Tag Archives: genesis

Is Ruth a Rapist?

You were probably expecting something pertaining to same-sex marriage today.  This article does focus on the story of Lot, but as we know, that story has nothing to do with homosexuality or gay marriage.  I previously wrote about rape in the Bible and how, contrary to popular criticism, the rapists are handed some of the most severe punishments in the Old Testament.  However, this only seems applicable to male rapists; it’s troubling that the female rapists in the Bible all seem to get away with it with impunity.  Lot’s daughters rape their own father by deception in Genesis 19:30-36.  Tamar, in disguise, similarly tricks her own father-in-law into sleeping with her in Genesis 38.  While technically not a rape, Potiphar’s wife sexually assaults Joseph in the next chapter.

Lot’s daughters are the example of the most intertextual importance.  The story shares a common form to Noah’s post-survival narrative which suggested sexual misconduct by his son, Ham (Gen. 9:18-28).  But more importantly, the oldest unnamed daughter gives birth to Moab (19:37), and this incestuous etiology informs the complicated Israelite-Moabite relationship in the rest of the Bible, from their co-existence after the conquest of Canaan, to their place in the genealogy of the Lord.  Particularly, this should be contrasted with a difficult passage in the only book of the Bible named after a Moabite, Ruth.  Sunday school lessons tend to focus on Boaz’s compassion for Ruth as she gleans in the field, while ignoring their overnight encounter.  Scholars are in disagreement of this incident at the threshing floor in chapter 3:

When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!  Ruth 3:7-8

'Landscape with Ruth and Boaz', Josep Anton Koch, 1768

‘Landscape with Ruth and Boaz’, Josep Anton Koch, 1768

Moral sensibilities tend to predetermine the interpretation that this was an asexual encounter.  The protagonists, it is argued, could not have committed anything considered sinful by virtue of this book’s placement in the canon (This same rationale also drives a sanitized interpretation of Song of Solomon).  But if “uncovering his feet” is an obscured euphemism, their spending the night together is harder to overlook.  To modern standards of mutual consent, Ruth’s actions while Boaz sleeps border on assault even if there was no sexual contact.  It also doesn’t help that she leaves almost shamefully “before anyone could be recognized” (3:14).

There are obvious comparisons intentionally made to Lot’s daughters in the text, and it is through this lens that it can be better understood.  Instructed by a relative, Ruth sleeps with a close relative after he has been drinking, as Lot’s oldest daughter impregnated herself with her drunk father and then compelled her sister to do the same.  Lot was unaware when his daughters lay down or got up, but while Ruth enters stealthily and leaves without being recognized, she does reveal herself to Boaz in the middle of the night.  Ruth’s narrative is deliberately structured after the prior rape incident, but as a literary construction it actually functions as its opposite.  Lot’s daughter gives birth to Moab through incest and rape, but it is her descendant Ruth who redeems her people even as she is redeemed by her near kinsman.  Unlike her ancestor, Ruth does not engage in deception and seeks a legitimate and lawful relationship with a man who had previously shown interest in her. As is typical for Biblical narratives to undo a curse in a like manner to its origin, the ambiguity of the passage in Ruth can be attributed to the text’s forced similarities to Lot’s daughters.  Scholars and clergy will forever debate the extent of Ruth and Boaz’s premarital romance, but it should certainly not be confused with the rape text that it intends to counteract.

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Undoctrination

 “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
  This bumper sticker slogan popularized by some conservative Christians  encapsulates a fundamental flaw in the way many Christians see their faith.  Aside from the fact that this statement does not include any distinctly Christian descriptor and could just as easily be said by any theist–Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Baha’i, etc.–this mindset is a nonstarter in any religious conversation with a non-Christian even if it were referring specifically to the Bible.  If these Christians were really honest with themselves, then the Bible ought to say something to the effect of this statement, but it doesn’t.  It becomes apparent that the intent of this motto is not the advancement of Christianity, but instead the promulgation of a philosophy to make the religion doctrinaire:
doc·tri·naire /däktrəˈner/ adjective:  seeking to impose a doctrine in all circumstances without regard to practical considerations.
  Now in the broadest sense, any belief system can be said to be doctrinaire compared to a belief system without any distinctive doctrines (such as New Thought or Unitarian Universalism), but for the sake of clarity I will focus the meaning here to a specific methodology of doctrine formation.  Doctrines themselves are not necessarily problematic, the problem is when the doctrine itself is the starting point for a belief, rather than basing belief on reason, fact, or evidence.  A real doctrine should be the conclusion of an argument, not the origin.  The logic in the above example works just the same with the more straightforward re-phrasing: “I believe it, that settles it.”

