Oholah and Oholibah in the book of Ezekiel

The dawah team frequently focus their attacks on Old Testament passages, always taking them out of context, to attack the divine inspiration of the Bible. One such passage is in Ezekiel 23, which speaks of two sisters, Oholah and Oholibah, in particular these verses, in relation to the latter sister:

19 Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt20 and lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses.21 Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts.”

This has been attacked by the dawah team as pornographic, and comments have been made that God would not let young women be treated in this way, or even speak like this. As always, the dawah team ignores both the historical context of the passage and its genre.

  1. Israel as the metaphorical ‘Bride’ of YHWH

One of the metaphors of Biblical Israel as the People of YHWH in the Old Testament is that She was the ‘Bride of YHWH’, by virtue of the Covenant (in Biblical terms, an oath-bound promise with obligations enjoined on the recipient) imposed on the progeny of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This concept is also found in the New Testament, where the Church, as the New Covenant People of God, is the Bride of Christ, Ephesians 5: “31“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Also, in 2 Corinthians 11:2: “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” Marriage is presented as a covenant in Malachi 2:14: “But you say, “Why does he not?” Because YHWH was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” Unfortunately, Israel was not a faithful Bride, as Hosea 2 demonstrates:

“Plead with your mother, plead—
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband
that she put away her whoring from her face,
and her adultery from between her breasts;
lest I strip her naked
and make her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,

and make her like a parched land,
and kill her with thirst.
Upon her children also I will have no mercy,
because they are children of whoredom.
For their mother has played the whore;
she who conceived them has acted shamefully…

Likewise, Jeremiah 3, in language and content that resembles Ezekiel 23,presents the same story about Israel and Judah, referring to the Northern and Southern Kingdoms after the secession under Jeroboam, son of Nebat who led the northern rebellion:

YHWH said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. 10 Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares YHWH.”

By “adultery” and “prostitution”, YHWH is referring to Israel’s apostasy, by mixing the pure worship of YHWH and His revelation in the Torah with the polytheistic religion of the Canaanites and surrounding peoples and their ethical codes which were actually devoid of moral content, involving as they did homosexuality, incest, bestiality and child sacrifice. 

  • Israel as the metaphorical ‘Virgin Daughter’ 

Another metaphor used of Biblical Israel is that of ‘Virgin Daughter’:

Isaiah 37:22; “virgindaughter of Zion”

Jeremiah 14:17: “…the virgindaughter of my people is shattered with a great wound, with a very grievous blow.”

Lamentations 1:15: “…the virgindaughter of Judah.”

Lamentations 2:13: “What can I say for you, to what compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you, O virgindaughter of Zion?”

Similarly, we several times encounter the phrase ‘the virgin Israel’:

Jeremiah 18:13: “Therefore thus says YHWH: Ask among the nations, Who has heard the like of this? The virginIsraelhas done a very horrible thing.

Jeremiah 31:4: Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virginIsrael! Again you shall adorn yourself with tambourines and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.

Jeremiah 31:21: “Set up road markers for yourself; make yourself guideposts; consider well the highway, the road by which you went. Return, O virginIsrael, return to these your cities.

Amos 5:2: “Fallen, no more to rise, is the virginIsrael; forsaken on her land, with none to raise her up.”

This metaphor influences the content of Ezekiel 23, where Oholah and Oholibah are guilty of prostitution, rather than being virgins. 

  • The historical context of Ezekiel 23

After the secession of the northern tribes, Jeroboam altered the nature of the religion in his kingdom, 1 Kings 12:

25 Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim and lived there. And he went out from there and built Penuel.26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David.27 If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of YHWH at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.”28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.30 Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one31 He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.32 And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made.33 He went up to the altar that he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, in the month that he had devised from his own heart. And he instituted a feast for the people of Israel and went up to the altar to make offerings.

These actions violated the Second Commandment, which forbade representations of YHWH; it violated the divine commandment that sacrifice can only be offered at the place YHWH would choose, which ultimately (in the Old Testament) was Jerusalem,Deuteronomy 12:2-27; and only Levitical priests could serve in the Temple. Matters deteriorated under later kings, such as Ahab (1 Kings 16):

29 In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of YHWH, more than all who were before him. 31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. 32 He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. 33 And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. 34 In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.

Ahab and Jezebel promoted a syncretistic religion whereby both YHWH and the Canaanite gods were worshipped, in defiance of the First Commandment demanding the exclusive worship of YHWH. The same features were found in some Kings of Judah, e.g. Manasseh, 2 Kings 21:

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah.And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom YHWH drove out before the people of Israel.For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.And he built altars in the house of YHWH, of which YHWH had said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.”And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of YHWH.And he burned his son as an offeringand used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of YHWH, provoking him to anger.And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which YHWH said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever.And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.”But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom YHWH destroyed before the people of Israel.

