Did Women Have to Marry Their Rapist Under Old Testament Law?

No. They didn't. You can all browse elsewhere now.

But for those inquisitive members of the species who simply must know more, welcome, and please enjoy the rest of this post.

Were women such as these forced to marry men who raped them?
One of the common criticisms levelled at the God whom Christians worship is that he is morally deficient in some way, and most often the ammunition for this claim is drawn from Old Testament texts. The brutality of life in the Ancient Near East is reflected in many of the stories we find in the Old Testament, and this leads some people to question the goodness of the God depicted in those events.

In particular I want to address the issue of whether or not the Hebrew law mandated that women who were raped should marry their rapists. There's really no way to dress this up; if a rape victim was forced by God's law to marry the man who violated them, this would be a horrific injustice. It would reflect very badly on God and strongly undermine the Christian claim that God's loving nature is the standard by which we judge the morality of human activities. A God who not only sanctions this law but demands it of his people is not a perfectly good God.

So where does this argument originate? What evidence do we have available to us to determine the truth of the claim that a woman had to marry their rapist under the Mosaic Law?

Critics appeal to Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (ESV).

“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father 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."

And on a plain reading of an English text, it would appear they have an argument, right? Well, not really. The key piece of evidence is not what the English translation says, but more crucially what the original Hebrew says, and what it means in context with the verses around it. In this case the original language gives us great confidence that God is not prescribing that a woman must marry a man who rapes her.

Starting from Deuteronomy 22:13, Moses writes a string of laws concerning sexual immorality: What to do if a man falsely claims that his new wife was not a virgin. What to do if a man commits adultery with a married or betrothed woman. And then we get to a law that is actually about rape.

Deuteronomy 22:25-27 says this:

“But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her."

This passage directly precedes our original verses, and gives us some really helpful clues about how to interpret them.

Firstly this passage describes a betrothed woman who is forcibly raped, and we know this because there have already been instructions for dealing with a betrothed woman who is committing wilful adultery in the previous passage. By contrast this section must be talking about a woman who is not giving consent. The harrowing image of her crying for help and the analogy to murder makes this certain.

Additional confirmatory evidence for this reading is found in the Hebrew verb chazaq, which is translated as "seizes" in the English, This is a strong verb that connotes a violent strength in laying hold of a woman forcibly. It is this word chazaq that tips us off to the realisation that verses 28 and 29 must not also be talking about the same kind of forceful action.

But before we take a look at those verses again, we should note that nothing in this passage reflects badly on God - here the law is protecting the victim from any consequence but condemning the rapist to death, which was the standard penalty for serious sexual misconduct during this period of time.

As we read earlier, verse 28 also has the English word "seizes" in the ESV translation, but this comes from an entirely different Hebrew verb, taphas. Compared with chazaq , the word taphas is generally a milder verb which literally means "to take in the hand" or wield, like someone handles a mug of coffee or picks up an instrument. Crucially, Moses could have repeated the stronger word chazaq if he wanted to in verse 28, and the fact that he chooses a much milder term indicates that rape is not in view anymore.

This is reflected in the entirely different consequences prescribed for each action. If you chazaq a woman and then sleep with her, you deserve to die. If you taphas a woman into bed, you'd better be prepared to marry her too and provide for her material needs responsibly.

Commentators down the years, aware of this difference in verbs, have referred to verses 28-29 as speaking about the seduction of an unbetrothed woman, rather than a rape. He takes her in his hand (taphas) and lies with her. Seduction is also implied in that the couple are "found" together, presumably caught in the act, the woman a willing participant. Nobody is crying for help in this illustration.

But verse 29 says the man must pay the woman's father because the woman has been "violated". Surely this suggests rape? Again, the Hebrew is our guide here.

The word translated as "violated" is 'anah, and it carries connotations of humbling someone or making them low. In the honour/shame culture of Mosaic Israel, a woman was not able to be married unless she was a virgin and brought not only shame upon her family but also potential ruin, if she lost her virginity outside of the safety net of marriage. Women were completely dependent on men for income, protection and provision in the Ancient Near East, meaning that sex outside of marriage had more than just moral repercussions. A woman who was not eligible for marriage was a survival burden to her parents, who would be forced to provide for her throughout the rest of her life. In difficult times this literally could jeopardise the well-being of her entire family.

Because the man who seduced her had humbled ('anah) her in the process and potentially ruined her chances of long-term stability and survival, the law protected the woman by forcing the man to meet his obligations and provide for her as husband. Laws like this had the benefit of discouraging men from using women for sex - there were serious strings attached.

And just in case the seducer was a slimy creep, the extended form of this law in Exodus 22:16-17 explains that the girl's father had the right to deny him his daughter in marriage, even though he was required to pay a bride-price for her. The family are financially protected from ruin, and crucially the woman is protected from a malicious deceiver.

Far from being laws that exploit women and force them to marry rapists, the laws in Deuteronomy 22 repeatedly protect women during an era of incredible vulnerability. Men who raped women received the death penalty, while rape victims were considered innocent (unlike in the honour-killings that still tragically happen in many parts of the world today). If a man seduced a woman and made her un-marriageable, it was his responsibility to provide for her as husband and to pay her family a bride-price.

It seems God may still be good after all.
Did Women Have to Marry Their Rapist Under Old Testament Law? Did Women Have to Marry Their Rapist Under Old Testament Law? Reviewed by Nathan on 11:41 PM Rating: 5

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