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Lest We forget… Judges19:1- 20:7 Activity: Reading of stories: The silenced stories from Indonesia – IGI vol 22, Sep 2003, p4-5 The silenced stories from India – The Hindu, newspaper report The silenced stories in the Bible- Judges 19: 1- 20:8; 20:46-48; 21: 1-25; Recently I was sharing with a friend that the habit of my mother of reading to us children one story from the Bible each night before bed, was a very foundational influence in my life. She read to us from The Exodus, the Kings, From Samuel, From Chronicles and from Judges. So I had the feeling I knew all Old Testament stories in general if not in minute facts. When I was about 13, I was looking for something to read one day, I was looking for stories to read and it so happened that I picked the bible. I was shocked to read the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. I will not go into details of the story. I then realized that my mother had never read this story to me as a child. I had assumed she had gone through each chapter when she told us stories. But after reading the story of Tamar, I realized that there were many such passages that my mother had skipped like the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34), the rape of Tamar by Amnon (II Sam 13). I do not hold this against my mother. All of us want to forget and even erase painful memories, painful stories, and painful images from our minds. Phyllis Trible, a feminist scholar, calls such texts, ‘Texts of Terror’. Why have these stories been included in the Bible? That leads us to the question then, why are painful stories included in what we now have as the canonized Bible? If these were never to be talked of again, why are they in the Bible which we are asked to read daily as Christians? If we keep skipping stories like these that are painful for us to reconcile to, that means we want to ignore one aspect of Biblical reality. We need to know that such acts of sexual violence happened in Biblical times and continue to happen in our society today too. We need to read these texts that are hard to digest, hard to imagine and painful to read, “in memory” of those who suffered such violence. Ignoring the stories of violence, brutality and pain is the greatest insult we could heap on those who have suffered such violence. Society’s collective loss of memory about the pain of rape victims like Banwari Devi who 11 years after her rape still waits for justice to be done, is more painful for the victims to bear than the pain of the rape itself. As young people seeking to study Biblical texts, we need to understand that we cannot and should not sweep away under the carpet texts like this which are maybe embarrassing, and difficult to read on say a Sunday morning or in our youth fellowships. We are called to read these texts firstly “in memory” of the pain of the victims. Secondly if possible we need to recover the silenced voices and feelings of the victims and give voice to these silenced voices. Thirdly we are called to analyse and understand the factors that were at work in society that allowed or made it possible for such a violent and brutal train of events to happen one after another.
SAYET prog, NCCI, 20-25 Nov 2003 Background about the book/ context of Judges 17-21: Judges was written fairly soon after the events it contains took place. Judges was written before the exile. Scholars say that it may have been written about 300 years after most of the Judges were dead. So we have comparatively few layers of oral tradition to peel in this text unlike yesterday’s text. Joshua led the Israelites to Canaan, and some of the Canaanite families too, like the family of Rahab, joined the Israelites as a new society was set up in Canaan. The book of Judges shows how the creation of a new community called Israel was a tremendous struggle. The 12 tribes making up Israel were only loosely held together. In fact probably the only thing binding them together was their allegiance to their God Yahweh. When their loyalty to Yahweh began to wane, their unity too began to decline. In Judges 18 we have the story of a Levite who adopted an idol belonging to a man called Micah, and became the priest of that idol, and the whole tribe of Dan adopted both the idol and the priest as their own god. So there was a decline in the loyalty to Yahweh. Added to this we also see that the basic theme of the last 5 chapters of Judges was that “there was no King and everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. This gives a picture of the kind of lawless state, where noone was bound by any particular law relating either to politics or relating to religion. There were no clear leaders like the Judges around any more. Each man was a law unto himself. In short there was internal anarchy in Israel that produced violence and vengeance as we see in the text we read. It was not just one but multiple acts of violation, violence, murder, mutilation, revenge, brutal war, and abduction. The author of Judges presents chs 19-21 as the lowest moral point in Israelite history. Nothing like this had happened since the Exodus (Jud 19:30). It had happened before the Exodus however in the time of Abraham and Lot (Gen 19) at Sodom. . We have heard the story read to us so we will not go through it verse for verse Basically the narrative goes this way: - The Levite goes to the concubine’s father’s home “to speak to the heart” of the concubine. - The journey back to Ephraim via Jebus and Gibeah when the “night of terror” happens - The journey ends and the concubine’s body is dismembered - The other tribes attack the tribe of Benjamin, kill and destroy all of Benjamin; and only 600 men of Benjamin are left - All of Jabesh-Gilead’s men, women and children except 400 virgins are killed. - 200 virgins from the festival of the Lord which they were attending at Shiloh are forcibly abducted (/raped)
