The Levite and The Concubine: A Womanist Theological Perspective
Domestic violence and sexual abuse was an ongoing theme in the sacred holy Hebrew scriptures. In the story of the Levite and the Concubine we learn of a violent brutal gang rape and a vicious and ruthless slaughtering of a human life, specifically a female life. From reading the works of Margaret Farley, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics and Joy A. Schroeder, Dinah’s Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation I have realized that sexual violence is not just an issue that is real in our everyday society but that it was real in the times of antiquity. Moreover, that the sexual violence recorded in the Hebrew scriptures for the most part has gone unaddressed and the violence done to the Concubine, The dancers in the fields, Dinah in the book of Genesis, Tamar who was brutally groomed and raped by her brother during the time of King David has gone on with complete silence, save for some womanist theologians and feminist theologians. This work though short will address these women’s lives and experience through a hermeneutic of liberation, healing and transformation. Finally my argument will be that God was a woman in these scripture if God has a gender at all. God was raped, God was gang raped and cut into pieces for a barbaric group of men. Lastly, if God can be raped and God was the woman, the unnamed woman, then every rape, every girl molested, every woman forced to live in fear and silenced by a fatalistic patriarchal society will hopefully be honored and men will be challenged to unearth these scriptures and speak life to them, by addressing the fatalism of patriarchy in the church. Honestly, speaking this passage for this time could be spoken as a testament to the #SayHerName campaign through #BlackLivesMatter.
Judges 19: A Textual Criticism
In chapter nineteen of Judges we read in verse two, “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. Why was the concubine angry? Also why four months away from her master and provider? This question comes to mind because for the rest of the text the narrative follows the Levite and we don’t hear again from the concubine for another seven verses which in the text was a four month and five days separation from his concubine. Also when in pursuit of his “loved” one he has sex with the father of the concubine for five days. The text does not specifically say sex but it can easily be applied or interpreted that way. Especially, since in verse 22 the lawless men of Gibeah, the Benjaminites. These men were not concerned with sex with the concubines or the old man’s daughters, they wantonly accepted them and raped them. These men were looking to rape a man. There is no explanation for this other than the cultural and historical knowledge of the people of Gibeah and that the author states in the first verse, “In those days, when there was no king in Israel…” The author already was providing the allegory and mental framework to speak to the fact that the people needed a king and that the people did not want God as their king.
We can understand this clearly in the text because whether the people be Benjaminites or Israelites their deeds were lawless. Their actions and treatment of women were barbaric and lacked any moral compass. For the author to put women in this light either clearly shows the lack of appreciation and acknowledgement of women, but also the fact that for many women were essentially seen as a commodity that could be used for trade or to barter with. Their intrinsic value rested solely on their demand.
We know this to be true from the research of Margaret Farley, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics that from the very beginning starting in antiquity through the patriarchs and even before that in the ancient near east there was no respect for women or the sanctity of their minds, bodies and emotions. Women have been under the cold iron fist of men since the inception of the patriarchy in the Jewish tradition. So when having this context looking at scripture can never be the same again. “Christianity emerged in the late Hellenistic Age, when even judaism was influenced by the dualistic anthropologies of Stoic philosophy and Gnostic religions…Unlike many strands of Judaism at the time, its focus was less on the solidity and continuity of life in their world than on the continuity between this world and a life to come. Yet, early Christian writers were profoundly influenced both by Judaism and by Greco-Roman philosophy. With the Stoics they had a suspicion of bodily passion and a respect for reason as a guide to the moral life” (Farley, 38-39). So knowing this, then how do we address my first two enquiries and finally how do we set up a call to action to bring justice to the text.
