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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Does the God of the Bible Condone Rape?--Part Two

In part one of, Does the God of the Bible Condone Rape?, I dealt with the passage in Exodus 21:7-11, in which God gave regulations concerning the selling of a daughter into slavery. It is bad enough that the God of the OT does not condemn slavery outright but in this particular case he condones rape as well. Any study of the Ancient Near Eastern societies will quickly reveal that women had few if any rights. They were regarded as property of their husbands, or if not married, their fathers. The fact that the father has the right, acknowledged by God in this passage, to sell his daughter is proof that she was considered property. Sadly, women are still treated this way today in certain Islamic societies (see Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali).

Today, I want to consider another passage, Deuteronomy 21:10-14:
When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.(NIV)
The word translated "dishonored" in v. 14 is the Hebrew verb `anah (ענה ). In the Piel perfect it means compressit feminam [Latin], to deflower a woman, usually by force (Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon, p. 783). The Latin compressit feminam means to suppress/control/stifle/frustrate/subdue/ a woman . This word obviously refers to rape and is so translated in other Hebrew scriptures. For example,
Judges 20:5: They raped my concubine, and she died.
2 Sam. 13:14: since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
2 Sam.13:32: ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar.
The captive was taken from her family by force and made to live with the one who had killed her family. To think that a woman who had gone through such tragedy would voluntarily agree to become the wife of her family's killer is incredible. The fact is she had no choice in the matter. As the text says, she was "raped."

The following could have been written by one of these so-called "war brides."
I was compelled to live under the same roof with him--where I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the most sacred commandments of nature. He told me I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things. My soul revolted against the mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection?
Instead it was written by Harriet A. Jacobs, an African-American slave in 19th century America.

So, the obvious fact is that, if the OT is really a divine revelation, then God condones the selling of a human being as property and the forcing of the female slave to grant the sexual wishes of her master. One may argue that the regulations laid out here are better than those in some other ANE societies but that is beside the point. There is no condemnation of this practice by the Hebrew God. He is not hesitant to condemn other practices that he finds abhorent such as homosexuality but apparently forcing women to have sex with a man is permissible or at least tolerable.

Now, as I expected some Christians have objected to my interpretation of these texts and offered arguments in an  attempt to mitigate what is obviously repugnant.

First, I am told that the phrase in Exodus 21:8, "if she does not please her master," does not relate to sex. That is extremely naive. As Pressler notes: her economic worth is, first of all, her sexuality and her reproductive capacity. (Gender and Law in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, eds. Victor Matthews, Bernard Levinson, and Tikva Frymer-Kensky [1998], p. 162).

Then, I am told that she is a concubine not a slave. While this admission contradicts the first claim (that "not pleasing" doesn't refer to sex), it is a "distinction without a difference" anyway. As Susanne Scholz says with regard to Genesis 35:
Overall, however, the roles of a concubine and a female slave are similar, so that the term "concubine" in Gen. 35:22 does not necessarily indicate a socially higher status than the term "slave." Even as a concubine, Bilhah is owned by Jacob, who has unrestricted sexual access to her body. It is thus inconsequential to Bilhah's position whether she is a concubine or a slave because in either case Bilhah lacks control over her life. She is property, and so Reuben challenges his father's property rights when he rapes Bilhah. Thus, this sad narrative illustrates an important, though depressing, truth about rape in androcentric and class-stratified texts: men rape women, enslaved or free, to mark their territory over against other men (Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible, p. 75, see also Thomas Dozeman, Eerdmans Critical Commentary: Exodus , p. 529).
Next, I am told that these passages in the OT do not suggest that God approved of the practices but that he merely tolerated the hardness of man's hearts. The objector says: To equate toleration with commendation is to impose one's preconceived view of the will of God onto the progressive revelation of Scripture.

My question is: How can a perfectly moral God regulate a practice that is clearly immoral? Can these Christian apologists imagine their God regulating homosexuality or idol worship? No, he condemns them unequivocally. If slavery and rape are "objectively wrong," based on the nature of God, how can God do anything but condemn them? If I tolerate improper behavior, I am tacitly approving of the behavior. The word tolerate means: to allow to be or to be done without prohibition, hindrance, or contradiction .  Thus, it seems crystal clear to me that the God of the Bible condones both slavery and rape.