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We will pick up certain aspects of the story and look at it from a feminist perspective: Hospitality: The Levite had come to Bethlehem with the express purpose of “speaking to the heart” of the concubine who had come away to her father’s home. But we see that once he gets to Bethlehem, all he does is eat and drink and feast with his father-in-law for five full days. Once the Levite and his father-in-law unite, there is no mention of the woman who was the purported reason that brought them together. She fades away from the scene. This type of hospitality was an exercise in male bonding. Throughout the visit the concubine’s father extends his hospitality 4 times to his son-in-law, to stay on, eat and drink. There is no mention of the woman who most probably would have been the one who had helped cook all the food on the table, kept their drinks refilled and basically waited hand and foot on the two men for four days. Hospitality which is in fact the domain of a woman is here portrayed as a male prerogative and recognized only as a male affair. There is no sensitivity for the need for privacy between the concubine and the Levite. The woman is totally neglected. The crime at Sodom in Gen 19 and the crime here in Jud 19 are both considered basically as crimes against hospitality and not as crimes against the woman. Lot who is the host in Gen 19, and the old man who is the host in Jud 19, both are concerned only about preserving the rules of hospitality. Their hospitality meant that the male guest should not be violated at any cost. The embrace of hospitality covered only males. (Gen 19:8; Jud 19:23). The concubine: In ancient near eastern cultures and in Israelite culture, marriage was an important event as it signified the political and economic covenant between the bride’s household and the household of her husband. The precise economic significance of a particular sexual relationship was indicated by the various titles that the households bestowed on women (harlot, concubine, wife, virgin, queen)1 The title of the woman in a household was an indication of the economic and social relationship between the woman’s house and her husband’s house. So the entity of a woman within a household was in terms of economic worth and not as a person. She was property – to be owned, bought, sold, mastered and used, for the maximum benefit of the male in the household, be it her father or her husband or her master. Exodus 21: 7-11 talks about women purchased for concubinage. While male slaves could go free in the 7th year after they were bought, female slaves could not. If they did not please their masters, he could allow her to be redeemed. The concubine was in a way a glorified female slave, but she had no legal standing. Her children would always be below the ‘wife’s’ children. Her children would not inherit from their father (Jud 11: 2). In Ch 19 it says the concubine got angry with the Levite and left for her father’s house. The cause for her anger is not mentioned. However that she was angry and able to go to her father’s house does not mean she had power. Jud 19:1 says “…he took for himself a woman, a concubine…” This shows he is the subject and she is the object. How he 1
Mathews, Victor H., Frymern-Kensky, Tikva et.al, GENDER AND LAW IN THE HEBREW BIBLE AND THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST, England: Sheffield Academic Press, JSOT Supplement Series 262.
SAYET prog, NCCI, 20-25 Nov 2003 bought her we do not know, but that he ‘owns’ her is certain. When he came to Bethlehem, without him having to even say the words, the concubine is expected to leave with him when he leaves. The question of persuading her and then she agreeing to go with him doesn’t arise at all. When he gets ready to leave she too has to leave. The comforts and security of her father’s home that she had come looking for is not available to her for as long as she wants, but only as long as the male, her master thinks she can stay there. Maybe the father’s attempts to make the Levite stay longer were to allow the concubine too to stay longer in her parental home. But the Levite owns her now, and not the father, and so the Levite, her master only can make decisions concerning her. The ‘foreign’ town: Two men – the Levite and his attendant, take the decision regarding the journey’s course. The two males ignore the presence of the female. They do not ask her preference for the night. The attendant is subordinate to the master, and the concubine is inferior to them both, because she is a woman. Even the attendant has a voice in this story but not the concubine. Jebus is a Canaanite city of foreigners who are not part of the Israelites. The Levite considered them dangerous because they were not governed by the ‘Covenant loyalty to Yahweh’ and so they ‘could not be trusted’. But the irony is that what the Levite feared in a “foreign” town actually happened in Gibeah that belonged to the tribe if Benjamin. What the Levite had failed to consider was that the Benjaminites, though Israelites, had lived alongside the Jebusites (Jud 1:21) for a long time. So the implication here is that due to their continued association with the “foreigners” and “foreign gods” (Jud 10:16) the Benjaminites had become alienated from the fellow Israelites. Contrary to his expectations, the Levite is not welcomed in Gibeah. The law of kindness and hospitality that was part of the covenant that all Israelites held on to, was not observed in Gibeah. “No one took them in for the night”(Jud 19:15). The old man who finally took him in was himself a “foreigner” in the land of Benjamin. So the hospitality that he offered had its own limitations. The Levite: From the beginning the Levite is seen as a man who was concerned only about what he wanted. He came to the concubine’s father’s house, feasted as long as it suited him, and then decided to leave before nightfall. In spite of his father-in-law’s advice regarding the inadvisability of taking up a journey so late in the night, he stubbornly decided to go ahead. His decision to press on to Gibeah instead of Jebus was also the decision of the Levite. So we see that the Levite always had his way. He was used to having his way. The other characteristic of the Levite is his self-preservation instinct. When he talks to the old man in Gibeah, he says, “No man takes me into his house”. There is no corresponding concern for the woman with him for whom security in the night was more crucial. The Levite assures the old man that his possessions would not be a burden to the old man. He even addresses his own concubine as “your maidservant”, meaning, that she too was part of his other possessions which he was now offering to the old man. When the crucial moment comes later, we see that the Levite did not hesitate to sacrifice his concubine for the sake of his own self-preservation.
