Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Women in the Torah

We continue our series on "How Jesus Liberates Women."  We are presently going through the Old Testament, to see how the Jewish tradition saw females.  The first post on the Old Testament analyzed 23 passages in the Book of Genesis involving women.  We found a wealth of fascinating stories, beginning with the creation of woman ("bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh"), the calling of Abraham and his wife Sarah, the love story between Isaac and Rebekah, sordid affairs and treachery of many kinds, polygamy, and then the final heroic figure of Joseph, the one man in the family who seemed to manage his love life reasonably well.  The overall impression, on my mind at least, is that women are no less heroic and no less involved in the establishment of God's kingdom in this world than men.  Indeed, while a few women so far are villains, and most are as flawed as the men, many are portrayed with sympathy.  I would say overall, the women come across better than the men, if one must make comparisons.  And they are no wall flowers.

We now look at the four other books of the Pentateuch.  About half of this material consists of stories, like Genesis, while the other half consists of laws and moral imprecations.  A total of 42 passages are cited and briefly analyzed in this post.  


(24) Gender Discrimination in Egypt

Exodus 1.15-22:   “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”   The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.   Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”  The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”   So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.   And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.  Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

In ancient Egypt, unlike modern Egypt (or India or China) gender discrimination and selection worked against Jewish men.   Jewish women thus play a heroic role in protecting young boys from a draconic (but perfectly understandable, given Survival of the Fittest) genocidal program.  This is a rare instance in the Bible in which a whole category of people - the midwives -- act with such heroism. 

(25)  Moses is Saved

Image result for moses in nileExodus 2: 1-10:  "Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman,  and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.   But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.   His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.  Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it.   She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.  Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.   Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.  When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, 'I drew him out of the water.”'

All the heroes in this story are female.  The mother takes the initiative to protect her son.  (What is the father doing?)  She then puts him in a little basket and sets him adrift on the Nile to try to save him, sending her daughter to watch.  An Egyptian woman then acts out of compassion to not only save Moses, but to raise him as a leader in the land.  (While his sister cleverly brings Mom back into the picture as nurse-maid.) 

(26) 2.16-21:  "Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock.   Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock."  They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds. He even drew water for us and watered the flock.” “And where is he?” Reuel asked his daughters. “Why did you leave him? Invite him to have something to eat.”  Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.

Having been saved by three women, naturally enough, Moses is kind to women, saving them from being bullied at the public well.  One of them becomes Moses' wife. 

(27)  Plundering Egypt

3.22:  "Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.'”

The only acts of kindness between Egyptians and Jews involves sharing between women. 

(28) Zipporah saves her husband. 

4. 21-25: "The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.  Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.”  But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’   At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him.   But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it.  “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said.   So the Lord let him alone."

This is a very odd story, but it points to an under-appreciated fact. 

The "Angel of the Lord" is going, ultimately, too kill the first-born of Egypt.  Some verses seem to imply this means sons.  It is a fact, unfortunate for boys, that nations often seem them as more expendable than their sisters -- which is one reason (the other, of course, is talent!) that men usually fight a nation's wars.  They fight to protect their women and the children whom those women bear and raise.  

This story then represents a weighty form of "reverse discrimination" that it would be foolish and unfair to overlook.  Men are usually selected, throughout the Bible, for the most dangerous tasks, and die by the millions in performance of those tasks.  True, there is risk for the women. 

Sons were also being killed discriminatorily by the Egyptians -- a sin for which it was the Egyptians' fate to suffer consequences. 

The assumption of this story, which Zipporah and God share, is that blood pays for life.  It is an ancient and widespread idea, which merits more consideration than many moderns are willing to give it - an important notion in the national histories of countries like modern China, and in psychology, as I have pointed out in print. 

On a simpler level, this is yet another story of a heroine in the Bible, four out of the first five in Exodus.  Zipporah figures out what needs to be done before her husband, and gets it done.   

(29) 13.8:  "On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’"

"Fathers" and "sons" often represent the nation.  Though since the Exodus represented the salvation of Jewish men in particular, rites like circumcision and the Passover represented a taste of what the sons were being saved from in being liberated, and therefore acted performances aiding them in remembering. 

In the prophets, as we shall see however, nations are often represented as female. 

(30)  A female prophet

15. 20-21: "Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing.  Miriam sang to them:

'Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. / Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.'”

So aside from (perhaps, if she was the same sister) saving her brother Moses in the basket, Miriam was both a singer and a "prophet."  She is also named on a level with Moses and Aaron by one of the prophets, as we shall see. 

(31) Statutes

20.12, 17: "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you . . . You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."

