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Chart claiming to describe marriage according to the Old Testament. Relevant text below. (Copied from http://www.theliberaloc.com/2012/05/14/traditional-marriage-according-to-the-bible/)

Relevant portion of the text:

Marriage = Rapist and His Victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

Virgin who is raped must marry her rapist.

Rapist must pay victim's father 50 shekels of silver for property loss

I'm skeptical of this claim. If anything, I assume it's that the rapist is forced to marry the victim, rather than vice versa.

Likewise, this answer on Mi Yodeya (the Stack Exchange for Judaism) claims that marriage is only if the victim wants to marry the rapist.

Are rape victims forced to marry their rapist, according to the Old Testament?

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    I think the main problem here is finding the 50 shekels... Anyway, this question is OT here. – nico Aug 9 '12 at 9:51
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    This question might be more appropriate for here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com – Kramii Aug 9 '12 at 13:08
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    @Konrad Rudolph, et al: There is an on-topic version of the question on Biblical Hermeneutics. In my opinion, it is one part an interpretation problem and one part a cultural understanding problem. – Jon Ericson Aug 9 '12 at 17:04
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    @JacquesB The distiction in "the rapist is forced to marry the victim, rather than vice versa." is in who gets to decide. Contrary to what the silly infographic suggests, the girl (as represented by her father) gets to decide. Another problem with the infographic is the assertion that she is a rape victim. Many scholars consider "lay hold of her and lie with her" to simply be a description of the sex act. Contrast this with "force her and lie with her" in verse 25 which is clearly identified as a criminal offense. – David42 Jul 29 '15 at 15:26
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Yes. According to Deuteronomy, if a man rapes or otherwise have sex with a woman who is not married or engaged, he is forced to "set things right" by marrying the woman. Think of it as a shotgun wedding.

If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, 29 the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29

The same rule appears a bit different in Exodus 22:16-17, where it states:

When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins.

So the woman does not necessarily have to marry the perpetrator, but the decision is not up to her, it is purely the decision of the father. This is not surprising since it is laws by a tribal patriarchal society.

There is a bit of discussion in other questions and comments whether "seizes" here actually means rape or it indicates something different like statutory rape or seduction. The answer is that it covers all instances of a man having sex with an unmarried woman, including rape. We can see from the context by comparing the similar laws for an engaged woman:

23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

25 But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. 27 Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.

Here there is a distinction: If the woman did not scream for help, then she is also guilty and has to be killed along with the man. If it is possible that she did scream for help but nobody heard her then the woman is not guilty. So in this case there is a clear distinction between rape and non-rape sex. Verse 25 makes it clear beyond a doubt that the term 'siezes and lies with her' covers rape.

In other words, Deut 22:28-29 covers consensual sex and rape, and the consequence is the same.

  • These bible passages seem to disagree with each other. The first two say the punishment for rape is marrying the woman and paying a fine to the father, but the last says the punishment for rape is death by stoning. – Philipp Oct 9 '15 at 15:31
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    @Philipp: The difference is the that in the first case the girl is not engaged but she is in the second. When the girl is already engaged to another man, the rapist cannot marry her, so he has the be killed instead. – JacquesB Oct 9 '15 at 15:41
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    One thing I'd like one of these answers to point out is that once the woman is no longer a virgin (publicly), there may be great difficulty in arranging a marriage for her. The requirement to marry her, at that point, is making the best of a bad situation, so that the person who destroyed her marriageability then has to support her for the rest of his life. – ErikE Jan 19 '16 at 16:38
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    There was a complaint about @ErikE's comment. I think from context it should be clear that he was referring to biblical cultures, not modern ones. – Oddthinking Oct 18 '16 at 4:55
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    @Oddthinking That is 100% correct. Despite my possibly poor wording, I was speaking to ancient culture where a woman's value was largely determined by her marriageability, and her virginal status was of paramount importance. – ErikE Oct 18 '16 at 5:05
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Modern Western culture sees rape as a crime in which the woman is the victim. But many cultures, including the ancient Hebrew culture that produced Deuteronomy 22:28-29, view rape as an insult against the woman's family and her father in particular. So when we read the passage we focus on:

If a man comes upon a virgin who is not engaged and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered,...she shall be his wife. Because he has violated her, he can never have the right to divorce her.—Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NJPS)

But the father of a rape victim would have been most concerned with recovering the honor of his family. For him, the critical bit is:

the man who lay with her shall pay the girl’s father fifty [shekels of] silver

You may find 550 grams of silver petty and trivial compared to the weight of the crime, but in the culture that produced the text, it would have signaled a return of honor to the father from the perpetrator who had shamed him. If the shame could be further removed by arranging a suitable marriage, that would be even better. Later Jewish interpretation did not require the girl to marry the rapist. We can only speculate if that was the original intention of the text, however. I know of no examples such a marriage, but by the same token the Bible does not mention an cases where the rule was not enforced either.


It's also important to remember that Deuteronomy represents a transition from a culture of honor to a culture of law. The clans represented in Genesis consisted of less than a thousand people, in all likelihood. The nation that is depicted in Exodus was much larger, if not as massive as the straight reading of the text might lead one to believe. In an honor culture, the shame brought about by the rape would be the most important consideration. However, in a legal culture, such as what we see represented in the Talmud and Mi Yodeya, the injustice and harm done to the woman would be primary.

But that perspective to the text fails the hermeneutical Golden Rule:

Do unto authors as you would have them do unto you.

Of all the possible candidates for a universal morality, the Golden Rule seems the most promising. It only seems fair to understand a text in the context of the culture that produced it first and then, maybe, critique it in terms of our own cultural biases.


The claim the chart is making is that the Old Testament defines marriage in these various ways. The article linked in the original question states:

Take a look at the chart above which tracks the Bible’s definition of traditional marriage. Let’s talk about it.

So is "Rapist + His Victim" a definition of traditional marriage in the Bible? On the one hand, it was written into the legal system and almost certainly was enforced. But on the other, it's clearly not a desired model by anyone's standards. It could be argued that the consequences of rape in that society were more far-reaching than in ours as the entire family was considered a victim. To give you an idea of the seriousness of the crime in the ancient world, the Babylonian legal code required a rapist to be put to death. So while there were almost certainly rapists married to their victims by force, in no way was this an ideal.

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    Thanks for the effort put into your answer. Carl Sagan once said "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". Most of your answer isn't about evidence that the claim is true or not. Are you basically using most of your answer to say that it isn't an extraordinary claim, even though it might seem like an extraordinary claim to me? (That is, you're saying that even though the claim made by the chart seems nonsensical to me, it isn't really nonsensical) – Andrew Grimm Aug 10 '12 at 9:34
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    @Andrew Grimm: I don't think there are any extraordinary claims being made. I've updated my answer to show that the claims the chart and the article make (that the boxes reflect "definitions of traditional marriage") are completely misleading. – Jon Ericson Aug 10 '12 at 17:05
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    @Pacerier: Unfortunately, we can't do anthropological studies on the ancient Hebrews, so we must argue by analogy from related cultures, such as the Bedouin. I'm also drawing it from the story in Judges 19 in which the rape of a concubine led to a civil war among the Israelite tribes. – Jon Ericson Jun 10 '15 at 16:36
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    As Chad hints, I think it would be just as logical to see this in terms of 'children as property', rather than just 'honour culture' - for which revenge would be more appropriate. A daughter is a cost, until you marry her off, at which point you can hope to get back some of your investment. If you daughter is no longer a virgin, the market value has gone through the floor. – Benjol Aug 4 '15 at 9:02
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    I think it's worth pointing out that the crime of rape was considered serious in these ancient civilizations mainly because it deprived the father of wealth. Girls were valuable property that could be married off for a dowry and increased influence or social standing. It is the harm done to the father that makes it serious, basically high value property damage. – user18902 Oct 6 '15 at 14:37
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From the cited passage of Deuteronomy

28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

However this may be a problem with translation

the word which the NIV translates as rape comes from two Hebrew words, taphas and shakab.

taphas - to catch, handle, lay hold, take hold of, seize, wield

shakab - to lie down - to be lain with (sexually)

So it would seem by this reading it would be more akin to today's statutory rape where the woman would not be able to consent though this would be less than involuntary. It should be noted that the passage requires the man to take his victim as his bride. There is nothing in the passage that requires the woman to accept the man as her husband.