SAYET prog, NCCI, 20-25 Nov 2003 Security: In ancient cultures, each member of a household, had an obligation and social role in upholding the honour of the household through their speech and action. Moreover if a household could not protect its women, then it was declared insolvent or shamed, and unable to fulfill its responsibilities to the community as a whole. Husbands and fathers were responsible for the honor of their women. Their own honour as men was measured by how they were able to protect the women of their household. But ‘honour’, ‘protection’ and ‘security’ are all realities that are defined by the ones who have the right and power to define it. The sexuality of a woman was the property of the males in the household, to protect or control as they saw fit. The male therefore in that context defined the meaning of “security” and “honuor”. Because women were primarily the property of the men, the men had power to define what “security” would mean in a particular context. In this context both the Levite and the Old man redefined “honour” and “hospitality” to mean the preservation of the male guest’s honour. “Security” that was being offered by the Old man within his house, was security within four walls. Safety within the house cannot control danger outside. Though the master is safe in the house, the woman is not. The threshold/ Doorway: The doorway is a kind of boundary. A woman is supposed to stay within the boundaryremain at home and carry on household chores. When she crosses the doorway to make her way to her father’s house, the doorway of her father’s house then becomes her boundary. When a woman crosses the boundary to assert herself, she is pursued and brought back within the boundary, as in the case of the Levite’s concubine. The doorway on that night at Gibeah, also marked the fragile boundary between hospitality and hostility, security and terror, safety and violence. Throughout that night of terror, only the female crosses that fragile boundary; the males made sure only she did!!! Their honour as men here was redefined by who was sacrificed to the whims of other wicked men- It was more acceptable/ honorable to sacrifice the woman to the wicked wishes of the men outside the doorway. The “brothers” outside: The men of Gibeah are referred to as “sons of wickedness”. Jud 19:22 says they came asking for the man whom the Old man had taken in as guest. Just as in Gen 19, in Lot’s story, they wanted to violate the male guest of the house sexually. In those days it was a common way of treating a stranger- sexual assault on a male stranger was an intentional insult and extreme humiliation on a male stranger. Male power within the house confronts male power outside. Just as hospitality was a study in male bonding, the confrontation between male powers also tries to use male bonding to ward off hostility. The old man refers to the wicked villains waiting outside as, “my brothers”. It was a vain attempt to placate them. The old man tells them they could not do such a wicked thing. ‘Wicked thing’ here refers to the sexual violation they intended to do to the man. But we must note that the old man was asking them not to do the wicked thing because the Levite was his guest. He was appealing to the hospitality of the ‘brothers’ outside when he already knew they were an inhospitable town.
