Deuteronomy 21 – Reading Note – Marrying a Captive Woman, Among Other Things

  • If a man was found dead in a field and it was not known who had killed him, the elders of the town closest to the body must swear that they did not witness the crime and make atonement with a sacrifice. This was done so that God would not hold the whole the whole community responsible for the crime (21: 1 – 9).
  • A firstborn son was not to be treated unfairly by having his birthright revoked if his mother was not his father’s favorite wife. This was obviously in the interest of justice and truth. Justice by giving the firstborn what he deserved and truth by acknowledging him as the firstborn. (21: 15 – 17)
  • A rebellious son who had repeatedly refused correction could be put to death for his rebellion if both his father and mother testified against him, not just because he refused to obey them, but that the things they asked of him were good (21: 18 – 21). The mother was counted as a full witness (recall the two witness rule) not half a witness as in Islamic law.
  • A man who liked a captive woman could marry her but he had to follow certain procedures
  1. Make her shave her head, trim her nails and change the clothes she had worn when she was captured
  2. Let her live in his house for a month and mourn her parents.
  3. After that, she could be his wife.

If afterwards, he decided not to marry her, he could not sell her or treat her as a slave because he had dishonored her. She was free to go wherever she desired. I wonder what it means when it says he dishonored her.

This law implicitly condemns fornication. It requires a man who likes a captive to marry her, not just commit fornication with her or rape her or even make her his slave or concubine. It also requires him to give her time to finish her mourning, which is good. Here is a brief commentary I found on it:

According to the war customs of all ancient nations, a female captive became the slave of the victor, who had the sole and unchallengeable control of right to her person. Moses improved this existing usage by special regulations on the subject. He enacted that, in the event that her master was captivated by her beauty and contemplated a marriage with her, a month should be allowed to elapse, during which her perturbed feelings might be calmed, her mind reconciled to her altered condition, and she might bewail the loss of her parents, now to her the same as dead. A month was the usual period of mourning with the Jews, and the circumstances mentioned here were the signs of grief–the shaving of the head, the allowing the nails to grow uncut, the putting off her gorgeous dress in which ladies, on the eve of being captured, arrayed themselves to be the more attractive to their captors. The delay was full of humanity and kindness to the female slave, as well as a prudential measure to try the strength of her master’s affections. If his love should afterwards cool and he become indifferent to her person, he was not to lord it over her, neither to sell her in the slave market, nor retain her in a subordinate condition in his house; but she was to be free to go where her inclinations led her. [source]

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Tracy

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