Bible Sanctions Prepubescent Child Marriages

Kaleef K. Karim

Numbers 31:18 does sanction child marriage. Let’s now examine the verse:

“Now therefore kill every male among the little ones (taph), and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the female children (taph), that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” – NumberS 31:17-18 (Webster’s Bible Translation)

Related Article: “A Detailed Historical Examination Of Numbers 31:18

In order for me to go further let’s first show the part where the Hebrew word ‘taph’ used and what it means in the verse. Below is the text-image for the passage under discussion

Hebrew word taph (or taf), pre-pubescent

When we consult Hebrew-English Lexicons on the word ‘taph’, it only refers to pre-pubescent girls and boys:

An English and Hebrew Lexicon – Professor Selig Newman:

“Child , an infant … טַף… an offspring,… get with-…” (An English and Hebrew lexicon composed after Johnson’s directory, containing fifteen thousand English words, rendered into Biblical, or rabbinical Hebrew, or into Chaldee. To which is annexed a list of English and Hebrew words the expressions and meanings of which appear to be the same in both languages (1832), by Professor Selig Newman, page 61)

A complete Hebrew-English pocket-dictionary to the Old Testament (1905) – Karl Feyerabend:

“טַף (taf) ., i.p. .., w.s…. coll. Children, little ones.” (A complete Hebrew-English pocket-dictionary to the Old Testament (1905]) By Karl Feyerabend, page 118)

A Compendious Hebrew-Lexicon – Samuel Pike

“טַף little ones or children… mincing in a childish manner, Isai. Iii. 16. –… to drop, or distil… to prophecy, or distil instruction, Micah ii. 6, 11”.  (A Compendious Hebrew Lexicon, Adapted to the English Language, and Composed upon A New and Commodious Plan [Second Edition (1811)], by Samuel Pike, page 59)

The above Lexicons commenting on the Hebrew word ‘taph’, they quite clearly show that the word only refers to children or infants. Let’s now read the verse again to get a better understanding:

Webster’s Bible Translation Numbers 31:17-18
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones (taph), and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the female children (taph), that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

As we start reading from verse 17, it begins by Moses commanding his soldiers to execute all the male children (infants), and all the women who have slept with a man, in other words women who are not virgin. When we get to the next verse (v. 18), Moses tells his soldiers that they can take for themselves all the female children.

Now the question arises, why are the male children not shown any mercy, get executed, but the female children left alive? It is obvious from the words, “for yourselves”, Moses meant that they can have the female children for their own pleasure, to cohabit with.

When I started examining Numbers 31:17-18, reading the Hebrew words for verse 18 at the end, one word was left unexplained. This is not the case of just one English Bible translation, all the modern Bible translations have blatantly crossed out the word. The word I am referring too is ‘lakhem’ (or lacham). This word is left unexplained. This same word (lacham) is used in many other passages such as: Exd 1:10, Deu 1:41, Jos 10:5, Jdg 1:8, 1Sa 31:1, 1Ki 12:24, Isa 19:2, in all these verses mentioned, when the Hebrew word ‘lacham’ is used , it means:- ‘fight’, ‘fought’, or ‘warred’. Here is Hebrew text-image for the mentioned passage:

Hebrew word laqach or lakakh, meaning, fight, warred, fought, sexually, sexual

You can see I have circled in red where the word ‘lacham’ is used in them verses. If you go to any Judaic-Christian website, where they give definitions for any word from the Bible, they have always left the word ‘lacham’ unexplained for the passage.

Usually when I do research on certain words which are disputed from Biblical verses, I visit these sites, Blueletterbible.org or biblestudytools.com, and they have always given an explanation in detail, what a Hebrew word means. But when I started examining Numbers 31:18, what caught my eye was the word ‘lacham’, it was left blank. What made it even strange is, I was not allowed (able) to click on the word, to see what the meaning of the word is.

This prompted me to do more research on the word and find out what the meaning of it is. Shaye J. D. Cohen who is a renowned Professor writes that the word lachem used in the verse is meant sexually:

“Moses enjoins upon the returning warriors to kill their Midianite female captives who have lain with a man, but ‘spare for yourselves every young woman who has not had carnal relations with a man’; WE MAY BE SURE THAT ‘FOR YOURSELVES’ MEANS THAT THE WARRIORS MAY ‘USE’ THEIR VIRGIN CAPTIVES SEXUALLY.52 The law in numbers differs from the law in Deuteronomy- perhaps the most significant distinction is that the law in Deuteronomy does not care whether the captive is a virgin or not- but it too permits Israelite warrior to marry (or ‘marry) a foreign woman.”  (The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties By Shaye J. D. Cohen [chapter 8] page 255 – 256)

In the same page, in footnote 52, Professor Shaye J.D. Cohen goes further on the verse, he writes:

“I do not know why the new Jewish version omits ‘for yourselves’; the Hebrew lakhem is unambiguous. That the intent of ‘FOR YOURSELVES’ IS SEXUAL OR MATRIMONIAL IS OBVIOUS; the passage is correctly understood by Rabbi Simeon Yohai in the Sifrei ad loc (177 212H).” (The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties By Shaye J. D. Cohen [chapter 8] page 255 – 256 (Footnote 52))

Now it makes sense why missionaries try hard not to give the true meaning for the word. We can see the deceit of Evangelicals trying hard to cover up the word. Thankfully we have a sincere Scholar as Shaye J.D. Cohen who makes it clear that the word can only be meant ‘sexually’.

