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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

2 Answers 2

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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So this could cover what we call rape or it could cover what we call consensual sex? And the punishment could be as severe as requiring the man to support his victim without requiring her to live with him. That seems better justice than the surface meaning to us modern readers. –  Jon Ericson May 2 '12 at 20:11
Edited answer to address comments –  Eli Rosencruft May 2 '12 at 20:49

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

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