  1. But we can't forget "Progressive Revelation" now can we. I mean god didn't really condone slavery. He was just taking a back seat and chilling out till Jesus came to set the record straight and give people more revelation which they couldn't handle before. Oh, well actually Jesus didn't condemn slavery either. But, I think through this absurd notion of "Progressive Revelation", we will eventually understand that slavery was and always will be wrong.

  2. Hey Ken didn't you know that rape could lead to something god could teach or help the one who is hurt? Or who are we to know the wisdom of the all powerful god?

  3. "She is property, and so Reuben challenges his father's property rights when he rapes Bilhah."

    Another example would be Absalom, who rapes all 10 of David's concubines as part of his attempted take-over of his father's throne.

  4. Really clear and precise summary of some hard hitting moral problems found in the Bible.

    I think I will share this two part article with members of my overly religious family and ask them how do they harmonize the moral quandary herein with God's supposed all encompassing goodness?

    They will probably claim I am be contrarian and confrontational as always... but if they really want to exercise their critical thinking skills, see if their faith passes muster, I think it's a good idea to look at such matters.

    Engaging the Bible and being aware of what it actually says, and applying our critical thinking caps, is a bigger motivator for atheism than anything I know of. To be uncritical is to be naive.

  5. If this is not bad enough, please remember that we are also talking about children here. Marriage to a little girl by intercourse was permissible in ancient Jewish culture down to the age of three. Talmud, Niddah 44b. ( Knowing that this would be a practice tolerated among the Jews, Yahweh could have at least given some age guidelines to protect children, but throughout the entire Bible, he is silent on this issue (AFAIK). This type of silence is not what one would expect of a God who desperately wants little girls to be protected; rather it is exactly the what we would expect to see in the writings of ancient, barbaric men who were trying to figure out these questions of morality on their own.

  6. Robert,

    You are right about the silence on that one. Nothing in the OT (or NT for that matter) addresses the issue of a female being too young for intercourse.

  7. I just watched Gran Torino that you mentioned in a previous post. If I could believe that jesus had died for the rape of the girl in that movie or for another reason then sinful man that I do not believe is sinful I might just be able to believe in a god that loved everyone. Rape to me is the absolute worst that could happen and any god who would not speak up and say it is wrong is not worthy of being worshipped ever.

  8. Ken,

    A very good 2-part series. Appreciate your even-handed treatment of the criticisms to the 1st part. Someone is going to reply to you that forcing the foreign woman into marriage with an Israelite is in her best interests for spiritual reasons. She has the chance to come under the covenant. Even if the man divorces her, she may be influenced to worship the God of Israel, even to appeal to him for redress when her new husband divorces her.

  9. On Ken's last point, I think it is also important to point out that these instructions were given by Yahweh's prophet Moses, and Yahweh had already established that his prophet was to be completely obeyed even to the point of killing one's own family (Exodus 32:27, If this command was not God's will, he would have needed to tell us, otherwise we (and they) would be required to believe that God's prophet was speaking truth.

    That highlights the problem with prophesy when it contradicts our own reason or moral intuitions: How are we to know when such prophesy is valid? Either we accept it all or we can accept very little. As soon I decide which prophetic claims to accept, I have put something else higher than the credibility of someone who is (supposedly) a direct proxy of God's will ... someone who's message I should trust on faith. This is rebellion according to the Bible.

    So I have to accept that these instructions on sex-slavery really were the instructions of God, or I have to question the credibility of the authors, as I have done. There is no "getting God off the hook" by saying that these commands were in His Torah, spoken through His prophet, and yet were against His will.

  10. Ken,

    Can you help me understand your conclusions regarding the condoning of rape in the Old Testament in light of your previous post on Christianity Does Not Provide the Basis for Morality?

    I could understand if your argument was this:

    1) Moral standards in the ANE condone slavery and rape.
    2) Current Christian moral standards condemn slavery and rape.
    3) Therefore Christian claims of absolute, objective morality are false.

    But instead you seem to be arguing something more like this:

    1) Christians claim God is perfectly moral.
    2) Moral standards attributed to God in the ANE condone slavery and rape.
    3) Slavery and rape are clearly immoral at all times.
    4) Therefore either God is not perfectly moral, the ANE moral standards are incorrectly attributed to God, the moral standards do not actually condone slavery and rape, or slavery and rape are not always immoral.

    Given the number of conclusions that are possible with the second argument, what, exactly is your conclusion? As always, thanks for your insights...

