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Some folks assert that this passage describes the Torah's sole punishment for rape:

If a man comes upon a virgin who is not engaged and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered, the man who lay with her shall pay the girl’s father fifty [shekels of] silver, and she shall be his wife. Because he has violated her, he can never have the right to divorce her.—Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NJPS)

I've highlighted the words that indicate that the man has raped the woman. So the questions are:

  1. Does this passage describe the crime of rape?
  2. If so, does this passage describe the all punishment the man will endure?
  3. If so, how does this represent justice for the woman?
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what is fifty shekels in today's money? – Jack Douglas May 2 '12 at 17:35
@Jack: 1 shekel = 11 grams. Silver is about 600 GBP per kilo, so 50 shekels of silver is about 330 GBP. In dollars, its about $550. But I don't know if the buying power of silver was greater or less than it is now. It's a hard (economics) question. It could be that in terms of labor or food purchases, the equivalent amount would be much greater. In less developed countries, $550 goes a lot further than it does in Los Angeles. – Jon Ericson May 2 '12 at 18:11
I have a feeling that this will hinge upon the understanding of seizing – swasheck May 2 '12 at 18:33
Look also at the GNT, NIV*, Easy-to-Read, GOD'S WORD, etc. Plenty of translators explicitly call this out using the word "rape". The translation is tricky and disputed, but : there are plenty of reasons (all debated) to believe that rape is covered there. – Marc Gravell May 14 '12 at 18:18
@JackDouglas, 50 shekels then would buy 1.4 slaves. Look for the section "A Question of Cost" for a breakdown by time period. Exodus-Dt fit in the late second millennium. – Frank Luke Aug 8 '14 at 14:08

4 Answers 4

According to classical Jewish interpretation, Dt 22:22-29 all deal with various situations of forcible and statutory rape as well as extramarital relations. The differences in the cases are mainly:

  1. the woman's marital status
  2. the woman's virginity
  3. the degree of consent or lack thereof that can be inferred from the geography

Verse 22:28 deals with only one of the cases, that of an unmarried virgin woman. The verse could apply to statutory rape as well as to forcible rape. The wording "seizes her" indicates that the man is taking the initiative but does not necessarily indicate forcible rape, as the wording leaves some room to think that the victim would not have been in a position for this to happen had she not wanted to be in the man's presence in a private setting. Remember that we are talking about a conservative middle eastern society with relatively strict gender separation. There are no other verses that deal with rape.

In most of the cases, the verses indicate that the punishment, at least for the man, is death. The verses do not specify either of the two methods of execution given in the Torah, stoning and burning. The Talmud deduces that this should be death by strangulation, considered the "easiest" of the death penalties.

The punishment stated in verse 29 is obviously unworkable as written and like lex talionis, there is no evidence that it was ever applied according to the simple understanding of the verse.

The verse was not interpreted to mean that the victim could not refuse to marry the perpetrator. If she refused, her father received the fifty shekels on her behalf.

The victim had the right to demand that the perpetrator marry her and support her until either he or she died. For example, if the relations had been consensual to some degree and the victim was not averse to marrying the perpetrator then the punishment meted out to the perpetrator is for causing the embarrassment of being caught in the act to both the victim and her father's house (hence the payment to the father).

In the event that they married but did not live together, the perpetrator had to pay a type of alimony to the victim, equivalent to what his expected expenses would be for maintaining her and her children in his household, until his or her death, without the ability to pay a fixed, one-time payment (her marriage contract or ketubah money) as in the case of a divorce. In this case the victim could not marry another man.

Fifty silver shekels was interpreted by some authorities to mean what we would call an average middle-class wage for one year. That is, a large sum of money.

What verse 29 leaves open for interpretation is how to peg the exchange rate for the shekel, and what sanctions to take against a perpetrator who cannot pay or who otherwise does not fulfill marital obligations. There is room to interpret that although the perpetrator could not divorce the victim, a court could annul the marriage without releasing the perpetrator from the obligation to continue to pay support.