  Doctrinaire thinking is not unique to Christianity.  Communism is an obvious example of a doctrine system that’s tried often despite all evidence demonstrating it simply doesn’t work (as is trickle-down economics).  Other religions, like Islam and Mormonism, are even more doctrinaire, demanding belief in their sacred texts first for their books’ claims to be believable.  Even the total rejection of doctrine can ironically become a doctrinaire position.  The difference with Christianity, however, is that doctrinaire thought is not essential to believing Christianity, and I would argue the religion is better without it.

  Doctrinaire faith leads people to seek support for pre-determined beliefs, as opposed to the proper method of arriving at conclusions based on supporting facts.  A doctrinaire believer is characterized by having their own set of “facts” in harmony with their faith but in conflict with reality.  These doctrinaire assumptions can eventually distract from their original intent altogether and take on a life of their own.  For example, racist doctrines devised to discourage race mixing, such as black skin being the mark of Cain or rock music coming from darkest Africa were still perpetuated by people removed from segregation who no longer saw themselves as racists.  The insistence of a literal reading of Genesis started as an attempt to defend the Bible against equally-literalist critics in light of scientific discovery, but has now become an association of so-called “ministries” that focus entirely on their interpretation of Genesis as if that were the essence of Christianity.  Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter comes to mind as a literal embodiment of doctrinaire ideology, going so far as to try to make it a physical reality in theme park form.  In this way, doctrinaire doctrines tend towards redundancy, because the end goal is just to support the original premise.

  But does Christianity actually need to be so doctrinaire?  Its basic assumptions about life are well grounded in observable reality:  men are imperfect, prone to do wrong, and die once.  In contrast, the doctrines of reincarnation or inherent divinity found in eastern religions, or pre-existence in Mormonism, require unprovable doctrinal assumptions.  The cardinal belief of Christianity in life after death is demonstrated by a man rising from the dead and supported by witnesses.  One does not have to believe in a book first to believe this is true.

  Not only does it unnecessarily affect theology, but doctrinaire beliefs can pollute the overall practice of Christianity in the most basic ways Christians treat other people.  Much of the criticism the church has earned in the last centuries have been due to indefensible policies that people would only accept if they already believed a certain version of Christianity.  Church leaders jump to the conclusion that every natural disaster, every epidemic, or every act of terror is God punishing innocent people for some unrelated sin because faith.  At a loss to explain why things are right and wrong outside of a deontological “because we say so”, they try to control people with empty threats of hell and damnation which they never have to prove.  Christians perpetuated the inequality of women, blacks, and gays based on nothing more than a prejudiced scripture reading.  I expect some of my readers might cringe at my inclusion of gays in the list of the oppressed, but when institutions like the Southern Baptist Convention have cried wolf about slavery, lynching, segregation, women’s suffrage, abortion (whichever side you’re on, they’ve been on the other side at some point) and interracial marriage, it’s hard to convince me that banning same-sex marriage is the one thing they’ve been right about.  Strangely, when I grew up in a fundamental baptist church, I was taught that Southern Baptist churches were wrong, but never for the obvious reason that they only exist because of a split over slavery.  Looking back at historical sermons from the South, it’s a marvel that the church today has so easily forgiven its past racists when those same preachers effectively condemned virtually every Christian living today as Satanic heretics.

