Problem: Rape used to be punished by marriage
Verses: Deuteronomy 22:28-29; Status: Minor

This is Deuteronomy 22:28-29:

If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 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. (ESV)

(Note: The most literal translations talk about "seizing" or "taking hold" of her. The NIV and some others explicitly call it rape. Astonishingly, the Contemporary English Version alters it to "talks her into sleeping with him".)

So, the punishment for raping an unbetrothed woman is marrying her. This is in marked contrast to what happens if the woman is already betrothed, in which case the man is put to death instead (Deuteronomy 22:25).

It seems like marriage would have been a nightmare for the victim. However, James Holding of Tektonics makes the reasonably plausible suggestion (link below) that this marriage would have been in name only, so that the rapist would be compelled to support the woman, who would no longer be able to find any other husband (men in those days not having a very enlightened attitude to rape victims). According to Holding, marriage would be the most merciful solution, and would not imply further sexual relations.

It's hard to know, so long afterwards, what actually happened in these cases. Was it a real marriage or a marriage in name only? Would she join his household (where she would be powerless to refuse him further sex) or stay in her own? Without answers to these questions, I regard this problem as Minor, since there's an interpretation of Deuteronomy that isn't totally monstrous. On the other hand, I do feel that the natural reading of the passage is that it would indeed be a regular marriage, with everything that entails. There's nothing in Deuteronomy to suggest otherwise. If I'm right about this, the problem is instead Serious.

Updated: 2008-08-25

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