Moses' seventh speech, Part 13, Defamation of character
Mar 18, 2013
In Deuteronomy 22:13-19 Moses addresses the problem of false accusation that a man might make against his wife.
13 If a man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, 14 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,”
Virginity was highly valued under Moses, as it was one of the foundations of a moral society. Today the enemies of the Kingdom have sought to break down morality and marriage by normalizing extra-marital sexual relations. In the past few years the final push began to normalize homosexual relations. Now that this has succeeded, and even kindergartners are being taught the new immorality, Yale University has found a way to degrade humanity even further by normalizing bestiality.
It is hard to know just how far moral degradation can sink before the entire culture implodes. But when we read the law of God, and hear how a man might object to marrying a non-virgin (by fraud), it almost seems quaint. Outside of certain circles, it may be hard to find a virgin to marry.
This is nothing new, of course. What we see today is part of the culture of ancient Babylon. We are in a Babylonian captivity, where the kings of Babylon are attempting to ingrain Babylonian culture into all of society—including the church. In ancient Babylon, no one was expected to marry a virgin. We read this in the writings of Herodotus, the “Father of History,” in The Histories, Book 1, par. 199:
“The Babylonians have one most shameful custom. Every woman born in the country must once in her life go and sit down in the precinct of Venus, and there consort [have sexual relations] with a stranger… Here there is always a great crowd, some coming and others going; lines of cord mark out paths in all directions among the women, and the strangers pass along them to make their choice. A woman who has once taken her seat is not allowed to return home till one of the strangers throws a silver coin into her lap, and takes her with him beyond the holy ground. When he throws the coin he says these words—‘The goddess Mylitta prosper thee.’ (Venus is called Mylitta by the Assyrians.)
“The silver coin may be of any size; it cannot be refused, for that is forbidden by the law, since once thrown, it is sacred. The woman goes with the first man who throws her money, and rejects no one. When she has gone with him, and so satisfied the goddess, she returns home, and from that time forth no gift however great will prevail with her…A custom very much like this is found also in certain parts of the island of Cyprus.”
We see then how Babylonian law had normalized the idea that no one should marry a virgin. Every woman, before she married, was expected to prostitute herself with another man at the temple of Venus. In the land of Canaan, a woman went to the groves, where she was expected to “purify” herself by having sexual relations with a priest of Baal, but in Babylon she was open to the first man who would throw a silver coin into her lap. It is not hard to see how the Western countries have come under the power of Mystery Babylon.
Getting back to Moses’ speech, he first deals with the problem of a man making a false accusation against his wife, and after that, he deals with cases where the charge is true. The case was to be taken to the court, and the evidence was to be presented to the judges.
15 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. 16 And the girl’s father shall say to the elders, “I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; 17 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.
The rabbis differed in their explanation of the evidence of virginity. Taking this literally, the woman’s father (i.e., the redeemer of blood) was somehow supposed to have in his possession the blood-stained sheet from his daughter’s first night with her husband. Such evidence would have been difficult to obtain, especially if the husband wished to hide that evidence while making his false accusation.
It should also be noted that the burden of proof fell on the disgruntled husband, not upon the woman’s father. She could not be presumed guilty just because her husband accused her. Deuteronomy 19:15 says,
15 A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
This law applies to “any sin,” and therefore includes a situation where a man might accuse his wife. Hence, the first thing the judges must ask for is the evidence that the woman’s husband has that proves she was not a virgin. He cannot simply accuse her without proof. If he brings forth proof, then the woman’s father must provide whatever evidence he might have in his possession to vindicate his daughter.
If the disgruntled husband has no proof, then he is not to take her to those judges—but he does have the option of taking her to the Divine Court on suspicion of adultery. This would then be covered by the law of jealousy in Numbers 5:11-31. Needless to say, it could be difficult to prove such cases, and perhaps it is for this reason we see no examples in Scripture—nor even in the Talmud.
