Would you join a religion that permitted men to have sex with the women they captured in war? What if this religion codified this behavior in its holy book?
In a raid last spring on ISIS in Syria, a document was uncovered which outlines 15 points related to the keeping and raping of women captives.
The document, released to the public in the fall of 2015, had the authority of a “fatwa.” Do you have a question about a moral/religious issue? Is the teaching unclear? Call a religious expert who will give you a legal ruling – a “fatwa” – on the issue.
It’s Fatwa 64. You can read it here. A theology of rape.
Disturbing. Disgusting. Sickening. Shocking.
It is so repulsive I won’t put it in print.
Here’s my dilemma. There are in print, in another holy book, guidelines for the treatment of women captured in battle.
“When the LORD your God lets you capture the city, kill every man in it. You may however, take for yourselves the women, the children, the livestock, and everything else in the city. You may use everything that belongs to your enemies. The LORD has given it to you. That is how you are to deal with those cities that are far away from the land you will settle in. But when you capture cities in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, kill them all. Completely destroy all the people…” (Deuteronomy 20:10-16).
“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, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 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. 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” (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). I underlined “humbled” because the same Hebrew word is used in Judges 20:5 where it is translated “rape.”
“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept a man” (Numbers 31:17-18).
So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses. The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkey and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man” (Numbers 31:30-31, 35). Like the animals, the virgins are property to be divvied up.
In keeping with the guidelines set before them, it is recorded that the Israelites, to make up for a deficit of women in the Hebrew tribe of Benjamin,
“sent 12,000 fighting men with instructions to go to Jabesh Gilead and put to the sword those living there, including the women and children. ‘This is what you are to do,’ they said. ‘Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin.’ They found among the people living in Jabesh Gilead 400 young women who had never slept with a man, and they took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan…So the Benjamites returned at that time and were given the women of Jabesh Gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all of them” (Judges 21:10-14).
Not enough women for all of them? What to do? What to do?
“So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, ‘Go and hide in the vineyards and watch. When the young women of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you seize one of them to be your wife’” (Judges 21:20-21).
Well, at least this time, they only took the virgin girls without slaughtering everyone else.
Do you have the same dilemma as I?
We rightfully condemn Fatwa 64. So, what do we do with these guidelines and accounts found in the Christian’s holy book, the Bible?
Despite what some may think, I’m not trying to undermine the Bible or mess with anyone’s faith.
But, is it fair to think that anyone who is a serious student of Scripture has to face these passages and the issues they raise head on?
Isn’t it our Christian responsibility to take this on and not avoid it.
Since the Constitution demands that “no religious test ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust…” I’m not going to give a test. But I did learn a couple of lessons from a test given to Trump.
Candidate Trump was asked what his favorite Bible verse was after he said it was his favorite book.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to get into it, because to me that’s very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible, it’s very personal, so I don’t want to get into verses.”
“There’s no verse that means a lot to you?” the questioner asked.
“The Bible means a lot to me, but I don’t want to get into specifics,” Trump answered.
Another question: “Are you an Old Testament or a New Testament guy?”
“Probably equal,” Trump said. “I think it’s just an incredible, the whole Bible is an incredible-“ Trump then trailed off for a brief second before joking that the Bible is his favorite book while his book, “The Art of the Deal” comes in second.
But, we do need to get into “specifics.”
We need to carefully, diligently analyze the Bible – both Old and New Testaments – to understand and determine how we’d answer the question: “Are you an Old Testament or a New Testament guy?”
There is disagreement, obviously, on how this issue should be handled. But maybe we can all agree on this: “…whoever claims to belong to him, must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).
Interesting post. It deserves a response. I will deal with it generally now and I will try to engage with the specific Scripture passages that you cited tomorrow (if you will let my comments post!).
It was really interesting that you quoted 1 John 2:6. “We must live as Jesus did.” I do think that this verse points to the Crux of what you are talking about.
The question isn’t whether we are an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy. The question is this: was Jesus an Old Testament guy? And, if He was, then we must live as Jesus did.
The Gospels are very clear that Jesus is an Old Testament guy (unless, of course, you want to pick and choose which parts of the Gospels you believe). Let me show you.
Jesus quoted the Old Testament as God’s Word, including, funnily enough, Deuteronomy which you quote as well (Matthew 4:1-10, Mark 7:6-8, Mark 12:26).
Jesus thought that the very words (and tenses of words) in the Old Testament had authority (Luke 20:34-38, Luke 20:41-44)
Jesus thought the the Old Testament was historically accurate (Matthew 19:4-5, Matthew 24:37-39, Luke 11:29-32, John 6:31).