  Some might argue that churches arrived at those horrible conclusions because of a misreading of Scripture.  That may be true, but that certainly hasn’t stopped the same churches from being repeat offenders.  The convenience of doctrinaire thinking is that you always find what you were looking for in the Biblical text, therefore the solution should not just be a commitment to better Bible reading, but a complete overhaul in how we formulate doctrines.  I don’t demand or expect that every Christian on earth could instantly convert to my way of thinking, but I will attempt to lay out some guidelines that I think everyone could consider whether they come from a literary or literalist approach to the Bible.  First, Christians should take inventory of their essential beliefs and determine, like the ones I listed above, those that are grounded in reality.  These principles, rooted in love, life, and liberty, should be the driving force of the faith that we communicate to the world.  Next, we should calculate the risk of positions that have the potential to cause more harm than good; a position that can’t stand up to objective scrutiny probably isn’t suitable for public policy, and we should avoid looking like we just want to control the behavior of unbelievers. Christians should be especially cautious when judging others, focusing less on subjective sins and more on universal, objective morality.  Note that as critical as I am of certain churches for documented moral lapses, I have still never judged them as strongly as they have judged me for imaginary reasons.  Some have accused me of trying to create a “Christianity for atheists”, but that’s not really my intent.  I’m not trying to strip Christianity of doctrines or the supernatural, I just want to promote and strengthen its best doctrines which all too often take a back seat to shameful ideologies.  Perhaps in that way it is a Christianity for atheists, I always want to present a Christianity that’s for everybody.

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Judges: Second Genesis

The logical epilogue to the Pentateuch should be the book of Joshua, but I’m going to skip over that to the book of Judges.  Sure, Joshua perfectly closes out the Exodus like html tags, with a lesser parting of water for the Israelites to cross over on dry ground (Joshua 3:14-17), and Joshua’s encounter with the Lord outside Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15) corresponds to Moses and the burning bush.  Judges, however, is the book I would argue has the most similarity to the books of Moses, particularly Genesis.  Since both books depict a lawless period, one before the Law was given, the other at a time when it has been largely abandoned, I could go so far as to say Judges could have originated as an alternative to Genesis, so much so that I would call it “Genesis Gone Wrong.”

Specifically, Judges appears to call to mind the accounts of Abraham and Lot in Genesis 18 and 19.  Just as the angels visited the Patriarch Abram near the great trees of Mamre, the angel of the Lord comes to Gideon under an oak in Ophrah (Judges 6:11).  Both Abram and Gideon use the phrase “If I have found favor in your eyes” (Genesis 18:3, Judges 6:17) before offering him a sacrificially acceptable meal.  Lastly, just as Abram tests God’s patience by repeatedly begging him to spare Sodom with increasingly fewer conditions, so Gideon increasingly raises the conditions of his testing, practically quoting Abram in the process (“Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request.” Judges 6:39).  From there the parallels diverge, Gideon goes on to defeat Midian while the hospitality narrative that follows immediately in Genesis doesn’t appear until later in the book of Judges.

Before that, however, we do resume with parallels to the sons of Abraham.  Similar to Ishmael, the son of a foreign bondwoman driven out of his home, Jephthah the son of a prostitute is driven away by his brothers (Judges 11:1-3).  In contrast to Isaac, however, Jephthah vows to offer a burnt offering to YHWH and tragically follows this sacrifice through with his own daughter (Judges 11:30-39); sadly, there is no deus ex machina or ram caught in the thicket here.

The parallels are then interrupted by the account of Samson, but resume again in Chapter 19, which corresponds to the same chapter of Genesis.  Here we find a hospitality narrative that seems to bridge the differences between Lot in Sodom and Baucis and Philemon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  While this story lacks the two gods, it contains similarities to Ovid not found in Genesis.  Although the pair of angels effortlessly find Lot and thus a place to stay, the Levite and his concubine in Judges are not so fortunate.  Like Ovid’s Zeus and Apollo (“a thousand houses they approached looking for rest, a thousand houses were locked and bolted.  But one received them.” Metamorphoses Book VIII), they sit in the city square but nobody will take them in for the night, except for an old man.  What happens next is nearly verbatim from the Genesis story, some wicked men of the city surround the house and demand to sexually violate the visitor.  Like Lot, the owner offers the mob his virgin daughter, but the men wouldn’t listen.  Unlike Lot, however, the Levite does send out his concubine, who is then horribly raped to death.

Even though in the narrative’s chronology the Law has already been given, the Judges seem completely unaware of it.  Ironically, the Patriarchs precede the giving of the Law yet the inhabitants of Genesis seem to follow it intuitively.  While much of the same questionable morality like human sacrifice permeates both books, apologists have a much easier time addressing these moral lapses in Genesis than in Judges.  Divine intervention in the binding of Isaac makes for good Sunday school material, while the difficult story of Jephthah is rarely mentioned in church, if at all.