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Good answer (+1). Any chance you could add some references to this? – ThaddeusB Nov 6 at 17:25

I wanted to clear up the ambiguities the other answers have left around.

Moses is reviewing the laws that were originally given in Exodus and Leviticus. This law is originally found in Exodus 22:16-17 (NKJV):

If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins."

Notice that the man "enticed" the virgin. He did not rape her but seduced her.

Additionally, notice that the punishment for actual rape is death in Deuteronomy 22:25-27 (NKJV):

But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death, for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter. For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.

(Emphasis mine.)

So to answer your questions...

  1. Does this passage describe the crime of rape? No.

  2. If so, does this passage describe the all punishment the man will endure? No, it describes the man's punishment for premarital sex. He still has to pay the bride price even if the father won't allow his daughter to marry him.

  3. If so, how does this represent justice for the woman? The woman was a willing participant. She did not scream or cry out like the woman in Deuteronomy 22:27.

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Hi Brian. Thanks for the answer. We are more than willing to get new answers on questions no matter how old, so thanks. I've edited your answer a bit to improve some formatting. (We use Markdown.) Your points are very helpful and especially the note that actual rape carries a different punishment. – Jon Ericson Aug 7 '14 at 16:52
WOW! Brian, very logical and enlightening answer solving something that had long been quite a mystery to me. Thank you! – brilliant Oct 26 at 20:25
On the third point regarding justice for the woman: Coming at this differently, it protects the woman who was seduced from being used and abandoned. In that culture she would be "damaged goods" and may have a difficult time finding a husband now. Forcing the man to marry her without the possibility of divorce ensures she is taken care of. – Joshua Bigbee Nov 4 at 16:01
I can't let you get away with that lol. It doesn't describe the mans punishment for premarital sex in a Christian sense. His crime is lowering the property value of a virgin, not having sex before marriage. – brewpixels Nov 6 at 14:15
brewpixels, your comment doesn't make sense. You can not "lower" the value of a virgin by having sex with her, you completely destroy her value as a virgin since she is no longer one. – Brian Weigand Nov 9 at 2:56

I think I would add that justice for women is not a big deal in ancient time. If you kill a cow, the law would consider the owner of the cow as the victim of your crime. Asking what would be justice for the cow would just seem strange. But we would alienate bovine votes? Well, bovine can't votes anyway. Nor can they lift sword and pick different king.

The same way, if you rape or mate with a girl (consent doesn't even change the penalty), the law think that the parent or the husband of the girl is the victim. That would alienate female voters you said? Well tough. Whoever makes laws that time don't seem to concern themselves too much with females' votes.

I think most answers miss a few points here. Basically it helps to see torah not as "our scripture" but a scripture of some ancient nomadic tribe. We will get a far more objective pictures of what's going on.

  1. In Ancient time, the daughter is the property of his dad. Some americans still "feel" that way as comically presented here
  2. Female consent matters much less than marital status (and still do in modern time in the eyes of many people). Till recently, for example, marital rape is legal in US while consensual prostitution is not. Here approval from the state (you're married) is seen to be more important than approval from the girl (sure let's have sex for money)
  3. Sex outside marriage is often (not always with arguable exceptions) seen as crimes against either the father of the girl or the husband.
  4. There is no jail punishment in ancient time. You kidding? What? Some nomadic tribe paying $33k per year putting people in maximum security prison? Punishment in ancient time is either death, torture, beating, or fine. Fine seems to be the most reasonable ones. Punishments are usually "cheap" for the states.
  5. Polygamy is legal. So a rich man that wants another girl didn't have to divorce his first wife. Worse come to worse he'll just grab another one. Financial fine greatly cripples a man's ability to just get too many girls.
  6. If the man have to pay a huge fine for raping a woman and he cannot pay the fine, he can't just declare bankruptcy. What happens is that guy can end up becoming a slave. So having to pay fine, which seems to be like a misdemeanor nowadays, are actually a pretty serious punishment in ancient time.