Another thing to consider is that the times were different.

The ancient Israelites had a patriarchal family structure. The status of women was low—they were regarded as the property of their fathers or husbands and could do nothing without their consent.

Because the rape would make the woman undesirable to other men as a wife, the fathers property would have been damaged.

It was usually the patriarch who selected a bride for his son and who paid a "bride price" to her father.

So the daughter would not have commanded much if any bride price after the rape.

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    Soooo... the answer is? Would the woman, according to the bible, need to be forced to marry the man? What if she does not want to marry him? – nico Aug 9 '12 at 17:08
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    @nico - You are trying to apply the standards of today to the words of the past. This rule forces the man to take the woman as his bride and never divorce her no matter her actions. It does not commit the woman to the marriage. Though my understand of the time is that such a woman would have difficulty attracting a suitable mate if sullied in such a manner. This provision would have kept the nobility from sating their lust on the peasants young daughters ... but I have not yet found a good source to cite it so as it stands it is my conjecture. – Chad Aug 9 '12 at 18:24
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    This verse may have been intended to include statutory rape, but does this mean this verse doesn't cover non-statutory rape ("rape rape" to use Whoopi Goldberg's terminology)? – Andrew Grimm Aug 10 '12 at 9:10
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    This interpretation is misleading! The passage is clearly talking about involuntary rape where the woman is fighting back/screaming for help. This can be seen from the context, because there are different rules in case the woman does not scream for help (eg. Deut. 22:22-27). In that case the woman is to blame and is to be killed. So marrying the rapist is only in case the woman is blameless, and screams for help. – JacquesB Jul 21 '15 at 12:47
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    @JacquesB - You are wrong... have a nice day. – Chad Jul 22 '15 at 15:18
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NOTE: This answer has been heavily rewritten. As requested it now discusses the opinions of Bible scholars on the subject.

The interpretation of the law in the infographic is not based on known historical facts. It is based on unfavorable and unproven assumptions about the culture to which it belonged, prejudices if you will. For this reason it is considered a slur against Judaism.

Few if any Jewish and Christian scholars believe that the girl was legally obliged to marry the man. What they do believe is that in that culture it was generally her best option for a normal life.

There is debate among scholars about what kind of sexual encounter is described in this law (more on this later), but Jewish and Christian commentators invariably see this law as protecting women’s rights. It is understood to create a right which an unmarried woman could enforce against a man who had sexually used and then abandoned her. For example, Matthew Henry (1662--1714) writes:

"If a damsel not betrothed were thus abused by violence, he that abused her should be fined, the father should have the fine, and, if he and the damsel did consent, he should be bound to marry her, and never to divorce her, how much soever she was below him, and how unpleasing soever she might afterwards be to him, as Tamar was to Amnon after he had forced her, v. 28, v. 29. This was to deter men from such vicious practices, which it is a shame that we are necessitated to read and write of."

--Mathew Henry's Commentary of the Whole Bible--Old Testament, Deuteronomy 22:29

While the assertion that the girl was legally obliged to marry the man cannot be absolutely disproved (since the Bible records no cases where this law was invoked), it is widely seen as absurd, contrary to the intent of the law, and at odds with a similar law.

Scholars compare this law to the one at Exodus 22:16--17 which says that a man who has seduced a virgin girl must marry her. That law adds that "if her father absolutely refuses to give her" the offender has to pay the bride price anyway. This law is not granting the father any right he did not have before. It is simply acknowledging that in a society where marriages are arranged his permission is needed. Not mentioning this right again at Deuteronomy 22:29 does not necessary revoke it.