It was not limited to idolatry. The People of YHWH were supposed to depend on YHWH alone for security, since dependent alliances with other powers implied that YHWH was either unable or unwilling to defend His People, a falsehood which YHWH, through Isaiah 31, denounced:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult YHWH!

And yet he is wise and brings disaster; he does not call back his words, but will arise against the house of the evildoers and against the helpers of those who work iniquity. 

The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.
When YHWH stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together.

At different times, the northern and southern kingdoms came under dependent alliances – vassalage – with Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia. This was not supposed to happen, since the People of YHWH were supposed to serve YHWH alone, and trust only in Hisprotection. Therefore, when Israel and Judah submitted to such unequal relationships, YHWH was angered by their unfaithfulness to His covenant – to their spiritual prostitution. Walther Eichrodt (Ezekiel: A Commentary, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970, p. 3) refers to the historical situation:

The prophet’s struggle against the oppressor was soon justified by events. When Jehoiakim repudiated his position as a vassal of Babylon in 602 (II Kings 24.1), he returned once more to the old political manoeuvre practised by the Syrian states, according to which they seized the first opportunity to throw off such a galling yoke, and tried to have-their own way by playing off the rival powers of the Euphrates and the Nile against each other.

The Babylonian king Nebucharezzar reacted by, eventually, besieging Jerusalem (Ibid.):

A Babylonian army appeared before Jerusalem and began to besiege it… The palace and temple were indeed plundered, and the king and royal family led off into captivity in Babylon, and along with them large numbers of the upper and artisan classes of the country. At that time, young Ezekiel was one of those who underwent the bitter fate of deportation, which prevented him from taking up his priestly office, and annihilated all natural hopes.

We can see the fruit of departing from YHWH.

  • The genre of Ezekiel 23

Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of the dawahteam’s polemic on this passage is to take the language literally. It is, quite obviously and self-evidently, an allegorical or rhetorical parable, as suggested by Walter Bruggemann and Tod Linafelt(An introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian imagination, Louisville; Westminster John Knox Press, 2003, 2012 second edition, p. 227 [bold type ours]):

In three extensive and remarkable chapters, Ezekiel traces the history of Israel with YHWH as a history of failure and obscene violation of trust (16; 20; 23). These are remarkable rereadings of that long history, not only because it is a history of failure (a theme differently articulated in Ps 106), but because the relationship of YHWH and Israel is imagined as an intimate relationship that became erotic, and that in turn became obscene in ways that display all of the distortions and betrayals of which an erotic relationship is capable.The impression given us of this rhetoricis that the prophet must find the most extreme and offensive imagery in order to voice what he knows to be the most extreme and offensive distortion of a relationship that began in generosity and compassion. The negation of the relationship is unspeakable in its abhorrence, and so Ezekiel finds a way to speak the unspeakable:

You played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. Therefore I stretched out my hand against you, reduced your rations, and gave you up to the will of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You played the whore with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. You multiplied your whoring with Chaldea, the land of merchants; and even with this you were not satisfied. (16:26–29)

And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their lust; and after she defiled herself with them, she turned from them in disgust. When she carried on her whorings so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned from her sister. Yet she increased her whorings, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose emission was like that of stallions. Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your bosom and caressed your young breasts. (23:17–21)

Eichrodt likewise presents this as a parable and allegory (pp. 320-321): 

One can see from the very beginning that the narrative in which this is clothed has no importance whatsoever; this is no parablestory full of charm and poetic beauty, like ch. 16, 17 and 19. It is an allegory, which gives no more than the bare essentials, and applies only a few stereotyped pictorial imagesto bring out the point as clearly and unmistakably as possible. The images which it employs have no life of their own; their only purpose is to reproduce in quite coarse terms the unspeakable event they convey. This renunciation of all attempts to impart any artistic adornment to the parable can, of course, only result in a completely matter-of-fact and soberly plain and realistic narrative. To criticize it for its flatness, colourlessness, prosaic frigidity, or unpoetic repetitiveness shows a complete failure to understand its nature.

The kindest thing we can say about the dawahteam’s propaganda on this passage is that it is, in the words of Bruggemann, ‘a complete failure to understand its nature’. However, it is difficult to understand how anyone could possibly misunderstand the nature and genre of the passage. This is how the chapter begins:

The word of YHWH came to me:“Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother.They played the whore in Egypt; they played the whore in their youth; there their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosomshandled.Oholah was the name of the elder and Oholibah the name of her sister. They became mine, and they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem.

