When Donkeys Matter More Than Your Daughter (or, A Skeptic's View Of The Old Testament)

Well, it seems the Ten Commandments standoff in Oklahoma has now finally come to an end. For those of you who have no previous knowledge of the situation, what happened in Oklahoma City is basically the same as what has happened in other places around the country at other times: A monument of the Ten Commandments stood in a courthouse, it was ruled that the monument violated church/state separation, and Christian fundamentalists were outraged at the order to remove it.

I won't give voice to the same argument that has been made endlessly over the past several weeks about how our country was founded upon the idea of government being emancipated from the influence of religion, and religion likewise being free from the influence of government, true though the argument is. Instead, I would like to focus on the disturbing fact that a very large portion of our countrymen feel an attachment— and a loyalty— to a Testament that is the very antithesis of everything a free society should be about. For this reason, I have been prompted by the recent Oklahoma controversy to write my case against the "old covenant" responsible for it all.

There are literally hundreds of directions one can take to criticize the alleged divine origin of the Old Testament. From blatantly obvious errors like the fact that our universe was not formed in six days to the more in-depth errors like there being no evidence of a mass population of Hebrews ever having lived in Egypt, it isn't a tough task (nor a long one) to part the waters between what is fact and fiction in the biblical accounts. But my own case against the divine inspiration of the Old Testament merely revolves around two heavy subjects: rape and the price one puts on a life.

Consider the following passages:

When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.
— Exodus 23:4-5
If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
— Deuteronomy 22:28-29

The two verses above are ones that are surprisingly easy to gloss over if you're not paying attention when reading the Pentateuch, but these verses jumped out at me when I read through it a month ago, and they did so for the following reason: it becomes really clear, when reading the Old Testament, that livestock were held in higher regard than women by the ancient Israelites. Read both of those verses again if you have doubts. 

"If the donkey of your worst enemy is in trouble, do whatever you can to save it and return it.", "If your daughter gets raped, have the rapist pay you money (for the damage), then marry her off to him for the rest of her life."

Notice too, how forcing the rapist to marry the woman he raped is seen as a punishment for the rapist because now he has the burden of taking care of the woman, rather than a woman having to marry her rapist being a traumatizing experience for her... "Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives"... it's a "you break it you bought it" type mentality.

The notion of women as property in the Old Testament is further made clear when one looks at the language of other passages in Deuteronomy 22, such as verses 23 and 24.

If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death; the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife.
— Deuteronomy 22:23-24

There's a lot in the above passage that screams "primitive mindset" rather than "divine wisdom". For one, notice the logic of stoning the woman with the man: because she didn't cry for help, she must have "wanted it" right? Walk into any rape crisis center or up to any survivors' advocate and ask if not crying for help equals consent. I dare you. Even the most diehard Christian today would agree that there are a myriad of reasons why some rape victims don't cry for help. Therefore the idea that women who don't cry for help when they're being raped should be further assaulted with rocks until they die... well, can it really be believed that such an instruction came from an all-loving god?

The idea that rape victims would of course always cry out when attacked, is later promoted in verse 27 where it says if a woman is raped in the countryside she shouldn't be stoned to death because in the countryside no one can hear her scream. How understanding! On a second note, notice the logic of stoning the man... "Because he violated his neighbor's wife." The emphasis is of course upon the neighbor. The offender is being stoned to death, not because he traumatized the woman (who is being stoned with him), but because he damaged what belonged to another man. In other words, women are seen as property by the writer of Deuteronomy. A man raping another man's wife in the Old Testament is the equivalent of intentionally breaking another man's chariot or tearing down his tent. The woman being her own person with feelings and thoughts doesn't factor into the equation at all.  

Contrast this last passage bearing a total lack of concern for women with Deuteronomy 22:10: 

You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey yoked together.
— Deuteronomy 22:10

The reason why the writer of Deuteronomy says not to plough with an ox and a donkey together is because the donkey's steps are a lot smaller than the ox, and so the ox's large strides will eventually drag the donkey and cause it great pain.

