Bible’s Attitude to Rape

I recently had the privilege of delivering a seminar for the Priscilla and Aquila Centre of Moore Theological College, looking at the Bible’s attitude to rape. In the seminar, I looked at the laws pertaining to rape in Deuteronomy 22, as well as the narratives of 2 Samuel 13 (the rape of Tamar), Genesis 19 (Lot in Sodom), Genesis 34 (Dinah and Shechem), and Judges 19 (the rape of a concubine at Gibeah).

Video of the seminar is found here below.

15 thoughts on “Bible’s Attitude to Rape

  1. i missed this night and I’m quite grateful for the recording. There are some new interpretations to some ‘classic’ passages that have left me pondering. Thank you for some new information to consider.

  2. I agree that case 1 is an example of a consensual encounter, and case 2 is an example of a non-consensual encounter. But, case 3 I have always considered a case of (what Americans might refer to as) “a player”. That is, a man who entices and skillfully takes hold of a woman’s heart (for example, telling her it is ok to sleep with him because they will get married, yet he has no intention of ever actually marrying her). Here, I see PTŠ (take hold, skillfully wield/handle) as equivalent to deceitful seduction. Note that it says “he seizes her, and lay with her, and *they* are discovered”. PTŠ has not been used in the first two cases, only the word for “lay”, while in case 3, PTŠ and lay are both used. Why does case 2 not use PTŠ when it is clearly nonconsensual (in case 2, he lays with her “by force”, while case 3 he PTŠ her, then lays with her, and they [plural] are discovered). In this case, the woman is not engaged, so being enticed with promises of love and marriage can be a powerful trick used by a man during this time period (and even in modern times as it is used by men even today) — he deceitfully takes hold of her heart, he skillfully wields it to his whim. The punishment levied on the man would seem to fit this situation: Instead of the man “loving and leaving” the woman, he is forced to pay his enticement in full (id est, he must follow through on the promises of marriage). The woman would receive what she was promised by the man, rather than being dropped by the man once the man got what he wanted.

    • Interesting idea, but I don’t think it’s supported textually and linguistically. First, I think you’re talking about the verb TPS (תפש). The notion of the verb is to take hold of something for mastery or use. It usually implies forceful grasping against one’s will when used of people. For example, see Deut 21.19 and Jer 37.14. So I don’t think the semantics support the notion of a man seducing a woman. The verbs ‘seize’ or ‘apprehend’ do a good job of conveying the notion, and imply non-consent. The emphasis in Scenario #3 is in providing a course of action for an unmarried woman, rather than for a different attitude in the man. In both Scenario #2 and #3 the same is predicated of the man, but there is a difference in what is predicated of the woman. I’m convinced, therefore, that Scenario #3 is one of rape.

      Your broader point, however, would be supported by the attitude of these Deuteronomic laws. I think Gen 34 provides something of an analogy to your thinking. I don’t think Scenario #3 is specifically what you think it’s about, but I think it can still be taken instructively for that situation you have in mind.

  3. A great summary, and very well presented, much appreciated! BTW, you may find this video interesting as it discusses abstract thinking versus concrete thinking, what you mention under different terms, and that in our age we tend to do far more of the former, and the difference is so pronounced that people not raised that way do even refuse to think (cannot think) in the abstract terms some people demand the Bible should have used:

  4. Thanks George for that very thoughtful and pastoral talk. Just listened to it this morning.

    It would be good to hear your reflections on the aftermath of your last example (i.e. Judges 21). It seems that the other tribes have sought to right the wrong of 19 with their actions in 20, yet in fidelity to the covenant hopes they further the wrong with the forced marriage of the women of Jabesh Gilead. Yet is it portrayed positively (I’m thinking the covenant language of 21.1-7) or does the pessimistic refrain in 21.25 show that they ‘cannot make the crooked straight’ (Amos 3.10)?

    • I don’t think there are any real positives at the end of Judges. The provision of wives for the Benjamites is seen as retrieving a bad situation, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s looked upon as ‘good’. I think the Israelites employ the basic principle of taking a wife from captured peoples that we see in Deut 21. But the point is that Israel is a single integral unit that has suffered damage through the rash actions of just about everybody. Ironically, the people of Jabesh, who are actually the innocent ones in all of this, are the ones who suffer to compensate for Benjamin’s sin. I don’t see any of the situation as being seen favourably. Rather, it demonstrates the rock and a hard place between which Israel is now stuck. They need external help: a divinely chosen king to rectify things. Saul’s appointment, despite his Fabio-like deficiencies, meets this need in 1 Sam 11 with all Israel fighting together on one side to free Jabesh.