It is obvious from the start that this is the language of allegorical parable. Oholah is Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, and Oholibah is Jerusalem, capital of Judah. So, clearly, we are not dealing with two literal women here, but rather with a metaphorical representation of the two Hebrew kingdoms – Israel and Judah. It follows, therefore, that the erotic language is likewise metaphorical. The ‘whoring’ of Oholah (Samaria) was with Assyria – its dependent alliances (and then treacherous breaches), and the whoredom of Oholibah (Jerusalem) was with Assyria, Babylonia and Egypt. Obviously, the contrast is between the ‘virgin Israel’ – where the People were faithful to YHWH and His Torah – with the ‘whoring’ of Samaria and Judah, in terms of their infidelity, their idolatry, vassalage to pagans, and general apostasy – ‘29 …Your lewdness and your whoring30 have brought this upon you, because you played the whore with the nations and defiled yourself with their idols.’ So, the opposite to the language of ‘virginity’ is that of ‘prostitution’ – whoring. 

It follows that to comprehend the sexual imagery of Ezekiel 23, we must understand the general teaching of the Old Testament about the Covenant, about the language of ‘virginity’ in relation to Biblical Israel as the metaphorical Bride of YHWH and of references to ‘the virgin daughter of YHWH’. Adultery is usually related to lust – a desire for someone’s body, and in the case of women, for the distinctive anatomy of the male, which explains the references in the following texts;

12 She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and commanders, warriors clothed in full armor, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men…14 But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion,15 …all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea…19 Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt20 and lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses.21 Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressedyour young breasts.

The imagery of a woman impressed by a handsome, well-built man in uniform, which causes her to be unfaithful to her husband. There is also the implication of her engaged in something just short of pornography, with her looking at pictures of men and lusting after them. A faithful wife would not be interested in the bodies of other men, whether their chests, their muscles or – most definitely – their private parts. The imagery is that of a totally sexually degenerate woman, in contrast to a pure virgin or faithful wife. YHWH responds with judgment – using the very ‘lovers’ after whom Samaria and Jerusalem ‘lusted’ – the Assyrians, Egyptians and Babylonians. The Assyrians destroyed Samaria in 722 B.C. and deported most of the population, the Babylonians did likewise to Jerusalem in 586. Before this, the Egyptians invaded and imposed a puppet ruler. The chapter ends on a note of judgment upon the adulterous whoring – idolatry – of His apostate people:

46 For thus says the Lord God: “Bring up a vast host against them, and make them an object of terror and a plunder. 47 And the host shall stone them and cut them down with their swords. They shall kill their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses. 48 Thus will I put an end to lewdness in the land, that all women may take warning and not commit lewdness as you have done. 49 And they shall return your lewdness upon you, and you shall bear the penalty for your sinful idolatry, and you shall know that I am the Lord God.”

It follows that to present the metaphorical language of the text as literal is either to be guilty of ineptitude or wilful misrepresentation. As the quoted scholars have observed, it is obviously the language of an allegorical parable, reflecting the contrast between YHWH’s creation of the virgin Israel and her descent into spiritual lewdness.

The Bible and Islam on ‘Slave Women’ p2/3

Part 2/3

We continue where we left off in Part 1.

2. Marriage to prisoners of war

There was a difference between the wars of Biblical Israel against the Canaanites of Palestine and the peoples elsewhere – Deuteronomy 20:

10 “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it.11 And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labour for you and shall serve you.12 But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it.13 And when YHWH your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword,14 but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which YHWH your God has given you.15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.16 But in the cities of these peoples that YHWH your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as YHWH your God has commanded,18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against YHWH your God.

It does not say about the recalcitrant cities that were far off that the women could be raped, any more than could be the children. The implication is that after the execution of the combatants (adult males), the women and children would do forced labour, as in v11. Note that women and children perform the same duties, and these are laid out – labour, not sex! The reference to captive women in the subsequent chapter must be seen in this context (Deuteronomy 21.10ff):

10 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and YHWH your God gives them into your hand and you take them captive, 11 and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, 12 and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. 13 And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.

Observe the reaction of the Israelite man: ‘According to Deut. 21.11, though the soldier has apparently only seen the woman among the captives, he ‘loves’ her, קשח. This term is used elsewhere in Deuteronomy of YHWH’s love for Israel (7.7; 10.15)…’[1]Notice what then text doesnotsay: it does not say that a beautiful woman can be enslaved as a concubine, i.e. a sex slave. Rather, it indicates that a woman – who is now without adult male support, having no father, elder brothers, etc. (and if she is a widow, no husband) – can be married to a Hebrew man. Note that she has to be treated with respect – she is given time to mourn her family, and thereafter she cannot be sold or treated as a slave, but rather, honourably, as a wife. Neither does it refer to a man taking multiple captive women as wives. Essentially, the captive woman is thereby emancipated (freed) from captivity and forced labour to enjoy the honoured status of a free Israelite woman – a wife.