Although not a “lawbook” like the other four books in the Torah, when weighed against the parallels of the Judges it becomes clear why Genesis is still very much a book of the Law.  The book of Judges is as lawless as the judges themselves, and they seem to only teach us by bad example.  Obviously the Samaritans ignored everything after the Pentateuch, but curiously the Jewish scholars seem to have forgotten most of them except Samson in their subsequent literature, like the Talmud.  This trend continues not just into the New Testament (except for a passing reference in Hebrews 11:32), but also into every other faith tradition that borrowed heavily from the Patriarchs, from Islam to Baha’i and Mormonism.  I think that’s a great loss for them, as the book of Judges serves as an interpretive key of sorts to some of the difficult passages of Genesis.  The sex-obsessed Talmudic interpretation of Sodom and Gomorrah which is so prevalent today, for instance, isn’t quite as convincing when read through the lens of the Levite and his concubine.

 

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The Pentateuch, Part 2: Lastly, In the Beginning

I’m probably the only person this week talking about the book of Genesis without discussing the recent debate between Science Guy Bill Nye and Genesis answer man Ken Ham.  I suppose I need to explain why I don’t feel the need to even cover the topic of the evolution debate in my series on the Pentateuch, or some readers may be disappointed.  Ultimately, I think questions about scriptural literalism can be an unnecessary distraction, because a solid literary interpretation is a much better common ground for believers to meet skeptics.  Literalism is easy to dismiss, but the literary meaning is undeniable; an unbeliever absolutely has to have a literary understanding of a text or else there’s no point in them even discussing it, and the literary interpretation is universally true even if a literal interpretation fails to convince them.  Of course, just having said that will get me denounced as a heretic from the more radical creationist circles who seem to hold the interpretation of the first 11 chapters of Genesis on par with doctrines essential for salvation.

Genesis has certainly become a polarizing book.  Answers in Genesis is hardly the only organization to draw its name and focus from this unique Old Testament book, whereas fewer ministries focus on Exodus (most that use the word “exodus” in their name have little to do with the content of the book itself), and even fewer still, if any, from Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy.  While I think Genesis has been made an unnecessary barrier to faith in many areas, there’s no denying its uniqueness, even in the first five books of Moses.  After all, the entirety of its contents pre-date its traditional author, as well as the Law of which it is considered a part, so Christians of all persuasions are more naturally aware of the writing process involved.  The lazy Mormon view, of course, is that God simply dictated these stories to Moses on Mount Sinai, but most Christians can readily accept these as stories passed down through oral tradition before being committed to writing.

Previously, I detailed a thread of external sources that follow a specific chronological and geographic course through the Pentateuch.  Now, if the Torah was just supposed to be a pastiche of near eastern mythology, then why are the references to external sources so consistently chronological?  Gilgamesh similarities are limited to the early chapters of Genesis, rather than inserted periodically into Exodus or Leviticus, Egyptian parallels are confined to the exodus, and so on.  Actually, there is a source that has been evenly distributed into the Genesis narrative, the Mosaic Law itself.

From the dawn of creation the 4th Commandment is established before being given in Exodus.  While the Patriarchs seem ignorant of it, Noah’s flood obsessive compulsively observers the Sabbath, with every activity after the initial week taking place on a Friday, Sunday, or Wednesday.  Oddly, while the Patriarchs neglect Israel’s definitive mitzvah, they demonstrate an uncanny awareness of other minor commandments and practices found in the Mosaic Law.

When God covenants with Abrahm and promises him he will be a father of nations, Abram  performs a unique ritual–found nowhere else in the Bible except possibly for Jeremiah 34:18– involving a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a pigeon (Genesis 15:9-20).  This includes every animal permitted for sacrifice under the Law, and specifically those for the purification after childbirth (Lev. 12:6-8).

After the rape of Dinah in Genesis 34, Shechem offers to pay a bride-price similar to the terms of Exodus 22:16-17.  Joseph is sold into slavery for twenty shekels of silver (Genesis 37:28), the set redemption value of a male age 5-20 in Leviticus 27:5.  Levirate marriage, the custom of a widow re-marrying her husband’s surviving brother, is seen described in Genesis 38 before being prescribed in Deuteronomy 25:5-6.  When Tamar is declared guilty of prostitution in Genesis 38:24, Judah hastily orders her to be burned to death; the only such punishment commanded in the Torah is found in Leviticus 21:9, for the sin of prostitution.

