More Poor Exegesis

I am almost wondering if I should start a series when I see outragious exegetical mistakes being made. Some of these just speak for themselves. For example, take a look at this guy named Scott Nemeth:

Also, he was on Gene Cook’s show The Narrow Mind:

The biggest problem that I saw is with Deuteronomy 22:13-21. Here is the relevant portion:

Deuteronomy 22:13-14, 20-21“If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, 14 and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, …”But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, 21 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.

This is a fairly straightforward passage. There is no question as to what the text means. However, when a text doesn’t fit what you believe, you can do all kinds of exegetical dancing to try to get around what it clearly says. Scott Nemeth does just that here. His arguments are fairly easy to refute. Let us take a look at them one by one.

Wow that seems pretty scary, that’s why they like to use this passage. Just relax though, take a chill pill, there are two cases of non-virgins getting married in this chapter. The first one it is a curse to not be a virgin (see above), the second case it is a blessing to not be a virgin…assuming our lovers “Get Caught in the Act”. This is in verse 28 & 29..

The law for an unbetrothed woman:
Deu 22:28: If a man find a damsel [that is] a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
Deu 22:29: Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty [shekels] of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

The first thing I need to do here is remove the puritanical spin most Bible translators like to put on verse 29. The word translated here as “because he hath humbled her” is often translated as “violated”, as if our young damsel had been raped. Again, take a breath and relax, this is more spin than anything else. This word means Consensual Sex in this chapter and unlike a lot of Church leaders out who tell you premarital sex is a sin without backing up their claim, I will PROVE my claim

The word in question is anah (Strong’s #H6031). It is used in verse 24, to describe the Consensual Sex between adulterers. It is not the word for adultery, that’s a different word. This is just the Consensual Sex that adulterers have in Deuteronomy 22:24. I think the King James is closer than the modern translations on this verse but it could be translated as “had intercourse” or “penetrated”. Notice that it’s not just the Consensual Sex here that is the issue in verse 28, it’s Consensual Sex plus “Getting Caught”.

First of all, the Hebrew term hn”[‘ actually refers to a kind of volation of another person. HALOT suggests the gloss “humiliated.” The point is that there is clearly a negative connotation to this term. It is the very same term used in Exodus 1:11 in the context of the Egyptian “oppression” of the Hebrews. Hence, quite clearly, when hn”[‘ is used in the Piel, it has a negative connotation. Now, where he gets the translation “had intercourse” or “penetrated” I don’t know. It is not found in either BDB or HALOT. Also, it is difficult to understand how the fact that it is used for adultery is relevant as well. When you commit adultery with another woman, you are, indeed, violating that woman. Now, that woman can choose to allow herself to be violated for her own evil purposes [what happens in verse 24], but it is still a violation of another woman.

Not only that, we have to remember that we are in the context of case law. That may seem irrelevant now, but simply saying that is the refutation of everything Mr. Nemeth is about to tell us:

Getting Caught having sex in this manner ends up being a blessing for our young damsel for several reasons. Primarily because these were times when women were considered to be property. However, if she and boyfriend got caught in this way then she would go in to that marriage not as property, but as an equal partner because “he may not put her away all his days.” The groom is then hogtied to this woman under the Old Testament law and if he wants that marriage to work for him, he has got to hold up his end of the relationship. Also, it allows this young lady absolute say-so in the kind of man she will marry…if she doesn’t like him, she doesn’t need to consent to sexual activity with him…unlike the arranged marriage.

Here in Deuteronomy 22 God presents parents with two marriage options for their daughter. So I ask you honestly, which would you choose for YOUR daughter?

Option 1: Arranged Marriage

  • If your daughter is not a virgin on her honeymoon she could be stoned to death.
  • Because of extreme pressure to keep her a virgin, it’s best to marry a daughter away as soon as possible and keep her under close supervision until she is to be married.
  • Your daughter is stuck getting married to this man regardless of what she wants.
  • Both you and your son-in-law treated your own daughter as property within this entire transaction.

Option 2: Consensual Marriage by “Getting Caught”

  • Your daughter gets to choose her husband.
  • You are still guaranteed to be paid a fair amount for your daughter under the law.
  • Your daughter will be an equal partner in the marriage under the law.
  • You don’t have to watch your daughter quite so closely.
  • She can wait to marry when she is a little older and has a better sense of herself.
  • Your daughter is not under threat-of-death pressure to remain a virgin.

I could see a boyfriend, who truly loved his girlfriend and wanted to marry her arranging for them to “Get Caught” by their friends. It would be an embarrassing, but cute story they would remember throughout their marriage. More importantly though, this is how he could give a loving gift of equality in marriage to the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with. Yet our “Purity”-Bound institutions don’t want to see the beauty of what God had given the Children of Israel here under the Old Testament Law.

You can begin to see the accuracy of what I said before I quoted Mr. Nemeth. The fact that this is case law makes it highly improbable that this is just simply having them arrange for their friends to catch them having sexual relations.