The other relevant text is Numbers 31, which begins with the command of YHWH to slay the Midianites involved in the Baal-Peor incident:

YHWH spoke to Moses, saying,“Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute YHWH’s vengeance on Midian…They warred against Midian, as YHWH commanded Moses, and killed every male.They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.And the people of Israel took captive the women of Midian and their little ones, and they took as plunder all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods.10 All their cities in the places where they lived, and all their encampments, they burned with fire,11 and took all the spoil and all the plunder, both of man and of beast.12 Then they brought the captives and the plunder and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the people of Israel, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.

Note the plurality of kings mentioned, and the destruction of the Midianite cities, which bears some resemblance to what happened later in Canaan. However, observe Moses’ reaction to the fact that the Israelite commanders handled the offending Midianites the way a later ‘far off’ people were to be treated:

14 And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war.15 Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live?16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against YHWH in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of YHWH.17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.18 But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.

(“And all the youngsters among the women, who have not known lying (with a) male [cf. v. 17], you shall cause to live for yourselves.” (Literal translation) )

We must remember that Israel was commanded to slay the Canaanites because of their evil ways, which included sexual perversion/immorality, and not to intermarry with them, since they would draw Israel away from YHWH. This is what happened at Shittim, where, apparently on the advice of the prophet Balaam, whom king Balak hired to curse Israel, the women seduced the Israelite men sexually and religiously to engage in pagan worship. This suggests that the action of the women was planned and contrived as a kind of ‘honey-trap’ manoeuvre similar to that employed by modern espionage services – in this case, to get the Israelites to betray YHWH. That action made the women combatants, who had therefore to be executed.

An exception is made for virgins – v18, since obviously they were of a better character than the women who prostituted themselves, and were also innocent of the ‘honey-trap’ seduction of the Israelite men. Such virgins could be honourably married. There is nothing to suggest that they could be made concubines/sex slaves. The same conditions as held for the women in Deuteronomy 21.10ff prevailed in this instance as well. Remember, the Decalogue forbade illicit sexual activity – i.e. extra-marital sex, so no woman of any background could be raped. So, Biblical teaching on beautiful female captives is that they must be married and essentially converted to the faith of YHWH. They were not objects of sexual molestation. 

This was a radical departure from conditions that prevailed in the region:

The female slave, like her brother, the male slave, was treated as a commodity. She was leased for work, given as a pledge, handed over as a part of a dowry, or presented as a gift to the temple. In addition to her routine duties as a maid servant, she was subject also to burdens peculiar to her sex. Ownership of a female slave meant not only the right to employ her physical strength, but also, and in many cases primarily, the exploitation of her charms by the male members of her master’s household and the utilization of her body for the breeding of slave children. The highest position a female slave could achieve was to become a child-bearing concubine to her master, and the lowest, to be used as a professional prostitute.

According to the Hammurabi Code a slave-concubine and her children were to be set free after the death of the owner. Children born of a union between a female slave and her master, however, did not share in the inheritance of their father, unless they had been adopted by him during his lifetime.[2]

Such a slave could be molested even by other slaves under her master’s direction: ‘Within the household the female slave, in addition to her regular duties as a maid, was also used as a means to increase the number of slaves, and was therefore promiscuously mated with the male slaves.’[3]Hence, even under the famous Code of Hammurabi, a female slave could be sexually molested. Apart, from being bought at sale, slaves were often the result of war booty, so the Biblical record stands apart. 

We will continue with our discussion in part 3.


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[1]Reeder, Caryn A., ‘Deuteronomy 21.10-14 and/as Wartime Rape’, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament41(3), March 16, 2017, p. 320.

[2]Mendelsohn, Isaac, Slavery in the Ancient Near East, (West Port: Greenwood Press, 1978), p. 50.

[3]Ibid., P. 52.

The Bible and Islam on ‘Slave Women’ p1/3

Part 1/3

INTRODUCTION

  1. The Biblical accusation against Canaanite religion and ban on inter-marriage

The overarching Biblical accusation against the Canaanites is that they were guilty of ‘abominations’. Amongst those abominations was that of human sacrifice – specifically child sacrifice, Deuteronomy 12:.32: ‘…for every abominable act which YHWH hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.’ Again, in chapter 18:9ff, we read of the practices of the Canaanites in relation to infant sacrifice:

When you enter the land which YHWH your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. 10.There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11.or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12.For whoever does these things is detestable to YHWH; and because of these detestable things YHWH your God will drive them out before you. 