So not only is the placement of animals over women made clear in Exodus 23:24-25 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29 ("If the donkey of your worst enemy is in trouble, do whatever you can to save it and return it.", "If your daughter gets raped, have the rapist pay you money, then marry her off to him for the rest of her life."), but also in Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and Deuteronomy 22:10 ("If your daughter doesn't scream while she's getting raped, kill her.", "Hey make sure you don't put the donkey with the ox because the donkey can't keep up and that will cause it pain.")

There are three more verses I wish to use to cement my case (that the Old Testament writers valued livestock over women) before I conclude. Let's contrast Exodus 22:4 with Exodus 22:16-17: 

When the animal, whether ox or donkey or sheep, is found alive in the thief’s possession, the thief shall pay double.
— Exodus 22:4
When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins.
— Exodus 22:16-17

There you have it. Livestock double, women however much they're worth. And what were women worth? Did you know that in the Old Testament, monetary value was ascribed to both men and women? It's true. But was the monetary value ascribed to men and women "by god" an equal amount? Of course not!

The equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel. If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels. If the age is from five to twenty years of age, the equivalent is twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female. If the age is from one month to five years, the equivalent for a male is five shekels of silver, and for a female the equivalent is three shekels of silver. And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the equivalent for a male is fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels.
— Leviticus 27:3-7

So there you have it, ladies. If you were living according to the Old Testament, you would be worth 1/3 to 2/3 (depending on your age) of what a man was worth. 

Again, there are many other passages and teachings in the Old Testament that one could point to and easily see that the 39 books that comprise it cannot possibly— in any way— come from a god whose attributes, it is claimed, are perfect love and perfect justice. I mean this really is child's play. This is not a conclusion that is complex to get to at all.

So if you would object to the law of the land in America today being the stoning of raped women who didn't cry out for help, or if you would object to putting prices on people (which we fought a civil war over for goodness sake), then don't defend the Old Testament being in a modern courthouse. If morality is objective, then that means that what is wrong today was wrong then. If slavery is wrong today, it was wrong Before Common Era. If buying women, and doing so for less than livestock, is wrong now it was wrong then too.

Two Ways Christians Respond To This

1. The primary defense I have heard believers give to this, is "But that was the Old Testament. We're under the New Testament now!" My response, in a dialogue, would be (and has been) "So what? God is still the same. What, do you think he attended anger management courses between the Old and New Testament? Do you think he hired a life coach that encouraged him to be a better person?" If the nature of god is unchanging, then it would logically follow that the value he puts on men, women, and livestock would also not change. The idea that the New Testament completely did away with all that nasty bad stuff in the Old Testament is completely unfounded, and is often merely an excuse by modern Christians to sanitize a religion that has its origins in the primitive minds of past people.

2. Perhaps the most horrifying response comes from fundamentalist Christians, who make the argument that "If god is the foundation of objective moral standards, then whatever he allowed to be put into the Bible is right, no matter what man says to the contrary." What's scary is that people who use this type of "reasoning" have essentially shut off their innate sense of decency, and have consigned their moral compass to whatever they believe about what's written in an ancient book. We all know in our gut that throwing rocks at a woman until she dies because she didn't call for help while she was being raped, is wrong. We can feel that. We don't need people to tell us that's wrong in order to know it's wrong. So to feel comfortable making the claim that "Whatever the Bible says is moral is, regardless of what anyone thinks", one has to rid themselves of their gut-sense of what is right and what is wrong— bringing fundamentalist Christians very close to sociopathy (a condition in which people have no gut-sense of right and wrong to begin with). Furthermore, if one rejects logic by using "god's ways are not man's ways" to defend the nonsensical and the abhorrent, then what logical argument can you use to convince them of the value of logic? You can't. They're too far gone. If a person rejects human wellbeing as being the entire point of morality, in favor of the idea that a bronze age book written by primitive people contains the perfect moral system and the answers to all of life's most complex questions, then there's really nothing you can respond with.

I applaud the Oklahoma Supreme Court for ruling that the Ten Commandments be removed from the capitol courthouse, and I further wish that the Old Testament— and superstition in general for that matter— will in the future be removed from the minds of the American public. For just as Thomas Jefferson once advised his nephew, we must "Question with boldness even the existence of a god. For if there be one, surely he must approve more of the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear."