This chapter is a real mix of positive commands alongside others that are nonsensically bad.
The good first: this chapter includes commands to return lost property or keep it until its owner comes. Good rule, you’re taking care of your neighbor. Problematic when human beings could be considered property and they might have run away because their masters were awful or because their family had been sold somewhere else, but that’s just part of why slavery is bad in general. People really aren’t the same as a cow, a donkey, or a coat.
Also, if you find your neighbor’s livestock fallen on the side of the road, help it up. Don’t kill a mother bird when you take its eggs. Make sure there’s a low wall around the roof of your house to keep people from falling off of it. Nobody would disagree with those, I think.
Then flat in the middle of these you have a command forbidding crossdressing, because it’s “abhorrent.” Talk about a vague rule. You tell people they can’t dress in the opposite sex’s clothing, but you never define what that clothing is. I was under the impression that most people back in that time tended to dress in the same general tunics and headcoverings. Does this account for cultural differences in what counts as male and female clothing? Does it only apply to people trying to pass as the other gender (because they identify that way or what have you)? What about cultures that have third genders? What about cultures that define “men” and “women” with only partial reference to biological sex?
I know why this is “wrong” from the point of view of the author. It’s wrong in the same way that mixing two kinds of seed (v 9), harnessing an ox and a donkey together (v 10), and wearing multiple fibers together (v 11) is wrong. You can’t violate boundaries. Things have to be one way or the other. That’s also why eunuchs are banned in the next chapter. But, as a Christian, where the early church apparently was quite okay with eunuchs and Paul declared that male and female no longer matter in the family of Christ, it’s hard for me to accept that’s the way things must be. I’ll admit that transgender identity is an idea I can’t fully grasp because I don’t quite understand what “identifying” with a gender even means, but I do know that for some people being another gender is the only way they can find peace, and the Golden Rule applies to everybody.
The really awful stuff comes in with all the sex rules in verses 13-30. Each of them are seriously bad, starting with how they reflect a culture where a woman’s virginity was her chief asset and losing it, even within marriage, lowered her “value.” Yes, whether you’ve been vaginally penetrated or not is the most important thing about you! Not your skills as a mother or how well you can run a household, not how kind you are, how hard you work, etc. just virginity.
The rest of the idiocy begins with the requirement that women bring out “proof” of their virginity, by which, given that it’s a cloth, I assume they mean the sheet from her wedding night.
The stupidity of this? Not all women bleed the first time they have sex. Some women don’t have hymens. Some have had them stretch or break from physical activity. In modern times, some women have them removed if they’re too restrictive so that they can have pelvic exams. And some women can bleed for random reasons even after they’ve had sex for the first time. So this really doesn’t “prove” anything. And if women are killed for the “crime” of not being virgins when it’s just that they weren’t “lucky” enough to bleed on their first time, they’ll have executed an innocent person, which, according to Deuteronomy, brings bloodguilt on the entire community.
I mean, I’m glad they make allowances for women to defend themselves, that they punish false accusers, and that those accusers are then not allowed to divorce women but have to continue providing for them, but even that last bit is a reminder that, because her first husband already deflowered her, she’d have a hard time finding a second. Never mind that she might be awesome wife otherwise, she’s not a virgin anymore. So. Stupid.
It gets worse when it starts in on rape. Heck, they don’t even call it “rape,” it’s the same “lie with” that they use for sex. Moreover the problem in each case isn’t that he forced a woman to have sex with him, it’s that the rapist either assaulted another man’s betrothed or lowered a woman’s “value.”
Verses 23-24, for example, say that if a man sleeps with another man’s betrothed in a town, it’s assumed that she’s an adulteress because she could have cried out for help. Never mind that she could have been gagged or beaten so she couldn’t speak or drugged or threatened into silence. I dunno, maybe rabbinic tradition accounts for all of those as well, I sure hope so.
But this also only applies if she’s a “virgin already engaged to be married.” If she isn’t engaged, then her rapist has to marry her and can’t divorce her. You break it, you buy it. Exodus 22:16-17 had a similar idea, but there it was at least left open that it was consensual, a way, perhaps, for a couple to push their parents into letting them get married. It also allowed parents to reject the marriage offer in favor of a stiff fine when it really was rape. I approve, I suppose, of him having to provide for her in a society where she can’t find a husband, but that brings us to the final problem: This is all applies only to virgins.
What about widows? What about divorcees? What about women were raped once already? What about wives who are raped by their husbands? You can’t have a woman marry her rapist when it’s okay for him to keep raping her now that they’re married.
That’s why “virginity” as an idea in this chapter is so toxic. Rape becomes a price-gauge rather than a reprehensible act of violence. And as I noted back in Genesis with the tale of Dinah, even the Bible itself doesn’t feel completely comfortable with having rapists marry their victims; it just feels wrong.
The Japanese: gaitou “overcoat” (v 3), fusawashii “appropriate, suitable” (heading for v 5), michibata “roadside” (v 6), rankan “railing, balustrade, parapet” (v 8), fusa “tassel” (v 12), kyogi no “false, untrue,” hinan “criticism, accusation” (v 14), muchi “whip” (v 18), rien suru “to divorce”(v 19), hitodzuma “someone else’s wife” (v 22), chikarazuku “by force” (v 25).
Rien suru literally means “to take off the register,” a reminder that marriage and divorce in Japan is an issue of adding and subtracting names from a family register. I’ve read that this is also how same-sex couples get around the lack of same-sex marriage: you can have your parents “adopt” your spouse, putting them on your family register and getting some legal connection to them. This might sound really creepy, but families without male heirs in Japan have adopted their son-in-laws for centuries to keep the family name going, so it has precedent.