Jesus taught that the Old Testament was authoritative for His followers (Matthew 5:17-20, Mark 10:17-19, Luke 16:17).
Jesus taught that the Old Testament pointed to Him accurately (Luke 24:25-27, John 5:39-47).
Jesus thought that the Old Testament was infallible (unfailing in what it intended to do) (Luke 24:44, Matthew 5:17).
I could go on, but I think that is enough for now. The Gospels are clear that Jesus thought, “What Scripture says, God says.” And, of course, you know that Scripture for Jesus was the Old Testament.
Now, we are at the bottom of it. The question is whether or not you are Jesus guy. If you are a Jesus guy, you must be an Old Testament guy, because Jesus thought, taught, and lived that the Old Testament is the Word of God.
So, question, Phillip, are you a Jesus guy? Or, to be more scriptural, are you willing to treat the Old Testament as Jesus did?
You are right that “it is our Christian responsibility to take this on and not avoid it.” And, I commend your willingness to deal with the “specifics” of the Bible, so I am sure that you won’t mind engaging with each of the texts that you quoted.
Let’s look at Deuteronomy first:
10 “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. 11 And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. 12 But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 And when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, 14 but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, (Deut. 20:10-16)
10 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her. (Deut. 21:10-14)
I have several thoughts.
– The Fatwa that you link to is a general declaration of sexual rights over captives. Nothing in the first passage is general. Surprisingly, you left off verse 17 which clearly states that this is God’s prescribed judgment for a specific group of people. And, we will see that it has nothing to do with sexual rights.
– I am sure that you recognize that the second set of verses explains the first. What does it mean for the women to be taken in these cities? Deuteronomy 21 explains.
– If you took any classes about Ancient Near Eastern history you would know that Deuteronomy 21 is an incredibly humane way of dealing with women who have been captured in combat. This is the process that Moses outlines. A woman is captured in a battle (vs. 10). If a man wants that woman to be his wife, he is to let her into his house, not as a slave but as a mourner. Indeed the shaving of the head and paring of the nails is typical Israelite actions of mourning (vs. 11-12). The woman is to be given a month to emotionally recover and to mourn (vs. 13a). After that month, if the man pleases, he can marry her and at that point have sex with her (vs.13b). If after that month (in which he has not had sex with the woman), the man does not want to marry, he is to set her free as a normal member of Israelite society (vs. 14). There is no slavery or rape here.
– The words humble/humiliated comes from the Hebrew Word ‘anah. It is translated “raped” once in Judges 20. But, you fail to mention that 38 other times in the Old Testament ‘anah simply means general affliction (including the sort of mourning a captor might experience). And, all 7 other times in Deuteronomy it is translated humble/humbled.
Now, the Numbers passage:
30 And from the people of Israel’s half you shall take one drawn out of every fifty, of the people, of the oxen, of the donkeys, and of the flocks, of all the cattle, and give them to the Levites who keep guard over the tabernacle of the Lord.” 31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses. 32 Now the plunder remaining of the spoil that the army took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys, 35 and 32,000 persons in all, women who had not known man by lying with him. (Number 31:30-35)
Only one thought:
– What is going to happen to those captured? If there was a man who wanted to marry them, then the humane treatment of Deuteronomy 21 was going to happen. If there was not a man, they were to be incorporated into Israelite society. Interestingly, they were to be under the care of the Levites where they would have greatest opportunity to be exposed to the grace of the Israelite God (who is also the God of Jesus and the New Testament).
Alright last one, the Judges passage:
10 So the congregation sent 12,000 of their bravest men there and commanded them, “Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword; also the women and the little ones. 11 This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction.” 12 And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man by lying with him, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. 13 Then the whole congregation sent word to the people of Benjamin who were at the rock of Rimmon and proclaimed peace to them. 14 And Benjamin returned at that time. And they gave them the women whom they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead, but they were not enough for them. (Judges 21:10-14)
20 And they commanded the people of Benjamin, saying, “Go and lie in ambush in the vineyards 21 and watch. If the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and snatch each man his wife from the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. (Judges 21:20-21)
These are the easiest passages to deal with even though the events they describe are horrible:
– Phillip, I am sure that you will remember from an intro Biblical Interpretation class that narratives are descriptive not prescriptive. What that means is that narratives (especially Old Testament narratives) tell us what happened and leave us to determine what should have happened. Just because Benjamin did this, it emphatically does not mean that they should have or that God endorsed it.
