mosaic sex laws

In Deuteronomy 22 we find the primary Mosaic laws on adultery, rape and consensual sex. The first scenario that is presented is a man marrying a woman. The issue at stake is if she advertised herself as a virgin and if she was really a virgin:

Deu 22:13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her,
Deu 22:14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’
Deu 22:15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate.
Deu 22:16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her.
Deu 22:17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
Deu 22:18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him;
Deu 22:19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.

In the first conditional, a man just hates his wife for any reason. The man understands that he can get out of the marriage by claiming she was falsely married to him as a virgin. The man claims this is the case. To retort, the parents advocate for their daughter, producing evidence of her virginity (the bloody marital night sheets). The man then is punished and has to pay a fine. The man also loses divorce rights.

But if the woman is indeed not a virgin, then she has defrauded her husband and is put to death.

Deu 22:20 “But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman,
Deu 22:21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you.

In Israel, it was extremely important not to falsely advertise your daughter as a virgin to her betrothed. Any de-virgining of a betrothed woman was akin to adultery (as the text later states). The punishment for any adultery was death. The text continues:

Deu 22:22 “If a man is found lying with a woman married to a husband, then both of them shall die—the man that lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall put away the evil from Israel.

This explicitly bans adultery. Both the woman and the man are stoned together (despite the myth that only the woman was to be punished). In this case, a man (married or unmarried) was having consensual sex with a married woman. This text does not seem to cover married (or unmarried) men having sex with unmarried women (like Abraham and Hagar (Gen 16:4)). That activity seems not to have been a crime or sin.

The text goes on to extend adultery to cover betrothed women as well:

Deu 22:23 “If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her,
Deu 22:24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.

The text makes clear that the two individuals have sex in a city. Because there were plenty of potential witnesses the woman could not claim she was raped. The woman would have had ample opportunity to stop the rape before or while it was occurring.

What this text is hedging against is two adulterers found in adultery, and the woman trying to escape judgment by claiming she was raped. If she had ample opportunity to expose the rape, she cannot claim rape unless her claim was reasonable. The text explains what claims would be reasonable:

Deu 22:25 “But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die.
Deu 22:26 But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death, for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter.
Deu 22:27 For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.

In these verses, a man finds a woman in a field. This location distinction is important because previously the text talked about a married woman being raped in a populated city. If she did not cry out to attempt to get help then it was assumed that she was performing consensual sex. In a deserted field or warehouse or park, a woman had no opportunity to expose the rape. Her claim should be believed. The implication is that only the man (the rapist) would be put to death.

As in any good court of law, the Mosaic Law deals with evidence. If a woman’s claim is probable, it is to be believed. If a woman’s claim is improbable, then it is to be discarded. Innocent women are not to be put to death. Rapists and adulterers will always be put to death.

But then there is a case of consensual sex (where the woman is unmarried and unbetrothed):

Deu 22:28 “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out,
Deu 22:29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.

This text is contrasted to the rape in the previous verses. The “finding”, “seizing”, and “lying” are steps in the consensual sex, not the violent forcible rape in verse 25. If these young people are found out, they are to be married. It is best for the woman if this happens, because if she does not make this known then she might be executed for adultery if she then tried to marry under false pretenses. Because this premarital sex was done in secret, the man loses all rights to divorce.

Interestingly enough, the father could always reject the suitor. From Exodus:

Exo 22:16 “If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife.
Exo 22:17 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.

This admission disallowed suave, undesirable men from just seducing their ways into families. The father could overrule a match. Presumably, then he could advertise his daughter as a non-virgin for marriage.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Jewish History, Morality, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to mosaic sex laws

  1. A married man having sex with an unmarried woman is an adulterer. All the rest of the text is good. :-)

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