The Engaged Bondwoman

17 Dec
Hebrew Wedding

from Google Images

The Biblical critic reads the Bible differently than does someone who has a high value for the word of God. To the critic, the Bible is merely another piece of ancient literature to be judged at face value. Nevertheless, this is not the point of view of a Christian who believes Scripture is God’s word. There are rules one must adhere to in order to fully grasp the full meaning of the Bible, and no less is this the case for Leviticus 19:20-21. One might, for example, read Thalia Gur-Klein’s feminist perspective of this scripture and believe her analysis must show God, through the Mosaic Law, is not compassionate toward women,[1] at least those who find themselves in a substandard social position.

Notice first the Scripture:

20 If a man lies carnally with a woman, and she is a handmaid designated for a man, and she had not been [fully] redeemed nor had her document of emancipation been granted her, there shall be an investigation; they shall not be put to death, because she had not been [completely] freed. 21 He shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord, to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, a guilt offering ram. (The Complete Jewish Bible – Leviticus 19:20-21)

Now, Ms. Gur-Klein’s comments:

“We could claim that the legal ruling shows a double standard towards adultery leaving loop holes. According to the exegesis, the bondswoman might be scourged or undergo some kind of investigation, but she is not regarded as fully accountable because she has not been freed (Lev. 19:20 Cassuto Leviticus 1962:64). Conversely, her violator or illicit partner comes off lightly with an offering to the temple. Exempting the adulterous man from punishment deprives women of inferior social status of protection from sexual abuse. Eventually, the rich, free and powerful may violate a socially weaker woman with few consequences. If a man is a bondswoman’s master, his property claims supersede, neutralize and undermine her husband’s conjugal recourse and her marriage.”[2]

I take the position that Ms. Gur-Klein’s point of view is somewhat premature. First of all, nothing is mentioned in the text that the bondwoman would be scourged. Admittedly, some translations of Leviticus show the woman is punished, but a more accurate translation is as above “there shall be an investigation” or “there shall be punishment.” However, regarding punishment, the text is silent as to who receives the punishment. Nevertheless, logic and other pertinent Scriptures demand that the male is the one to be punished. Notice that he, not she, is guilty as noted by the guilt offering.

Secondly, Ms. Gur-Klein seems to ignore the fact that, if there is an investigation, a decision from the judges would result from that investigation. Otherwise, why investigate at all, and what might that decision be? Well, other parts of the Mosaic Law address what might follow. For example, suppose when the man to whom she was betrothed finds out, he may back out of the arrangement and refuse to pay the dowry. Under these circumstances she is no longer betrothed to anyone and Deuteronomy 22:28-29 would need to be considered. The guilty man must pay the master / creditor the dowry, or the redemption price and marry the young woman, but he may never divorce her. If the master / creditor refuses to permit him to marry the maid (she may have some influence in the decision), the dowry, or redemption price must still be paid and the bondwoman would then be free. She might continue to serve her mistress for monetary compensation or obtain gainful employment elsewhere, or return to her father’s house.

If the master, himself or perhaps his son, seduced the bondwoman, then Exodus 21:7-11 would become relevant in the investigation. In this case the bondwoman would become the master’s wife or the wife of his son. If this doesn’t please the son, she is to be treated as the master’s daughter. If the master seduced her but doesn’t want her as his wife, then she must be freed. If he takes her as his wife, he cannot diminish her living as a wife in his house or not recognize a child born into their relationship (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). The system isn’t perfect, but which legal system, whether modern or ancient, is perfect? A victim remains a victim no matter what the outcome of judicial procedure, and often what is lost (life, property, honor etc.) cannot be regained. Nevertheless, the Mosaic Law does show compassion for the vulnerable party in case law, and in this case it is the woman.


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[2] Thalia Gur-Klein, Sexual Hospitality in the Hebrew Bible (New York; Routledge, 2014) page 157.

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Posted by on December 17, 2015 in apologetics


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