SAYET prog, NCCI, 20-25 Nov 2003 Husbands and fathers; Concubines and virgin daughters- The ‘brothers’ outside had made no demand other than for the man- the Levite. However the old man, seeing that his call forbidding the vile act the men outside intended was not working, immediately offered an alternative. He offers his property and the property of the Levite – the femalesto satisfy the appetites of the ‘brothers’ outside. We should note here that the old man was not being pressurized to give up the females, instead he is ‘offering’ them of his own will to the wicked ‘brothers’ outside. Sexual violation when it related to a man, in the eyes of the Old man, was a “vile/wicked” act. But when he offers his virgin daughter and the Levites’ concubine to the ‘brothers’ outside, he doesn’t stop with just saying “I will give them to you”, instead he even tells them what they can do to the women- “Ravish them and do to them the good in your eyes”. Sexual violation of women was considered “the good” in the eyes of men appearing in the text. There is no restriction that the lord of this house places upon the use of the two women. Instead he gives them a license to rape the women. Hospitality rules protect only the males. Though the Old man had a female guest, no hospitality safeguards her. No “security” is available for the virgin daughter or the concubine even within the ‘security’ of the house. “Security” is available only for the men. The rape, the torture, the last walk/crawl: The old man had made negotiations. It had failed. The Benjaminites were not pleased with his proposal. While the Old man waited for the next proposal to come from the ‘brothers’ outside, the Levite saw that the Old man was maybe going to give in to the demands of the ‘brothers’ outside. So preempting whatever was to happen next, he took the initiative aimed at self-preservation. He seized his concubine and pushed her to them outside. The narrative started with the Levite making a journey to “speak to the heart” of his concubine. The story twists to this point where the same Levite pushes his concubine beyond the threshold/doorway to the desires of the waiting men outside. Safety within the house for the man had been lost, and instead of admitting defeat, he forces the concubine to suffer the loss. “And they raped her and tortured her all night until the morning” (Jud 19:25) It was not a single deed. It was multiple acts of violence. When you are securely sleeping under your blankets, within the security of your house, the night doesn’t seem enough for sleep. But have you ever noticed how long the night can be when you are sick and in pain and all you want is for the dawn to come up? The concubine was not sick, but was the victim of sick men, betrayed by her own master, raped and tortured in a foreign town where she had nowhere to run to. She was raped, tortured and released as it dawned. Jud 19:26 records the only action that is said of the concubine in this entire story. She walks, probably crawls or even just drags herself, “to the door way of the house of the man where her master was” and falls there until day break. After that night of pain and violation, the only place/people she had to go to was the place/people that had betrayed her; the door way through which she had been pushed; the boundary between hospitality and hostility, safety and violence, that for her had not been a boundary at all. She fell with her hands on that same door way. The dismembering: Murder? We are told that the Levite prepared to leave the next morning, as though nothing had happened; as though the previous night had been just a bad dream. He prepared to go on his way alone without regard for anyone. At the
SAYET prog, NCCI, 20-25 Nov 2003 doorway however, he confronts the one for whom the rape, torture and terror had not been a dream but an almost fatal reality. There is no compassion or remorse or words “speaking to her heart” for the Concubine when the Levite simply asks her to arise and be on her way. We are not told if the concubine was dead already. It is not clear if she was still alive when she was dismembered by the Levite. “He took the knife and he seized his concubine” and whether dead or alive, the woman’s body was still in the control of her master. No mourning, or burial is given the woman. She is an object and property and now she becomes a tool/ a message sent to the other tribes. The message sent by her body is this “ Consider it, take counsel and speak out” (Jud 19:30) “Without name, speech or power, she has no friends to aid her in life or mourn her in death…Lesser power has no woman than this, that her life is laid down by a man”2for other men. The explanation: Something more sick and nauseating than the actual rape and torture of the concubine is the explanation the Levite gives about the night of terror to the rest of Israel. He simply says “they intended to kill me and they raped my concubine until she died”. No mention is made of the “vile” demand of the men of Gibeah for the Levite, no mention is made of the fact that the Levite pushed the concubine out to the wicked men. It is portrayed as though the Levite has been dishonoured by the act of the Gibeonites, while in actual fact he had dishonoured himself not just by being unable to protect his concubine, but by seeking only his own protection and actively initiating and participating in her violation itself. What follows? More violence, more rape: What follows this event and the call of the Levite to ‘consider and take counsel’ is not a clear investigation of the facts, the apprehension of the actual offenders, or a true introspection as to why something like this had happened. Instead, there was a war of male revenge: not to avenge the woman but to avenge the ‘disgrace to Israel’; The need for the preservation of the male line of the tribe of the ‘wicked brothers’ of Benjamin, the capture and abduction/rape of 600 virgins is what took place. Our response: The Levite failed to report the whole story to the tribes of Israel. The rest of scripture scarcely makes mention of this incident. Silence covers impotence and complicity. We feel helpless, impotent to do anything about such a painful story. We keep silent because we do not want to remember or talk about such an evil time. By being silent we are being held responsible along with the Levite for not speaking the whole story. To keep quiet is to sin. The story orders us to SPEAK OUT. The factors that were at work in society that allowed or made it possible for such a violent and brutal train of events to happen one after another. As I see it, - the underlying principle of women as property caused them to be bartered. They have neither a voice nor rights. - The definition of “hospitality”, “honour”, “security”, “safety” from the perspective of the male needs and exigencies. 2
Trible, Phyllis, TEXTS OF TERROR, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. p.80-1
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The concept of boundaries, thresholds that women have to stick to and can turn to at times of peace and at times of conflict are very ambiguous. These are again defined to support male control and not female security. The misnaming, misrepresentation and effacing of the woman’s experience of pain, torture and memory leads to more violence. If the concubine had a voice that asked to be vindicated, it would not have been a voice asking for the killing, rape and abduction of more women and children. When ‘honour’ is defined by the male, the resultant “counsel” that men take is ‘revenge’, not reconciliation. Wars to assuage male ‘revenge’ call on the name of god too to legitimize the war as justified and as being led by God.