– If you ever do a study in Judges (and I would recommend it), the story line is about Israel descending into greater and greater levels of depravity (which God was certainly not pleased with). It is not surprising that such a disgusting example of depravity should happen at the end of Judges.
The people may have been following the directions given in Deuteronomy for what to do. But, do you remember that verse 17 that you left off the passage in Deuteronomy 20. That verse tells them who they should conquer like that. Jabesh Gilead is not one of the places to be conquered as God prescribed in Deuteronomy 20.
– Verses 20 and 21 are a clear infraction of Deuteronomy 21:10-14.
I hope this helps in the specifics. I’m not quite sure how you missed some of this as you were preparing your blog.
Thank you so much for such clear teaching in your response to this blog. We should all be better students of the Bible. I must say it is refreshing to see this response for I do not need my faith shaken but built up. Unfortunately most times I visit this blog I find myself questioning my beliefs but always have managed to find my way to truth again thru Bible study and prayer. GOD BLESS YOU whoever you are.
It’s been a busy two weeks so I’m late getting back with you. I’ll respond to your second “comment” first.
The passages I chose present an ethic which is disturbing to our Christian, even our human sensibilities. Many Christians are critical of the violence they see in other religions, especially Islam but there’s a cognitive dissonance if we are appalled by the violence does in the name of one religion but not by the violence done in the name or our own.
Deut. 20:10-17 – Yes, you included verse 17 – I didn’t include verse 17 because it didn’t specifically relate to the treatment of women.
This passage deals with with how Israel was to deal with towns outside of Canaan and Canaanite towns. Terms of peace are offered the towns outside of Canaan, terms of slavery. If the slavery option is off the table, the Israelites are to kill the men “but take as your booty the women, the children, livestock and everything else in the town, all its spoil. They were told to enjoy the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you”
Do you agree with that ethic? What do you think it means to “enjoy” the women as “spoils?”
Deut. 20:16-17 addresses the approach to the towns within Canaan – a repeat of Deut 7:1-2.
“You must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them…. show them no mercy (7:2).”
The reason for such harsh treatment is to eliminate any negative influences.
That seems more like the ethic of ISIS than of Jesus.
Yes, I am well aware that the ethic of this passage is an improvement over the ethic of other cultures.
But, just because it’s not as bad as what others were doing, was it still right? Is it an ethic for us today?
“…and you see a beautiful woman and you desire to take her to be your wife…”
“…nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.”
What happens to the not so beautiful women?
What do the men really have in mind?
The text admits that the action was a humiliation to the woman. How can that be a good thing?
anah – the translation of the word depends on the version of the Bible you are using.
Gen. 15:13 …and they shall afflict (anah)them for 400 years.
Gen. 16:6 … And when Sarai dealt harshly (anah) with her, she fled from her face.
Ex. 1:11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict (anah) them….
Deut. 26:6 And the Egyptians…afflicted (anah) us, and laid upon us hard bondage.
Whatever English word you use to translate anah, the experience is not a positive one. It does not express the spirit of Christ.
Numbers 31:30-35 –
The main point of using this passage was to demonstrate that in this ethic, women were seen as property, along with the cattle, donkeys and sheep.
That’s bad enough, but the rest of the chapter is worse:
31:17 – “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.”
What the Israelites do here is uncomfortably close to genocide. The only ones spared are the virgin girls who are to be “kept alive for yourselves”
Yes, Deut. 21 may be the prescribed treatment of these young girls who are taken captive but is that really the treatment that you would want for your daughter or sister?
Yes, I understand the principle of “descriptive vs prescriptive.” Yet, the behavior they practiced was an outgrowth of what had been prescribed.
Atrocities in more recent history have been justified by Biblical examples:
Capt. John Underhill led New England settlers to massacre “700 elderly men and defenseless women and children” of the Pequot tribe in 1637. He justified the slaughter by appealing to David’s war with the Ammonites in 2 Samuel 12. He wrote, “Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents.”
You can see here how the Biblical teaching on slaves was used to justify the atrocity of slavery in the U.S..
At the end, you refer to Deut. 20:17 “that I left off” saying “that verse tells them who they should conquer like that,” and that “Jabesh Gilead is not one of the places to be conquered as God prescribed in Deut. 20.”
“You shall annihilate them…” are the instructions – applying even to children.
Are you ok with that?
How do you see that fitting with the ethic of Jesus?