Commentary in the Mishneh Torah (12th century C.E.) supports such an interpretation:

When, however, a woman who is raped or her father do not desire that she marry the rapist, they have that prerogative. [In such an instance,] he must pay the fine and depart. If she and her father desire [that the marriage take place], but he does not desire, we force him to marry her, aside from paying the fine, as [Deuteronomy 22:29] states: "He must take [the maiden] as his wife"; this is a positive commandment.

--Halacha 3

Matthew Poole (1624--1679) believed that the law at Deuteronomy 22:28,29 describes an offense more serious than seduction at Exodus 22:16--17 and therefor provides enhanced remedies:

Fifty shekels of silver, besides the dowry, as Philo the learned Jew notes, which is here omitted, because that was common and customary, and because it might easily be gathered out of Exodus 22:16, it being sufficient here to mention what was peculiar to this case.

She shall be his wife, to wit, if her father consent to it, which is to be supposed out of Exodus 22:16, it being not likely that the father should lose his paternal right of disposing his child when she was in some sort forced, rather than when she was enticed.

He may not put her away all his days, which others were suffered to do, Deu 24:1, and he who enticed the maid (Exodus 22:16) was not prohibited to do.

--Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible, Deuteronomy 22:29

From the above we see that Poole thinks it ridiculous to suppose that the father has no right to refuse just because that right is not specifically mentioned. If he can refuse a man who persuaded his daughter with words, surely he can refuse a man who used some degree of force.

Joseph Benson (1749--1821) similarly saw the man's obligation to marry as contingent on the permission of the woman's father:

"She shall be his wife — He was not at liberty to refuse her, if her father consented to his marrying her, and he was deprived of the privilege of ever divorcing her."

--Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, Deuteronomy 22:29

The description and illustration in the infographic are the product of a lurid imagination. A plainer description of Jewish law would be: “If a man rapes a married woman, he dies. If he rapes an unmarried woman she can make him marry her.”

But why would she want to? Probably because the 'rapist' is someone she knows and would have considered marrying.

Rapes Described in the Bible

Though the Bible does not describe any case where this law was enforced, it does describe two rapes of single women. These shed light on the cultural background of the law.

One is the rape of Dina described in Genesis chapter 34. While she was visiting young women in a nearby city a man named Shechem “took her and lay down with her and violated her”. Shechem persuaded her to marry him, sent his father to her father to arrange the marriage, and did marry her. But two of her brothers did not consider this an adequate remedy, so they went and murdered him and all his clan.

The second is the rape of Tamar described in 2 Samuel chapter 13. After she was raped by her half brother Amnon, she refused to leave the house, apparently on the basis that he now had to marry her. Her full blood brother Absalom hushed it up until he could murder Amnon in revenge.

Dina and her father (who knew about the rape) clearly believed that marriage with Shechem was now in her best interests. Tamar seems to have demanded marriage. They probably preferred an egotistical husband who did not know what "no" means to a lifetime of shameful singleness. There were few if any roles for single women, but it was not unheard of for married women to do all sorts of interesting things including managing family businesses (see Proverbs chapter 31).

So if a woman “had to marry her rapist” it was only in the sense that this was the less bad of two bad options. The law could not make her whole, but it could offer her this option.

Nature of the Sexual Encounter

I should mention that it is not certain that the offense described at Deuteronomy 22:28,29 is rape. A few modern translations such as the NIV use the word "rape", but most translations give a more literal reading. For example, where the NIV has "rapes" the KJV has "and lay hold on her, and lie with her".

John Gill (English theologian, 1697--1771) in his Exposition of the Whole Bible comments on Deuteronomy 22:28:

"and lay hold on her, and lie with her, she yielding to it, and so is not expressive of a rape, as Deuteronomy 22:25 where a different word from this is there used; which signifies taking strong hold of her, and ravishing her by force; yet this, though owing to his first violent seizure of her, and so different from what was obtained by enticing words, professions of love, and promises of marriage, and the like, as in Exodus 22:16 but not without her consent"

--John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible, Deuteronomy 22:28

Gill is comparing this law to the one that comes just before it in the text. In the previous law a woman who was "forced" into the sexual act is described as an innocent crime victim. In this case though Gill believes that “lay hold on her” means that the man grabbed her forcefully (which is what “violent” meant in Gill's day) and they had sex.