Wil Gafney, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and is an Episcopal Priest canonically resident in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. She is another line of Scholars who comments on Numbers 31:18, she writes,

“The ‘one woman, one man’ relationship of Eve and Adam becomes one man and two women in Genesis 4:19, ONE MAN AND AN UNTOLD NUMBER OF PREPUBESCENT GIRL CAPTIVES IN NUMBER 31:18 and in several other texts. IT APPEARS THAT GOD HAS LEFT IT TO HUMANITY TO DECIDE WHO ARE APPROPRIATE INTIMATE PARTNERS AND UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES. The evolution of polygamy, both CONSENSUAL AND FORCED, as a human-initiated cultural practice in the scriptures is particularly striking because of God’s lack of condemnation of it (not to mention, according to Deuteronomy, God’s sanction of abduction or rape-marriage during armed conflicts).
When inviting individuals and their descendants into eternal covenant relationships with God, God never required that the matriarchs and patriarchs revert to an Eve-Adam, monogamous pairing.” (Christian Holiness and Human Sexuality: A Study Guide for Episcopalians [Chapter 2 Scripture: Sexuality and Sexual Orientation] Professor Wil Gafney, page 59)

Notice, Professor Wil brings up Numbers 31:18 and at the same time she writes, “God has left it to humanity to decide who are appropriate intimate partners and under what circumstances.” She is referring to the prepubescent girls. In other words, she is saying God left it to humanity to decide whether it is ‘ok’ to cohabit with a pre-pubescent girls or not.

Another Professor by the name Miguel A. De La Torre mentions that Numbers 31:18 found Biblical justification of raping female slaves and that it was considered ordained by God, by Christian slave owners of the past. He writes,

“The Bible was masterfully used by those in power to justify the owning of black bodies. This was an easy feat; nowhere in either the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament is slavery categorically condemned. The supporters of slavery in the antebellum south were the ones who had the biblical chapters and verses to quote to justify their way of life. The abolitionists were hard pressed to find any biblical passage that outright condemned the institution of slavery. EVEN THE RAPE OF FEMALE SLAVES FOUND BIBLICAL JUSTIFICATION AND WAS CONSIDERED TO BE ORDAINED BY GOD. SPECIFICALLY, NUMBERS 31:18 INSTRUCTS CONQUERORS AS FOLLOWS: ‘YOU SHALL KEEP ALIVE ALL YOUNG FEMALES WHO HAVE NOT HAD SEX WITH A MALE FOR YOURSELVES. …” (A Lily Among the Thorns: Imagining a New Christian Sexuality [Copy Right 2007] By Miguel A. De La Torre, page 45)

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

“v. 18. But all the women children that have not known a man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves, as slaves or handmaids,FOR MARRIAGE WITH SUCH WAS NOT FORBIDDEN. The great God is terrible in His judgments, a fact which should teach us to fear His wrath and not act contrary to His commandments.” (The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann http://www.studylight.org/com/kpc/view.cgi?bk=3&ch=31http://www.kretzmannproject.org/PENT/NUM/NUM_31.htm)

Here, even the Bible commentator Paul E. Kretzmann, makes it clear, commenting on the verse that marriage with the prepubescent females ‘was not forbidden’.

Dr Judith E. McKinlay also mentions that the Bible ‘seems’ at times to turn a blind eye and allow ‘free romance’ commenting on Numbers 31:18,

“Where the texts have a concern for the circumcised status, this clearly does not apply to women! And where there is a concern for lineage the importance of patrilineal descent meant a lesser concern regarding the potential mothers. So, in the war against Midian, Moses says to the people in Num 31.18 that of the captured Midian women, ‘all the young women who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves’. AT TIMES IT SEEMS AS IF THE BIBLE WANTS TO TURN A BLIND EYE TO THE MATTER ALTOGETHER AND ALLOW FREE ROMANCE A FREE HAND.” (Reframing Her: Biblical Women in Postcolonial Focus [Copy Right 2004] By Judith E. McKinlay, page 27)

The evidence presented for Numbers 31:18 is clear that prepubescent marriages are encouraged in the Bible (Old Testament). There is no mention in the Bible that, “there has to be a waiting period for the girls who are pre-pubescent.” The command does not exist. There is no command in the verse where there has to be a waiting period for a female to grow up, before a soldier can cohabit with her. The words in Numbers 31:18 are very clear: “keep alive for YOURSELVES”, means that the soldier can cohabit with the female pre-pubescent captive straight away. The command in Numbers 31:18 is straight forward, the soldiers can be with the female prepubescent  immediately, sexually.

