Recently, and with good cause, the issue of rape and what its occurrence in a society says about the culture's attitude towards women, has been in the news, and not just in India.
During the last election campaign in the USA rape also became an issue when one candidate proclaimed, with no scientific evidence to support him, that women won't get pregnant if 'legitimately' raped. One wonders what sort of mindset can conclude that there is any sense in which rape can be legitimate, and that pregnancy as a result of rape is evidence that it was consensual sex, or that the victim was complicit in some way.
But the USA is a nation still steeped in the primitive superstitions to be found in the Christian Bible, together with its tacit acceptance, if not approval, of rape as an instrument of female repression and subjugation, so is it surprising to find men who think rape can be legitimate and that women are somehow to blame for being raped?
If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.
Aparently, 50 shekels was about 570 grams which would fetch about $554 in today's money. It also raises the question about what would happen if they were not found. Presumably, the man gets away with it.
Not so for his victim however:
If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you. [My emphasis]
So a victim of rape whose rapist hasn't been caught, will be stoned to death if her father tries to marry her off. Strangely, there seems to be no recourse to law for the victim unless the rapist is caught in flagrante delicto, but then when did mere property have any rights? (I wonder which gender thought up these laws.)
Immediately after this we see the 'punish the victim because she must have been complicit' principle, as though forcing a woman to marry her rapist isn't bad enough.
If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her;
Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you.
Rape, so it seems, was taken for granted in Old Testament times, and the god of those times saw nothing wrong with it. Or if there was anything wrong with it, it was an offence against the property of a father or a husband because it devalued the goods. Just as property was legitimate war-booty, so were women. Indeed, they were one and the same thing, but the virgins carried a higher value.
Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.
And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.
Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.
|The Tribe of Benjamin Seizing the Daughter of Shiloh |
John Everett Millais, 1848
As though these examples weren't bad enough, the Old Testament holds yet another horror. It is perfectly okay for men to go out and gang-rape virgins as a quick and easy way to get new wives:
And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children. And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.
And they found among the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead four hundred young virgins, that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. And the whole congregation sent some to speak to the children of Benjamin that were in the rock Rimmon, and to call peaceably unto them.
And Benjamin came again at that time; and they gave them wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabeshgilead: and yet so they sufficed them not. And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the Lord had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.
Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin? And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel. Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the children of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.
Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the Lord in Shiloh yearly in a place which is on the north side of Bethel, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah. Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards; And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.
And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes: because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty.
And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them. And the children of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance.
And of course these were the very laws which Jesus was referring to when he said:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
But surely rape is condemned somewhere in the New Testament? Doesn't Paul have anything to say about it? Not a bit of it. Rape is never mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. Neither Jesus nor Paul, nor any of those who compiled the 'Gospels' and spun the developing myths to suit their own political ambitions; not one of those who subsequently edited them and forged the 'epistles' nor those who finally compiled selected 'books' and letters into the Bible we have today saw fit to include any mention, let alone condemnation, of rape. I wonder how many of them were men.
So it's hardly surprising that people who hold this book to be their source of morality and something to look up right and wrong in can come out with terms like 'legitimate rape'. The astonishing thing is that there are still societies in which these people are held in sufficient esteem that they can even think of standing for public office, let alone being elected to it.
Thankfully, most of the civilised world now sees this book in much the same light as they see other books of origin myths and folk tales - an interesting account of how we lived before we knew any better in the infancy of our species when belief in magic and the mind-numbing fear of malignant invisible thugs in the sky gripped mankind.
If the Bible has any use nowadays it is as something to compare the way we live today with how things used to be in more primitive times, and so be thankful to the brave scientists and philosophers who thought there must be a better way and who risked the wrath of vested interests in the clergy and helped create a modern, society based on humanitarian, humanist egalitarian ideas and not the primitive barbarism which gods were invented to justify.