The first commandment "with a promise," as Jesus put it, is also the first among the Ten Commandments directed at how we should "love our neighbors as ourselves."  We should love all our neighbors, but begin with our own parents, both father and mother. 

True, the reader is assumed to be male.  (A fairly safe assumption, since men were far more likely to be literate.)  No reasonable person would fail to understand that a woman is also commanded not to covet her neighbor's husband, however: the moral responsibility of women is a frequent assumption of the Old Testament. 

(32)  On Manumitting a Man

21.4: "If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free."

This may be the first really difficult verse in the Bible on women.   Free a male slave, but keep his wife and children!  Perhaps being free, presumably he'll be in a position to buy the freedom of his family, if he works hard.  

But it is not my purpose to sugar-coat Scriptures here, merely to fairly consider what they say in context and in full.  Tough verses also need to go into the mix.

(33)  On Female Slaves

21. 7-11: “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do.   If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her.  If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter.   If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights.  If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money."

The assumption seems to be that a man has contracted for a wife or concubine.  The law seems to be protecting her from being simply released after serving as his sex toy for a time.  He can't sell her down the river (or to the river), and she deserves her social and physical rights, or let her go. 

In a time in which starvation was common, this "last resort" of selling yourself as a servant to another probably saved many lives.  In our vastly richer times, it may seem simply and crudely immoral. I suspect that is unfair to the ancients.  Note that verse 16 sets the penalty for "kidnapping" (which can mean slave-trading, can it not?) as death. 

(34)  21. 15, 17: “Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death . . . Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death."

Father or mother.  One may wonder how this might apply to the children of abusive parents.  But there is no gender discrimination.

(35) Compensating Slaves for Injury

21. 22-28: "If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely, but if there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows.  But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,  burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye.  And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth."

(36) 22. 16-17: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife.   If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins."

Illegitimate birth would have been an even more tremendous burden on ancient mothers than on mothers in an age of washing machines, cars, and welfare checks.  This law is an act of compassion, as one may say about (35). 

(37) 22.22-24: “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.  If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.  My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless."

This is the first of many verses in both parts of the Bible emphasizing the need to treat widows kindly, and the sin of oppressing them.  A highly practical issue in a society where subsistence agriculture was the norm. 

(38) 28.1: "Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, so they may serve me as priests."

Aside from serving as warriors, men are also called exclusively to serve as priests. 

(39) Women Donating

35.22-29: "All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments. They all presented their gold as a wave offering to the Lord . . . Every skilled woman spun with her hands and brought what she had spun—blue, purple or scarlet yarn or fine linen.  And all the women who were willing and had the skill spun the goat hair . . . All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do."

Jewish women are depicted here as voluntary and willing participants in the worship of the Lord through skilled crafts. 


(40) 6.18: The males among Aaron's offspring are allowed to eat food offerings including (29) the sin offering. 

8.30: "Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood from the altar and sprinkled them on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments. So he consecrated Aaron and his garments and his sons and their garments."

Priestly roles, then, are reserved to the male line beginning with Aaron's sons. 

(41) 10.14: "But you and your sons and your daughters may eat the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. Eat them in a ceremonially clean place; they have been given to you and your children as your share of the Israelites’ fellowship offerings."

Ceremonial Cleanliness, Female and Male

12.1-6: "The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period.  On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.  Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.  If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.  “‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering."

15.16-29: ‘When a man has an emission of semen, he must bathe his whole body with water, and he will be unclean till evening.  Any clothing or leather that has semen on it must be washed with water, and it will be unclean till evening.   When a man has sexual relations with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both of them must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.  “‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. “‘Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean.   Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.  Anyone who touches anything she sits on will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.  Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, they will be unclean till evening.  “‘If a man has sexual relations with her and her monthly flow touches him, he will be unclean for seven days; any bed he lies on will be unclean. “‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period.  Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period.   Anyone who touches them will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.  “‘When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count off seven days, and after that she will be ceremonially clean.   On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting.   The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the Lord for the uncleanness of her discharge."

Sexual Sins

18.6-20: “‘No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord.
“‘Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.
 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.
 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter; that would dishonor you.
“‘Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father’s wife, born to your father; she is your sister.
 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your father’s sister; she is your father’s close relative.
“‘Do not have sexual relations with your mother’s sister, because she is your mother’s close relative.
“‘Do not dishonor your father’s brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt.
“‘Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son’s wife; do not have relations with her.
 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your brother.
“‘Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness.
“‘Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.
“‘Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.
“‘Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor’s wife and defile yourself with her."

