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Judges 19, a text of terror

Valérie Duval-Poujol

Translation Tony Dickinson

This terrible account of the rape, then the death and dismemberment of the Levite’s partner expresses perhaps the paroxysm of the violence between men and women such as can be read in so many Old Testament texts, these « texts of terror », as the feminist theologian Phyllis Tribble calls them.
Judges 19, a text of terror

Several readings of this tragedy have been suggested, particularly that it is the denunciation of Israel’s degeneration, of what happens in a society which turns its back on God, in a chaos where the law of the strongest is established as justice. In this context, close to some aspects of contemporary life, the most vulnerable, women among them, pay a heavy price.
This woman, nameless like so many others in the Scriptures, is dubbed only « the Levite’s concubine », in other words his second-class wife, no doubt a slave bought by this man. She leaves her husband because « she was angry with him », without the text explaining why (v.2). But it was undoubtedly serious enough (domestic violence?) for her to want to go back to living with her father. According to some translations, she had been « unfaithful » to her husband, or had « become a prostitute », which is excessive. A way, perhaps, of making the victim responsible for the drama which strikes her later and to justify the Levite’s conduct? Let us remember that an unfaithful wife would have deserved death, yet she was able to take refuge with her father.
Four months later, the Levite departs for his father-in-law’s house to bring her home (with or without her consent). Now on their way back (to « my house », he specifies, and not « to our house »), while they are lodging with an old man, he gives her to a gang of thugs to save his own skin; she is raped all night long by these strangers. With a last breath of life after this gang rape, this nocturnal « gang-bang », the woman collapses on the threshold of the house where her husband spent the night. When morning comes, when he discovers her lying, her hands on the threshold of the door, like a final cry for help, he has not one word of compassion, not one gesture of help. He tells her to get up! But this woman doesn’t answer, she is dead… In the end he cuts her up into pieces, twelve pieces, one for each tribe of Israel, to demand justice. The levite will have his revenge, but without that bringing this woman, his woman, for ever nameless, back to life, and without bringing justice for her. « And the wind carried off her name, as he had scattered her body, without burial, without tenderness, and without forgiveness. » (Jacqueline Kelen, Les femmes de la Bible).
This sordid story is like the echo of the cry of all those women, our sisters, who have throughout history undergone, and still undergo to different degrees violence, oppression, abuse.
What strikes me in this story is its realism, which is almost unbearable. Here as elsewhere in the Bible, there is no waffle, no pretence: things are named by their own name, problems are not dodged but described, in all their abject reality, even their atrocity. These texts reveal that sometimes the couple or the family can become a weight, a wound, a prison. A place of distress, of frustration, of competition and even sometimes of death. The questions which anger us, the topics which hurt us are broached in way that is very raw: rape (by persons unknown, as here, or by those close to us), violence within families, barrenness, desertion, sibling rivalry, revenge, betrayal…
That makes us ask: why do the Scriptures contain so many stories which evoke so brutally life’s sufferings?
I think that these authentic accounts, with no masks, prod us to report the truth as well. Because it is in this way that we will be able to embrace it. God in our reality, the one who is God-Emmanuel, « God with us », who is not afraid to meet us where we are. The Scriptures are a model, an encouragement, to dare to report the truth and to allow our loved ones, our colleagues who are suffering- alongside us to report their own truth.

V.D-P

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À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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