It is clear from these texts that the Canaanite religion was occultic in nature, and involved child sacrifice. From what is stated in Leviticus 18.21ff, it is appears that alongside child sacrifice, the Canaanites also practised homosexuality and bestiality:

You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am YHWH. 22.You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. 23.Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion. 24.Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 25.For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. 

It also appears that that the Canaanites practised temple prostitution (of both sexes), Deuteronomy 23.17-18, cf. Genesis 38:21, 1 Kings 14.24: ‘There were also male cultprostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which YHWH dispossessed before the sons of Israel.’ There is a further implication in Leviticus 18 that the Canaanites practised incest, with the possible implication of paedophilia:

6.None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness… 7. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, that is, the nakedness of your mother. She is your mother; you are not to uncover her nakedness… 9.The nakedness of your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born at home or born outside, their nakedness you shall not uncover. 10.The nakedness of your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for their nakedness is yours.

The very fact that the Israelites are commanded not to have sexual relations with their grandchildren may point to a ban on paedophile activity. What is significant is that v3 begins the passage with this injunction: ‘nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.’ Furthermore, v24, warns that the Canaanites practised these abominations: ‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.’ Essentially, Leviticus 18 bans Israelites from performing sexual activities common to the Canaanites – and these included adultery, incest and probably child molestation. After all, if the Canaanites thought it right to sacrifice children, they probably would not have balked at sexually abusing them.

Thus, according to the Bible, Canaanite religion was devoid of ethical content. Harrison describes it as a ‘crude and debased form of ritual polytheism. It was associated with sensuous fertility-cult worship of a particularly lewd and orgiastic kind…’[1]This, as we have seen, involved the use of sacred prostitutes.[2]Wenham quotes G. E. Wright on this issue: ‘The amazing thing about the gods … in Canaan, is that they had no moral character whatsoever… Worship of these gods carried with it some of the most demoralizing practices then in existence. Among them were child sacrifice…’[3]

Such was the depravity of Canaanite religion, they were to be destroyed and no inter-marriage with them was permissible (save for people like Rahab who had already gone over to the side of YHWH): 

When YHWH your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you,and when YHWH your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons,for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of YHWH would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.

Given that Rahab and her family were taken into Israel, it is clear that the ban on inter-marriage was not ethnic, but religious. Canaanite religion and culture was not simply polytheist – it was sexually abusive, not least to children, and also abusive in that it practised child-sacrifice. Remember that it was no new cult but centuries old – an entire civilisation was committed to its values. It was irreformable, as were its people. Even its children were infected with its values – they were like ‘the Cubs of the Caliphate’ under the Islamic State group (IS) who actually participated in executions and boasted of their murderous intent. Again, unlike IS, the Canaanite culture and religion was centuries old, and the children thereof would have been infected with their religious, sexual and murderous depravity, and been a continual threat to both the spiritual and physical well-being of Israelite children.

To some extent, albeit perhaps not so great, such depravity also affected certain peoples neighbouring Palestine, e.g. 2 Kings 3: ‘26 When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him 700 swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom, but they could not.27 Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.’ From the Moabite Stone of King Mesha, which is dated c. 840 B.C., we know that their vernacular was very similar to the Canaanite language. It confirms that their god (or chief god) was Chemosh. Judges 11.23-24 indicates that Chemosh was also a god of Ammon. In 1 Kings 11.7 we read: ‘Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites…’ The same terminology ‘abomination’ is used for these two gods as for the religion and practises of the Canaanites, indicating the nature of their religion. In Numbers 25 it is implied that the Moabites also worshipped Baal – unless they identified Chemosh with him, perhaps. Deuteronomy 23 is clear about relations with Moabites and Ammonites, which affected marital relations – unless, of course, individuals from those nations forsooktheir religion for YHWH (e.g. Ruth):

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of YHWH. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of YHWH forever,because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But YHWH your God would not listen to Balaam; instead YHWH your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because YHWH your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.

The Phoenicians, of course, were exactly the same people as the Canaanites in Palestine, and worshipped the same gods, principally Baal. The Aramaeans worshipped Rimmon, who was identified with Baal. The Midianites were not a single people but were at most, a tribal league dwelling in the region called Midian: …‘they are also related to or associated with the Edomites, Kenites, Ishmaelites, Hagarites and Kenizzites while there are at least connections with Amalekites and Moabites, and perhaps with Ammonites. All in all, they are an amorphous and complex grouping.’[4]Along with ethnic diversity, there was also religious distinction. Jethro seemed to have worshipped YHWH in some way. The reference to Baal-Peor in Numbers 25 suggests that some Midianites at least worshipped Baal. The context suggests that such worship involved sexual immorality:

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab.These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel.And YHWH said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hangthem in the sun before YHWH, that the fierce anger of YHWH may turn away from Israel.”And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”

And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting… 16 And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, 18 for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.”

