Exodus 31: 17-18 -Answering Maharishi Dayananda Saraswati

Was Prophet Moses sensual in allowing the virgin women to be kept alive?


Those sentences which are colored in orange are from Maharishi Dayananda Saraswati book Satyarth Prakash (The Light of Truth) and those which are colored in black are Jerry Thomas’s response.

"Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children that have not known a man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves." (31:17, 18.)

C. ~ Well done (Christians)! How good is your prophet Moses as well as your God, who could to keep aloof form taking even the lives of women children, the aged and the cattle. It also conclusively proves that Moses was voluptuous, since had he not been sensual, he would not have spared virgin girls for himself as well as for his followers, nor would he have issued such cruel order (as encouraged sensualism).


Answer: A minor correction- this verse is Numbers 31 and not Exodus 31.

First and foremost to accuse this commandment as a conclusive evidence of Prophet Moses being sensual or an encouragement for sensuality contradicts both the clearest commandment of the Holy Bible and the evidence we have from culture and history within which this event happened.

Let us begin with the commandment of the Holy Bible. Like any other constitution in the world, this divinely ordained law of the Holy Bible too stands together with other laws of the Holy Bible and not as separate unrelated laws. In any incident, we must check the related laws that would come into force.

Here in this incident too after the capture of the virgin women the following law would have come into immediate force.

Deuteronomy 21:10 "When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails.  She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her. 

In other words, the only way an Israelite man can relate to virgin woman captured in the war is to marry her.

So, here Maharishi has wrenched out a text of the Holy Bible from its related laws and imposed his wild and vulgar imaginations to derive the meaning.

Further, as noted, sex slaves were not recorded as a part of this culture in the historical records.

Glenn Miller of the Christian Think Tank (http://www.christian-thinktank.com/midian.html) writes:

“The accusation that these girls were for “sex slave” purposes contradicts what we know about the culture and about the event. [But at least one of the writers above–to their credit–added the word ‘presumably’, realizing that the text doesn’t actually say anything about it…]

1. Most girls were married soon/immediately after they began menstruating in the ANE (circa 12 years of age), and since infant and child mortality was so high, the average age of the girls spared would have been around 5 years of age or slightly lower (life expectancy wasn’t a straight line, with childhood risks so high). Of all the horrible things ascribed to Israel in the OT, pedophilia is the one conspicuous omission. That these little kids would have been even considered as ‘sex slaves’ seems quite incongruent with their ages.

And, at this tender age, they would not have been very useful as ‘slaves’ at all! Children raised in Israelite households were ‘put to work’ around this age, sometimes doing light chores to help the mother for up to four hours per day by the age of 7 or 8 [OT:FAI:27], but 5 is still a bit young. Instead, the Israelite families would have had to feed, clothe, train, care, protect, and shelter them for several years before they could make much contribution to the family’s existence and survival. [Also note that ‘slavery’ in the ANE/OT generally means something quite different from “New World” slavery, which we normally associate with the world ‘slavery’, and most of what is called that in popular literature should not be so termed. See qnoslave.html for the discussion and documentation.]

2. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, the ANE was not very ‘into’ using slaves/captives for sexual purposes, even though scholars earlier taught this:

 “During the pinnacle of Sumerian culture, female slaves outnumbered male. Their owners used them primarily for spinning and weaving. Saggs maintains that their owners also used them for sex, but there is little actual evidence to support such a claim” [OT:EML:69]

3. And the Hebrews were different in this regard ANYWAY:

 “This fidelity and exclusivity [demands on the wife] did not apply to the husband. Except among the Hebrews, where a husband’s infidelity was disparaged in the centuries after 800 BC, a double standard prevailed, and husbands were routinely expected to have sex not only with their wives, but with slavewomen and prostitutes.” [WS:AHTO:39; note: I would disagree with the remark about ‘after 800 bc’ because that dating presupposes a very late date for the composition of the narratives under discussion…If the narrative events occurred closer to the purposed times, then this ‘disparagement’ applied earlier in Israel as well as later.]

