[b-hebrew] virginity

Harold Holmyard hholmyard3 at earthlink.net
Mon Jul 16 17:55:50 EDT 2007

Dear Isaac,
> What I am saying is scripturally and legally of the utmost importance 
> since it may mean the difference between life and death.

HH: True, but the people back then could have had ways of recognizing 
the kind of phenomenon you are talking about. The woman could test 
herself, and her parents could deal with the issue if it came up. The 
text says what it says, and it is false exegesis to say it did not mean 
it as it said it:

22:15 Then the father and mother of the young woman must produce the 
evidence of virginity for the elders of the city at the gate.

22:17 Moreover, he has raised accusations of impropriety by saying, 'I 
discovered your daughter was not a virgin,' but this is the evidence of 
my daughter's virginity!" The cloth must then be spread out before the 
city's elders.

HH: The evidence of virginity is the cloth. Dr. Eugene H. Merrill writes 
in the New American Commentary (pp. 302-03), quoted by the NET Bible, 
"In light of v. 17 this [evidence of virginity] would evidently be 
blood-stained sheets indicative of the first instance of intercourse.

HH: Apparently it was normal for there to be bleeding at the first 
intercourse. Standard nuptial routine could have included the evidence 
being handed over to the woman's parents as witnesses on the day after 
the consummation of the marriage. Just as routine, it what you are 
talking about was widespread, could have been the awareness of the 
possibility of some oddity like the hymen breaking before the marriage 
or lack of bleeding, so this could have been dealt with within the 
family and shared with the groom's family before the marriage, if it 
occurred. This law is like many laws that give the basic statement and 
do not deal with all conceivable details that might arise.

HH: Michael Abernathy's quote of Josephus shows that the law was real 
and not just hypothetical:

Josephus comments on the same verse , "but if the damsel be convicted, as having been corrupted, and is one of the common people, let her be stoned, because she did not preserve her virginity till she were lawfully married; but if she were the daughter of a priest, let her be burnt alive."

HH: As already mentioned, This custom of parents checking the bed sheets after the nuptial night for signs of virginity has been a custom even outside of the Judeo-Christian heritage. 

Hh: There may be more facts to the biblical custom that we don't know about, since the details are not given as to how the cloth was obtained or when. This kind of information is assumed, and knowledge of exceptional cases can be assumed as well, I would think. Nor does one expect that most marriages faced this prospect. Such an accusation by a husband would be rare, and the physical issue you bring up would also be somewhat uncommon, it seems.

Harold Holmyard

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