Missionary objection against Numbers 31:18

One of the baseless arguments raised against Numbers 31:18 by Evangelists is that they say ‘it does not sanction Child marriage’ they cite this passage:

Ezekiel 16 New International Version (NIV)
Jerusalem as an Adulterous Wife
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices3 and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. 5 No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.
6 “‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” 7 I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew and developed and entered puberty. Your breasts had formed and your hair had grown, yet you were stark naked.
8 “‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.

According to the above passage cited by missionaries, they say  the Bible ‘forbids pre-pubescent marriages’.

Questions for missionaries:

1. Nowhere in the above verse does it say ‘that you are forbidden from marrying pre-pubescent females’, where does it say that “you are forbidden from marrying pre-pubescent girls” from the Bible? Where are the verses that abrogate Numbers 31:18 explicitly?

2. How is Ezekiel 16:1-8, A PARABLE (not a command) override (abrogate) Numbers 31:18? When in Numbers 31: 18, it explicitly states that you can ‘take for YOURSELVES’, marry female captives by force.

3. How is Ezekiel in anyway relevant to Moses and his soldiers, when Ezekiel was born nearly 700 years after Moses? Ezekiel did not even exist when Moses and his soldiers were raping, marrying pre-pubescent females.

More Scholarly evidences on prepubescent marriages

The following quotations I am going to present are all from my other article, click on the link here for more info. Jacob Neusner is an American academic scholar of Judaism. In the Book: ‘The Comparative Hermeneutics of Rabbinic Judaism: Seder Tohorot. Tohorot through Uqsin.’ The Jewish oral Torah“i.e. Mishnah says:

“M. 5:4 A girl three years and one day old is betrothed by intercourse. And if a Levir has had intercourse with her, he has acquired her. And they are liable on her account because of the law [Prohibiting intercourse with] a married woman. And she imparts uncleanness to him who has intercourse with her [when she is menstruating] to convey uncleanness to the lower as to the upper layer. [If] she was married to a priest, she eats heave offering. [If] one of those who are unfit [for marriage] has intercourse with her, he has rendered her unfit to marry into priesthood. [If] one of all those who are forbidden in the Torah to have intercourse with her, he is put to death on her account, but she is free of responsibility.” (The Comparative Hermeneutics of Rabbinic Judaism: Seder Tohorot. Tohorot through Uqsin by Jacob Neusner, [Copyright 2000], volume 6, page 152)

A Commentary on the above verse, in the Book: ‘A history of the Mishnaic Law of Purities. 15. Niddah, by Jacob Neusner, it says:

M. 5:4-5 bring us to the next stage in the matter of the legal status of children, female and male. The girl three years and one day old is deemed capable of sexual relations, which accounts for A, B, and C. D. Presumably should not be apply to M. 5:3-a; if the girl is unclean as a menstruant but is incapable of sexual relations, one who has (or attempts) relations with her is not made unclean as is one who has had sexual relations with a menstruant. E simply goes over familiar ground; since the girl can be acquired as a wife, she also may eat heave-offering. F. Follows, and G. Repeats what is already obvious. But H limits the matter. The girl is not held responsible in a matter of forbidden sexual relations. I is a minor gloss. If the girl is less than three years and one day old, we do not regard the sexual relationship as of legal consequence. The theory is that the tokens of Virginity are restored before that time but not afterword.” (A history of the Mishnaic Law of Purities. 15. Niddah . Commentary (edited) by Jacob Neusner, page 83)

Pay close attention to the above statements, how Scholar Jacob Neusner says that a female of three year old ‘could be deemed capable of sexual relations.’ And in the first quotation he says that the Mishnah approves that a man could have sexual relations with a betrothed girl when she is only just three years old.

