Got $15? If So, You too Can Rape an Unbetrothed Virgin

In a March 15, 2012 article on FoxNews, the Associated Press reported on a particularly disturbing story about a young Moroccan girl who was forced to marry her rapist, and commits suicide as a result.[1] The article states that, “In many parts of the Middle East, there is a tradition whereby a rapist can escape prosecution if he marries his victim, thereby restoring her honor. What sort of a sick law code would force a victim to marry her rapist? Well, the law code in Deuteronomy if you are reading carefully.

In Deuteronomy 22:28-29, the text says

22:28 Suppose a man comes across a virgin who is not engaged and overpowers and rapes her and they are discovered. 22:29 The man who has raped her must pay her father fifty shekels of silver and she must become his wife because he has violated her; he may never divorce her as long as he lives.[2]

At the going exchange rate for New Israeli Shekels to US dollars, that is a rape and new wife for just under $15 dollars. That of course isn’t really a fair comparison because of inflation, but is there really any price which makes this favorable?

Undoubtedly someone will mention that the prescription in Deuteronomy is really a very kind solution because with marriage representing security for women in the Ancient Near East, a “spoiled” woman like our rape victim wouldn’t be desirable to anyone else, and so marrying her attacker is really a blessing. In the Middle Assyrian Laws which resemble this passage, the father retains the right to marry his violated daughter to someone other than the attacker.[3]  While it is possible that the Israelite father retained the right to refuse the marriage, that is not explicitly mentioned here.  And even with this possibility, one recognizes that  in ancient Israel women were seen as the property of their fathers or husbands.[4] It is with that understanding that one can comprehend the language concerning rape which depicts it as “‘the theft of sexual property’,meaning that a sexual assault violates the man who holds the rights to a woman’s sexuality, typically her father or her husband, and not the woman herself.”[5] If this causes some anxiety for the modern conscience, I say that is a positive thing! But, how can a believer be content when their moral compass points in a direction other than the Bible? I think the answer to that question lies in adopting a redemptive-movement hermeneutic.


William Webb thinks so. In fact, he believes that, “if a better ethic than the one expressed in the isolated words of the text is possible, then that is where one ultimately wants to end up.”[6] When it comes to ethics, modern believers must look at the entire Bible to discern in what direction the ethical considerations concerning a given issue are moving. While Webb’s methods have found no shortage of detractors, when it comes to approaching the laws which depict the sexual violation of women as being an infringement upon property, it seems that the modern believer must be prepared to adopt his method. As Peter Enns says, “the Bible at every turn, shows how connected it is to its own world.” The world in which the Hebrew Bible was revealed was the Ancient Near East. It was a world in which the prevailing culture shared more in common with modern Afghanistan under Taliban patriarchal rule than with American ideals. Recognizing the enculturation of the scripture allows one to make ethical decisions which move past the text itself. In some cases, women’s rights being one of them, I think the only way forward is to quit looking back.

People in Morocco are using the death of this poor young woman as a rallying cause to repeal a law which is based upon religious tradition. Though some American evangelicals are seeking to “restore Biblical morality” in this country, the case of Morocco should act as a cautionary tale. A given ethical issue may be more complicated than a simple appeal to the “isolated words” of Scripture may seem. The ultimate ethic lies in Christ and God’s redemptive purposes. If those purposes were not fully realized or outlined in the Bible’s pages, so be it. It is the job of believers to work together and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to determine what the best realization of that ethic can be. C.S. Lewis said, “Certain things, if not seen as lovely or detestable, are not being correctly seen at all.” The violation of another person’s humanity by treating them as merely a sexual object is detestable. Reading the bible in light of the story of Christ, I believe the scripture teaches exactly that. However, that teaching must be sought out as it develops through the pages and years which together make up the Divine revelation called the Bible.

[1] “Suicide of Moroccan girl, 16, forced to marry rapist sparks outrage,”

[2] This translation is from The NET Bible

[3]  Middle Assyrian Law A 55, in James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, including Supplement, 1969), 185. See also Cynthia Edenburg, “Ideaology and Social Context of Deuteronomic Women’s Sex Laws (Deuteronomy 22:13-29)” JBL 128, no. 1 (2009), 56; Evans in DOT:P argues based off of Ex 22:16-17 that the father had the right to refuse the marriage, but it is likely that the Exodus passage refers to seduction and not forcible rape.  For more on the relationship between the laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy, see Sandie Gravett. 2004. “Reading ‘rape’ in the Hebrew Bible: a consideration of language.” Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament 28, no. 3: 280.

[4]  M.J. Evans “Women,” In Dictionary of the Old Testament:Pentatuech, edited by T. Desmond Alexander & David W. Baker. Downer’s Grove:InterVarsity Press, 2003. 898.

[5]  Sandie Gravett. 2004. “Reading ‘rape’ in the Hebrew Bible: a consideration of language.” Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament 28, no. 3: 280.

[6] William J. Webb. Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity 2001) 36.