Numbers 31:17-18, Texts of Terror

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.

//As instructed by a vengeful God, Israel destroyed Midian. The men of Midian were killed in battle, the cities burned, the women and children taken as plunder. But when the officers of the Israelite army returned with their plunder, Moses was displeased; God apparently did not yet feel vindicated. Moses therefore gave instruction to murder the women and children as well, keeping only the young virgins as sex slaves.

While I am no fan of the “texts of terror” within the Bible, they do need to be trotted out every once in a while, and read to those who believe the Bible is superior in moral teaching to, say, the Koran. The Bible, while truly an inspirational book that has spiritually fed millions for millennia, is too human (or inhuman) to be touted as perfect. The title of today’s blog post comes from feminist theologian Phyllis Trible’s book of the same name. It examines four Old Testament women who experienced terrible abuse: Hagar, Tamar, the woman of Judges 19, and the daughter of Jephthah. The primary cause is the social understanding of the day of women as property, and of these four, one story is particularly gruesome, so let’s dig into that one. A Levite’s unnamed concubine is unfaithful; she leaves him and returns home to her father. The Levite goes after her, and stays in the home of her father. While there, the house is accosted by thugs:

While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.” But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up; let’s go.” But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home. When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.

Commentary is unnecessary. OK, I’m done with my obligatory reminder of the occasional inhumane instruction in the Bible. Back to more inspirational and instructive stories tomorrow.

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