.

  • I would not be one bit surprised to find out there is an obscure sect somewhere in the U.S. practicing a ritual or justifying mistreatment of women in their community based on this text (angry, yes, but not surprised).

  • Carstonio

    What’s truly offensive is not just the double standard in condemning unfaithful wives but not unfaithful husbands, but also labeling the former as “unclean.” I stand by my assertion that too many of the teachings regarding sex in many religions have very little to do with morality, and very much to do with treating wives and children as husbandly property and preventing wives from conceiving by men other than their husbands.

    This so-called proof of infidelity sounds WAY too much like the drowning test for witches, which was apparently a myth.

  • OriginalExtraCrispy

    It’s especially nice how the guy doesn’t even need a reason for his suspicion. Just being a jealous jerk is enough to qualify. Man, the bible is just full of wonderful people. 

  • Robyrt

     The double standard I think is due to mechanics: there’s no Bronze Age paternity test, and if you’re trying to prevent illegitimate children after the fact, only the mother can affect that. The punishment for proven adultery is death for both parties.

  • Carstonio

     I didn’t see in that passage where men were executed for adultery, but it could be elsewhere in the OT. Part of my point is that such cultures appeared to value paternity for the sake of fathers’ power and not of children’s welfare.

    I still remember someone on another board arguing that limits on female sexuality were necessary, with similar limits on male sexuality being simply about fairness. His reasoning? Men are allegedly terrified of the possibility of raising some other man’s child. He lamented that “how little women know men’s hearts” since women don’t have that fear.

     My response was an elaborate version of “get over it.” Meaning that if (the generic) you don’t trust your spouse to keep a promise to be faithful, then maybe the two of you shouldn’t be married. And if you don’t trust any partner to be faithful, then the problem is you. A truly just society values gender egalitarianism as more important than paternity, and there’s a good case that valuing the latter protects men at the expense of women and children. I’m not sure how one could argue that the period described was far different without inadvertently implying that gender egalitarianism is a modern luxury.

  • The Ridger

    And if nothing happens – her uterus doesn’t drop, etc etc – what precisely happens next? She gets to go home with that guy, till the next a spirit of jealousy come on him? Or maybe she gets to kick him to curb and — oh, sorry, what WAS I thinking?

  • g127

    Just a question: but why is this blogpost still devoted to ‘chick-fil-a’. The boycot has worked; isn’t it time to move on?

  • The boycot has worked;

    You sure about that?

  • ScorpioUndone

    I don’t know about over– there’s a degree of skepticism since Chick-Fil-A hasn’t actually come out and said one way or the other. As far as I can tell, it’s all hearsay still. If you know otherwise, I’d love to see a link.

  • Wednesday

    Well, see, an abortion is when an evil selfish slut murders her unborn baby with the help of a cackling, evil-eyebrowed abortionist. Sotah is when God punishes a woman for being an evil adulterous slut by making her miscarry and saves the poor baby from having to grow up a bastard. Totally different things.

  • ScorpioUndone

     and my link didn’t work… okay. fixed. =)

  • g127

    Well… they stopped funding anti-gay groups. Although an apology would have been nice; it was not the reason people stopped eating there. They changed their behavior (just not their demeanor).

    Doesn’t stop them from being giant d-bags… but the local franchises have little to do with that.

  • AnonymousSam

    Here’s one item that the Jews definitely got right — they formally abolished the Sotah ordeal in the first century. For Christians, however, it’s just one more ruling from God Himself that, uh, doesn’t count any more. Jesus fixed it. And stuff. You know, like seafood.

    But not the rules about homosexuality of course. The Bible is inerrant after all.

  • aunursa

    Here’s one item that the Jews definitely got right

    Phew — I’m glad that at least we got something right.  ;-)

  • ChristopherErwinHogan

    I think by now, many fundamentalist Christians are wishing that they had left well-enough alone in their never ending crusade against gay people.  The more they scream, the more young people are actually examining their “biblical” arguments and exposing them to modern morality and reason.  This is bad news for them, because up till now, most people were either too busy or too afraid to do this, lest they by accused of “blasphemy”.  But the anonomous nature of social media has allowed people to do this without fear.

  • I think this is about more than the boycott, and more than this one company.  Chick-fil-A is now shorthand for any company or organization that cloaks its homophobia in a veneer of “but we’re just following the Bible!” faux-nicety, and folks like that still need to be called out and ridiculed.  For example, right now my home state of Minnesota is about to vote on a constitutional amendment that would bar same sex marriage, and supporters of the bill are claiming their “one man, one woman” ideal comes right out of the Bible, end of discussion.  Being able to cite chapter and verse how wrong they are about that is one way to fight these ongoing attacks.  

  • azelie

     For execution of men for adultery, see Deuteronomy 22:22.  Adultery was based on the marital status of the woman (betrothal in this context was treated the same way as marriage).

    But you’re right that these laws are concerned with the rights of the father and the husband/betrothed (including issues of paternity) and not protection of the woman.  For example, a few verses down, there is a provision that if a man rapes an unbetrothed virgin, he must marry her and cannot divorce her – there’s no consideration of how this might affect the woman in question. 

  • Joshua

    Well, that is the consideration of how the woman is affected, horrifying as it may seem: As a married woman, she will be fed and housed, not be a social outcast or subjected to “honour” killing, nor forced to become a beggar or prostitute.

    With the downside that she has to live with her rapist for the rest of her life. This seemed to be felt to be the best the authorities could do under the circumstances.

    Yes, society has come a long way since then, thankfully.