  11. Dan,

    I would agree with your first syllogism although I have not really made that argument. I do intend to though in another post this week.

    As for the second syllogism, my conclusion is: the ANE moral standards are incorrectly attributed to God. As an agnostic atheist, I do not believe that any of the Bible is authentically divine revelation. I believe the Bible reflects the mroal standards of the ANE peoples and as Eller showed in his chapter, societies have a tendency to claim that their moral standards are from God in order to infuse them with authority.

  12. ---

    Whenever I read posts like the one above, I get the urge to think, "Finally, a detailed study of some horrific passages in the OT that will convince those Christians that the God of the Bible is barbaric and repugnant; certainly not worthy of worship.


    But then I remember, pretty much all Christians throughout history, and everyone I know, thinks God is going to torture humans for all eternity for some set of finite sins, and they think that's just peachy. And for anyone who not only believes that, but sides with the "deity" doing the damning, there is not really much one can do to convince them, on moral grounds, that their God is either not real, or unworthy of worship.

    Then my heart drops, because I realize there is nothing I can say to them that will change their minds. Their minds will only change if they decide, on their own, that Christianity is delusional, like I once did.

  13. an African-American slave in 19th century America.

    Wow! That's literally 100 years less-farther removed than modern women, out of thousands of years!
    Why is your whole argument based on
    1) anachronistic judgments
    2) what your own "intuition" tells you?

    You don't know the context back then, and you apparently don't care to. Even if you did, it'd be pretty tough w/o a time machine and a universal translator and an anti-aging device.
    You also fail to take into account that maybe the men who took the war brides had a different moral intuition than you. Who are you to judge them?

    How can a perfectly moral God regulate a practice that is clearly immoral?

    You've given up the ability to claim that moral practices can be recognised as "immoral" when you appeal to your "intuition". Fail.

  14. Rhology, I note that you do not attempt to argue against the notion that Deuteronomy condoned rape.

    With regard to the raping of a slave in 19th century America you say: You don't know the context back then . Please tell me in what context it would be okay to rape a 15 year old girl?

    I do not need a holy book (especially one that has contradictory morals in it) to tell me that owning another human being as property and having sex with her is wrong.

    You've given up the ability to claim that moral practices can be recognised as "immoral" when you appeal to your holy book that condones slavery and rape (not to mention other hideous practices). At lest my moral code is consistent.

    Posted to Does the God of the Bible Condone Rape?--Part Two

  15. ---

    Please Rhology, provide a context, any context, in which keeping slaves as property for their lifetime is morally permissible, under any recognized moral system.

    Also, please provide a context under which taking war brides AT ALL is considered morall permissible under any recognized moral system.

    I'm intrigued as to what your response would be. Also, Ken is definitely not judging these ANE men; more than that, he is constructing an argument to show that they were appealing to the moral intuitions of their time, and then trying to give them divine authority. Ken doesn't have to appeal to his own moral intuitions to make that argument. He's quite aware that NO evangelical Christian today woudl consider 19th century antebellum slavery to be morally permissible, so all he must do is show that the slavery condoned by "God" in the OT times was the same as antebellum slavery to show a contradiction in their worldview.

    Why do you think apologists try to mitigate these passages? Because, at face value, they are morally repugnant by evangelical (and all) Christian standards. Ken is just showing that they should be taken at face value, since they are condoning antebellum like slavery.

  16. ---

    The same points above as well for the fact that the Bible is condoning rape.

  17. Rholology: "You also fail to take into account that maybe the men who took the war brides had a different moral intuition than you. Who are you to judge them?"

    Interesting discussion on a topic dear to my heart. Rholology, it seems to me you fail to take into account that the "war brides" of any historical period were fully human beings also, who did not consent to become "war brides", and who became so only because their will had been forcibly overpowered. The "moral intuitions" of the men in question were no different from those of anyone in any age in a position of power - from which there is always a way to justify the trampling on the weak. (Apart from anything else, one definition of power is that you also get to write the rulebook, and you can do it to suit yourself).

    But anyone who genuinely tries, in imagination, to step into the shoes of the "war brides," will find that it is very easy to judge. From the point of view of the forcibly over-powered, it is apparent that the acts which accomplished this were morally wrong, and by the measure of our shared humanity, always will be.

    PS - anyone care to translate "ANE" for the uninitiated?