Note that Israelites who committed whoredom with the Midianites were executed. The words of v18 imply that the Midianite women seduced the Israelites into both immorality and idolatry: the two were inter-connected – the idolatrous worship of Baal involved sexual immorality. 

We will continue this discussion in part 2.

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[1]Harrison, Old Testament Times, p. 167.

[2]Ibid., p. 168.

[3]Wenham, John, The Goodness of God, (Leicester: IVP), p. 126, quoting Wright, G. E., and Filson, F. V., The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible, (London: 1945), p. 36.

[4]Dumbrell, William J., ‘Midian: A Land or a League?’, Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 25, Fasc. 2, No. 2a. Jubilee Number (May, 1975), p. 323.

A tale of two prisoners

Free Asia BibiAnjem Choudary

On October 8th Pakistan’s Supreme Court heard the final appeal case of Asia Bibi, the farm worker and mother of five who has been in prison on death row for almost eight years. She was imprisoned under the country’s infamous blasphemy law section 295C – “defiling the name of Muhammad”  – a capital offence.

Asia had been harvesting berries when she went to get some water. When she drank from a cup also used by her Muslim co-workers, they objected on the grounds she was a Christian. In the ensuing argument, Asia said “”I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?” For this she was sentenced to death. Asia describes that moment:

“I cried alone, putting my head in my hands. I can no longer bear the sight of people full of hatred, applauding the killing of a poor farm worker. I no longer see them, but I still hear them, the crowd who gave the judge a standing ovation, saying: “Kill her, kill her! Allahu Akbar!” The court house is invaded by a euphoric horde who break down the doors, chanting: “Vengeance for the holy prophet. Allah is great!” I was then thrown like an old rubbish sack into the van… I had lost all humanity in their eyes.”

Since then her case has been through numerous appeals; her husband and children live in hiding; two politicians, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, have been assassinated because of their support for her; judges are too afraid to be involved in her case, and demonstrations calling for her to be hanged are attended by tens of thousands. Salmaan Taseer’s murderer was praised by none other than the Imam of Glasgow Central Mosque. “A true Muslim was punished for doing which the collective will of the nation failed to carry out,”he wrote.  (He wasn’t charged with hate speech.) Another cleric, Hassan Haseeb ur Rehman, addressing a pro-blasphemy law rally, called the same murderer a ‘martyr’ – he was invited to be a key speaker at a UK anti-terrorism conference in July. Barnabas Fund tried to raise concerns with the Home Secretary about this man; they were told  it wasn’t possible to comment on “individual cases.”

This is Asia Bibi’s last chance. The verdict has been delayed – if it fails she will become the first woman to be executed under Section 295C, unless Prime Minister Imran Khan grants her clemency.

This Friday, Anjem Choudary will be released from prison after serving half of his five and a half year prison sentence for supporting Islamic State. Here are some of Choudhury’s statements, all of which are completely in line with Islamic teaching:

“Thieves would have various warnings first, and only in cases where he has stolen more than £20 of non-perishable goods from a private house would his hand be chopped off.”

“Under Sharia and under the Koran the sale of alcohol is prohibited and if one were to also drink alcohol, that would be 40 lashes.”

“All women would have to be covered up appropriately and wear the niqab or veil and so there will be no prostitution.”

“By 2050, Britain will be a majority Muslim country. It will be the end of freedom of democracy and submission to God.”

Choudary’s name has been linked to 15 terror plots: he  inspired Khuram Butt, one of the London Bridge terrorists as well Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who killed the British soldier Lee Rigby in 2013.  His influence is alive and well – we talk to his acolytes every week at Speaker’s Corner.

Because he was given a fixed-term sentence, he is automatically eligible for release half-way through this sentence. (Stricter options, for those who remain a danger to the public, such as “extended determinate sentences” are available but were not applied in the Choudary case.) And so, despite being described by the judge as “genuinely dangerous” he is being released under strict conditions; he’s not allowed outside London, his Internet search history will be monitored, he won’t be allowed to meet his jihadi contacts – at huge cost to the tax payer. Will he get round these? Why ever not? This is a man who accepts Islamic theocracy as the only true authority, not some rule of law imposed on him by the kufr.

What do both cases tell us? That a Muslim in a non-Muslim country enjoys the freedom to criticise that country’s beliefs but those freedoms are not reciprocated. That Islam breeds fanaticism and fear. The fanaticism of thousands, who think the honour of their prophet is well served by the murder of an illiterate woman asking a reasonable question; and the fear of death for anyone daring to side with her. The fanaticism that comes with one man wanting to live purely by the teaching of Allah; and Muhammad and the authorities’ fear of confronting this robustly.

