Friday, 12 May 2017

Numbers 31:18

Note: As Muslims we do not believe Moses commanded rape. This is an article by Ibn Anwar featuring quotes showing some people do view Numbers 31 suggesting the Midianite females were raped.

Biblical Moses commanded rape in Numbers 31:18 by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT
My brother in faith and Muslim apologist extraordinaire, Yahya Snow, asked me several minutes ago if I had written anything on the rape of women as described and prescribed in Numbers 31 and whether or not Biblical scholars have commented on it. What follows is my response that I feel should be shared here.

The text in question is Numbers 31:18:

"but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man."

The story goes that the biblical Moses was commanded by God to annihilate the Midian nation by killing off all of its male adults along with male babies and children and also non-virgin girls and women, as specifically mentioned in verse 17. However, a small category of the nation was to be spared: female babies, girls and women that were virgins. What do the scholarly material inform us about this disturbing biblical account?

Emeritus Professor of Statistics at Auckland University, New Zealand and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand Arthur F. Seber writes:

"God seems to sanction rape. In Numbers 31:17-18 we read that Moses encouraged his men to kill all the boy captives and female captives who are not virgins but keep virgins alive for themselves. God did not rebuke him but urged him to distribute the spoils (verses 25 40)."

In a massive commentary on the Bible, The theologian Claudia Rakel writes:

"The connection between war and the rape of the women of the conquered people is recorded in biblical texts such as Numbers 31, Genesis 34, and Judges 5:30."

Academically trained in Criminal Justice and member of the The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases (AISOCC), Arthur S. Chancellor writes:

"In what we generally think of as ancient history, the rape of women of a conquered city by the victorious army was considered a part of the "spoils of war... Examples can be found within the Bible: Numbers 31:1-18 described how Moses ordered the slaughter of all Midianite males after a battle but the 32, 000 female virgins were spared to become slaves or given to soldiers as captives of war." [3]

Peter J. DiDomenica of Boston University and Chief of Boston University Police Thomas G. Robbins write:

"While our cultural rules prohibit rape and in the vast majority of places during the vast majority of times it is not tolerated, there are certain situational variables such as war or individual personal variables such as psychopathy that allow this genetic tendency to flourish. Since the beginnings of recorded history, rape has accompanied warfare... In a biblical account of war found in the Old Testament, Numbers 31, Moses sends 12, 000 Israelites to war against the Midianites. "And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males." Of the women and children taken captive, all were ordered killed by Moses except the virgins." [4]

Eminent scholar Professor Carolyn J. Sharp, who is Acting Associate Dean of Academic Affairs & Professor of Hebrew at the Divinity School of Yale University identifies the text in Numbers as an example of a prescription for rape:

"The practice of sexual violation of enemy women for the purpose of long-term destabilization of the enemy is a well-known and amply documented strategy of male warriors in many cultures, from ancient times to today. Scripture testifies to this abhorrent practice in holy-war texts such as Numbers 31:18, in which Moses commands the execution of nonvirgin Midianite women but allows his army to "keep alive for" themselves Midianite virgin girls, and Deuteronomy 20"14, which instructs that enemy women may be taken as booty."


[1] Seber, A. F. (2015). Can We Believe it?: Evidence for Christianity. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 175

[2] Rakel, C. (2012). Judith: About a Beauty Who Is Not What She Pretends to Be, (Lisa E. Dahill, Everett R, Kalin, Nancy Lukens et. al., trans.). In Luise Schottroff and Marie-Theres Wacker (eds), Feminist Biblical Interpretation: A Compendium of Critical Commentary on the Books of the Bible and Related Literature. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 521

[3] Chancellor, A. S. (2013). Investigating Sexual Assault Cases. Burlington, Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 4

[4] DiDomenica, P. J. & Robbins, T. G. (2013). Journey from Genesis to Genocide: Hate, Empathy, and the Plight of Humanity. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Dorrance Publishing Co. p. 50

[5] Sharp, C. J. (2010). Wrestling the Word: The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Believers. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 131