The closest we come to such a case is when Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant during the time of their engagement (Matthew 1:18, 19). In that case we find Joseph deciding to forgive her and put her away privately. He did not act as a jealous husband, for we do not see him taking her to the judges, nor even to the priest who would have administered an oath of innocence. Yet he knew that as the victim, he had the right to forgive her for her presumed sin.
If the woman in question had engaged in sexual relations prior to her engagement, she was not to receive the death penalty but her lover was to pay the price of a dowry that would be expected if he had married her. Exodus 22:16, 17 says,
16 And if a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins.
The price of the dowry was 50 shekels of silver, which in those days was payment for 100 days of common labor. (A fair wage for a laborer was a half shekel of silver per day.) According to John D. Davis in A Dictionary of the Bible, page 183, “The lowest legal amount seems to have been fifty shekels.”
The case in Deuteronomy 22, however, was a case of adultery, not merely premarital sexual relations. Moses then gives the penalty for such false accusation in verses 18, 19,
18 So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, 19 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 [shalach, “send her away”] her all his days.
It is presumed that the husband had already given a dowry of 50 shekels to the father of the bride prior to the marriage. He was supposed to hold this dowry as a trust fund in case the marriage failed or if her husband died. It was the ancient form of alimony and child support, set up before the marriage began, so that as that fund grew through business investments, it would keep up with the woman’s need as she bore children.
So in the case above, if her husband falsely accused her of not being a virgin, the penalty was double restitution, that is, 100 shekels of silver, to be placed in her trust fund. Secondly, he lost the right to send her away (legal separation). And because the law forbids a man to send her away without divorce papers (Deuteronomy 24:1), obviously, he could not divorce her either.
Of course, we should not lose sight of the fact that the law determines the rights of sinners and their victims. In no way does the judgment of the law become mandatory against the will of the victim. In this case, the husband lost the right of divorce, leaving this right to his wife alone. She could still leave him, but he could not divorce her. In fact, the extra fine of 100 shekels might give her opportunity to leave, rather than to be confined in a bad marriage for the rest of her life. After all, she would know that she might have been stoned unjustly (vs. 21). She might never know if he might plot to kill her later. How could she ever trust him with her life?
There appears to be a discrepancy in the law’s judgment in this case. False accusation was punishable by the same judgment that would have been imposed upon the innocent victim. Deuteronomy 19:19 says, “then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother.” Yet in the case of a husband accusing his wife of a capital crime (adultery), he is punished only by paying a double dowry as restitution, along with a possible beating (Deuteronomy 22:18). This could be no more than 40 stripes (Deuteronomy 25:1-3).
The basic principle of law is that the judgment must be in direct proportion to the offence. So why is the false accuser in this case not executed? I believe it is because executing the man could bring further hardship on the wife, making her an even greater victim. A fine of 100 shekels was a very large sum in those days, and in many cases the man would have no way of paying it.
If he could not pay this double restitution, the law said he must be “sold” as a slave for whatever time it took to pay off the debt (Exodus 22:3). But if the husband were executed, how could he pay the fine? The law does not prescribe the death penalty for those who cannot pay debts.
So in this case, the victim (that is, the wife) might be doubly victimized if her husband were executed for false accusation. Where two principles of law appear to conflict, one solution must take precedence over the other. In this case the death penalty is set aside in favor of restitution.
We are given another example in Scripture where two principles of law appear to conflict. The Sabbath law, for instance, forbids work on the seventh day, but if an ox falls into a pit on the Sabbath, should we not labor to set him free? Jesus said as much in Matthew 12:11 and 12, concluding, “So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” On the basis of that principle, Jesus saw nothing wrong with healing people on the Sabbath.
This is one of the finer points of biblical law. Not only should we know the law, but we should also know the mind of its Author, so that we know how to balance these laws when they appear to conflict.
This is the thirteenth part of a series titled "Moses' Seventh Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones