What about Rape?

There are a couple of passages, which deal with rape, in the OT law. Let’s consider a few of these.

(Deut. 22:23-29) Does this passage allow for rape?

Deuteronomy reads:

(Deut. 22:23-24 NASB) If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.

This is not rape. The logic of this verse is this: if the woman was being raped in the city (where people were around and could hear her), then why didn’t she cry for help? Now, compare this with the rest of the verse:

(Deut. 22:25-27 NASB) But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. 27 When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.

Do you see the difference? The woman was not “in the city.” She was “in the field.” That is, no one could hear her cry for help. The rapist is punished, but she is clearly protected by the law. Let’s compare this with ANE law. Copan writes,

Middle Assyrian laws punished not a rapist but a rapist’s wife and even allowed her to be gang-raped. In other ancient Near Eastern laws, men could freely whip their wives, pull out their hair, mutilate their ears, or strike them –a dramatic contrast to Israel’s laws, which gave no such permission.[1]

The rest of the passage reads:

(Deut. 22:28-29 NASB) If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.

This case is similar to statutory rape (i.e. the seduction of an unengaged woman). It is similar to Exodus 22:16-17. Notice that “they are discovered.” It appears that both are culpable.

Also note that the punishment is not death. Instead, a sum of money was given for the future dowry of the girl. She had been ripped off. Either the man had to marry the girl (barring the daughter’s and father’s objection), or he had to pay her money for her future marriage. In that culture, a non-virgin bride brought shame on the family, and it was difficult for her to get married. Therefore, this woman and the father were compensated, so she could still get married one day. Remember, marriage was a way of survival back then.

(Deut. 20:13-14) Does this passage teach that Israelite men could rape and pillage foreign women?

Deuteronomy records:

(Deut. 20:13-14 NASB) When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. 14 Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.

This passage seems horrific. However, in the very next chapter, we find restrictions on this subject. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 states:

When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, 11 and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, 12 then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 13 She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.

At first glance, this law seems barbaric, too. Remember, we have no problem admitting that (see principle two above). Furthermore, this is an example of case law (see principle three above), which was a concession –not a command. However, in addition to these already established principles, we can make additional observations:

First, the foreign woman wasn’t raped. This is astonishing, when we consider the culture in the ancient Near East. Military rape was par for the course. The Jews were not permitted to do this.

Second, the foreign woman was given 30 days to grieve. The Jewish soldier couldn’t lustfully take her into bed right away. He had to wait for a full month. In that time, he might change his mind. If the man changed his mind, the woman had to be set free.

Third, widows of war were typically destitute. They were turned into sex slaves, tortured, or killed. In Jewish culture, however, these women were given the dignity of marriage and a home. They weren’t considered sex objects; they were considered spouses. Moreover, if the marriage fell apart, the women could not be sold as slaves (v.14). John Wenham writes, “In a world where there are wars, and therefore prisoners of war, such regulations in fact set a high standard of conduct.”[2]Moreover, in 2 Kings 6:20-23, we read that the Jews would not kill POW’s, because they considered it morally evil.

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[1] Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011. 140.

[2] Wenham, John William. The Goodness of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974. 96.