So if a man have sex with a girl that's not his wife the first think the bible's writer think about in ancient time is not "is this consensual?". The first think the ancient people think about is what is her marital status? That is why the verse is not clear whether it addresses rape or not because it doesn't matter. Who is the victim here? The parent for not getting the bride price, or the husband for potentially end up supporting someone else' children.

If you want to know more about biblical society just look at contemporary muslim society. They are pretty similar. Many muslims would honor kill their daughter. They do not feel guilty about it because they think it's like destroying their own property anyway. The same way, females that don't "behave" gets killed in ancient hebrew society because they are just properties.

The penalty for having sex with unmarried girl is the bride price. Roughly 50 shekels.

If a man comes upon a virgin who is not engaged and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered, the man who lay with her shall pay the girl’s father fifty [shekels of] silver, and she shall be his wife. Because he has violated her, he can never have the right to divorce her.—Deuteronomy 22:28

Think of it as if someone take your cows and cook it. You pay for the cow. The same way if someone took your daughter's virginity, then they pay you bride price.

The consent of the girl matters little. So this could be rape and it can be consensual sex. The verse is not clear because it doesn't matter. The bible is concerned with the man having a girl without paying the parents' a fair bride price. The verse here sees the parent of the child as the victim, not the girl. The verse try to redress that aspect.

Deuteronomy 22:25-27 prescribes death penalty for "adultery". Not for rape. The penalty for having sex with someone already married is death irrelevant of the consent of the girl. If the girl doesn't consent, she is not executed. That is the only time the girls' consent matter. The penalty for the man doesn't depend on the girl's consent as usual.

The penalty of rape in general is NOT death. Deuteronomy 22:25 prescribe death penalty because the girl is already engaged. Jews consider engaged girl already married.

then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor's wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you

As far as I know there is absolutely no laws in the whole torah against sex outside marriage in general. However, sex outside marriage in general is very rare. That is because girls almost always "belong" to some male and that male is the one considered victim when you get the girl.

If the girl is not married, she belongs to her parents, so we have this "you got to marry her" as punishment. If she is married to someone else, the penalty is death. If she is divorced, she'll mary her husband's brother.

Hypothetically I could ask what about a girl that doesn't belong to anyone? Say she is a widow free to marry anyone? Is it a sin to have sex with them.

I have not found any verse in the torah that address that. However, until today, some jews consider David's copulation with Batsheba kosher because Batsheba is technically temporarily divorced by Uriah at that time..

To warn us against superficially interpreting David’s episode with Bathsheba, the Talmud records the oral tradition that, “Anyone who says that David sinned is in error.”

The closest I can find is she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done an outrageous thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father's house. You must purge the evil from among you.

Question remains. What about if she's not on her fathers' house? What about if she's an independent insurance agent? What about if she never marries anyone after that? What about if her husband knew beforehand that she is not a virgin, pay lower bride price, and don't mind?

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Does this passage describe the crime of rape?

Yes, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes what's known today as rape.

If so, does this passage describe the all punishment the man will endure?

Yes. The man just has to pay a fine to the virgins father for lowering her property value. She's now 'used goods'.

If so, how does this represent justice for the woman?

In ancient times justice for the woman was becoming a wife of the man who forced her into copulation. Unlike in our pro-feminist society, in ancient times all women thought it was honorable to become a wife and raise children. It was so important that if she was barren she would provide her maid.

Genesis 16:2 (KJV) And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

Being forced into copulation was not horrific to women in antiquity, it was a way to becoming a wife. What was horrific to these women was not being married to their 'rapists' afterwards. As we can see with the story of Amnon and his sister Tamar. After forcing his sister, Amnon hated her and sent her away. Tamar called this evil (2 Samuel 13:15-16).

And just a side note, the Code of Hammurabi has a similar law for forcing women into copulation.

  1. If a man has ravished another's betrothed wife, who is a virgin, while still living in her father's house, and has been caught in the act, that man shall be put to death; the woman shall go free.

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What does hammurabi says if the girl is NOT bethrothed? – Jim Thio Nov 9 at 4:07
I can't find anything in the Code of Hammurabi that gives instructions on what to do if the girl is not engaged. – brewpixels Nov 10 at 13:21

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