No tears for the raped concubine
Opening ritual: How did the opening ritual of visualizing the circle of women and of introducing yourself affect you? Would it be helpful for you to repeat this ritual at the beginning of each session and to silently acknowledge, “I am not alone. My co-learners (name each of them slowly, visualizing them as you do so) are out there wondering and waiting to see what I will do and say during this session. I anticipate interacting with them as I go forward.” Embellish this ritual and make it your own. If after a few sessions, the ritual seems empty, feel free to drop it. If the impact grows on you, continue it and allow the mysterious presence of your co-learners to diffuse your studies.
chime.mp3 The learning circle is now open. Write down your starting time.
Each of us has a unique story to tell. Hence, you are invited to reflect upon and to post your response to the following prompts:
Reflective Questions 6.1<–[Click here when ready to post.]
6.1a Describe a single dramatic experience that shaped or changed how you understand how the rules of society function in such as way as to put girls and women at a disadvantage when contrasted with the favored treatment of boys and men (within the same family or the same social class/circles).
6.1b If you are a woman, in what ways have you suffered due to the preferential treatment given to your brothers by your parents and relatives? If you are a man, in what ways were you favored precisely because of the gender advantage that operated in your family circles?
The substance of this lesson
Our case study deals with two “texts of terror” found in the Hebrew Scriptures. These texts are important to us because they represent the sources that have served to establish great societies. Paradoxically, these same texts that have served to maintain male dominance are today also being used to stimulate the transformation of the very societies to which they gave birth. Hence, in these Sacred Scriptures, we discover both our revered roots and the disquieting sources of our renewal.
The Rape of the concubine in Judges 19-20
This is the narration that details the return of the concubine after being unmercifully sexually abused by a gang of men. For our purposes here, we deliberately begin in the middle of the narration. Do not be tempted to read more of the story from your bible. In just a moment the whole story will appear before you. Here, then, is the central horrendous scene:
Notice that the narrator, who has been telling the story from the vantage point of the gang of rapists, turns his attention to “her master.” The narrator does not give the concubine a voice at any point in this story (as we will soon discover). Right from the beginning, therefore, the narrator would seem to imply that the woman’s feelings and her words and her pain were of little consequence in this whole affair. What is of consequence, however, is how the rights of men have been abused and what these men will do as a result.
Of this narrative, Phyllis Trible says:
The cast of characters is predominantly male: a Levite, his attendant, a father, an old man, and a group of [violent] men. Of the two females, the Levite’s concubine and the old man’s daughter receives scant attention. All these people are nameless. The men do all the speaking, even the attendant, but the women say nothing (Texts of Terror 66).
Notice that the woman who was being repeatedly raped and abused all night long was released. She returns to where “her master “was staying. This means that the location of her abuse could not have been far from the house. This also would seem to imply that, once her hours of torment ended, she hoped to find safety and healing in the arms of her husband.
Now three shocking things occur:
- No one in the house appears to be on the lookout for her return. If she calls out (as, quite possibly, she might have done when she returned), no one inside was willing to open the door for her. What do you make of this?
- Once the new day dawns, notice that her master does not rush outside to find her. Nor does he hire anyone to secretly inquire as to her whereabouts and her condition and to report back to him. What do you make of this?
- Only after he has packed and taken his breakfast at leisure does he step outside. Then and only then does he accidentally find his ravaged concubine “ lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. ” But, even then, her master/husband does not reach out to her, to take her into his arms, to explore what medical attention she might need. No. Rather, he commands her to get up and get going. What do you make of this?
Now is the opportunity to explore your hunches by posting them online. Once you post your hunches, the insights of others will also appear. Then the exchange begins.
6.2a A strange thing occurs. No one in the house appears to be on the lookout for her return. If she calls out (as, quite possibly, she might have when she returned), no one was willing to open the door for her. What do you make of this?
6.2b A second strange thing occurs. Once the new day dawns, her master does not rush outside to find her. Nor does he hire anyone to secretly inquire as to her whereabouts. What do you make of this?
6.2c A third strange thing occurs. Once her master accidentally finds her, he does not reach out to her, to take her into his arms, to explore how he might be able to mend her wounds. He commands her to get up and get going. What do you make of this?
6.2d From the vantage point of the narrator, does it appear that the biblical author is approving or disapproving of the conduct of the master? . . . the conduct of the concubine? Explain.
What happened earlier that might explain these things?
In order to search for some explanation for the conduct of the persons involved, we have to read the detailed events that led up to these horrendous scene. Here they are:
In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. 2 But his concubine became angry with him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. 3 Then her husband set out after her, to speak tenderly to her and bring her back.