Now, I have two points about what Mr. Nemeth said. Did you notice how he never touched verses 20-21 in terms of actually giving us an exegesis of the text itself? Also, I want you to notice that his position again ends up in a kind of “so what?” with regards to premarital sex. The reason is because the couple who is caught in verses 28-29 are forced to marry. Period. In other words, there is no divorcing sexual relations from marriage even in verses 28-29.

Why these two sections are here is difficult to say. Some have argued that verses 28-29 is an “experienced” man seducing and taking advantage of a young, innocent woman. That is certainly possible. However, it is also possible that, if you catch a couple in the act, you can be certain that it is these two who had sexual relations. Thus, you can place them in the proper care of marriage so that the woman and the man will be emotionally and financially protected. In fact, it is possible that the bride price here is extremely high in order to pay, not only for the bride, but also for damages. Hence, something wrong has clearly happened here.

When you put these two texts together, you come to the conclusion that God has designed one man and one woman to enjoy sexual relations in the marital bond alone. If two people are caught having sexual relations outside of the marriage bond, they are forced to get married. If someone is caught not being a virgin for their spouse on their wedding day, they are burned to death. Why? Very clearly, in both texts, God demands that sexual relations be enjoyed between one man and one woman in marriage alone.

The next really bad exegetical argument comes from Suzanne McCarthy’s blog. In two places she tries to argue from rabbinic sources here and here that the text of Genesis 12:8 should read, “and he pitched her tent.” The Hebrew word in question is hl{h\a’. She writes regarding this word:

I only have time for a very short thought. Before the end of the summer one should take a moment to think of a curious challenge in Bible translation regarding the pitching of a tent.“He pitched his tent” (Bereishit 12:8). The spelling, however, is OHELOH, which means “her tent”. From here, we learn that Abraham first pitched Sarah’s tent and, only after he had looked after her needs, did he pitch his own tent (Midrash Aggada, Bereishit 12:13). Lech Lecha

In Genesis 12:8, the Hebrew text says about Abraham, “and he pitched her tent.” I know of no translation which honours the Masoretic text in this verse. They all record simply, “and pitched his tent.”

Velveteen Rabbi discusses her language lessons and struggles with trying to use gender properly in Hebrew.

This argumentation is simply extremely bad. The first thing that needs to be understood is that Biblical Hebrew is not really a language. You see, the Hebrew Bible was written during an 800-1000 year period. As we all know, languages change over time. Hebrew is no different. People have done many studies of pre-exilic vs. post-exilic Hebrew, and the studies have produced many interesting different tendencies. However, what is interesting is that, during the last two hundred years, we have also started discovering Hebrew inscriptions, many of them from the time period of the monarchy. What we have found is that, not only did Hebrew change over time, but there has been an updating of the Hebrew text over time.

It would be almost like what the New King James Version of the Bible did with the Old King James Version of the Bible. As languages change, the people who read earlier editions of a work are going to have real difficulty understanding what that work said. Because of this, editors will make changes in the text in order to make it understandable to the general public.

However, not all of the forms were changed. Some of them may not have been changed for liturgical reasons [see, for example, the Song of the Sea, which has strong parallels to Ugaritic], and others may have been simple oversite by the editors. Hence, what you have in Biblical Hebrew is really a mixed bag in terms of forms. While older forms are rare, they do exist.

Now, back to Suzanne McCarthy’s argument. She tries to argue that hl{h\a’ should actually be read as Hl’h\a’. Such seems entirely possible, especially given the fact that the only differences between the two forms are in terms of masoretic pointing, and the normal mater used for the 3ms suffix is not a he. However, the discovery of the epigraphic materials has made this absolutely impossible. The reason is that, in epigraphic Hebrew, the he was commonly used for the 3ms suffix, and is a very old ending for the 3ms suffix. I can give examples if anyone would like to see it, but this is fairly straightforward, not only in epigraphic Hebrew, but also in other Canaanite languages [Moabite and Ammonite for example].

Hence, the difference between the Ketib and the Qere readings is not the masculine 3ms suffix verses the feminine 3ms suffix, but rather, the old epigraphic 3ms suffix verses the later 3ms suffix.


2 Responses to “More Poor Exegesis”

  1. rockytheblogger Says:

    Deuteronomy 22:21 is a case of adultery by a betrothed female who tried to pass herself off as still a virgin on her wedding day. Compare that passage to Exod.22:16-17 where the unbetrothed girl is not punished for having sex and it becomes clear what Deut 22 is about.

  2. otrmin Says:


    My views of this text have changed since the writing of this post. I used to hold to the views of Bahnsen and Meredeth Kline, but my views have changed to saying that we are dealing with the forceful rape of an unmarried woman taking away her virginity [thus, given the value of virginity, taking away her marriage prospects, and thus, her security after her father dies], and stealing the dowry from her father. Still, it has nothing to do with what Scott Nemeth was saying; he is absolutely wrong.

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