Marriage in Deuteronomy

Note: This is the fifth post in an ongoing series where we look at what the Bible actually says about marriage. Earlier posts can be found hereherehere, and here

Deuteronomy doesn’t disappoint when it comes to laws regarding marriage, women, and sexuality. Unless, of course, you were expecting laws that adhere to a code of ethics and morality similar to what we have today. Because that’s certainly not what we have here.

If you’ve been following along, it should be no surprise that the author(s) of Deuteronomy largely considers women inferior to men, and many times, regards women as property. For example, Moses instructs the Israelites that when they are victorious over their distant enemies, they must kill all the men. Then he says:

As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you my use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. (Deut. 20:13-15).


Fortunately for these captured women, the law provides for them some protection. If her captor marries her, but then decides he’s not pleased with her, he must let her go and cannot sell her as a slave (Deut. 21:10-14). This isn’t because, as I’m sure you know, slavery is bad, but rather because she’s been dishonored (aka is no longer a virgin).

Virginity, at least in a woman, is a central part to honor in Deuteronomy. A woman can be put to death (by stoning) if her husband questions her pre-wedding night virginity and her father cannot supply evidence of her purity. Fortunately, if she is wrongly accused, her husband will have to pay a fine to her father and her husband can never divorce her (Deut. 22:13-21). Seems fair…

Notice that there’s no equivalent process for a woman to challenge her husband’s virginity. Surprised?

This section also frames how rape is punishable. Oddly, the location and the woman’s marital status are what’s most important. If the rape happens in a town, both the rapist and the victim are to be stoned. If the rape happens in the country, only the rapist is stoned (Deut. 22:23-27). The reasoning here is that the woman, if she was serious about protecting her purity for her husband, would scream for help. If she’s in a town, other people would hear her and come to her aid, thwarting the would-be rapist. If she’s in the country, no one is around to hear her scream, so she’s given the benefit of the doubt.

Unmarried women, however, aren’t as well protected. If raped, and discovered, the rapist must pay the victim’s father a fine. The woman is then required to marry her rapist with no chance of divorce (Deut. 22:28-29).

The last original oddity restricts re-marrying. If the woman remarries, then divorces or is widowed, she cannot remarry her first husband. Again, this comes down to the “sanctity” of a woman’s vagina.

Now, all of this is pretty terrible, and I don’t want to be accused of cherry picking verses in this book, so here are a few rules laid out for marriage and sexuality that aren’t completely terrible, or are at least relevant yet today:

1. Don’t marry your father’s wife (Deut. 22:30).
Frankly, if everyone involved is onboard with this, I say: go for it, it’s your life. Just be prepared for society’s scorn.

2. Newlywed men receive one year of deferment for military service (Deut. 24:5).
A good policy for the family! Considering the Israelites were polygamists (repeated suggestion in Deut. 21:15-17), I can imagine this was a very effective way to dodge the draft.

3. Incest is bad (Deut. 27:23).
Yep.

That brings us to the end of the Pentateuch. This particular post was a little light on commentary and little heavy on exposition, I know. But in my defense, the blatant second class treatment of women in these laws makes the argument on its own far better than I could. All the same, expect a post that ties the themes found in this series together soon.

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