Note that that the inspired author begins by naming the Levite as “her husband.” Furthermore, “her husband” appears to be willing to acknowledge that he has committed some offense against her—an offense that was so serious that she could not tolerate living with him any longer. Did he savagely beat her because she burnt his soup? Did he treat her as a “sex slave” rather than as a concubine [=second wife]?
He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. When he reached her father’s house, the girl’s father saw him and came with joy to meet him.
Note that the girl’s father runs out to greet his son-in-law. What does this imply?
4 His father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay, and he remained with him three days; so they ate and drank, and he stayed there. 5 On the fourth day they got up early in the morning, and he prepared to go; but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, “Fortify yourself with a bit of food, and after that you may go.” 6 So the two men sat and ate and drank together; and the girl’s father said to the man, “Why not spend the night and enjoy yourself?” 7 When the man got up to go, his father-in-law kept urging him until he spent the night there again. 8 On the fifth day he got up early in the morning to leave; and the girl’s father said, “Fortify yourself.” So they lingered until the day declined, and the two of them ate and drank. 9 When the man with his concubine and his servant got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him, “Look, the day has worn on until it is almost evening. Spend the night. See, the day has drawn to a close. Spend the night here and enjoy yourself. Tomorrow you can get up early in the morning for your journey, and go home.” 10 But the man would not spend the night;
6.3a Note that we hear nothing of the sweet talk that the husband promised. We learn nothing of the girl’s disposition. We hear only that the father-in-law is obsessed with wining and dining his son-in-law? What is going on here?
6.3b Notice that the wife and daughter(s) remain in the shadows and seemingly have no part in the five days of feasting? Why so?
6.3c And then the unexpected happens. The son-in-law puts his foot down and insists upon departing late in the day. Why so?
6.3d Those who hear this story undoubtedly know that it is imprudent to begin the journey at such a late hour. If the master had heeded the wisdom of his father-in-law, they would have had an easy five-hour walk in the cooler part of the day and have arrived home by noon. Now, they set off in the late afternoon heat and nightfall is sure to overtake them before they arrive. And (as everyone knows) highway bandits grow bolder as the shadows grow longer. One can now speculate that the narrator is a master story teller who has been setting the stage for this moment. Twice the party of travellers have gotten up at the crack of dawn and packed their mules. Twice the father-in-law has pressed his son-in-law with even more lavish hospitality. Twice the son-in-law has given in. But no more! The son-in-law acts recklessly, and the whole audience knows it. Meanwhile the oft-repeated words, “Spend the night,” go unheeded. Danger is afoot. . . . What do you imagine is going to happen?
He got up [from table] and departed, and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him. 11 When they were near Jebus, the day was far spent, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Jebusites, and spend the night in it.” 12 But his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into a city of foreigners, who do not belong to the people of Israel; but we will continue on to Gibeah.”
Note: According to the biblical account, when first mentioned, Jerusalem is ruled by Melchizedek, an ally of Abraham (identified with Shem in legend). Later, in the time of Joshua, Jerusalem was in territory allocated to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:28) but it continued to be under the independent control of the Jebusites until it was conquered by David and made into the capital of the united Kingdom of Israel (c. 1000 BCE). (www) In the narrative of Judges, therefore, the master distrusts the Jebusites. He wants the security of knowing that he is surrounded by his own people. While he was foolish in not spending the night with his father-in-law, he does not become even more foolish by entrusting himself to the hospitality of the Jebusites.
13 Then he said to his servant, “Come, let us try to reach one of these places, and spend the night at Gibeah or at Ramah.” 14 So they passed on and went their way; and the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to [the tribe of] Benjamin. 15 They turned aside [from the main trail] there, to go in and spend the night at Gibeah. He went in and sat down in the open square of the city, but no one took them in to spend the night.
Note that the three travelers and their two pack animals arrive after sunset. They head to the town square where they hope to find someone willing to extend to them hospitality. As the skylight fades, their chances are slim. They seem resigned to eat a cold supper and sleep in the open square with only their cloaks to protect them from the chill of the night. They feel secure because they are surrounded by kin=the Benjaminites.
16 Then at evening there was an old man coming from his work in the field. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was residing in Gibeah. (The people of the place were Benjaminites.) 17 When the old man looked up and saw the wayfarer in the open square of the city, he said, “Where are you going and where do you come from?” 18 He [the Levite] answered him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah; and I am going [returning] to my home. Nobody has offered to take me in. 19 We your servants have straw and fodder for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and the woman and the young man along with us. We need nothing more.”
