Bible Reference: Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; Jeremiah 3:8)

Heart of the Story:  One of the 10 Commandments was “You shall not commit adultery.” Clearly, in ancient Israel, adultery was a sin. Adultery is sexual intercourse. As much as I can discern, the intercourse can be either vaginal or anal.

Back Story: In the next several entries, I am going to explore this commandment and various adulterers identified in the Bible. This entry is clarification of God’s statutes about adultery. Further, I add the viewpoints about adultery among people (nations, cultures) that lived near the Israelites.

What was Mosaic Law on Adultery?

  1. “You should not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).
  2. “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife – with the wife of his neighbor – both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).
  3. “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22:22).

In Mosaic Law, (Pentateuch, Torah), adultery was sexual relations between a married woman and a man not her husband (#2 and #3). The constants were that the woman was married and that both the man and woman were put to death. These three verses did not differentiate whether the man was or was not married. Apparently, married men could have sex with single women (a prostitute, or a female slave) and not be subject to the death penalty or could be given a penalty much less severe than if he had sex with a married woman.

The reason for such stringent laws prohibiting a man having sex with a married woman was a man needed to know that offspring, particularly sons, were his own children; thus, his legitimate heirs. If this reason is the source of the prohibition against adultery, then the intercourse was vaginal, not anal.

Punishment for Adultery: Because the husband was the victim (or wronged party) in an adulterous situation, in many cultures and societies, the husband had the right to determine the punishment, up to and including death, on both the wife and her partner. The husband could choose to simply divorce the woman caught in adultery (Jeremiah 3:8). Importantly, a husband could not choose to give a light chastisement to his wife and a heavy (death, disfigurement, whipping) to the man his wife had intercourse with.

Ancient Near East (ANE) cultural perspectives on Adultery: In the ANE, adultery was often considered the “great sin.”

  1. In Assyrian law, a husband could cause the castration, disfigurement, or death on both his wife and the man she had adultery with.
  2. In Hittite law, a husband could kill his wife and her lover.
  3. In Babylonia, the god Marduk considered adultery by a wife as a breach of trust, abandonment, and a failure of reciprocation.
  4. In Egypt, adultery with a married woman was both a moral wrong and a crime. At times in Egypt, a married woman convicted of adultery was punished by slitting her nose. Males were punished by up to 1,000 blows with a lash.

Reflection: Do these laws seem reasonable to you?

Copyright: April 17, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

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