Bible commentator Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen (1948--1995) notes that the original language word translated "lay hold" does not by itself indicate a violent act:

The Hebrew word tapas (“lay hold of her,” emphasized above) simply means to take hold of something, grasp it in hand, and (by application) to capture or seize something. It is the verb used for “handling” the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21), the sword (Ezek. 21:11; 30:21), the sickle (Jer. 50:16), the shield (Jer. 46:9), the oars (Ezek. 27:29), and the bow (Amos 2:15). It is likewise used for “taking” God’s name (Prov. 30:9) or “dealing” with the law of God (Jer. 2:8). Joseph’s garment was “grasped” (Gen. 39:12; cf. I Kings 11:30), even as Moses “took” the two tablets of the law (Deut. 9:17). People are “caught” (I Kings 20:18), even as cities are “captured” (Deut. 20:19; Isa. 36:1). An adulterous wife may not have been “caught” in the act (Num. 5:13). In all of these instances it is clear that, while force may come into the picture from further description, the Hebrew verb “to handle, grasp, capture” does not in itself indicate anything about the use of force.

--Greg L. Bahnsen, Pre-Marital Sexual Relations: What is the Moral Obligation When Repeated Incidents are Confessed?

Bible translations reflect the various ways in which this expression has been understood:

Geneva Bible (1599):

If a man find a maid that is not betrothed, and take her, and lie with her, and they be found,

King James Version: (1611):

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;

Douay-Rheims (1899):

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, who is not espoused, and taking her, lie with her, and the matter come to judgment:

American Standard Version (1900):

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;

Living Bible (1971):

If a man rapes a girl who is not engaged and is caught in the act,

Contemporary English Version (1995):

Suppose a woman isn’t engaged to be married, and a man talks her into sleeping with him. If they are caught,

Complete Jewish Bible (1998):

If a man comes upon a girl who is a virgin but who is not engaged, and he grabs her and has sexual relations with her, and they are caught in the act,

New English Translation (2005):

Suppose a man comes across a virgin who is not engaged and overpowers and rapes her and they are discovered.

Modern English Version (2014):

If a man finds a girl who is a virgin who is not engaged and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered,

Some translators have compared this passage to other similar passages and concluded that non-consensual intercourse is meant, but the text does not really make that clear. That may be deliberate. If the sexual act itself is sufficient to trigger the law's remedies, then there is no need for the judges to determine whether the act was consensual before applying this particular law.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    This appears to be your personal interpretation, based on a rather recent version of the bible. Can you show that biblical experts agree with your interpretation? – Oddthinking Jul 27 '15 at 2:53
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    I'm... Not entirely sure why you feel "She isn't forced to marry him, he is forced to marry her" is some kind of important distinction. Either way, the victim gets absolutely zero choice in the matter. – Shadur Jul 27 '15 at 13:27
  • @Shadur - I commented on this on the question above, but it has to do with the husband's obligation to support his wife - basically, he's stuck supporting her (and her kids) indefinitely (and she can take him to court if he doesn't). It's true that she doesn't get any choice, but she doesn't have any choice in who she marries anyway. (Always presuming the father doesn't choose to take his daughter's wishes into account, which would be equally applicable in both scenarios.) Basically, it's a primitive form of out-of-wedlock child support. – Bobson Jul 27 '15 at 16:41
  • Please provide evidence that this interpretation is actually a legit one by biblical experts and flag for reopening. – Sklivvz Jul 27 '15 at 18:05
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    @JacquesB The infographic implies that raping a virgin was an acceptable route to matrimony. I know of no expert who advances such a frivolous position. As noted above, rapists in the OT tend to get murdered by angry relatives. These scholars whom you dismiss as apologists are simply stating the obvious: that this law authorizes ‘shotgun weddings’, not as a legal requirement, but as a legal remedy invokable at the discretion of the girl’s father. We move into apologetics only when we start discussing when we think the law was applied thousands of years ago and whether it was a good law or not. – David42 Jun 5 '18 at 13:05

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