4. Even if we allow the age range to be older, to include girls capable of bearing children, the probability is that it was not sex-motivated, but population/economics-motivated, as Carol Meyers points out [“The Roots of Restriction: Women in Early Israel”, Biblical Archaeologist, vol 41):

 “Beyond this, however, the intensified need for female participation in working out the Mosaic revolution in the early Israelite period can be seen in the Bible. Looking again at Numbers 31, an exception to the total purge of the Midianite population is to be noted. In addition to the metal objects which were exempt from utter destruction, so too were the “young girls who have not known man by lying with him” (Num 31:18). These captives, however, were not immediately brought into the Israelite camp. Instead, they and their captors were kept outside the camp for seven days in a kind of quarantine period. (Note that the usual incubation period for the kinds of infectious diseases which could conceivably have existed in this situation is two or three to six days [Eickhoff 1977].) Afterward, they thoroughly washed themselves and all their clothing before they entered the camp. This incident is hardly an expression of lascivious male behavior; rather, it reflects the desperate

need for women of childbearing age, a need so extreme that the utter destruction of the Midianite foes—and the prevention of death by plague—as required by the law of the herem could be waived in the interest of sparing the young women. The Israelites weighed the life-death balance, and the need for females of childbearing age took precedence.”

[But note that the traditional rabbinic interpretation of the passage is that all females which were capable of bearing children were killed—not just those who actually were non-virginal. This would drive the average age quite low, although the Hebrew text offers only limited support at best for their interpretation.]

[I should also point out that the “for yourselves” phrase (31.18) is NOT actually referring to “for your pleasure”, but is a reference to the opposite condition of  “for YHWH” which applied to all people or property which was theoretically supposed to be destroyed in such combat situations. The herem (or ‘ban’) specifically indicated that all enemy people or property which was ‘delivered over to YHWH’ was to be killed/destroyed. By referring to ‘for yourselves’, then, in this passage, means simply ‘do not kill them’. This can also be seen in that this ‘booty’ was not ‘for themselves’ actually, but was distributed to others within the community.]

Therefore, these interpretations are neither based on the related laws of the Holy Bible nor on the culture and history of that period. It is Maharishi’s own wild imaginations.

Further, a few points must be added here.

(a) Israelites posed no threat to Moabites (who were closely identified with Midianites as we shall shortly see)

Deuteronomy 2:9 Then the LORD said to me, 'Do not harass Moab, nor contend with them in battle, for I will not give you [any] of their land [as] a possession, because I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot [as] a possession.'"

(b) However, the King of Moabites along With Midianites Plotted to Kill Israelites without Any Provocation:

Numbers 22:4 So Moab said to the elders of Midian, "Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field." And Balak the son of Zippor [was] king of the Moabites at that time.

(c) When they realized that they cannot destroy Israel as long as God Yahweh was pleased wit Israel, they employed adultery as a way to destroy Israel (Numbers 25:1-3).

(d) God Yahweh FIRST punished Israeli men who committed this adultery.

24000 Israelite men were killed (Num 25:9) and they were the ones who were joined in harlotry with Baal (Num 25:5). From this we know that this was large scale harlotry.

Also, we know that Midianites were not such a large population as only 12000 Israeli men went for the war (Numbers 31:2-3). If the population of Midianites were such low that it required only 12000 Israeli men to destroy them, then it must be implied that almost all the Midianite women were involved in this harlotry including the daughter of the chief of the Midianites (Numbers 25:15) for 24000 Israeli men to commit adultery.

So when the enemies tried to destroy Israel without any provocation and lured them to commit adultery, one must ask if the commandment to destroy Midianites including all the women who have known men were justified. It was the true justice.  Allowing the virgin girls (who were not part of the harlotry) to survive is nothing but mercy.  From the Holy Bible and history, we know it for sure that they were never used as sex slaves.

Again, the Holy Bible when read in context shows the eternal mercy of the one true living God.

An excellent resource on this particular topic can be found at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/midian.html

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