  • Robyrt

    I think you’re underestimating just how different the Bronze Age was from our Information Age. The whole concept of “trusting your spouse to be faithful” in a decades-long egalitarian romantic relationship you made as adults doesn’t really map onto a society where paternity and marriage are virtually the only nonviolent methods of transferring political and economic power. It’s easy not to trust your new second bride who has the raging hormones of a 14-year-old, virtually nothing in common with you, no education, and a huge incentive to claim you as the father. Yes, there is a big current of male fear of cuckoldry running through ancient and medieval history, but it’s not because of individual character flaws. Gender egalitarianism is certainly a more equitable way to run things, but it’s not a realistic expectation given the circumstances, any more than castigating the Old Testament for not paying more attention to dental hygiene.

  • Jeffrey Yasskin

    This is an interesting passage. I read another essay pointing out that the “water of bitterness” is just floor-dust and ink in water, which won’t have any effect on the woman. So the priest is likely to come out of the session and tell the husband, “Dude, your wife is innocent; quit with the jealousy.” If that’s how it actually worked, it’s relatively protective of woman, compared to other parts of the bible.

  • Ben English

     It’s very similar to Jesus’ teachings on divorce in that regard: even by the first century AD there wasn’t much in the way of prospects for a single divorced woman, so a man who put his wife away and got himself a new one was essentially putting his wife on the street, unless her own parents were still alive and able to support her.

  • Carstonio

    At first I thought you were arguing that pre-technological societies are patriarchal by default, which would come fairly close to a rationalization of complementarianism. But you’re talking about political and social attitudes of a specific society in a specific time. 

    I’m suggesting that it should be possible for a pre-technological society to be egalitarian for the sexes. As you note, this would require peaceful methods of transferring power other than paternity and marriage, and that should be possible in such societies. In the communities in India that practice child bridehood today, all the options available to women involve being under the domination of men. One mother there put it simply that the culture is man-oriented. Similarly, in the West women had few options other than marriage until well into the Victorian era.

     I don’t pretend that it’s easy for any society to transition to gender egalitarianism, because the gender with the privilege naturally doesn’t want to lose it. My point isn’t about transitioning anyway. I’m saying instead that patriarchy is an artificial condition in any society. It offers no survival benefits compared with alternatives. It’s the gender equivalent of oligarchy where the institutions and norms are geared to preserving the power of men. 

    You’re right that fear of cuckoldry in Bronze Age societies wasn’t due to individual character flaws. But it’s reasonable to say that of someone in our own society, like the poster I mentioned, who argues for comtrolling female sexuality to assuage that fear. 

  • Robyrt

    I’m not so sure that patriarchy is an artificial condition with no survival benefits. There are a wide variety of social structures among isolated tribes, but patriarchy is very common among larger, longer-lasting and culturally influential pre-industrial civilizations, suggesting that it’s the other way around, or that it strongly correlates with other ingredients for success. If I had to guess, I’d say patriarchy is the natural condition of a society that is regularly forced to go to war. It may even offer a competitive advantage in those circumstances.

  • Carstonio

    If true, that would be depressing, because it would mean that women in those societies can never expect any better.

  •  At the risk of stating the obvious, I don’t think these recent Family of the Day posts have anything to do with the boycott (at least not directly). Though it appears Fred didn’t link to CfA President Dan Cathy’s statement this time, so maybe that’s part of the confusion.

    Cathy’s latest statement came just a few days ago (the story is dated Oct. 3, it seems to say he said it Sept. 29). Fred is just doing what he does: pointing out the ridiculousness of the “biblical families” dog whistle.

    In other words, these posts are Fred’s brilliant way of giving Cathy/CfA the Inigo Montoya treatment: “biblical families” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

  • Katie

     I’m not sure about that.  She’s also handling barley, and inhaling smoke from burning the barley.  It would be possible, if the grain was contaminated with ergot for it to bring on a miscarriage.

  • Carstonio

    What would those other ingredients be, and what competitive advantage would patriarchy have that other social structures wouldn’t? Modern-day Israel is a country that has been to war many times, and its military draft includes both sexes with no apparent harm to combat readiness. (Ironic that the ultra-Orthodox sect, which preaches patriarchy, is exempt from the draft.)

    For clarification, I’m defining patriarchy as limiting women to specific roles, typically the nursery and the kitchen, while limiting political, economic and social power to men. I’m arguing that societies should let individual members of both sexes determine their own roles, not necessarily as an absolute but certainly as a default. If a given society has a woman with the capability and desire to become a brilliant military strategist, I would think that requiring her to bear and raise children would be a competitive disadvantage for that society.

  • The_L1985

     Ah, yes.  I’d forgotten the “It’s Not An Abortion If God Does It” loophole.

  •  Phew — I’m glad that at least we got something right.  ;-)

    Well, you have to admit that your secret world governing cabal has made a right mess of things…

  • maggiekb

    Unless the wife happened to randomly miscarry in the period after the ordeal. And something like 25%-50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. So … 

  • Yes. I’m missing my flying jetpack. :P

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think that is the taking-the-woman-into-consideration stance, actually. A pregnant woman with neither husband nor betrothed is unlikely to be able to acquire either husband or betrothed in a culture that highly values female virginity until marriage. So she and the kid remain drains on their family’s resources, unless a husband can be found for her. Hey, look, there’s a man who’s hurt her and who can be punished by making him financially responsible for her and the kid. Quite progressive for the era, I understand.

    Sucks to be her, because PTSD and such, but it is plausible that it’d be worse to be a PTSD-suffering rape survivor with a kid and no food than to be a PTSD-suffering rape survivor with a kid and enough food even though the food came with constant reminders of the rape and probably further rapes. Depends entirely on how one weights hunger and possible death vs psychological and physical trauma. Some women would go one way, some the other.