Some of these, such as the levirate marriage, could possibly be considered influence of a Genesis precedent on the later law, rather than the law influencing Genesis.  Nevertheless, Genesis seems to have an operative assumption of the entire Law, both moral and ritual, even when not explicitly stated.  Cain is supposed to have known murder is wrong ages before “thou shalt not kill” is set in stone, just as Abel knows to sacrifice the firstborn of his flock without any direction.

All this creates not only some challenges to traditional views on how the Pentateuch was written, but also on the moral theory it contains (which I hope to cover at a later time).  I would argue that Joseph Smith being forced to re-write the beginning of the Book of Mormon to replace the lost pages probably made it a better work of literature than it otherwise might have been.  I suspect the Urantia Book was similarly written in reverse order, giving it a more developed beginning.  My advice to any writer, really, would be to revise the beginning of their story after they’ve finished it, and I think Genesis is similarly an improved work of literature because of this.

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The Pentateuch, Part 1: Migratory Patterns

I’ve resolved to blog more consistently this year, which means I’m ready to start a series of a textual analysis of the Pentateuch.  Actually, I’m not sure I’m really ready for this, the more I study the Torah the more amateurish I feel about it.  While I’m sure I’ll never be studied enough for my own satisfaction, I do feel confident nevertheless that I’m capable of dispelling some of the common misunderstandings about the writing processes of the Torah.  From my experience, most Christians don’t seem to acknowledge a writing process is indeed involved in the creation of scripture.  But even if they may admit to that, it doesn’t necessarily mean they intellectually understand the ramifications this has for the interpretive process.   Yet Christians both learned and ignorant have high esteem for the Books of Moses, some to the point that they believe it contains a rulebook for the ideal civilization, even if they don’t really follow that in practice.  Hopefully in the next few weeks I can impart some of the theories and conclusions I’ve made from my personal study, and help you see these books in a radically different way.

One interesting feature of the Pentateuch as a whole is that the entire text has a migratory pattern that reflects the internal migration within the narrative.  The ante-deluvian stories share many similarities to Sumerian creation and flood myths like the Epic of Gilgamesh.  After the call of Abraham from Ur, however, the text becomes more apparently self-reliant: there are three interdependent sister-wife narratives within the book of Genesis  (Gen. 12:10-20, Gen. 20, Gen. 26:1-11) and incrementally fewer references to outside source material with each passing patriarch.  By the time we get to Joseph the book has a decided cultural identity, but upon the Exodus traces of multi-culturalism resurface.  The rescue of Moses from the Nile has similarities to exposure narratives of the Assyrian legend of Sargon and others, coincidentally right before this exiled prince would end up in the land of Midian, later to be part of the Assyrian empire.  Returning to Egypt as a prophet, the text shares some similarities with ancient Egyptian stories: in Se-Osiris and the Sealed Letter, an Ethiopian magician turns a sealed roll into a serpent (similar to Aaron’s rod in Ex. 7:9), and also casts a spell of darkness on the land for three days and nights (Ex. 10:22); a lake is parted in the Golden Lotus.

When Moses gives the Law on Sinai, the text itself is in between Egypt and the Promised Land.  The Ten Commandments echo the Negative Confessions from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, while the influence of the surrounding legal systems of Babylon’s Hammurabi, the Hittite Code of the Nesilim, the Persian Avesta, and others is undeniable.  It’s also interesting to note that the Hebrews acquired the punishment of stoning while wandering in the Arabian desert, where this method is still in effect to this day for the same sins, although the Jews seem to have discarded it after settling in the Holy Land.  While the Qur’an was a book of rules written by an authoritarian seeking inspiration in a dark, desert cave with little outside exposure, the Law of Moses is clearly written from observation and experience.  Aside from the more familiar “thou shalt not’s”, it includes a great deal of casuistic legal rulings that demonstrate the experience of a lawgiver who had settled cases himself from morning till night (Ex. 18:13).  Occasionally, contextual narratives are joined to the rulings to give insight into the case process (Lev. 24:10-16, Num. 15:32-36), but other times the reasons are frustratingly lost to the ages, such as the prohibition on boiling a kid goat in its mother’s milk (Ex. 34:26, Deut. 14:21).  Nevertheless, we can see these were not arbitrary rulings dictated by a single-minded tyrant, there is no attempt to hide or disguise the writing process and rely solely on a claim of divine inspiration to demand blind obedience, as the writers of other holy books have done.

