Honest Q & A: Bible (5) – Forced and/or Child Marriage?

Question:  Does the Bible teach that a girl can be forced to marry her rapist?

The question may seem to border on the bizarre, but it is not irrelevant.  Consider the case of Sherry Johnson of Florida who was married off at age 11, already a mom, and is now advocating for a minimum age for marriage to be set in the state.  A surprising number of states have no such law.  You can read about her case and her cause in a story by Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times.

Anna Parini - NYTimes

Anna Parini – NY Times

As a Christian of many years and a pastor to boot, what I find most disconcerting about the story is that many such cases point to religious factors (Conservative Christian, Ultra-orthodox Jewish) for these underage ties.  Allow me to add my $0.02 to the discussion and voice my support for Sherry’s cause.  Despite some initially uncomfortable verses in the Bible, which make good fodder for a skeptic’s objections to it, allow me to explain why I believe the believers in question are seriously misguided and the skeptics perhaps not-so-well informed.

For example, see Deuteronomy 22:28-29.  Here is what it says in the ESV.  

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 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.”

There are at least two issues behind a straightforward reading of these verses that can make or break our understanding.

  1. Whether or not we let other, especially nearby, biblical content inform us.
  2. Whether or not we allow traditional understandings and applications to be heard.

Question:  What does the nearby content say?

As to nearby biblical content, the verses directly preceding these deal with rape.   Here they are.  To summarize, a man guilty of rape should be put to death.  

25 “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. 26 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,27 because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

These words deal with a man who forces a woman “who is betrothed.”  The case of a married woman would be even more serious.  Rapists don’t get off easy with Moses; rape, biblically speaking, is a capital crime.  If someone wants to believe that a (not-betrothed) girl can be forced to marry her rapist, we have to ask ourselves why the sudden shift.  More on that in in a minute.  Let’s pause, take a deep breath, and absorb the fact that the Torah says a rapist should die.

Question:  What does traditional Judaism say about forced marriage generally, and why?

The aptly named website Judaism 101 is helpful here.  I will quote the applicable sentence.  “In all cases, the Talmud specifies that a woman can be acquired [for marriage] only with her consent, and not without it. Kiddushin 2a-b” (my underline).

Let’s go ahead and quote the reference from the Talmud while we’re at it.  “Alternatively, were it taught ‘he acquires.’ I might have thought, even against her will, hence It is stated ‘A WOMAN IS ACQUIRED,’ implying only with her consent, but not without(my underline).

The origin of this interpretation can be found on another helpful website entitled My Jewish Learning.  It goes back to the first-ever marriage proposal recorded in Scripture, that of Isaac, through his messenger, to Rebecca.  Again, allow me to quote.

“In the Jewish tradition, we take the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca as our paradigm. From this wedding come our customs of the veil, the blessing of the bride, and the halakhah (Jewish law) that a woman must be asked if she consents to the marriage” (my underline).

In the case of Rebecca and that initial, exemplary marriage proposal, In Genesis 24:57-60 (ESV), we read, 57 They said, “Let us call the young woman and ask her [literally, ‘and ask her mouth’]” 58 And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” 59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah …”

The very Orthodox Chabad.org likewise states, “The woman has the last, albeit silent, word at the wedding service. It is the man’s role to pursue, woo, and propose to her, but she must give positive willing consent to the proposal in order for the marriage to be legal.”

In support of this we may also cite the medieval rabbi Rashi (1040-1105), who, in his commentary on Genesis 24:57, says, “AND ASK HER MOUTH — From this we may infer that a woman should not be given in marriage except with her own consent.”

Let’s pause again, take another deep breath, and absorb the fact that the traditional Jewish perspective based on Torah, Talmud and no less an authoritative commentator than the acclaimed Rashi, agree that the consent of the young woman is a prerequisite to marriage.  If we don’t allow these ancient voices to inform our discussion, what we say or believe may seem rather arbitrary.  It would be like saying that people living thousands of miles and thousands of years distant from us know what we meant better than those who know us best.  That is kind of silly, really.

Back to Deuteronomy, with a now restated question.

Question:  If rape is a capital crime, and ancient Jewish sources on marriage very reasonably require the young woman’s consent, how does the victimized girl marrying him who victimized her even fit into the picture?

This requires a bit of conjecture, but at least now we are better equipped to, shall we say, conject?

First, let’s imagine a traditional, ancient, agrarian society in which people all knew one another fairly well.  We are not talking here about megacities; more likely villages or small towns with surrounding fields.  One day, boy meets girl, but in reality they were acquainted already.  They do not hate one another, and may even be mutually attracted.  He does something to her, possibly akin to what we would describe as date-rape today.  Her dad finds out.  

Moses or no Moses, Torah or no Torah, Talmud or no Talmud, he is irate.  Someone better call the elders of the village before he kills the boy himself.  At this point the girl is doubly traumatized.  First, there is the date-rape.  Now her father is ready to kill a boy she has never detested and may not detest even now.  She is angry with him to be sure, very angry, but not stone-him-in-the-public-square angry.  Her father may desire revenge for his damaged pride, but that would for her mean something like watching townspeople gather to gaze at the boy’s battered corpse.

What would it accomplish and what would become of her?  Starting over is hardly an option.  She lives in a small town.  Megacities re still thousands of years off.  She possibly know ten or twelves guys total that are prospective marriage partners and this one is not the worst.

