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In Deut 22:13-21 a father was to present evidence that his daughter was a virgin on her wedding night. This evidence was called "tokens of virginity", and involved a mysterious cloth.

Deuteronomy 22:17 (KJV) 17 And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech [against her], saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these [are the tokens of] my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.

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The word used in verses 14, 17, and 18 is bətûlîm, “evidence(s) of virginity.” This is from bətûlâ, “virgin”, which is used in verse 19 to describe a woman thus evidenced. It refers to the custom of retaining a blood-stained sheet or cloth from the bed where a marriage is consummated. The blood (dam betulim) is said to “prove” the bride’s virginity as it evidences breaking of the hymen.

In cases where the groom accused his bride of having not been a virgin at the time of the marriage, the legal responsibility for defending her rested on her parents who, by giving her in marriage, had indicated that she was qualified (i.e., a virgin). The blood-stained sheet (bətûlîm) was the primary evidence brought in her defense.

There remain modern Jewish customs about this. I refer you to that site for more on the anatomy if interested. See also What are the “tokens of virginity?" on Judaism.SE.


Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 292-293.

C. F. Keil and Delitzsch F., Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), pp. 410-412

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  • Are there any other scholars who say that the "tokens of virginity" were bloodied bed sheets?
    – brewpixels
    Jun 14 '15 at 19:22
  • @kdigital I just added another reference + link. Will see if I can locate any more modern commentary for you.
    – Susan
    Jun 15 '15 at 0:05
  • 1
    Tigay (JPS Torah Commentary) and Merrill (NAC) both agree. Wenham gives a different interpretation (Wenham, “Bet̆ûlāh—A Girl of Marriageable Age,” Vetus Testamentum 22 (1972): 331–32).
    – Soldarnal
    Jun 15 '15 at 0:25
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Slander of a virgin, 13-21: Here is the scenario.

“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, ‘I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin,’ then the girl’s father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The girl’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, ‘I did not find your daughter a virgin. But this is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. So, the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girl’s father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel. And she shall remain his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.”

This is the portrait of a man who seems to be lacking any sense of propriety. Rather than getting to the truth of the matter and keeping the matter a private concern, he drags all of this out into the open for all to hear. The woman is shamed and publicly disgraced for something she has not done. Remember, this accusation, if proven true, carried a mandatory penalty of death. So now, her very life is at stake.

  1. If the accusation was found to be false

What was the garment evidence of her virginity? This refers to the custom of retaining the blood-stained sheet from her wedding night. Such evidence was accepted as proof of her virginity because she had left the blood of her virginity on the bed garment.

There was another custom concerning the types of garments worn by unmarried women that apparently had its origin in the time of David. This would have been the long-sleeved garments that were typically worn by a young woman that declared her to be a virgin. Unmarried women did not go bare-armed. Those who did so were considered prostitutes. It is not likely that this was the evidence spoken of in this text.

If the woman is vindicated, the man was to be fined 100 shekels, which amounts to a double dowry, for falsely accusing his wife. The shekel was worth four denarii. One denarius was considered a day’s wages for a common laborer. One hundred shekels of silver then was equivalent to more than a year’s wages for an unskilled laborer. That was a big deal. These laws were meant to be of such severity that people would think twice before going off half-cocked and making false accusations that would destroy the reputation of another person needlessly.

In addition to the 100 shekels of silver, the man must also bring his offering of jealousy. In Numbers 5:12-31, the law of jealousy was to be

“one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity.”

This was not only an admission of the man’s wrong done against his wife, it also certified to his acceptance of his wife's innocence.

In addition to the fine and the offering of jealousy, the accuser is not subject to the chastisement of the priest. This could have been a severe rebuke from the priest which is most likely, but it could have even resulted in being beaten.

In addition to the fine, the offering of jealousy, the lecture from the priest, and possibly even a beating, the man was now never allowed to put away his wife because he had slandered her falsely. (And on top of all of that, he still has to face his wife when he gets home. That pooooor man!) These consequences should have been sufficient to cause a man to think very carefully about accusing someone without sufficient evidence.

  1. If the accusation was found to be true

“But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus, you shall purge the evil from among you.”

The penalty of death is the Law of Leviticus 20:10 which commands,

“If there is a man who commits adultery with another man's wife, one who commits adultery with his friend's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress s surely be put to death.”

  1. I would think that from a legal standpoint, a case of this type would present quite a problem for the prosecution.

a. If the woman was guilty, this was a capital crime that demanded the death penalty.

b. No less than two witnesses were required to condemn a person to death.

c. The only apparent witness to the crime is the husband.

d. So, how can she be put to death on the testimony of only one witness?

Answer, she isn't. The second witness is the clean garment. This is what would condemn her. This is the only witness the man has to stand with him. This is not the only time we see such a witness in scripture. In Luke 9:4-5, Jesus told the apostles,

“Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave. And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out of that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony (μαρτύριον) against them.”

So, the very dust of the city becomes a witness against them because they rejected the gospel. By the same token, the unsoiled garments stand as a witness against her and she is condemned on the testimony of two witnesses.

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There is no word "token" when read in Hebrew.

The word "token" was added in by translators.

The original Hebrew of verse 17 says,

והנה
And hence

הוא שם
he sets

עלילת דברים לאמר
verbal accusation/narrative to say

לא מצאתי לבתך
I have not found in your daughter

בתולים
virginity

ואלה בתולי בתי
and there my daughter's virginity

ופרשו השמילה
and they spread the which-of-coitus

לפני זקני בעיר
in-front-of/facing the city elders/old-men.

  1. בתול = virgin, masculine
    בתולה = virgin, feminine

  2. בתולים = virgins, masculine plural
    = virginity

בתולי = possessive conjunct form of בתולים

  1. For example,
    אכל = eat
    אכלים = eatings, masculine plural = food

  2. מילה = male organ, penis
    שמילה = which due to penis
    השמילה = the {which was due to penile (penetration?)}

Whatever that is, the passage does not say.

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  • Perhaps, to uphold doctrinal integrity needed elsewhere, the translation uses the term "maid" rather than "virgin". Jun 14 '15 at 9:20

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