Judges 19: The World Within The Text
Above I presented two questions in order to understand better the background to the text of Judges 19. The first question was why was the concubine angry? From reading Joy A. Schroeder’s, Dinah’s Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation Schroeder lays out not only every biblical story regarding the sexual violence done to women in the bible, but also lays out the fatalistic hermeneutic of all the previous theologians put together. The despairing reality is that from Schroeder’s work one realizes that hardly any men have ever even given a thought, not one single thought to the injustice of patriarchy. “Later Roman laws attached legal responsibility to the victim as well, however. In 326 C.E., the emperor Constantine ruled that a man committing raptus should be exiled or executed by burning. If the woman was judged to be a willing party to the abduction (that is, if it was believed that this was an elopement), she was to be exiled or burned to death as well. If she was an unwilling victim, she was also to be punished, but more lightly–on the grounds that the woman could have chosen to save herself by screaming for help. If no one was present to hear her scream, she was at fault for venturing outside her home alone. So if you were raped and no one saw it, then were you raped? This goes along with cat and mouse logic of, “if a tree falls and no one hears it fall did it make a sound” the answer is of course it made a sound, just no one heard it, but the animals heard it, God saw it, the fields felt the trees weight as it fell, of course it happened! Schroeder continues, “…even if the woman was at home and the rapist broke down the door to attack her, she could be punished by losing all inheritance rights. In this case the law chastised her by saying that she should have cried for help from the neighbors or fought off her attacker” (Schroeder, Location 161-170 Kindle Version).
One masculine voice that offers some justice to the women of the bible and specifically the concubine was Ambrose. Ambrose was a christian thinker who was schooled in the understandings and theology of Josephus another church father, but Ambrose sought to bring awareness to the fact of the women’s plight. Although his interpretation was still patriarchal and not in the least feminist, he did still offer a voice of recognition and acknowledgement that seeks to give the women a voice. For Ambrose the Concubine was a wife of the Levite and therefore the wife experienced shame at leaving her husband.
Ambrose found these realizations by looking at the Septuagint and doing historical criticism. He also found that the bishop of Milan also believed the possible report of the concubine and possibly was the first to acknowledge that the concubine was not a maidservant but a “wife” of the Levite. Therefore, she was more than a “streetworker” she was not a “whore”. Ambrose indicts Josephus the Jewish theologian and hero to the early judeo-christian faith and history by stating that Josephus, omitted the very real and clear same-sex homosexual attempted rape of the Levite.
Ambrose similar to my personal interpretation of the text reasoned that the wife was unhappy, and that despite the un-egalitarian roles and mistreatment of women in her historical context and location she heroically left for someone more her equal. Which I would argue was a feminist move, she has the right in her humanity to defy cultural norms and practices and seek out a love that is more conducive to her well being. That does not mean that the sadness of the Levite was wrong, no this simply means that although men may be in love with a spouse that spouse has the right to leave. That also the fact that the narrative puts the wife in a situation that demonizes and criminalizes her, she was in the right. It was the men who were in the wrong, it was the society that although designed with the framework for an egalitarian critique on the greater culture surrounding them, they chose to enslave, murder, rape, and extort their own. Therefore proving the author’s thought that indeed the people needed a king.
The Levite liked the fact that she was an exotic Benjaminite woman, that she was younger and beautiful and that although she was much younger and the dynamic was in many regards paternalistic he loved her, Ambrose would argue, but she did not love him.
Conclusion: Where Do We Go From Here
In my conclusion, and we only began to touch on this text briefly. I would like to point out that one way of looking at this text would be to see through the eyes of YHWH. A G-d of the Jews but a father/mother to Jesus later and an avid lover of all of creation. G-d we know was and is genderless and therefore G-d was all and in all.
So for this piece hermeneutically I see G-d as a woman. I see G-d as a feminist. I see G-d brutally disregarded, nameless, devalued, cat-called, gangraped, beaten, left for dead, molested, valued only for her beauty, her sexiness, her sexual prowess, her lack of sexual experience and purity, lastly brutally raped and left for dead. I see G-d, the G-d of the Jews and Christians as raped. God was raped that day and any and everyday any woman has ever been molested, raped, beaten and told to stay with her husband. God was that woman because God is woman. God is all and in all. This narrative simply could be YHWH! #SayHerName #SayHerName.
Coogan, Michael D. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: NRSV with The Apocrypha. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Farley, Margaret A. Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006.
Schroeder, Joy A. Dinah’s Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007.