At this point, the unexpected happens. Someone formerly from the master’s hometown chances to notice them in the town square. Meanwhile, the Levite presses the point that their pack animals carry all the provisions they need and that they only seek a roof over their heads. He is, in effect, saying: “We won’t be much bother.” ]
20 The old man said, “Peace be to you. I will care for all your wants; only do not spend the night in the square.”
At this point, the final words of the old man have an uncertain meaning. Is he just pressing home his offer of hospitality or is he giving them a grim warning against the dangers of staying where they are? Does the old man know of a present danger that completely escapes the imagination of the Levite?
21 So he brought him into his house, and fed the donkeys; they washed their feet, and ate and drank. 22 While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door.
At this point, the narrator has spread a vision of false tranquillity. The old man has a daughter who is busy preparing a hot meal. The travelers wash their feet and faces in cool water and feel refreshed as they sit around the stove and exchange stories while the pleasant odor of cooking food fills their nostrils. Then, all of a sudden, some local men surround the house and begin pounding on the door. . . . There is menace in their pounding.]
22b They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him.”
In a small town, nothing is secret. The gang of ruffians know full well that those inside are ripe for the plucking. The old man and his daughter are of no account. The young girl and young boy cannot offer any resistance. The master of the house, however, has to be taught a lesson. So they menace his male guest with forced anal rape—a gross insult and a violent outrage even in these times. And they pressure the old man by insisting that he surrender his guest willingly in order to escape their wrath.
23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. 24 Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine, and put her out to them.
6.4a At this point, the old man steps outside and tries to pacify the gang members. Notice that he does not appeal to the force of the Mosaic Law or the threat of God’s punishment or the rules of hospitality. Nor does he even imagine that the villains could be bribed with money. Why not? What does the old man know about these gang members?
6.4b Note that the old man addresses them as “my brothers” and offers them a two for one deal. He even apparently goes so far as to grant them permission to ravish and abuse the two women in any way that their perverted desires suggest. But not against “this man”! How do you account for this? What kind of father uses his virgin daughter and the concubine of his guest as a trade-off to safeguard the integrity of a perfect stranger?
6.4c How do you explain the conduct of the Levite who seizes his concubine and forces her outside and bars the door behind her?
6.4d Are there people in your own society who act like the gang members here? Are there fathers who would willingly sacrifice their own virgin daughter to a gang in order to safeguard a stranger lodging in their home? Are their husbands who would place their wives in harm’s way in order to save their own skins? Explain.
***Phyllis Trible notes correctly: “The old man mediates between males to give each side what it wants. No male is to be violated. All males, even wicked one, are to be granted their wishes. Conflict among them can be solved by the sacrifice of females” (Texts of Terror, 74).
25 They wantonly raped her, and abused her all through the night until the morning.
And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. As morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light.
In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. “Get up,” he said to her, “we are going.” But there was no answer. (Jdg 19:25-27)
The Levite encounters his used and abused concubine touching the threshold. Her clothes (if indeed there were any left on her body) are undoubtedly dirty, torn, bloodied. He commands her, but receives no answer. What then? Will he now clean her body and prepare it for burial? Let’s see. . . .
Many scholars believe that the phrase “But there was no answer” (19:28) implies that the woman was dead. Some disagree, claiming the Hebrew text is deliberately vague here, allowing for the possibility that the woman was still barely alive when she was bound to a mule and carted to the Levite’s home where he brutally dismembered her and then sent the body parts to the 12 tribes (19:29) (see, for example, Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, pp. 238-239). (www)]
28 Then he put her on the donkey; and the man set out for his home. 29 When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine [who was nearly lifeless] he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. 30 Then he commanded the men whom he sent, saying, “Thus shall you say to all the Israelites, ‘Has such a thing ever happened since the day that the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt until this day? Consider it, take counsel [among ourselves], and speak out.'”
Optional Probative Explorations 6.5
6.5 The Levite grasps his concubine and cuts her body into twelve parts. Instead of giving her an honorable burial, the Levite resorts to mutilating her body and to refusing her a burial. These are brutal acts normally inflicted upon the body of those who have committed horrific crimes. But what crime has she committed? How is this brutal mutilation to be justified?
Based on Deuteronomywhich states that if a criminal is put to death by hanging, “his body shall not remain all night hanging on the tree, but thou shalt surely bury him that same day,” the rabbis conclude that to mistreat or mutilate the body of a deceased (known in Hebrew as nivul hamet) is a violation of scriptural law. (www)
(Judges 20) 1 Then all the Israelites came out, from Dan to Beer-sheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled in one body before the LORD at Mizpah. 2 The chiefs of all the people, of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot-soldiers bearing arms. 3 (Now the Benjaminites heard that the people of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.)
