Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Patriocentric Mishnah, The Bride-Price and The Cost of Slander (more on another "Jewish Way")

I received an email asking about the Family Integrated Church's (FIC) practice of the “Bride- Price” as found in Deuteronomy, Chapter 22. I am told that Doug Phillips prefers a gold coin as the “Bride's Price,” paid by the groom to the father of the bride as a tradition in FIC weddings. Now, anyone can create any tradition that they would like, but they should not call all these things “Biblical” when they are reflective of cultural standards only (that of the Mishnah in this case).

The FIC leaders presume that this passage concerns the price of a girl's virginity as a commodity that is purchased when, in fact, this passage concerns the legal cost of slander against a new bride. Why on earth would anyone want to associate the ceremony of holy matrimony with either a groom's hatred of his new bride or the transfer of funds for slander regarding moral turpitude? The other scenarios described in this chapter and also in Exodus 22 (the other bride-price proof text) discuss the payment to the father of the bride after she had been violated because a proper marriage did not take place prior to physical intimacy.

Deuteronomy 22:13- 30 (NASB):

Laws on Morality
“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, 'I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin,' then the girl's father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl's virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. "The girl's father shall say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, "I did not find your daughter a virgin." But this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity.' And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city.

"So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girl's father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel. And she shall remain his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days. "But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father's house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you.

If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel." If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor's wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. "But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die.
"But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. "When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her. If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days." A man shall not take his father's wife so that he will not uncover his father's skirt.

So why on earth would anyone seek to incorporate this practice into a marriage ceremony? Novelty? Or if you wrongfully viewed a woman's sexuality and her person as a commodity to be bought and sold? So the Torah is clear: the bride-price is the cost that a husband pays for improperly slandering a virtuous bride. Is there any historical evidence for the practice of this bride-price? The Mishnah viewed women and a young woman's virginity as a commodity to be bought and sold.

From Chattel or Person? The Status of Women in the Mishnah by Wegner (pages 4 – 8):

The Mishnah, a book of legal rules compiled by Jewish sages in second century Roman Palestine, depicts a society whose central character is the free adult Israelite male. Possessor of wives, children, land, slaves, livestock, and other chattels, he occupies a sociolegal status not unlike that of the Roman paterfamilias, his counterpart in the dominant culture of the day. The Mishnah's socioeconomic system, rooted in private property, considers people and things from the perspective of their relationship to the owner or master...

When faced with the need to classify women, the sages treat them very much as they treat the koy [the mythical offspring of a goat and gazelle – a hybrid of a domesticated and wild animals]. They vacillate between defining women as chattel and as person...

To the Mishnah's framers, the, woman presents an anomaly, a “legal hybrid” that defies logical classification. She is “like” a man, hence a person in some ways, and “not like” a man, hence a nonperson, in others. As with the koy, the sages, unwilling to recognize an intermediate category, choose to split the woman into her “chattel” and “person” components, depending on context, and treat her accordingly.

Based on this description, the practices of the Mishnah were based upon Scripture but followed the Roman paterfamilias as much as they did the Torah. Moses did not “split women into chattel and person components” as the Mishnah did; but rather, Moses preserves the protection of women without treating them as commodities or objects. From an informed reading, the Scripture speaks of payment for a daughter's virginity only when there is some scandal or compromise of her integrity on the part of the groom. If unpure, the penalty for her sin was death. The bride-price was paid, according to what Moses wrote, for the groom's slandering her integrity or when the groom seizes her sexually without a marriage ceremony. Any “payment for virginity” outside of some type of scandal does not arise from Moses' writings in the Torah. The Mishnah superimposed the treatment of women as chattel by borrowing from the Roman paterfamilias and adding them to the writings of Moses.

From Chattel or Person? (pages 21 - 23)

For them [the sages], the young girl possesses one salient characteristic: she is sexual chattel. Nearly all references to the girlchild under twelve (q'tannah) or the pubescent girl between twelve and and twelve and one-half years (na'arah) – unlike references to minor persons – speak directly or indirectly of her sexuality, with particular emphasis on her virginity.

Virginity and the Bride Price

The Mishnah's framers, placing a premium on virginity, set the customary bride-price twice as high for virgins as for nonvirgins (M. Ket. 1:2)... The commercial aspect of the transaction is underscored by the fact that the sages open their discussion of marriage contracts (tractate K'tubbot) with a rule providing prompt legal redress for a bridegroom who claims the bride's father has deceived him. This lawsuit vindicates a man's scriptural rights to receive a virgin in return for the bride-price. (Deut. 22:13-21)... Having paid for his bride's virginity, an aggrieved bridegroom, just as any buyer of goods that fail to meet specifications, can bring suit...

They perceive the girl not as a human being possessing or lacking sexual experience, but as a chattel whose owner pays bride-price for an intact hymen – an attitude borne out by the casual assumption that men will routinely violate girls in their power, even those of tender years. As shocking as this seems, its chief significance is the perception of the female as a mere sex object.

So I ask those who have been told that the bride-price is “Biblical” and have been taught that this is a necessary part of a wedding ceremony, please show me in the Word of God (in both Deuteronomy 22 and Exodus 22) where, apart from scandal, is there a bride-price is required for a virtuous couple. Or as my husband asks, do all FIC members admit that their daughters lack purity and virtue by requiring a bride-price for them? If the Bible only speaks of a bride-price in cases of slander and the seizing of a woman without a proper marriage ceremony, then requiring payment is a ready testimony that declares their daughters lack sexual purity and virtue.

Are we called to follow the Word of God or to follow the pagan traditions of both Mishnah and the paterfamilias of first and second century Roman culture? Or are we to follow the neo-pagan Catechism Mishnah of the New Patriocentricity?

Excerpts from
From Chattel or Person?
The Status of Women in the Mishnah

by JR Wegner,
New York: Oxford University Press, 1988