‘Back Then it Was Legal’: The Epistemological Imbalance in Readings of Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Rape Legislation

Susanne Scholz


The article examines the epistemological imbalance that currently exists in the area of biblical and ancient Near Eastern rape laws. The imbalance reflects a larger development in western intellectual discourse in which we are moving from an empiricist-positivist epistemology to a postmodern epistemology. The former is characteristic of the modern western worldview and assumes objectivity, value neutrality, and universality. It is primarily interested in the historical quest. The latter recognises the contextualised, particularised, and localised nature of all exegetical work, and emphasises the readers’ responsibilities in the meaning-making process. Three sections structure the investigation. The first section examines how empiricist-positivist readings present Deut. 21:10-14 as a law on marriage and not on rape. The second section analyses Deut. 22:22-29, and shows how this biblical passage emerges as adultery laws within the modern paradigm of interpretation. The third section focuses on ancient Near Eastern legislation to demonstrate that the laws address the rapes of women, children and certain kinds of animals when a reader, living in the contemporary global rape culture, searches for rape in the ancient legislative materials. A conclusion acknowledges the current impasse between modern and postmodern epistemologies in reading biblical and ancient Near Eastern legislation and suggests that currently this imbalance cannot be evened out.


rape legislation; Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Deuteronomy 22:22-29

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Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391