How do you overcome fear? Only through trusting in the only One who has faced death and overcome. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33. And it’s because of Him we speak up, in the  hope that Muslims will become his disciples, and that “the truth will set them free.” Asia is in prison for her spirited defence of the truth about Jesus Christ; we must continue to speak fearlessly of Him in her honour, and pray fervently for justice to be done.

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Women in Christianity and Islam

Women in Christianity and Islam

Daniel discusses the position of women in Islam and Christianity with the Islamic Dawah team.

“…and call upon two of your men to act as witnesses; and if two men are not available, then a man and two women from among such as are acceptable to you as witnesses, so that if one of them should make a mistake, the other could remind her. [273]..” from Sura 2:282

Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle ?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.” Sahih Bukhari 1:6:301 Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand. Sura 4:34

Muslim Book 4, Number 2127: narrated Aisha “..He said: Was it the darkness (of your shadow) that I saw in front of me? I said: Yes. He struck me on the chest which caused me pain, and then said: Did you think that Allah and His Apostle would deal unjustly with you? ….

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‘Your wife is a tilth’ – Sura 2:223

‘Your wife is a tilth’ – Sura 2:223

Hatun discusses this verse with a Muslim and asks why Allah is so concerned for men to have their sexual desires satisfied whenever they wish and in whatever position? Allah seems very preoccupied with sex.

“Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers.” Sura 2:223, Sahih International.

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Abbas:

Ibn Umar misunderstood (the Qur’anic verse, “So come to your tilth however you will”)—MAY ALLAH FORGIVE HIM. The fact is that this clan of the Ansar, who were idolaters, lived in the company of the Jews who were the people of the Book. They (the Ansar) accepted their superiority over themselves in respect of knowledge, and they followed most of their actions. The people of the Book (i.e. the Jews) used to have intercourse with their women on one side alone (i.e. lying on their backs). This was the most concealing position for (the vagina of) the women. This clan of the Ansar adopted this practice from them. But this tribe of the Quraysh used to uncover their women completely, and seek pleasure with them from in front and behind and laying them on their backs.

When the muhajirun (the immigrants) came to Medina, a man married a woman of the Ansar. He began to do the same kind of action with her, but she disliked it, and said to him: We were approached on one side (i.e. lying on the back); do it so, otherwise keep away from me. This matter of theirs spread widely, and it reached the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him).

So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Qur’anic verse: “Your wives are a tilth to you, so come to your tilth however you will,” i.e. from in front, from behind or lying on the back. But this verse meant the place of the delivery of the child, i.e. the vagina. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 11, Number 2159)

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Is rape allowed in Islamic marriage?

 

Hatun and Godwin question Qur’anic teaching on surah 2:223 sex within marriage . Your women are a tillage for you; so come unto your tillage as you wish, and forward for your souls; and fear God, and know that you shall meet Him. Give thou good tidings to the believers. (s2:223) Narrated Jabir: Jews used to say: “If one has sexual intercourse with his wife from the back, then she will deliver a squint-eyed child.” So this Verse was revealed: “Your wives are a tilth unto you; so go to your tilth when or how you will.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 6:60:51) Ibn Abbas said: Ibn Umar misunderstood (the Qur’anic verse, “so come to your tilth however you will”)—may Allah forgive him. The fact is that this clan of the Ansar who were idolaters lived in the company of the Jews who were the people of the Book. They (the Ansar) accepted their superiority over themselves in respect of knowledge, and they followed most of their actions. The people of the Book (i.e. the Jews) used to have intercourse with their women on one side alone (i.e. lying on their backs). This was the most concealing for (the vagina of) women. This clan of the Ansar adopted this practice from them. But this tribe of the Quraish used to uncover their women intensely, and seek pleasure with them from in front and behind and laying them on their backs. When the Muhajirun (the Immigrants) came to Medina, a man married a woman of the Ansar. He began to do the same kind of action with her, but she disliked it, and said to him: We were approached on one side (i.e. lying on back); do it so, otherwise keep away from me. This matter of theirs spread widely, and it reached the Apostle of Allah. So Allah, the Exalted, sent down the Qur’anic verse: “Your wives are a tilth to you, so come to your tilth however you will,” i.e. from in front, from behind or lying on the back. By this the verse meant the place of the delivery of the child, i.e. vagina. (Sunan Abu Dawud 2159)

Why the burqa and the crucifix are not equivalent

Byzantine crucifix

In the feverish reaction to Boris Johnson’s burqa/letterbox comments- and they were jokes that both the BBC and the Guardian have made in the past – this statement from Ruth Davidson caught my eye:

“If you use the analogy of Christianity, would you ever write in The Telegraph that you should have a debate about banning Christians from wearing crucifixes?…It’s the same argument but it’s in a different faith so why are the parameters different for one faith and not the other?”

