[from ws study 12/2019 p.14]
“The Bible says that at least two witnesses are needed to establish a matter. (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 1 Tim. 5:19) But under the Law, if a man raped an engaged girl “in the field” and she screamed, she was innocent of adultery and he was not. Given that others did not witness the rape, why was she innocent while he was guilty?”
The passage quoted from in the second part of the question from readers, has been used in arguing against the Watchtower Organization’s “head in the sand” attitude over dealing with allegations of child abuse. Given that the Organization insists on two witnesses even in the case of child sexual abuse, which is rape, this question needed answering. Will they provide evidence as to the requirement of two witnesses? Let us examine how they answer this question based on the passage being quoted from, Deuteronomy 22:25-27.
The passage being discussed is Deuteronomy 22:25:27 which reads “If, however, it is in the field that the man found the girl who was engaged, and the man grabbed hold of her and lay down with her, the man who lay down with her must also die by himself, 26 and to the girl you must do nothing. The girl has no sin deserving of death, because just as when a man rises up against his fellowman and indeed murders him, even a soul, so it is with this case. 27 For it was in the field that he found her. The girl who was engaged screamed, but there was no one to rescue her”.
Firstly, let us put this passage in true Biblical context before we go on to review the Watchtower article’s answer.
Deuteronomy 22:13-21 deals with the scenario where a husband marries a woman and after a while begins slandering her, accusing her of not being a virgin when he married her. Obviously, there will never be two witnesses to the marriage consummation, so how was the matter handled? It appears a small sheet was used on the wedding night which would get stained with the small amount of blood from the breaking of the woman’s hymen on the occasion of her first sexual intercourse in consummation of the marriage. This sheet was then given to the woman’s parents, likely the following day and kept as evidence. It could then be produced by the parents of the woman in the event of such an accusation being made against the wife. If innocence was proven in this way by the woman, the man was physically punished, fined, with the fine going to the woman’s father as compensation for his name being slandered, and the husband could not divorce his wife all her days.
Important points to note:
- A judgement was made despite there only being one witness (the accused) to defend herself.
- Physical Evidence was allowed; Indeed it was relied upon to corroborate the woman’s innocence or guilt.
Deuteronomy 22:22 deals with the scenario where a man was caught “in inflagrante delicto” with a married woman.
Here, there might be only the one witness, although the finder could potentially call for others to witness the compromising situation. However, the compromising position which they should not have been in (a man alone with a married woman who was not her husband) and one witness was sufficient to establish guilt.
- One witness to compromising position of married woman alone with a man who was not her husband was sufficient.
- Both man and married woman received the same punishment.
- A judgement was made.
Deuteronomy 22:23-24 covers the scenario where a man and a virgin engaged woman have intercourse in the city. If the woman did not scream, and hence could be heard then both parties were considered guilty as it was treated as consensual rather than rape.
- Again, circumstances acted as the witness, with the engaged woman treated as a married woman here, being in a compromising situation.
- Both man and married woman received the same punishment if there was no scream as it was considered consensual.
- If the woman screamed, then there would be a witness and she would be considered an innocent rape victim and only the man would be punished (with death).
- A judgment was made.
This is the subject of the Watchtower article.
Deuteronomy 22:25-27 is similar to Scenario 3 and covers the scenario where a man lies down with a virgin engaged woman in the field instead of the city. Here, even if she screamed, no one would hear her. Therefore, it was considered by default as a non-consensual act on the part of the woman, and hence rape and adultery on part of the man. The virgin woman is deemed innocent, but the man is to be put to death.
- Again, circumstances acted as the witness, with a presumption of innocence for the engaged woman as no-one could render aid.
- Circumstances also acted as the witness for the man, with a presumption of guilt for the man due to the compromising circumstances, for he should not have been alone with the engaged woman who was viewed as if already married. There is no stated need for corroborating evidence.
- A judgement was made.
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 covers the scenario where a man lays down with a woman who is neither engaged nor married. Here the scripture passage does not differentiate between if it was consensual relations or rape. Either way the man has to marry the woman and cannot divorce her all his life.
- Here the man is deterred from rape and fornication as he will have to marry the woman and provide for her all her life.
- Whether a claim from the woman, or a third-party witness, neither matter here, the man gets the heavier punishment.
- A judgement was made.
Summary of Scenarios
Can we see a pattern appearing here? These are all scenarios where it is unlikely there would be any second witness. Yet judgement was to be given. Based on what?
- Physical evidence decides whether the man or woman was guilty (Scenario 1).
- Compromising Circumstances taken as evidence (Scenario 2 – 5).
- Presumption of guilt of woman based on particular circumstances (Scenario 2 & 3).
- Presumption of innocence in the woman’s favour in particular circumstances (Scenario 4 & 5).
- Presumption of guilt of the man based on particular circumstances (Scenario 2, 3, 4 & 5).
- Where both guilty, equal punishment was meted out.
- A judgement was made.
These were clear, easy to remember laws.
Further, none of these laws mentioned anything about any requirement for additional witnesses. In fact, these scenarios would normally take place where and when there were no witnesses. For instance, if the woman was attacked in the city and screamed. Perhaps someone heard the scream, but there was no need for the witness of the scream to know who it was from or catch the man at the scene. In addition, as these cases were tried at the city gates, then a witness of the scream would come to know about what transpired and could come forward.
