The Bible, Rape, and Irrationalism

In an earlier post I addressed the issue of whether or not the Bible condones rape in the context of Deuteronomy 22 demonstrating that the text used by critics in an attempt to assert such a conclusion is, in fact, false because of the ambiguity of the Hebrew used in the text and because the argument uses a number of logical fallacies.

The question then is, how do the Scriptures present such acts? To answer that we have two examples in the text itself that are directly related to the issue that use a form of the Hebrew lemma in describing the actions. What is interesting is the response of the people in the accounts to the events. Both of these stories are interesting because they are, in some translations, given the headings of “rape”. But, before you read any further, please, go read my earlier post so as to have a linguistic grounding before proceeding.

Okay, I’m going to assume from here that you are familiar with the argument that I presented there because we are going to look at two similar accounts, one in Genesis 34 and one in 2 Samuel 13. If you are not familiar with the accounts of Dinah and Tamar, now is a good time to familiarize yourself with them. This is not to say that the term doesn’t appear elsewhere in similar contexts, but that these two accounts speak to individual circumstances.

Okay, so we can now get to the meat of the matter.

The word that we are going to focus on from Deuteronomy 22 is found in v29, the passage reads,

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 bfather of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days. (ESV, emphasis added)

We, as a matter of course, have to deal with the Hebrew that is rendered as “violated” in the ESV, which comes from the lemma ענה (‘anah) which has a range of meanings from “to humble”, “to oppress”, “to humiliate” and even “to mishandle”. A word with such a varied number of applications speaks largely to the ambiguity of the Hebrew term that is rendered, in some translations, as “rape” in v28 and as “seize” in the ESV.

In the Genesis account, which some scholars argue is an analogy to other events in Israelite history, the daughter of Jacob, by his first wife Leah, sneaks out of her father’s camp to go to, what could only be described anachronistically as, a party with some of the young women of the area. While at the soirée, she encounters the prince of the tribe and he clearly rapes her, in fact several commentators point this out.

The story takes an interesting turn in that it says that,

[His] soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the  young woman and spoke tenderly to her. (Genesis 34:3, ESV)

Of course, it was only after he had violated her that he felt this way. Maybe it was morning-after  conscience pangs, or it was the distress that he saw in her face, or maybe it was that he not only saw the pain he saw in her face, but that he realized just who she was: the daughter of a tribal leader essentially camped right outside his city walls. Maybe he was genuinely sorry for what he did, and in the terms of his culture decided to reach out and try to make some kind of amends both to the woman he wronged, by marrying her—thus making her his responsibility to care for, thus restoring her honor and sexual integrity—and stopping any reprisals from her family in light of the dishonor that was shown to one of their tribe.

To make a long story short, her brothers not only killed the man who violated their sister, they killed every man in the town. But there’s something here that doesn’t need to be overlooked: they were not “okay” with what happened and they simply didn’t allow the marriage to go through. They recognized that something happened that, “must not be done (34:7, ESV).”

In the next passage under consideration, we look to 2 Samuel 13, where the daughter of the king, Tamar, is raped by her half-brother, Amnon. What is interesting in this account is what Tamar herself says to her rapist,

“[Please] speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you (13:13, ESV).”

What troubled her was not the thought of having sex with her half-brother (you can go vomit now), but that he was going about it the wrong way. Her statement, more than that her willingness to stay, after he had thrown everyone else out, seems to imply that she was wanting to be with him. She basically consented to sex, but only if he would marry her. The problem is that even with all of his protestations of love for Tamar, he didn’t, because the text goes on to say that afterwards,

“[He] hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. (13:15, ESV)”

In truth, Amnon didn’t love Tamar, because if he did he would have done the right thing: he would have gone to his father and asked for Tamar. Instead he wound up dead at the hands of Absalom for what he did.

So, how do these two accounts reflect on what the law said?

Let’s consider the first case of Dinah, and consider it in the best of terms: Shechem realized what he had done and wanted to make it right. If that was the case, then Deuteronomy 22:28-29 makes a way for that to occur, in that culture by making the violator pay the dowry and by making the woman whose sexual integrity he violated would be his responsibility as long as he lived. We have to also keep in mind that there was not a great deal of emotional attachment to things as much as honor and social propriety were.

In the case of Tamar, this was something planned and was deliberate. Amnon couldn’t have Tamar and he didn’t want anyone else to have her. In fact, it was swept under the rug and David’s son Absalom had to seek justice for his sister in accordance with Deuteronomy 22:23-27.

There are a few other things that we have to consider. The first is this: because a law offers a remedy for an offense, it doesn’t follow that the offense is overlooked. 

Atheists are quick to jump to a conclusion about a law saying that it does something wrong, in this case that it minimizes the offense or excuses the offender, rather than broadly applying to a number of offenses and considering all of the involved parties. Even though the account of Dinah occurs prior to the law, we see principles of the law in action. It is very easy to call a law “unjust” or “immoral” but it is very difficult to provide a standard by which to make such judgments.

The second thing that needs to be considered is this: does the punishment fit the crime?

Scripture is clear enough on this point: rapists deserve to die. The obvious problem is that “rape” has to be defined. Even modern law distinguishes between kinds of “rape” by having legal differentiation between forcible rape and statutory rape. Is that what is happening in Deuteronomy 22, that the person is using the vocabulary available to them to describe two different situations? No, that simply couldn’t be what’s going on, because that would mean that one would actually have to think and not operate on emotion and insinuation.

All of that to say, unless we are willing to make the clear distinctions that the text itself does, on its own terms emotionalism, not clear thinking, will win out.

Also see this post about grounding moral claims, and this one which deals with a similar argument.


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