In the age of Peter Singer, unfortunately some people feel that laws against incest and (following) beastiality need to be defended.  I don't.

Note the command not to marry both sisters and make them rivals to one another.   Recall that is what happened to Jacob's wives.  This reminds one of the command not to cook an animal in its mother's milk: the Jewish people are being commanded to avoid refined cruelty, it seems to me, that upends natural relationships. 

Sleeping With Slaves

19. 20-22: “‘If a man sleeps with a female slave who is promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed.   The man, however, must bring a ram to the entrance to the tent of meeting for a guilt offering to the Lord.   With the ram of the guilt offering the priest is to make atonement for him before the Lord for the sin he has committed, and his sin will be forgiven."

It is not clear to me whether this involved an affair, rape, or coerced relationship somewhere between the two.  More likely the point is that it may be hard to distinguish between the two, so don't assume the worst. 

The assumption, though, is that men don't have absolute control over their female slaves, a step ahead of Mohammed already, 2000 years before him. 

(45) Don't Make Prostitutes

19.29: “‘Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness."

Sadly, some peoples still need to learn this even in modern times. 

More Sexual Laws

20.1-21: "The Lord said to Moses,  “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death . . . “‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head.   “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.  “‘If a man has sexual relations with his father’s wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.  “‘If a man has sexual relations with his daughter-in-law, both of them are to be put to death. What they have done is a perversion; their blood will be on their own heads.  “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.  “‘If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you.

 “‘If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he is to be put to death, and you must kill the animal.  “‘If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.   “‘If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, and they have sexual relations, it is a disgrace. They are to be publicly removed from their people. He has dishonored his sister and will be held responsible.   “‘If a man has sexual relations with a woman during her monthly period, he has exposed the source of her flow, and she has also uncovered it. Both of them are to be cut off from their people.   “‘Do not have sexual relations with the sister of either your mother or your father, for that would dishonor a close relative; both of you would be held responsible. 

“‘If a man has sexual relations with his aunt, he has dishonored his uncle. They will be held responsible; they will die childless.   “‘If a man marries his brother’s wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother.  They will be childless."

Let me focus on the first pair of commandments, here.  Both sacrificing your children and cursing your parents are considered crimes which merit the death penalty.  Nowadays the first crime is considered to merit government subsidy.  Who are the barbarians

Anyway, this all seems fairly gender-neutral.  If one supposes (as many modern feminists do) that women are more sinned against than sinning in sexual relations, less likely to be predators in the crude sense, then strict laws such as these will tend to benefit women more than men.   Anyway, certain horrible places in Thailand would be shut down, thank God.  


(47)  Proving Adultery

11-31:  "The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— then he is to take his wife to the priest.  He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf.  He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord.  Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water.   After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse.   Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you.  But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell.  May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.” “‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.

 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water.   He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her.  The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar.  The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water.   If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.  “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife.  The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her.  The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”

In the course of nature, a little dust in water should not cause miscarriage.  Maybe a little diarrhea.  The priest is, in effect, depending on divine judgment of sin. 

What about the woman who suspects her husband of adultery?   Seems a little unfair!  But it does seem that the wife is held to a higher standard -- as is probably usually the case.  

(48) 6.1: "The Lord said to Moses,  “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite . . . "

Women are given equal rights to pursue a religious vocation or calling of a particular sort. 

(49) 12. 1-2: "Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.  “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this."

God is displeased with Moses' brother and sister for their jealousy.  It is true that God had spoken through both Miriam and Aaron.  After their close relationship, rivalry at the top is a pretty realistic phenomena.  Power corrupts.

(50) 14. 3: "Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?

Notice that again, ancient society is assumed to be cruelest to men, in some ways, not to women. 

(51)  Inheritance for Women

27. 1-8: "The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah.  They came forward and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, 3“Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons.  Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.”   So Moses brought their case before the Lord,  and the Lord said to him, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.  “Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter."

This passage may seem to be about women's equality, and may be faulted for not making that equality complete.  But that is probably anachronistic, projecting our individualism on the past.  In the minds of the daughters of Zelophehad, it seems to be more about keeping a family's goods together, about providing for families.  However you read that, the women are assertive in defending their family rights, and God not only rewards their assertiveness, but extends the principle into a general law. 