The narrative doesn’t just move through time as it progresses forward, it also visibly moves through space.  It has a timestamp and a location stamp that corresponds perfectly to where the text ought to be at a specific time and place.  Parallels to contemporary literature sometimes make the more hardline fundamentalists uncomfortable, and they react either with outright denial or the insistence that the Bible was always the original source that other cultures borrowed.  This obsession with primacy is really just to satisfy the fundamentalist’s psychological need for closure, but they really need not be so threatened at the thought of the Biblical authors borrowing from another source.  That fact certainly discredits the Rabbinic tradition that the five books of Moses were dictated to a single author in their final form except for the last chapter of Deuteronomy, however, anybody who understands the process of how a book is written and edited can reconcile that process with the doctrine of divine inspiration.  A believer who can’t do that simply has a flawed understanding of what divine inspiration actually means.

Rather than disproving the Bible, as the skeptics jump to conclude, the migration of the text is a strong testimony of its authenticity.  This book has indeed travelled through the cultures and periods that it claims.  On the other hand, fraudulent holy books like the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon are easily disproven by how they do neither.  Muhammad’s Qur’an does not have a linear concept of time, and all the Biblical characters simultaneously inhabit a continuous, mythical present.  His book never left the Arabian desert until his followers did.  The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, is more careful to tell a linear story but fails to visit any other culture except the one Joseph Smith imagines; he doesn’t dare attempt to give specific cultural details until his characters have safely stepped outside of the Holy Land, and history.  Even then, the animals and technological advancements he depicts contradict with what we know factually about pre-European America.  The only conclusion available is that both these books are frauds, and no amount of belief in them being divinely inspired can change that.  Quite the opposite, the Bible’s authenticity is reinforced by comparative study, and could be trusted without any belief in its inspiration at all.

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The Hebrew Word for Rape

Rape in the Bible is a very misunderstood subject, complicated by the fact that the Hebrews had no actual word for rape.  It’s further misunderstood when words that don’t actually mean rape are translated as rape in English.  Critics love to isolate English passages like Deuteronomy 22:28-29 in the NIV that suggest a rape victim must marry their rapist, and too many Christians are ill-equipped to defend these passages.  Now, there are already ample word studies on the topic of why this reading is incorrect, so rather than expound on that, I thought I would cover an overlooked subject: how did the Hebrews conceptualize rape without a word to describe it?

The mere absence of the word in their language is seen as a problem for the skeptic, and tries the faith of some believers too.  After all, how moral could the Bible be if the writers didn’t even know what rape was?  This line of questioning presupposes that one must know a word before one can understand a concept, which is patently false.  In my own experience, I’ve been surprised to learn that terms I didn’t even know existed for concepts I had discovered all on my own.  But, you may ask, shouldn’t an exhaustive penal code like the Mosaic law be able to categorize sex crimes more specifically?  Again, words aren’t necessary for differentiation as long as context is clear.  After all, a lot of people couldn’t tell you the difference between a misdemeanor, larceny, or felony, but they could still comprehend that in concept these are all illegal.  The significance of technical terms like “involuntary manslaughter” or “third degree murder” may not be known by everyone, yet they still know the conceptual difference between accidental killing and murder.  And despite the limits of the vocabulary, the Mosaic law does extensively itemize sexual offenses, both consensual and involuntary.

Single language speakers often fail to understand how little languages overlap, and that nuances present in one language may be lost in translation.  For instance, it’s common for English speakers to state that the Greeks had multiple words for love, which is an inaccurate understanding of language; if the Greeks had considered agape to be “love”, for instance, then they would not have considered eros to be “love.”  Greco-Roman society probably would have been just as amused by our linguistic inability to parse eros from agape as we are of the Hebrew language limitation of separating sex as rape from sex as making love.

But just like the Greeks had a word for them (ask your mother if you don’t know what I’m talking about), did the Hebrews identify rape without actually calling it out?  Could they have skirted around the subject euphemistically?  I believe there’s evidence to suggest such a literary device, similar to  Oscar Wilde’s “love that dare not speak it’s name.”  There appears to be a unifying trope that runs through the three rape narratives in Scripture, starting with the rape of Dinah in Genesis 34.

Before proceeding, however, I think it’s noteworthy to point out that in all three cases, not only does the rapist does not marry his victim, but instead they all receive some of the most brutal retribution in the Bible.  After Dinah had been violated, but before two of her brothers killed every man in the city, the deed is mentioned as “a thing that should not be done.”