The Levite’s strategy has worked. The amputated and putrefying bodily parts of the concubine have enraged the men of Israel, and they took up arms in readiness to redress the crime that has been committed. One can presume here that only the Benjaminites in Gibeah did not send any representatives.
And the Israelites said, “Tell us, how did this criminal act come about?” 4 The Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered, “I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night. 5 The lords of Gibeah rose up against me, and surrounded the house at night. They intended to kill me, and they raped my concubine until she died. 6 Then I took my concubine and cut her into pieces, and sent her throughout the whole extent of Israel’s territory; for they have committed a vile outrage in Israel. 7 So now, you Israelites, all of you, give your advice and counsel here.”
Probative Explorations 6.6
6.6 The Levite is called upon to recount in the open assembly the crime that was committed. The “criminal act” is not the dismemberment and absence of burial (as some might have imagined); rather, it is the “lords of Gibeah” [not the riff-raff] who intended to “kill me,” but, instead, “they raped my concubine.” Has the Levite deliberately slanted the narrative or left out parts? If so, why so?
8 All the people got up as one, saying, “We will not any of us go to our tents, nor will any of us return to our houses [until these outrageous acts have been punished] 9 But now this is what we will do to [the town of] Gibeah: we will go up against it by lot. 10 We will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand of ten thousand, to bring provisions for the troops, who are going to repay Gibeah of Benjamin for all the disgrace that they have done in Israel.”
The collective decision is that one out of ten will be selected by drawing lots. Why do they not ask for volunteers? Possibly, because (a) drawing lots has the effect of reducing the numbers without casting any shame upon those who return home and/or (b) drawing lots has the implied meaning that the Lord decides who will take up arms and who will go home to rejoin his family. In any case, the presumption is that a force of 40,000 is more than adequate for the task at hand.
11 So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one. 12 The tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What crime is this that has been committed among you? 13 Now then, hand over those scoundrels in Gibeah, so that we may put them to death, and purge the evil from Israel.”
The Benjaminites are given the option of handing over the ten or twenty guilty malefactors for punishment. They refuse to do so. Their reasons are not clear. Did the accused declare themselves innocent? Did the accused say that the Levite willingly gave his concubine to them for their amusement? We don’t know. In any case, they decide not to hand over the malefactors. At the same time, they raise a call to arms among the Benjaminites, and 26,000 armed combatants came forward.
But the Benjaminites would not listen to their kinsfolk, the Israelites. 14 The Benjaminites came together out of the towns to Gibeah, to go out to battle against the Israelites. 15 On that day the Benjaminites mustered twenty-six thousand armed men from their towns, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah. 16 Of all this force, there were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss. . . .
In the interest of time, I’m going to leave out the various strategies that eventually led to the final victory of the Israelites. If interested, click here or go to the bottom of this page.
48 . . . . Meanwhile, the Israelites turned back against the Benjaminites, and put them to the sword–the city, the people, the animals, and all that remained. Also the remaining towns they set on fire.
6.7a Notice that the women and children and old men and animals of the Benjaminites are all mercilessly slaughtered. No immunity is given to non-combatants—not even their domestic animals are spared. Why so?
6.7b Could the slaughter of non-combatants bes an act of mercy since, without any able-bodied men, the presumption would be that the noncombatants (domesticated animals included) would die of slow starvation?
6.7c Examine, for a moment, the overall justice of what unfolded. Initially, one Levite was threatened and his property (his concubine) was abused by a few dozen Benjaminites. A bloody civil war is declared because the Benjaminites refuse to hand over the perpetrators. The war escalates into a genocidal slaughter of 35,000 Benjaminite men plus five to eight times that number of non-combatants. Furthermore, their depopulated towns were burnt to the ground. Where is the measure of justice here? Does all out war usually lead to such horrific counter-violence? Can the victors extract a measure of vengeance that is so disproportionate as to become a crime against justice? Where does God stand in all of this?
6.7c Do you know of modern instances where a just retribution gets out of hand and the “good guys” begin a carnage entirely out of proportion with the original crime? Name one or two instances.
Note: We pass on now to another narrative that begins in much the same way but with greatly different results. Once you do this, you might want to take the above narrative to its final folly by clicking here.
Genesis 19 offers another instance wherein a gang of men decide to dishonor a visitor by sexually abusing him. Again, the innocent women pay the price.
Probative Explorations 6.8
6.8a Read Genesis 19 and compare/contrast it with what you find in Judges.
6.8b How can one explain that the women outraged AGAIN have no voice whatsoever? Does the narration of the events in Genesis 19 thus perpetuate the insignificance of women and prepare the way for the horrors of Judges 19?