(52)   Women With Freedom

30.3-16: "When a young woman still living in her father’s household makes a vow to the Lord or obligates herself by a pledge  and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the Lord will release her because her father has forbidden her. “If she marries after she makes a vow or after her lips utter a rash promise by which she obligates herself and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her, then her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand.  But if her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her or the rash promise by which she obligates herself, and the Lord will release her.  “Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her.  “If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand.   But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand.  Her husband has nullified them, and the Lord will release her.   Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself.   But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them.   If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he must bear the consequences of her wrongdoing.”   These are the regulations the Lord gave Moses concerning relationships between a man and his wife, and between a father and his young daughter still living at home."

So women are assumed to be capable of taking the religious initiative.  But fathers and husbands are given veto power for those initiatives.   No doubt this is "sexist."   But it may also provide a useful "out" for foolish promises, and one wonders mainly why sons aren't given the same chance. 

Save the Virgins

31.15-18: “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them.   “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.  Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man,  but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man."

Here we come to one of the more horrible passages in the Old Testament.   It is not enough that Israel kills every man of weapon-bearing age and above among the Midianites.   Now they are to kill all the boys and all the women, saving only virgins (little girls) for their own sexual appetites, present or future.  And God puts his stamp on this.  Later in the chapter the booty is counted and revealed to include 32,000 young women who are still virgins.

As a description of cruel ancient warfare, this is not so very shocking or unusual, though a little extreme even among Greek historical narratives. 

Is there any way to soften the blow for Christians? 

Well, of course this is not a Christian text, but a pre-Christian text.  Nothing here is normative for Christians, or even for Jews most of the time. 

And skeptics cannot have their cake and eat it.  If their skeptical comments about the Old Testament as a whole are accurate, then no such incident ever took place.   Nor need all Christians assume that this incident actually occurred.   

(54)  Female Inheritance, Again

36.6-12: "This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan.   No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors.   Every daughter who inherits land in any Israelite tribe must marry someone in her father’s tribal clan, so that every Israelite will possess the inheritance of their ancestors.  No inheritance may pass from one tribe to another, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits.”  So Zelophehad’s daughters did as the Lord commanded Moses.  Zelophehad’s daughters—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milkah and Noah—married their cousins on their father’s side.   They married within the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in their father’s tribe and clan."


Ten Commandments Repeated

5. 16, 18, 21: "Honor your father and your mother . . . You shall not commit adultery . . .  “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Some exegetes like to read this passage as an affirmation of the feminist conceit that women "belong to men" in the Bible.  I think the vast majority of passages we have already covered (1-54) resoundingly disprove that interpretation. 

(56) 10.18: "(God) secures justice for the orphan and the widow."

(57)  Everybody Party!

16.11, on the Passover Feast: "And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you."

The Jewish people are commanded to PARTY without paying heed to gender, class, or ethnic boundaries!  Everyone should join in!   

(58) 17.17: "(The king) must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray."

Such restraint would also have been good for the women, and for their potential mates.

(59)  Marrying Slaves and Extra Wives

21. 11-17: "If you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife.  Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured.  After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.   If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes.  You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.  If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love,  when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love.   He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him."

These laws seem, among other things, to legislate fairness to women in certain vulnerable and subordinate positions.  Mohammed disobeyed the law requiring that a captive woman be allowed to mourn her lost loved ones a decent interval.

(60) 22.5: "A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this."

(61) More Laws

22.13-30: "If a man takes a wife and, after sleeping with her, dislikes her  and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,”  then the young woman’s father and mother shall bring to the town elders at the gate proof that she was a virgin.   Her father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her.   Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him.   They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the young woman’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name.  She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.   If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found,  she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.  She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.   If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.   If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her,  you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you.  But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.  Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor,  for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.  If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.  A man is not to marry his father’s wife; he must not dishonor his father’s bed."

From a modern perspective, this seems a mixed bag at best.   The penalty for adultery was death for both men and women, but again the harsher end of the law seems directed at women.  And the forensics seems a little crude. 

(62)  Divorce and Marriage and War

24.1-5: "If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,  and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.  If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married."

This latter seems a wonderful law, which would be worth adopting.  Let the young couple have some fun before he is called up.

(63) 24.17: "Do not . . . take a widow's dress in pledge." 

(64)  Keeping the Family Going

25: 5-12: "If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.   The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.  However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.”  Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,”  his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.”   That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.  If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts,  you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity."

All these laws reflect the need to keep families going.  The woman is threatening the man's hope of having offspring.  Thus she is punished, as is the man who even accidentally inducing a miscarriage, due to incidental violence. 

(65) Curses

27.16-23: "Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.”  Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 “Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.”  Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
“Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.”  Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”  Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”
“Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his father’s wife, for he dishonors his father’s bed.”  Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” . . .
“Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.”  Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his mother-in-law.”  Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

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