Good question. There are two issues at stake: first, the libertarian principle that women should be allowed to wear what they want without interference from the State. This is Boris’ perfectly reasonable position which got lost in all the hissy-fitting from the political establishment. (I also argued against a ban some time ago in this debate.)  Then there’s the second issue, which is what religious attire represents in the first place and what that says about our values. Are there intellectual and theological reasons to be more concerned about a woman in a burqa more than a woman (or a man – important) with a crucifix? What do these objects say about our society?

Boris said in his article that he “finds no scriptural authority for the practice in the Koran.” I wish politicians would take time to study the Qur’an before they make claims about it. Here’s what it says.

“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things) and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head cover, apron) and to draw their veils all over juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, FACES, necks and bosoms) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brother’s sons or their sister’s sons or their women (i.e. their sisters in Islam) or the (female) slaves who their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the feminine sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment.” (Sura 24:31, Hilali Khan)

The hadith behind  this verse reads:

Narrated Aisha: “May Allah bestow His Mercy on the early emigrant women. When Allah revealed: ‘And draw their veils all over their juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, FACES, necks and bosoms)‘ – they tore their muruts (a woollen dress) and covered their heads and FACES with those torn muruts.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4758)

Sura 33:59 “O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely  except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free, respectable women) so as not to be annoyed.” [Hilali Khan; Yusuf Ali translation has ‘molested’ here.]

“Bodies, faces, necks and bosoms” is not in the arabic in the Qur’anic verses, but the Hadith clarifies that face covering is intended.  Allah wants the believing women to cover their faces. And the motivation is sexual: that’s why servant men who have “lost vigour” and small children with “no sense of the feminine sex” are permitted to see their women unveiled. The burqa is Allah’s way of controlling men’s sexual urges.

All of this is very disturbing. Why is Allah telling only women to cover up to such an extreme and not men? Why does Allah think that the sight of a woman’s face or hair or ankles will lead a man into uncontrollable lust? Even a woman stamping her feet is suggestive. Where is his command to men not to molest women? Doesn’t this all contribute to a culture that sees uncovered women as fair game? Isn’t that what the #metoo movement has been campaigning against?

There is no Biblical injunction to wear a crucifix. Men and women can wear them, they are unisex. But you are not less of a Christian if you don’t wear one: being a Christian is all about being in relationship with Christ, through repentance and faith in his death on the Cross for your sins. What’s in your heart is what counts. I wear one because I like to be reminded of Jesus and his extraordinary sacrifice, and because it reminds me to try and represent Him well to whoever I’m dealing with, as they will have noted it too. And it might spark an evangelistic conversation. Nor does my crucifix affect my  peripheral vision or my body’s ability to absorb vitamin D from sunlight. Do politicians really not see the difference?

Some people might get offended by why I put the equivalent of the electric chair round my neck; but then I can go to the Bible and show them how this torturous death was not the end for Jesus, and how it’s the only death that brings life for us. There is a happy ending.

But wearing a cross can still land you in hot water. In 2006  Nadia Eweida was disciplined  for refusing to cover hers up at work, yet didn’t make for days of outraged headlines. (She went to court in 2013 and won.)

Some women will choose to wear a burqa – though undoubtedly some will be pressured by peers or husbands – and free choice is good. But otherwise there is stifling heat, increased risk of accidents, loss of public identity and the inability to simply feel the wind on your skin. What kind of god does that to women? No happy ending here.

Did Aisha consent to marry Muhammad?

Did Aisha consent to marry Muhammad?

Godwin questions the camera-shy Islamic Dawah Team if Aisha gave her consent to marry Muhammad.

Narrated Aisha:
The Prophet engaged me when I was a girl of six (years). We went to Medina and stayed at the home of Bani-al-Harith bin Khazraj. Then I got ill and my hair fell down. Later on my hair grew (again) and my mother, Um Ruman, came to me while I was playing in a swing with some of my girl friends. She called me, and I went to her, not knowing what she wanted to do to me. She caught me by the hand and made me stand at the door of the house. I was breathless then, and when my breathing became all right, she took some water and rubbed my face and head with it. Then she took me into the house. There in the house I saw some Ansari women who said, “Best wishes and Allah’s Blessing and a good luck.” Then she entrusted me to them and they prepared me (for the marriage). Unexpectedly Allah’s Apostle came to me in the forenoon and my mother handed me over to him, and at that time I was a girl of nine years of age. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234)

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