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Dt. 21:10-14: (NLT) “Suppose you go out to war against your enemies and the Lord your God hands them over to you, and you take some of them as captives. 11 And suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you are attracted to her and want to marry her. 12 If this happens, you may take her to your home, where she must shave her head, cut her nails, 13 and change the clothes she was wearing when she was captured. She will stay in your home, but let her mourn for her father and mother for a full month. Then you may marry her, and you will be her husband and she will be your wife. 14 But if you marry her and she does not please you, you must let her go free. You may not sell her or treat her as a slave, for you have humiliated her.”

Many translators label עִנִּיתָֽהּ as “you have humiliated her (ESV),” or “you have humbled her (KJV).” However, in Robert Alter’s book, The Hebrew Bible: A translation with commentary, Alter says this;

“The verb, ‘Inah’, “abuse,” “debase,” “afflict,” is also sometimes used for rape, and its employment here astringently suggests that the sexual exploitation of a captive woman, even in a legally sanctioned arrangement of concubinage, is equivalent to rape.” (Robert Alter 2018, The Hebrew Bible: A translation with commentary, W.W. Norton & Company, p,882.)

How then, should we interpret the meaning of עִנִּיתָֽהּ? And, does this mean that all captive women were raped? Or perhaps, were some of them raped while others stayed in marriage for a lifetime?

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Women captives were at risk of their lives. Their husbands or fathers had been put to the sword mercilessly and there is no reason to believe they were aware of any legal protection given them by the Torah. So they were under the worst possible kind of duress. Even if they accepted marriage, they can hardly be considered free agents.

So, yes, in that sense they were raped by today's standards, even if their captor had sex with them only under the supposed cover of marriage. (Remember too that few of them would be primary wives; most would serve as concubines.) However, in terms of morality, as bad as this tradition may seem to us, it does not rise to the level of American slavery, for example. Female slaves in the U.S. also may have 'consented' to have sex with their masters; but the master in that case was not bound by a marriage covenant.

How should we interpret עִנִּיתָֽהּ? I would suggest "you have brought her low," or "you have degraded her." She had to be released rather than sold "if she does not please you." But this would make her not only 'used goods,' but used goods of inferior quality.

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