As you can see, the main points for scenario are in line with the other 4 scenarios. Furthermore, the outcome for scenario 4 is very similar to scenario 5, where the man is also considered the guilty party.
In the light of the true context therefore, let us now look at the Organization’s answer to this scenario and the “readers” question.
The opening sentence states: “The account at Deuteronomy 22:25-27 is not primarily about proving the man’s guilt, because that was acknowledged. This law focused on establishing the woman’s innocence. Note the context”.
This statement is disingenious at best. Of course, this account “is not primarily about proving the man’s guilt”. Why? “because that was acknowledged”. There was no requirement of proof necessary to establish the man’s guilt. The law indicated that a man in these circumstances would be considered guilty, because of compromising circumstances which he should have avoided. period. No further discussion.
However, contrary to the Watchtower article’s claim, it does not focus “on establishing of the woman’s innocence”. There are no instructions in the Bible account as to how to establish her innocence. The reasonable conclusion is that it was imputed automatically that she was innocent.
Simply put, if the man was in the fields alone, except for the company of an engaged woman, he could be automatically assumed to be guilty of adultery for being in that compromising situation in the first place. Therefore, if the woman claimed she was raped, the man had no defence to use against such an accusation.
We could speculate that perhaps the Judges attempted to find a witness or witnesses that could put the woman in the same vicinity as the man at the same time. However, even if witnesses were found they would be at best be only circumstantial evidence, not a second witness to the actual event. It should be clear to reasonable persons that two witnesses to the act of rape or adultery were not required for judgement. With good reason too, because obviously, given the type of sin and the scenario circumstances, they were unlikely to exist.
The remaining 4 small paragraphs of this so-called answer merely confirm the assumptions of guilt and innocence in this scenario (4) and scenario 5.
So how does this Watchtower article address “the elephant in the room” about the requirement for two witnesses mentioned at the beginning the question?
Putting it bluntly, the article just ignores “the elephant in the room”. The Organization does not even attempt to address how this would apply to any of the 5 scenarios in Deuteronomy 22:13-29.
Should we be upset? Not really. In reality, the Organization have just dug themselves into a bigger hole. How so?
What about the principle the Organization have now put in print as found in by paragraph 3, which reads:
“In that case, the woman was given the benefit of the doubt. In what sense? It was assumed that she “screamed, but there was no-one to rescue her”. So she was not committing adultery. The man however, was guilty of rape and adultery because he “overpowered her and lay down with her”, the engaged woman”.
Can you see any difference between that scenario and wording, and the following?
“In that case the child was given the benefit of the doubt. In what sense? It was assumed that the child screamed, but there was no-one to rescue the child. So, the minor was not committing fornication. The man (or woman) however, was guilty of child rape and adultery or fornication because he (or she) overpowered the minor and lay down with them, the unconsenting minor”.
[Please note: The child was a minor and cannot necessarily be expected to understand what consent is. Regardless of whether anyone thinks the minor could understand fully what was happening, a minor cannot consent under law.]
There is absolutely no difference in the latter statement which we created, and the statement or principle given in the article, except in very tiny details which do not negate the seriousness of the situation in any way. In fact, these small changes make the case even more compelling. If a woman is considered the weaker vessel, how much more so is a minor child of either sex.
Based on the statement or principle in the Watchtower article, would it not be justice that the adult should be assumed to be guilty in the latter case with a minor child in the absence of any compelling evidence to the opposite? Also, that the child or minor should be given the benefit of the doubt instead of the abuser?
Furthermore, based on the scenarios discussed in Deuteronomy 22, in the case with child sexual abuse the adult is the one in the compromising position, who should know better. It does not matter whether the adult is the father or step-father, mother, step-mother, uncle or aunt, to the victim, or elder, ministerial servant, pioneer, in a position of trust. The onus is on the abuser to prove they did not molest the minor by giving a provable alibi for all occasions. It is not for the weaker, at risk party, to need to prove their innocence with the provision of another witness which would be impossible to obtain in these circumstances. Also, there is scriptural precedent shown in these scenario’s examined, for physical evidence in the form of medically obtained DNA evidence, and so forth to be acceptable as an additional witness. (Note the use of the mantle from the wedding night in scenario 1).
One final point to think about. Ask someone who has lived in modern Israel for some time, how law is applied there. The reply will be “the essence or the spirit of the law”. This differs greatly from the law in the USA and the UK and Germany and other countries where the application of the law is to the letter of the law, rather than the spirit or essence of the law.
We can see clearly how the Organization sticks to the “letter of the law” with regard to application of Bible principles to judgements within the Organization. This is like the attitude of the Pharisees.
What a contrast to the secular state of Israel, that despite its secularism, applies the law according to the spirit of the law, following the principle of the Laws, as Jehovah intended and also as applied by Christ and the early Christians.
To the Organization therefore we apply Jesus words from Matthew 23:15-35.
In particular Matthew 23:24 is very applicable, which reads “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat, but gulp down the camel!”. They have strained out and kept the requirement for two witnesses (gnat), applying it where they should not and in doing so gulp down and ignore the much bigger picture of justice (the camel). They have also applied the letter of the law (when they do not do so consistently across problems) instead of the essence of the law.