If we reread the verses in Deuteronomy, they now look like less of an oddball requirement that simply injures the girl further.  They even seem like more of a solution which forces the boy to live up to his manhood before his family, friends and people of the village. Notice that almost every verb in the verses refers to the man:  “He did this, he must now do this, and may not do that.”  The girl is, in a sense, being protected.  The man raping her is a serious thing.  He is not allowed to believe he can think freely and easily about sexual relations as if they had no consequences.  She might not only give her consent, but feel a sense of satisfaction or relief that he was (pressured to be?) man enough to marry her.

Back to the sad story of Sherry Johnson.  Her cause is just and we don’t live in ancient, agrarian Israel.  Children have no business getting married.  The responsibilities are more than enough when we’re mature.  Rape is a serious crime.  And any religious group that thinks it is reasonable for a young girl to marry the rapist that got her pregnant needs to think twice and do some hermeneutical homework in the process.  It’s a dumb idea and can only be defended from the Bible by the most superficial kind of reasoning, bolstered by a superficial, though zealous, faith.  As Paul implies in Romans 10:2, zeal is good, but not without knowledge.

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The G8 Summit and the Bible

“There is urgent need of a true world political authority. .. to manage the global economy…”  – Pope Benedict XVI

OK, I’ll gladly admit something needs to be done.  Perhaps politicians should even be involved.  People expect them to find solutions after all.  Still, that quotation, coming as it does from the pope, sounds sounds like something from Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind.  If you check out the two articles below, you’ll see that Russia and China are echoing these pre-apocalyptic sentiments. 

Personally, I don’t think it’s really a question of being for or against global management of the economy or a global currency or whatever.  It’s more a question of keeping our eyes open.  It’s reassuring to know things are still on track, biblically or prophetically speaking.  Our faith should be focused on Jesus, and eagerly awaiting His return, rather than on political or economic solutions.  Human solutions probably need to be tried, may even work for a while, but they will ultimately fail now as they always have in the past.  Someday Jesus will set it all straight.

Here are those two articles:

Pope urges bold world economic reform before G8 summit

Russia, China to push global currency at G8 summit

“He [the False Prophet] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” – Revelation 13:16-17

Israel, Turkey and Iran

Those interested in Bible prophecy might be intrigued by an article in the Jerusalem Post from Thursday, February 19, 2009.   It points out a noticeable shift in political focus in Turkey, which has in the past been very western-leaning, but now has an Islamist-led government.

The connection with Bible prophecy is found in Ezekiel 38, where a coalition is formed to attack Israel led by “Rosh” (Russia), but including Persia (Iran) and Gomer (Turkey).  This coalition is destined to fail. 

For anyone wanting additional information or explanation about Ezekiel 38-39, I’m including a link to my own notes.  These were written in July of 2005, when we were studying Ezekiel at Horizon Central. 

Finally, there is also a link to a 2005 article from the Middle East Forum, expressing doubt as to whether Turkey can maintain its pro-western tilt.

Jerusalem Post Article

Ezekiel38-39.pdf

Article from Middle East Forum

Thanks to John Colón for pointing out the article in JPost.

Broken Britain?

An excerpt from Yahoo! News:

LONDON – Ahhh, Britain. The land of Shakespeare and the Beatles, Churchill and the Queen. Rolling green hills, groovy London shops, hip plaids splashed over raincoats and umbrellas.

Cut to the reality of 2009: the highest teen pregnancy rate in western Europe, a binge drinking culture that leaves drunk teens splayed out in the streets and rising knife crime that has turned some pub fights into deadly affairs.

Ahhh, Britain.

In the latest symbol of what some are calling “broken Britain,” 13-year-old Alfie and his 15-year-old girlfriend Chantelle became parents last week. The news sparked a flurry of handwringing from the media – and even ordinary folk admitted it didn’t help that Alfie barely looked 10, let alone 13, as he cradled his newborn daughter.

Alfie’s father, who reportedly has nine or 10 children of his own, gamely promised to have a “birds and the bees” chat with his son to prevent him from producing a second child before he grows facial hair.

Somehow that was not reassuring.

Read full article

I agree that this article describes a sad situation.  What I’m wondering is why everyone else agrees.  After all, if values are based on individual choice and survival of the fittest is what’s best for the race, then maybe we should just accept as normal and fine all that is taking place. 

“If Alfie is able to pass on his genes early on in life, good for him.”

“If binge drinkers die early from liver disease or knife fights, they are only confirming their own inadequacy for survival. ”

Again, I don’t agree with the opinions I just expressed.  It could be that good and evil, or right and wrong, exist in reality and not just in our minds or opinions.  Perhaps all can and should agree that what is happening in British society (and some other places too, of course) is bad, wrong, and ought to be somehow changed.

Killed in a Stampede at Wal-Mart? You’ve Got To Be Kidding.

No doubt there is a lot that could be said about the following event, but at the moment I don’t even know how to begin.  Check out the links to view the article at a local news website.

Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede

BY JOE GOULD, CLARE TRAPASSO and RICH SCHAPIRO
DAILY NEWS WRITERS
Updated Friday, November 28th 2008, 10:46 PM

A Wal-Mart worker died early Friday after an “out-of-control” mob of frenzied shoppers smashed through the Long Island store’s front doors and trampled him, police said.
The Black Friday stampede plunged the Valley Stream outlet into chaos, knocking several employees to the ground and sending others scurrying atop vending machines to avoid the horde.
When the madness ended, 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour was dead and four shoppers, including a woman eight months pregnant, were injured. …

To view the complete article at the NY Daily News Click Here
For the live pics of the event on their website Click Here