Now Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.  Genesis 34:7

This phrase is echoed in the epilogue to the next rape narrative, found in Judges 19.  Literarily, the book of Judges is essentially Genesis gone wrong.  Jephthah fails to be Abraham, Samson pales compared to Joseph, and in this passage indisputably similar to the story of Lot, Israel has become the new Sodom.  While some additional gory details escalate the incident to which this phrase refers to beyond just rape (the phrase has some additional words as well), it is telling that it appears in the same situation.

Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!”  Judges 19:30

The last case in our study is the infamous rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13.  This passage once again heavily mirrors Genesis, with allusion to Joseph (a victim of a false accusation of rape) in the similarity of Tamar’s cloak.  Tamar’s plea in the middle of the act itself includes this exact same verbiage:

“Don’t, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing.  2 Samuel 13:12

While I can’t say with certainty that this was a common Hebrew circumlocution for the concept of rape, that’s what it seems to be within the confines of Scripture, at least.  Terminology like this suggests that absence of the particular word was not due to ignorance or moral deficiency as in the skeptic’s accusations, but rather that the ancient Hebrews were just as repulsed by rape as we are today.  Far from being a white elephant in the room that nobody wanted to talk about, it shows that not only could they not utter it, their method of describing it was in terms of something so unimaginably awful it should never be done.

Tamar from 2 Samuel 13

Thamar by Alexandre Cabanel

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First Nephi Part 2

Mormons often think a blogger like me does nothing but read anti-Mormon websites for their research.  Nothing could be further from the truth, I actually love to read Mormon apologetics.  An apologist generally operates from the standpoint that their opponent probably knows every bit of damaging information already, so they’re much more likely to volunteer information that the missionaries might hold back (if they even know about it).

So it was when I was reading about the influence of the apocryphal book of Judith in 1 Nephi.  Judith tells the story of a Jewish widow who seduces an enemy general, and once she has him passed out drunk in his tent, she decapitates him.  This story is strikingly similar to the tale of Nephi finding his uncle Laban drunk outside his house and beheading him so he can recover the brass plates that he came to retrieve (Nephi 4).

Now the influence of the apocrypha in the Book of Mormon is too much of a stretch even for the Mormon concept of revelation.  It’s one thing to suggest that God inspired two separate authors to compose the exact same text of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, but it’s another to have to accept that God inspired an author to borrow material from another book which wouldn’t have been available to him and, according to Joseph Smith himself, isn’t even inspired.  The presence of apocryphal sources is a double-edged sword because it proves Nephi couldn’t have been the author, and also that Joseph Smith could have been.  While reading on the Mormon apologetic website, FAIR, I came across this interesting defense:

It has even been pointed out by LDS scholars that if one were to look for potential parallels with the story of Nephi and Laban, that the story of David and Goliath would be a much better fit than the story of Judith

In retrospect the beheading of Goliath is so obvious, but I have to thank FAIR for pointing out the connection.  What’s interesting about the Mormon defense, however, is how they think that a second influence apparently negates the first, as if it were impossible for Joseph Smith to have drawn upon both texts for material.  It’s certainly not unreasonable to see the similarities, and knowing that the name Nephi is found in the Apocrypha also (sorry to burst FAIR’s grasping at straws to speculate an Egyptian name), it is reasonable to conclude this is just another similarity.  I would actually go one step further and point out that this episode has at least a third influence in the book of Genesis.

As I’ve theorized, Joseph Smith had already read the entire Bible and Apocrypha by the time he backtracked over the lost pages.  His design for the overall book always seemed to be analogous to the Bible, so 1 Nephi lifts much of its narrative from Genesis.  In this story, I believe Nephi’s deception through disguise and even the name Laban were drawn from the marriage of Jacob and Leah in Genesis 29.

It seems rather obvious that Joseph Smith was capable of mining multiple sources that were available to him at the time, and the improved complexity of his writing in 1 Nephi supports this hypothesis.  The only reason for not assuming both were influential sources would be if one had predetermined to believe Joseph Smith, which defeats the point of any rational apologetic argument at all.  Omissions in logic like this may be satisfactory to Mormons who aren’t looking for a logical validation to their faith anyway, but they don’t actually communicate to non-Mormons approaching the text from a logical perspective.

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