  18. Ken, I see you've met Rhology. He fancies himself quite the Biblical scholar, going all over the internet setting us poor atheists straight. He's been laughed off of most of the other atheist blogs (he's been a running gag at Atheist Experience for years), so he's always looking for fresh meat.

    Still a legend in your own mind, aren't you, Rho?

  19. Dan W - Thanks - it all makes perfect sense now!

  20. Sorry, but I’m still stuck trying to reconcile the arguments against a Christian basis for morality with your subsequent discussions of rape and slavery (your blog doesn’t slow down!).

    You argue above that Israelite laws condoned slavery and rape; it was part of their culture and society and was codified in their laws. You then go on to state that slavery and rape are “clearly immoral.” How can you make such an assertion? If morality is “ultimately nothing more than a special case of the more general human predilection to appraise behavior and to erect systems and standards of appraisal,” aren’t ANE laws regarding slavery and rape moral within the ANE context and isn’t your objection to them merely an imposition of your current culture and social norms upon the past?

  21. Dan,

    You write: isn’t your objection to them merely an imposition of your current culture and social norms upon the past?.

    Yes, it is, however, it is pretty much universally recognized today that slavery and rape are wrong. Christian apologists would insist that the Bible is the standard by which one determines objective morality, yet they argue that rape and at least some forms of slavery are wrong. My point is that they don't have an objective moral code either. There is no "objective" moral code in my opinion. However, when something is almost universally recognized by individual subjects as being wrong, that is about as close to an objective code as one can get.

  22. I remember a long time ago when I was working as a janitor in a big offis building and there was this old Jewish woman who worked in the offis she was a secratery. I axed her what did she think about such things like Deuteronomy 21 and she said 'son you've gots to understand, Deuteronomy laws as a effect of their times, they are laws made at a certain time in history they aren't precise definishions of God's law'.

  23. Now, about Deut 21:10-14: The way you are reading the law puts everything out of order - the soldier is to marry the woman, then she is to do the ritchual things and mourn for a month, then the soldier is to marry her again. Makes no sense. The way it is is that if the soldier wants to marry the woman, she has to first do those ritchuals and then mourn for a month and then he can marry her. This is all about making a way for a man to marry a foreign woman and bring her into his family when the normal marraige custums can't happen. The law is about how a soldier can marry a foreigner who he captchured - it provides a legal way for the soldier to marry the captchured foreign woman sinse there would be no contract for marraige as was the customs back then, and those ritchuals are for showing the change in the woman from foreigner to a member of the clan.

    Now that Hebrew word you pick out, anah, now when that same word is used a few verses later in Deut 22:24 it's talking about sex that is with permission but it still dishonors the woman, same as in Ez 22:10. Not clear at all that it is rape in Deut 21:10.

    Them family laws in Deuteronomy have there main purpose to make sure that the man who is in charge of the family has right to control the sex activity of his wife sos he can be shure that his sons were his own blood. This is to make shure that no body can question that his sons ar his owne. There laws illestrates how much value they put on the males controling the females, making shure there are decendents and makijng sure that the who the father of those decendents is is perfectly clear. That is also why in there system marrying a virgin is so very important.

  24. I apologize for the spelling errors. I have to borrow a computer when I am on a break and sometimes I don't have time to do spell checking before I get off the computer.

  25. I don't think that I can say that slavery was inherently immoral. We take it for granted now that people have 'rights' and 'freedom' because they are, well, human, but our ancestors saw it very differently. And I say this as an atheist. Before the days of technology and money for buying and selling services, it seems to me that slavery was the only way to have a workforce that was 'committed' enough to do the extremely heavy and difficult labor required for things like building shelters, plowing fields, etc. What would they have done 2000 yrs ago? Will work for beer and linen?

    Going to war and getting slaves to do the labor was probably seen as a sweet deal to the victors and everyone from China to Egypt to Rome to North America seems to have employed it. And lest we think slavery is not natural to the human condition, we can look at how hard it was to get decent wages and working conditions for workers in this country. Children and women paid poverty wages and working in dangerous factories were the backbone of the Industrial Revolution in the Yankee North in the early 19th century. It was not techinally slavery, but it was pretty close.

    Also, I think that human beings are predatory, hierarchal animals. Just like dogs were domesticated from wolves, people are not necessarily as brutish as we were (reading Herodotus' History made my hair stand up), but the wolf lies underneath, doesn't he? Men who don't rape will still watch porn or go to strip clubs as an outlet to objectify women and dream about having sex with them. Many, many men go to prostitutes.

