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Answering Michael Martin's
"Atheism, Christian Theism, and Rape"

by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith

The Biblical Teaching on Rape

Condone Rape?

With this in mind, consider the passages that Martin quotes. First, he says, certain passages seem to tacitly sanction rape. He refers to Numbers 31:18 But all the women-children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. and suggests that Moses encourages his men to use captured virgins for their own sexual pleasure, i.e., to rape them. This interpretation not only violates the very heart of the law and its commands to care for the weak, including specifically the alien (cf. Lev. 23:22; etc.), it also contradicts the whole point of the immediate context.

The very reason that Israel is going to war here with the Midianites is that their women have seduced Israelite men to participate in idolatrous sexual rites. Moses complains about the problem of Israelite men and their sexual involvement with these pagan women in the verses immediately preceding vs. 18, which Martin claims is a call for the Israelites to rape the virgins (cf. Num. 31:13-17). Also, Martin is bothered by the fact that God Himself rewards Moses by urging him to distribute the spoils.

It is very difficult to know what to say when someone ignores the context so utterly and interprets the passage in a manner that is so far outside the bounds of literary reason. According to Martin, we are to understand that Moses, immediately after rebuking the Israelites for their sexual immorality with Midianite women encourages them to rape the virgins. We are also to believe that God, who had just blasted Israel with plague for her sexual immorality with the Midianite women (Num. 24), suddenly decides to condone immorality. This sort of hermeneutics tells us less about the text of Scripture than it does about the interpreter.

Is there perhaps an interpretation that does more justice to the immediate context and also fits in with the basic notions of righteousness in the law? Yes, there is though it may be almost as offensive to modern readers as Martins. The young women are referred to among the spoils of the war because the law of God allowed Israel to make slaves of those defeated in war. Female slaves would have been highly valued, especially by Israelite women, because they helped to decrease the burdens of cooking and cleaning time consuming and difficult tasks in the ancient world. Moses did not permit the women who were already involved in the idolatrous sexual rites of the Midianites to become slaves. Younger girls, however, could be taken as slaves and put under the management of Israelite women to aid in household duties. There is nothing in the immediate or larger context that even remotely suggests that Moses or God condone rape.

Martins first objection is based upon an interpretation of the passage that hardly makes sense, either in the immediate context or the larger context of Jewish law. He has not really offered us a possible interpretation of Scripture and criticism based upon such an interpretation.

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