Thanks, Phillip, for your response. I am interested in why you are so insistent on reading the worst possible interpretation into these texts. From the outside, it seems that you are trying to discredit the authority of the Old Testament for our lives. This is funny, because when the church split happened, you were insistent that you thought the entire Bible was trustworthy. I wonder if that has changed or if you weren’t fully honest during the split. Maybe you will address this in your response to the first post.
I appreciate your full reply. I will try to address what you brought up because it still seems like you are missing some things.
“The passages I chose present an ethic which is disturbing to our Christian, even our human sensibilities.” No, they don’t present an ethic. I addressed this in my response above. They present an authorized action by the nation of Israel for a very specific time against a very specific group of people. That is what verse 17 is about.
“Do you agree with that ethic?” No, I don’t agree with that ethic for us because we are not the nation of Israel conquering the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, etc. in the 15th century BC, which is what the passage is talking about, nor are we the nation of Israel offering peace and then being attacked. If you mean do I agree generally, yes, I do agree that the God who created everything can use His people to execute His judgment on groups of people who according to verse 18 (which you also left off) had spent their lives in rebellion and sin against Him and in trying to seduce God’s people to stop following Him. He is the Creator after all.
“What do you think it means to “enjoy” the women as “spoils?”” Now, Phillip, I am happy to have a conversation with you, but you shouldn’t be misleading. The Hebrew word that you translate as enjoy is “akal.” “Akal” means to eat. Many translations render it “use.” Now, unless you think that the Israelites were committing cannibalism, I think we can assume that Akal is referring to the animals taken as spoil.
“But, just because it’s not as bad as what others were doing, was it still right? Is it an ethic for us today?” If there is a conquered woman whom you want to be your wife and you take her into the house let her mourn for a period of time and then ask her to be your wife, I would say that would still be a valid action. That being said, every orthodox Christian writer would note that this specific law refers to Israel’s civil actions and sense God’s people are no longer the civil state of Israel they are not binding. I am assuming that you are aware of the distinction between civil, ceremonial, and moral law. That would be in an intro level Old Testament class in seminary.
“What happens to the not so beautiful women?” They become servants to God’s covenant people, enjoying the blessing that God would pour out on his people and having an opportunity to hear about and worship the one true God.
“What do the men really have in mind?” Of course, you know that assuming intent into texts is a hermeneutical fallacy.
“The text admits that the action was a humiliation to the woman. How can that be a good thing?” Nobody said it was a good thing, these women were a part of conquered peoples and experienced the devastation of war. But, they did not experience rape according to these texts.
“Whatever English word you use to translate anah, the experience is not a positive one.” See above. Of course, it was not positive
“It does not express the spirit of Christ.” I am not quite sure what you mean by this. It is most often used to describe a vague, 21st century understanding of “love” that is then read back into the New Testament. And, passages that support this vague understanding of love are ripped out of context in “support.” While other passages are ignored. I will assume that’s not what you mean by the “spirit of Christ.” You could say that the Pharisees experienced “anah” (affliction) from Jesus and it was not a positive experience.
“women were seen as property, along with the cattle, donkeys and sheep.” The text clearly distinguishes between the treatment of women and of animals. You will also note that there is no Deuteronomy 21 type passage for the cattle or the sheep. Why? Because they were treated differently.
“Yes, Deut. 21 may be the prescribed treatment of these young girls who are taken captive but is that really the treatment that you would want for your daughter or sister?” If my sister was captured by the covenant people of the one true God, given an opportunity to mourn, and then given the opportunity to marry one of her captors protecting her socially and economically, then, yes, this would be good treatment.
“Yet, the behavior they practiced was an outgrowth of what had been prescribed.” The actions in Judges were a deliberate misinterpretation of what had been prescribed.
“Atrocities in more recent history have been justified by Biblical examples.” If you ever took an intro to logic class, you would know what a “red herring” is. A red herring is a logical fallacy that misleads or distracts from the relevant issues. These historical examples are a classic “red herring.” These historical examples are tragedies, to be sure. But, they are tragedies that flow from a misinterpretation of the texts we have been talking about.
“How do you see that fitting with the ethic of Jesus?” It fits with Jesus understanding of the Old Testament. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy extensively. Jesus quotes Deteronomy as authoritative. And, he quotes Deuteronomy as Scripture. The question isn’t whether or not I think these passages are hard. I do think they are hard. The question is, “am I willing to to treat Deuteronomy and the Old Testament as Jesus treated them?”
The “Way of Jesus” (haven’t you been preaching about that) is based on an authoritative, infallible Old Testament Scriptures. You can try to make it just about the Golden Rule, but the Gospels won’t let you do that.