Professor of Sociology Mary De Young writes:

“The possession of Children by their parents was also given religious sanction in the teachings of both the Talmud and the Bible. Rush (1880) states that the Talmud teaches that a girl of ‘three years and one day’ could be betrothed through an act of sexual intercourse.” (Mary De Young The sexual victimization of children, page 103)

Even Professor Geza Vermes who is a well known and highly respected scholar comments that Pre-pubescent marriages were allowed:

“…the Greek parthenos could also mean that the girl was young and/or unmarried. In fact, in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament parthenos was used to render three distinct Hebrew words, ‘Virgin’, ‘girl’ and ‘young woman’. Already Rabbis in the Tannaitic era (first to second century ad) subscribed to further nuances, and there is no reason to think that all these were invented by them. Even the word betulah, which normally means virgo intact, when used by them could carry the laternal sense of bodily immaturity with the consequential inability to conceive. In Rabbinic terminology this type of virginity in a woman ceased with the physical onset of puberty. The Mishnah, the oldest of the rabbinic codes, defines a virgin as a female who ‘has never seen blood even though she is married’ (mNiddah 1:4). The Tosefta, another early Jewish code of law, claims in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (late first century ad) that such a woman would continue to count as a virgin even after she had conceived and borne children without prior menstruation (tNiddah 1:6)! To understand these statements, we must remember that in the InterTestamental and early rabbinic age, pre-puberty marriage was generally permitted. In fact rabbis seriously debated whether bloodstains found after the wedding night in nuptial bed of a minor, i.e. a ‘virgin in respect of menstruation’, marked her first period or the consummation of the marriage.” (The Changing Faces of Jesus [Penguin Books, 2001] by Geza Vermes, page 46)

Reverend Kathryn J. Riss who is a Christian also makes mention that in first century parents married off their daughters who were prepubescent to much older men. What is interesting is she does not mention once that Rabbis or anyone higher up in authority speaking against such marriages:

“The longest New Testament passage on marriage is found, not in Ephesians, but in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. In stark contrast to the legal positions and social expectations of the first century, here the rights and responsibilities of man and woman are upheld as equal. Although marriages were arranged by parents, who often espoused their pre-pubescent daughters to much OLDER MEN.” ((Journey’s End: Removing Biblical Barriers Between Women and Their Destiny by Reverend Kathryn J. Riss, page 164)

Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament – Scholars: G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren and Heinz-Josef Fabry:

“One might counter that the expression mohar habbetulot (Ex. 22:16[17]) refers rather to the pretium virginitatis. In this case, the mohar would be compensation to the girl for the loss of her virginity. This explanation, however, is unacceptable, since it proceeds on the assumption that the term betula means ‘virgin.’ This may doubtlessly be the case in many passages, but in joel 1:8, betula thus refers to a married woman who had been ‘possessed’ by her husband (ba’al); betula thus refers to a marriageable girl who was physically able to cope with a man, ‘taking her into his possession.’ Here the term betula says nothing about her virginity. Ex.22:16 (17) (kesep yisqol kemohar hab betulot) can thus be translated ‘he shall weigh out as much silver as is required for marriageable girls.’ In this context we should point out that ancient Hebrew custom did not associate marriageability with puberty. In contrast to the marriageable girl (betula), the…. Alma refers to a girl in puberty capable of conception. Girls could in fact already be given marriage long before actual physical maturity, perhaps even as young as five years old (cf. Lev. 27:5), and it did happen that marriages were already consummated with prepubescent girls.” (Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, [edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, Heinz-Josef Fabry, 1997], volume 8, page 144 – 145)

We can conclude that the Bible encourages/sanctions prepubescent marriages. I cited Scholarly references that agreed that Numbers 31:18 is about marriage with prepubescent girls. They also agreed that the passage is referred too sexually. What I mean is, when the words in Numbers 31:18 are used as ‘keep alive for YOURSELVES’, this meant that soldiers can keep alive the female prepubescent for their own pleasure. Furthermore, I went over one objection raised by the Evangelists, it was of no value whatsoever. The passage cited nowhere condemned prepubescent marriages. Why I say it was of ‘no value’, because Ezekiel was born 700 years after Moses. Last but not least, I cited many academics attesting that prepubescent marriages was sanctioned and was practised among Jews and Christians.

Related articles:

(1) – “Marriage of Mary To Joseph the Carpenter!

(2) – “Age of Consent in European & American History

(3) – “The Age Of Consent Laws In America, 1800s

(4) – “King David’s Marriage To 12-Year-Old Abishag – Bible” (Part 2, and Part 3)

(5) – “Bible: How Old Was Dinah When She Was Married To Shechem?” (Part 2)

(6) – “The Age Of Rebecca When She Married Isaac – Biblical Perspective” (Part 2, and Part 3)

(7) – “13-Year-Old Girls Permitted To Marry By Law In New Hampshire, America (2017)

(8) – “London’s Child Marriages, 1500-1800s

(9) – “Mary, a Teenage Bride and Mother

(10) – “200 Thousand Christian Children Were Married Before 10 In India

(11) – “A Detailed Historical Examination Of Numbers 31:18

This article was originally published on the following site: www.discover-the-truth.com

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2 replies

  1. There’s a reason the tu quoque is considered a logical fallacy. The sooner you Muslims realise this the better.

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