Numbers 31:18

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But all the women-children, that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (ASV)


Here, Moses commands his followers to execute captured Midianite women and children, other than virgin girls (to be kept for sexual purposes).

Apologetic responses to this can be quite chilling to read: "...what's wrong with that?". Others like to pretend that the Hebrews "had no choice" but to exterminate the irredemable Midianites, but this does raise the question of why the virgin girls are somehow more redeemable than the rest (it's also worth noting what the "sins" of the Midianites actually consisted of: they were apparently practitioners of a sex cult which was seducing Hebrew men, which again raises the question of why young women should be spared). It is also common for apologists to deny the implication of mass rape by suggesting that the Midianites would have willingly sought to "marry" the "morally superior" Hebrews who had just butchered all their parents, brothers, and non-virgin sisters.

Also, as God was supposedly not shy about revealing himself and performing miracles in the time of Moses, he could have simply teleported the Midianites to the Americas, but instead chose genocide and sexual enslavement.

Apologists would have us believe that the Bible is "the Good Book", full of examples of righteous and moral behaviour. But what lesson are we supposed to glean from Numbers 31:17-18?

As a final act of barbarity, some of the captive Midianite virgins were then used as human sacrifices (see the Numbers 31:41 entry). --Robert Stevens 09:48, 4 Apr 2006 (CDT)

Response to Con piece

Our shared human heritage explains why most of us have a "moral sense" (via biological and social evolution: we did, after all, evolve as social creatures). But, regardless, there isn't much support for the notion of "Divine Command Morality" in the Bible. The story of the Forbidden Fruit tells us that we DO have knowledge of Good and Evil, and that God didn't want us to have this knowledge. "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil" (Genesis 3:22). The Bible also says that God can create evil (Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6).

So, according to the Bible itself, we do indeed have the ability to judge God, and to discover "evil" attributable to him. We are also able to note that "this has divine sanction" is no excuse for injustice. --Robert Stevens 13:50, 4 Apr 2006 (CDT)

Response to "An Alternate Answer"

“...the Jews say that if she refused, and continued obstinate in idolatry, he must not marry her.” -Henry

Well, there isn't a "Book of Henry" in the Bible, so this is "clarification" by extra-Biblical sources, with all the usual caveats applicable to such an endeavour. This is especially unreliable when dealing with a book that pre-dates what we would nowadays recognise as "Judaism", which is largely a product of the Exile and its aftermath (though incoporating material that was older). The text itself makes no mention of the woman's right to end the relationship: only that of the man, "if you are not pleased with her". Indeed, the importance of a woman's consent is conspicuously absent from the Bible: even the "death penalty for rape" (Deuteronomy 22:23-27) applies only to adulterous rape (the woman is specified as "betrothed"). Numbers is quite frank about why these virgins are being spared from slaughter: "...for yourselves". The insistence on "marrying" the virgins first doesn't change that.

Those not spared "for yourselves" were massacred. Again, there is no getting away from that. And not just as unavoidable "civilian casualties" either. When modern soldiers bayonet a three-year-old boy to death, we rightly condemn it as a war crime: yet that is exactly what supposedly happened here, on a grand scale (other than the use of swords and spears instead, of course). --Robert Stevens 09:51, 6 Nov 2006 (CST)



You'd have to have some standard of evil that is applicable to all persons before you can claim that any motive or action is "evil," else you reduce "evil" to "I (or some group of people) don't like it" -- but why should anyone listen to you (or some group of people)?

If God created humanity, and thereby has a right to impose whatever moral laws He wishes on humanity, then (by definition) there can be nothing "immoral" about what He requires of humanity, because morality is what He requires of humanity.

So you are begging the question to assume some standard of absolute morality exists according to which you can call this immoral; or, if you are assuming the Biblical morality for the sake of argument, then by definition it cannot be immoral, because God sanctions it.

And as pre-emptive caveat, Deu. 24:16 is not contradictory to this passage, as Deu. 24:16 is a general law given to judges; punishing the father in place of the son, or the son in place of the father, is only immoral generally, when lacking divine sanction. This passage has divine sanction.

Also, there is no evidence that the Israelites ever engaged in sanctioned ritual human sacrifice; the only time they engaged in the practice at all is when they worshipped idols, and it was harshly condemned (e.g., Ezekiel 20:26). -- 12:28, 4 Apr 2006 (CDT)

Defense of Answer

The same thing applies here as was said here. --MonkeeSage 01:15, 5 Apr 2006 (CDT)

An Alternate Answer

A. Cf. Deuteronomy 21: 10-14: "When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands, and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 13 "She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 "And it shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.�

�...the Jews say that if she refused, and continued obstinate in idolatry, he must not marry her.� -Henry

1. It is all too infrequently recognized that this section of Deuteronomy actually represents the most humane extant law for the treatment of women and girls during warfare in the entire history of the ancient Near East. Rape of captive women by conquerors has been the inevitable consequence of military action throughout history. Deuteronomy makes it quite clear that such treatment of women �even enemy women- was forbidden. The Mosaic legislation not only precluded soldiers acting on impulsive sexual desires on the battlefield, it specifically precluded selling captive women as slaves (no �sex-slaves� here!). The only condition under which an Israelite soldier was allowed to have relations with a captive woman was that she be made a proselyte (which required her agreement) and that she be made a wife with all the rights and privileges accorded to any other Israelite wife. The couple, man and woman, were subject to all of the laws pertaining to Israelite marriage.

2. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 as Anti-Rape Legislation. No intercourse was permitted until and unless all the requirements and solemn rites were performed by both parties. Desire was not enough to legitimate intercourse with a captive female; there must be a willingness to allow her to become a part of one�s household and accord her all of the rights which belonged to a naturally-born Jew. Marriage could only take place after a period of mourning (the same mourning period pertained to Israel generally; cf. Num 20:29; Deut 34:8) . She was to be treated with humanity and sensitivity and could not be treated as a slave. Many ancient Rabbis maintained that the shaving of her head functioned not only as the standard purification rite accompanying freely chosen conversion, but also to make the captive woman appear less attractive, resembling a gourd or pumpkin shell, and this in his own house so that he would see her frequently (cf. Midrash Halakhah; Midrash Tannaim, Midrash Hagadol, bYevamot 48aff; Rashi; Maimonides, Toldoth Adam, and Torah Tmimah). If the marriage took place, it would only do so after a period of sober consideration and a willingness to make the same commitment which pertained to marriages generally.

3. Neither marriage nor conversion was forced. Israelites were prohibited from marrying any foreign woman, captive or not, unless she willingly underwent ritual purification by a solemn rite. The shaving of the head was specifically just such a rite (e.g. Num 8:7, etc.). The Midrash Hagadol stated that if the captive female did not wish to convert initially she was to be given twelve months to think it over. If she did not wish to become a proselyte, she faced the choice of living as a resident alien (non Jewish, but required to live according to the standards which pertained to Noah before the covenant Abraham or Moses; according to Midrash Hagadol if these standards were repudiated she would be killed, although it is apparent from Deuteronomy that if she had no place in Israel she was free to go: "you shall let her go wherever she wishes"). It is frequently considered inconceivable that a captive woman might actually view her conquerors in a positive light; the manner in which women and children were often -not just sometimes- treated in the ancient world, even by their parents, dispels this uncritical assumption.

“The delay was full of humanity and kindness to the female slave, as well as a prudential measure to try the strength of her captor’s affections. If his love should afterwards cool and he become indifferent to her, 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. In almost every other ancient culture, women of a defeated city were raped and/or simply made into slaves. If such a woman was found to be sexually desirable the “instant gratification” of rape was expressly forbidden to the Israelites. It was required that the woman be allowed a full month mourning period before –not just sex, but marriage- was allowed to take place; this provides quite a contrast to any other ancient culture indeed. She and the man would be subject also to the other rules regarding the marriage of the Israelites. This legislation could have two basic results: the men would be restrained from rape, and the women would have time to become adjusted to their new condition. Symbolic of casting off her former life, the woman was to remove the clothing she wore when captured (13a), shave her head and trim her nails (12), and put on new clothes. These cleansing rites (cf. Lev 14:8: Num 8:7; 2 Sam 19:24) initiated the women into the Israelite family, but she would have a full month to mourn her separation from her father and mother before she became the wife of the Israelite (13b). She was also protected from being sold for money or treated as a commodity”

B. �The ethic of Jesus expressed in the so-called Sermon on the Mount was given to disciples, not to nations. If the radical ethic of nonresistance were applied directly to nations, it would mean the end of all civil government� The principle of nonresistance or no retaliation can be a goal or ideal in the social arena, but never a political strategy of a nation� -Donald Bloesch, Freedom for Obedience, p. 293

The worst brutalities and horrors in human history result from situations where the very survival of a people was at stake. The revulsions of war, and the horrors of survival when it hangs by the slimmest of threads are among the worst of the grim realities of life. Destruction of innocent women and children was a common feature of 20th century warfare, as most if not all centuries known to historians. It is not just �the other guys� who perpetrate such horrors. Not just Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, the Khmer Rouge, Islamist combatants or Nazi Germany, but also Britain under Winston Churchill, who after long siege by German bombing raids on English soil, made the decision to heavily bomb civilian cities in Germany where there were no military or industrial targets in the hope that the resulting horrors would create political pressure for Hitler to halt his own bombing campaigns, i.e. the decision to kill innocent men, women, infants and children without discrimination. Since the strategy did not work, these deaths were probably for nothing. Churchill also contemplated a large-scale assault on German civilians using poison gas. Napalm was used extensively where destruction of non-combatant peasant villages resulted in Vietnam. The bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were aimed at civilians as well. In this case many more lives were saved than lost, but it would take the utmost in callousness to claim that we are thereby absolved from the utter horrors that were committed there.

Numbers 31 describes Moses� last military campaign (against the Midianites) continuing the account of chapter 25 of Israelite apostasy at Baal Peor, which very nearly led to the complete destruction of the Hebrew nation. It is easy for the modern reader to miss the very real mortal danger this situation presented to the survival of the other followers of Moses in the great desert wastes, men women and children, who were not a part of this apostasy. With a significant loss of their men, Moses� people would likely never secure a homeland. The Midianites, unable to defeat Israel militarily, had conceived a plot to seduce many of her men through sexual temptation to abandon their God, thereby vitiating the source of their unity, strength, and mission. Without the hearts of her men, the rest of Israel would have soon become helpless in the desert, unable to survive, and unable to continue their mission. The Israelite men known to have partaken in this seductive idolatry were given the death penalty (Num 25:5). Idolatry aside, in a very real sense their actions consigned the lives of those who did not follow their path to certain failure, and serious mortal danger. Considering the centrality of the women to this plot as well as the clear and present danger of history repeating itself, Moses� shock is understandable: �have you spared all the women?� (Numbers 31:15). Midian was placed under the ban as a result of that event (Numbers 25:17). So seductive were the enticements of the Peor that Israel is recorded still under their spell in Joshua�s day (Joshua 22:17). �


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