Implications for today: Women are not to be owned. Women are not commodities to satisfy men’s needs and appetites. Women are not to be used as pawns in power games or as tools in manipulating/negotiating for male wants. Women are persons. They have rights to be their own persons defining their own safety, security and honor. Creation of ‘safe spaces’ for women should not be the onus of the women alone but also of the community at large. Curtailment of women within certain boundaries as ‘safe’ can themselves become the areas of most abuse and exploitation for women. Women’s power to name their own reality and define their own thresholds of safety and security will be possible only when the whole community rethinks its notions of “women’s place” and gives women their rightful place as persons of equal standing with men. Community/society will rethink its notions of women’s place only when we are able to, as a community, make the journey alongside women who have been victims - of rape, of abuse, of violence and torture. When we hear their pain and their stories and take counsel from and wisdom from their perspective, a more violence-free and safe society may be possible. The calling in of God to justify ‘revenge’ motives leads to more violence and anarchy in a society precariously perched with many fears of “the other” and “the different”; a society already unstable due to the perceived threat of “foreign” religions, and “foreign peoples” taking over indigenous identity and faith. Our nation must heed this warning or risk the possibility of disintegration as a country. There is a crying need to redefine a nation’s “security” not in military terms but in terms of the “people’s security”. War mongering terms in the political life of a community which talks of “revenge” and “retaliation” needs to give place to concepts like “restoration of rights” and “reconciliation of sexes, classes, races and peoples”. The extent to which the needs and aspirations of the most victimized people is met, is to be the measure of “security” and not the number of guns, missiles and armoured vehicles that we have.
SAYET prog, NCCI, 20-25 Nov 2003 Conclusion/ Commitment: After the Gujarat riots, all I could do for some days was cry. That then gave way to anger and frustration at my impotence. I wanted to do something but didn’t know what. I then pasted on the cupboard facing my bed, all the pictures of the violence- the faces of men, women and children, affected at Gujarat. The caption I put on top of it was “Lest we forget.” That is what I have entitled this paper too. I may not be doing much- I’m not involved in activism for the victims of rape and violence or in active efforts for peace. But there is something I can do – I can remember. And I can keep reminding people to remember. I can keep people from letting the victims of rape die a death in our collective memories. This bible study is my effort at remembering not just the victims of rape in the Bible, but the countless raped women in our times too. It is my contribution to the journey to walk alongside the victims of rape, torture and violence, that we are all called to undertake. Bibliography: 1. 2. 3. 4.
Bruce, F.F. NEW INTERNATIONAL BIBLE COMMENTARY. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979. Matthews, Victor.H., Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. GENDER AND LAW IN THE HEBREW BIBLE AND THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST. England: Sheffield Academic Press, JSOT Supplement Series 262. Tingjin, Yong. Speaking out: Justice for the woman violated, in IN GOD’S IMAGE, Vol.21, No.3, September 2002. Tornkvist, Rut. THE USE AND ABUSE OF FEMALE SEXUAL IMAGERY IN THE BOOK OF HOSEA- A FEMINIST CRITICAL APPROACH TO HOSEA 1-3. Sweden: Uppasala University, 1994. Trible, Phyllis. TEXTS OF TERROR. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.
By Jessica Richard SAYET prog, NCCI, 20-25 Nov 2003