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Monday, October 8, 2012

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Many people denounce Deuteronomy 22 as an abhorrent example of the Old Testament law’s callousness toward rape victims. However, a closer examination of the context reveals the opposite.

This passage describes the two main locations in which an Israelite virgin might be sexually violated: in the village, or in a deserted area outside of the city. It is important to note the dramatically different approaches to the two.

If a woman was in the city, she was surrounded by men who would jump to her aid. This tells us something about how men and boys in Israel were trained—to guard women’s virtue and jump to their defense at any cost. Remember, this is a village setting in which there is no glass in windows, and in which the houses are small cottages built very close together (even sometimes sharing walls). A woman could be assumed to be within a few yards of help at any given moment. In addition, this law and the accompanying culture of male guardianship were to give a woman assurance that all she had to do was cry out, and someone would jump to her aid. Within this context, if she was silent, those in responsible positions would assume that she had willingly agreed to the act.

This is a dramatic contrast to the law regarding a woman being sexually violated in an isolated place. If there was a chance that no one would have heard her cries for help, she was to be automatically assumed innocent, and exempted from punishment. In contrast to many of the laws in those days, the Israelite law regarding sexual assault did not require witnesses to prove innocence.

Though it is difficult for us in our present culture to understand, many women (such as Tamar in II Samuel 13) would have preferred to marry their rapists rather than possibly to remain unmarried (and consequently barren) for life.

God is just, and He cares about every detail of our lives. Like many other rules in chapters in the Old Testament, this chapter evidences the character of the One who numbers the hairs of our heads. In the midst of the darkness of a culture that did not sufficiently value women as God’s creatures, and where men’s word was usually considered more authoritative than women’s, God defended women and commanded that they be protected and believed.

Nicole Parker
Southern Adventist University