6.8c Does the viewpoint of the narrator represent the viewpoint of God? As such, does God authorize the brutalization of women in order to save a few men? Explain.
6.9a Overall, what are the most significant discoveries you made here? [This is the key question here. Give it some time. After posting, carefully read and comment on all the responses of your learning partners.]
6.9b This narrative almost cries out for hearing the voices of the women. Feel free to write a poetry or prose lament for the concubine [Judges 19] or for the virgins offered to the menacing rapists outside [Genesis 19].
6.9c Are their any unsettling questions that remain unanswered for you? Write them here in the hope that one of your co-learners will have some insights. [Respond to the unanswered questions of your learning partners.]
When finished, take a break. Make some tea for yourself or take a five-minute walk or dance to your favorite music.
6.10a How many minutes did you use to complete this Lesson? This lesson has had its own new twists and turns. What did you enjoy? …discover? What could be improved?
6.10b Are you at ease with giving and receiving readback lines? For how many participants have you offered constructive feedback (readback lines being the best)? If more than 15 within this Lesson, you are doing great. If less than 10, then please go back in a few days and offer feedback to a half-dozen more of your learning partners.
6.10c Overall (on a scale of +1 to +10), what is your satisfaction with this Lesson? Is there anything that the Instructional Team might change to improve the satisfaction for future participants? Please explain.
With this, you have finished your sixth session. If only a few have posted their writings as of yet, return in a few days, meet new members and post your responses to their writing.
chime.mp3 The learning circle is now officially closed.
Further listening, viewing, reading
“Rereading Judges 19:2” –This blog is a Christian perspective on the Old Testament and Current Events from Dr. Claude Mariottini, Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary.
“Judges 17-21: The Misery of Sin“
Tracy Lemos (Yale University), “Shame and Mutilation of Enemies in the Hebrew Bible,” JBL 125, no. 2 (2006) 225-241.
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The text of Judges awkwardly inserts an alternative account of how the number of Israelite combatants was reduced to manageable proportions. Instead of drawing lots, they went up to Bethel [Literally, “house of God”] where they “inquired of God.” This tends to confirm that the drawing of lots had the force of having God decide as to whom he wished to secure justice through arms.
17 And the Israelites, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand armed men, all of them warriors. 18 The Israelites proceeded to go up to Bethel, where they inquired of God, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the Benjaminites?” And the LORD answered, “Judah shall go up first.” 19 Then the Israelites got up in the morning, and encamped against Gibeah. 20 The Israelites went out to battle against Benjamin; and the Israelites drew up the battle line against them at Gibeah. 21 The Benjaminites came out of Gibeah, and struck down on that day twenty-two thousand of the Israelites.
The text is not what is expected. Those who took up arms against the Bejaminites are, on the two first days, suffering staggering losses. Will the Israelites then conclude that God is giving aid to their adversaries? Or does God want to deliberately reduce the number of Israelite combatants so as to be able to say, “When I give you strength, only a few combatants will be able to take down a hundred adversaries.”
22 The Israelites took courage, and again formed the battle line in the same place where they had formed it on the first day.
The text here appears to have another doublet. The first appeals to the raw courage of the Israelites who are now outnumbered. The second (below) focuses upon their intense grief and lack of morale that follow upon their huge battlefield losses. So the Lord is consulted again and again.
23 The Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until the evening; and they inquired of the LORD, “Shall we again draw near to battle against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites?” And the LORD said, “Go up against them.” 24 So the Israelites advanced against the Benjaminites the second day. 25 Benjamin moved out against them from Gibeah the second day, and struck down eighteen thousand of the Israelites, all of them armed men. 26 Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept, sitting there before the LORD; they fasted that day until evening. Then they offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being before the LORD. 27 And the Israelites inquired of the LORD, “Shall we again draw near to battle against our kinsfolk the Benjaminites?” And the LORD said, “Go up against them.”
Notice that the text does not make clear just how the Lord speaks. Scholars imagine that “consulting God” is undertaken because of the intense uncertainty and the weeping for those fallen in battle. Does the fasting at Bethel enter in due to their intense grief or does the fasting increase the fervor of their prayers and sacrifices? In any case, it would appear that the priests were able to detect whether God was pleased with their prayers and sacrifices. How so? Whether the smoke rises or falls? Whether the precious stones embedded in the vestment of the high priest changes color? When the text says that the LORD said, “Go up against them,” this does not imply that their was a voice from heaven speaking. The priests, on the contrary, were able to interpret the will of God on the basis of signs of some sort. We cannot know exactly how this took place. But that it did take place, the text of Judges makes very clear.