    For me the problem is not the slavery and the rape, per se, in the Bible. It is that the Christians I have known, even though I usually detest them, are better than the deity they worship and refuse to see that the Bible says what it says and means what it means.

  26. I have been trying hard to be a Christian for a few years now. I've read the bible front to back. I've allowed myself to ignore the hypocrisy of the "Thou Shall Not Kill" commandment while commanding the Israelites to commit genocide in the land of Canaan. They were evil and needed to die. I've allowed myself to ignore the modern humanist moral code that slavery is a terrible thing. Slavery was just better back then. But I simply cannot find a way to get past the promotion of rape. Moses proclaimed for the Israelites to go out and "take the women as plunder." This implies rape. Plain and simple. It’s not just condoning rape, it’s promoting rape. I continue to pray for understanding, but I can't get beyond this conclusion. Either Jehovah is evil or the bible is not the word of God. This puts me on the fringes of Christian belief. Therefore, I am having a difficult time with my new faith. I am still waiting for an acceptable explanation from a fellow Christian.

  27. "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," (Deut. 22:25-28).

  28. 28 “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 is a clear liberation of women. You have to consider their time, they allowed rape and slavery whatever. And in this he liberates women, saying the man HAS TO SUPPORT the woman if he rapes her.
    Because no one will marry her if she's not a virgin and she'll be just as repulsive as a sick person, and she will probably be stoned.

    Just a little info. God doesnt condone it, we do, millons of people in other wars are raped? why do we put blame on the bible.

  29. I've argued with people before about the genocides and mass murder in the Bible. A common response I get is, "God's ways our not our ways. Or, we can't put human judgement on God." Since God's way is condoning rape and slavery in the Bible, then I'm glad that my way is not like his.

  30. Sorry you feel that way "human". Gods ways aren't yours. Everything God allowed the Hebrews to do was for the greater good of the Hebrew, his chosen people, and for acts such as these expressed, he has allowed his people to be very, very harshly dealt with. EVEN MOSES! Not every law Moses passed was divinely inspired. Gods son Jesus even said so. The people who followed Moses every word were Jesus greatest adversaries. Everyone here condones horrors by not actively going out into the world to try and stop them in any way yet we see fit and less terrible in ourselves to point fingers and sneer against an alien creative force that has only allowed us to understand so much. God allowed some civilizations to intermix with his own because he knows the far future outcome. Some people were so terrible that he couldnt allow them to put his chosrn people in jeopardy, and had to compromise with ane mindsets in ordrr to do do at times and allow people to have free will except where it is at serious odds with gods plan, then he must intervene. Mixing his will and human free will? I cant even imagine how complex that must be. He sees every link in the planet sized fence, if you will, and how they interconnect. If we are intelligent and lucky enough we can see the chain links connected to us or those in our field of vision.

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  32. "You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her." That's identical to divorce. If you are upset by this, we must include divorce, as well. God has laws on that in the Old Testament, too. But, Jesus explicitly states that God only allowed divorce because people are so hard-hearted. God didn't want it at all! The laws were necessary but not optimal. But, that's how all of God's laws are. None of us can be perfect, even with the laws we DO have, and that's not the ultimate focus. The ultimate focus is spiritual salvation.

    We must remember that man is evil, and does plenty of evil without God directly addressing it (this is prevalent in Genesis). Just because God doesn't go over every detail doesn't mean he approves. After all, God didn't say anything when Jacob and Rebekah deceived Isaac, so God must approve of that, right? But we know God does not approve of deception. God not mentioning something specifically doesn't mean He doesn't have an opinion on it.

    When God DOES talk about stuff, we must keep in mind that the Old Testament law was meant to regulate, and to be a covenant (contract) between God and evil men. Even after Christ, God's followers are not perfect--and He doesn't expect us to be, since we are sinful. Our righteousness is not in our own actions, but in Christ. We are saved by FAITH, and not works (Eph. 2:8-9). We can't be perfect this side of heaven, and that's not God's focus: God's focus is salvation from punishment, into a life where He makes us perfect! So, if God regulates something He actually hates, that isn't contradictory: It's a band-aid for a gushing wound.

  33. Reference Matthew 5 for Jesus' discussion of divorce.