  5. Thanks so much George, I really appreciated your care and thoughtfulness in this sickening topic. I just had a question about how casuistic laws work. Under scenario 2 the perpetrator is killed as punishment for the crime but under scenario 3 the victim is given security through marriage with the perpetrator because they are unattached. However, you suggest it is possible for an unattached victim to find security elsewhere, such as from a brother. I was wondering, in this case, would it be expected then that the perpetrator is killed as punishment? Or is there a possibility that he then gets to live his life because they were unattached, even though it is the brother who is caring for the victim? Thanks again. Steve

    • Yes, I think the execution of the perpetrator would be viewed as a legitimate outcome in lieu of another person to provide for the victim. However, I think the Law would also want to see the community arrive at that decision, rather than just one person. In other words, justice is incumbent on all of society, not just one person.

      If we consider the case of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13, Absalom takes Tamar into his care and then kills Amnon for his crime. While we might consider Amnon getting his just deserts, Absalom took the matter into his own hands. His execution of Amnon is never called a murder, but an ‘execution’. When David is told of the situation, he eventually understands and seems to approve of it. And yet, there is also a sense that Absalom has gone too far and has to flee the country. Even on his return, he is not permitted to see the king’s person. I think the reason for this was vigilante justice, rather than communal justice—something that undermined the community, circumvented the authority of the king, and destabilised the dynasty. Add to this the fact that by executing Amnon, Absalom became crown prince. Amnon’s death seems not to be the issue—it seems to be Absalom’s rash justice based on personal vendetta rather than communal justice. I think this leads us to say that the Law did see it as legitimate for a rapist to be executed if someone else could adequately care for the victim, in line with Scenario #2 in Deut 22. But justice must not be about personal vendetta. It must be about social justice.

  6. I know this is getting to be a while ago, but I have some difficulty seeing your interpretation of the situation with Lot in Sodom (Genesis 19). You claim that it was a ruse by Lot, he didn’t have his daughters with him and they were not virgins, they were actually with their husbands.

    In verse 12, the men ask ““Have you anyone else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters” (ESV). Asking about sons-in-law (and not daughters-in-law) makes best sense if Lot’s daughters are there, and they are possibly betrothed, hence the question. The men are then asking about additional sons and daughters.

    I know you say in verse 14, that the Hebrew says the sons-in-law were “married to”, not “were to marry” his daughters, but I gather the term could mean either. If they were already married, why would this expression be used anyway? It seems to be added to explain that they were not yet married, and these sons-in-law were the ones who were going to marry them, and that is why his daughters were with Lot, not them.

    If his sons-in-law thought he was joking, why did he then have his two daughters with him in verse 15? Wouldn’t they have stayed with their husbands? This makes best sense if his daughters had been with him all the time, and they were betrothed. I know that your argument also depends on the meaning of the expression translated “who are here” in the ESV, versus your translation “who’ve been found”. I can’t comment on the merits of that.

    Apart from that, I thought it was a good presentation on a difficult subject.

    • My interpretation doesn’t work from the ESV, but from the Hebrew text. The verb in v.14 means to be related through marriage. It’s mentioned to show that, surprisingly, Lot’s daughters are married. Note the term with which it refers to the men related to Lot’s daughters. They are Lot’s sons in Law. You can’t be a son in law until you marry someone’s daughter. The very term presumes a marriage. And while the sons in law think Lot is joking, there’s no statement that his daughters did. They are mentioned in Lot’s house, only after Lot has gone out to his sons in law and then come back. And it mentions that Lot’s daughters ‘have been found’. I have an article coming out that goes into all this in more detail.

  7. Sex with a married or engaged woman was punished by death. Yes, a (single) man who had sex with a single woman was obliged to marry her Deut 22:28-9. He should have followed the usual marriage procedure. So he’s punished by having to pay a huge fine & marry her (which could be a major punishment if this was a foolish, spur-of-the-moment act and she really wasn’t the woman he wanted to marry). This isn’t some serial rapist – we may call it date-rape.

    If the man was unsuitable, the father could take the money (given to the woman) & refuse the marriage Ex 22:16-17. How many fathers would give their daughter to a rapist? Not many. So, in general, a rapist would actually have to pay the huge cost of a wedding, and not even get a wife (like paying maintenance today).

    Note: the woman did NOT have to marry the man/ rapist. In 2 Sam 13 Amnon raped Tamar. She wasn’t forced to marry him. But she seemed to have wanted to marry Amnon after the rape. Why? In that culture, virginity was highly prized. It was difficult to marry if not a virgin. It seems that Tamar would have rather married Amnon than be a single non-virgin. So forced marriage could be viewed as merciful to the woman, though strange to us today.

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