A No Witness (or One Witness) Trial?

Hi folks!

Here is another question about Deuteronomy 22:

In Deuteronomy 22:23-27, there are laws about rape. If a man rapes a betrothed woman in town, both the man and the woman are executed, since the woman could have cried to others for help but did not do so. If a man rapes a betrothed woman in an open field, however, then only the man is executed, since the rape occurred in a field where there was no one to help her.

How can this be reconciled with Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15, which says that a matter must be established at the mouth of two or three witnesses before a defendant is executed? If there was no one in the open field to help the woman, then presumably there were not two other people there who witnessed the rape. While Deuteronomy 17:6 relates to apostacy cases, 19:15 appears to be broader in scope, since it appears in a chapter about homicide, manslaughter, and landmark cases, and it also says that two or more witnesses are needed to establish guilt regarding all sin and iniquity. In the case of rape in the open field, is the case basically decided on the basis of the woman’s word against the man?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to A No Witness (or One Witness) Trial?

  1. Ryan says:

    Hi James!

    Good question… I think I’ll take a stab at it.

    It seems to me that the only way anyone would know about the rape is if the woman reported it. Consider that if she didn’t report it and she was engaged, and when her her husband consummated the marriage found out that she was not a virgin, he could publicly defame her and if her parents cannot produce evidence of the girl’s virginity, then she would be stoned for her infidelity. It would seem to me that if she did not report the rape, then it was by default consensual. This would agree with the city case in v24, where if she doesn’t cry out then it is assumed consensual.

    If we get this far, we assume that she reports the rape. To be true to the scenario, we’ll assume there are not other witnesses. This seems to fall under Deut 19:16. According to this passage, the case is to be brought before the priests and judges in office and the judges are to investigate thoroughly. An investigation, though not explicit in vv25-27, is implied since more than one witness is required to put the man to death and vv25-27 says that he must be put to death. Even under Deut 17:6, it is clear that if a transgression is told to you, a thorough investigation is to be done.

    It seems to me that if they find evidence of the rape, then the evidence and the woman’s testimony would form two witnesses. If they do not find any evidence, she could be falsely accusing the man and for this violation the woman would be put to death and not the man. I think it is pretty reasonable that there should be evidence, particularly if there was a struggle. Blood stains on her clothes, scratches and bruises and sores, etc.

    I think the key point here is that an investigation is implied and evidence becomes the second witness.


  2. James Pate says:

    Hi Ryan,

    You may be right. Or another possibility may be that the two witnesses did not have to actually see the act itself but rather the results of the act. For example, both of the girl’s parents (or others) may have seen the bruises and cuts. Or an investigation would show that the rapist had been obsessed with the girl in the past, which would be similar to trying to determine if a person accidentally or intentionally killed someone else (as the judges made inquiry into whether there was hatred between the killer and the victim).


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