May 152010

Gustave Dore illustration

I have surged through Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and part of 1 Samuel (Kings), catching mistakes and misinterpretations from the last time I read through. The Bible seems more strange and alien than ever, fascinating in its fierce anarchy. (Might I just mention in passing the plague of hemorrhoids God sends to the Philistines and their attempt to make a Trespass Offering by fashioning five gold statues of their hemorrhoids. 1 Samuel 6:4 I went to bed last night trying to imagine what a golden hemorrhoid would look like.)

Briefly, since I’ve been trying to keep track of what I called the slaughter of the innocents (or collateral damage), I want to draw your attention to the horrific story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19). This follows a murky little bit of text about a man named Micah who seems to set up his own mixed religion with pagan images and Hebrew sacred items mixed and a Levite priest to conduct services–this is during one of those backsliding moments when the Israelites have fallen away from the truth faith. Judges 19 seems to start fresh, but it could be the same Levite priest. He takes a concubine (later she’s referred to as his wife as well), but she “plays the whore” with him and runs away to her father’s place. The Levite goes to get her and eventually starts home. They stop for the night at a place called Gibeah where a nice old gentleman invites them to stay at his place. During the night a crowd of party animals called “sons of Belial” surround the house and ask the old man to send the Levite out so they can have sex with him (this is a repetition of the Genesis 19 episode at Lot’s house in Sodom). The old man offers them his daughter and the concubine instead, but the rowdies want the Levite.

Finally, the Levite convinces them to take the concubine after all. The young gentlemen rape her through the night, and when they’re done, they turn her loose. She manages to crawl to the door of the old man’s house, manages to reach up and get her hands on the doorstep, and dies. In the morning, the Levite gets ready to leave and notices the concubine. He tries to rouse her, but she doesn’t respond. He packs her on his donkey and takes her home. And then he gets a knife and cuts her body up into 12 parts (including the bones) and sends the bits off the the far corners of Israel. His reasoning is that he wants to gather a horde to wreak vengeance on the men of Gibeah–and he does. (This part of the story refers forward to 1 Samuel 11:7 where Saul cuts up a yoke of oxen and sends the pieces to the corners of Israel to summon the hosts. Weird connection, yes? concubine=oxen?) But my mind is still back there with the concubine for whom things have not gone well. Not well at all.

Here is the climactic bit of the story (my emphasis).

019:021 So he brought him into his house, and gave provender unto the
asses: and they washed their feet, and did eat and drink.

019:022 Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of
the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about,
and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house,
the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine
house, that we may know him.

019:023 And the man, the master of the house, went out unto them, and
said unto them, Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so
wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house, do not
this folly.

019:024 Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them
I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them
what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a

019:025 But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his
concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her,
and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the
day began to spring, they let her go.

019:026 Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down
at the door of the man’s house where her lord was, till it was

019:027 And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of
the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman
his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and
her hands were upon the threshold.

019:028 And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none
answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man
rose up, and gat him unto his place.

019:029 And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid
hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her
, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of


  12 Responses to “The Levite’s Concubine & other sentimental Bible stories”

  1. I am getting intrigued by all this. I’m going to have to go back and read parts of the Bible I didn’t get in Sunday school.

    • It’s much better the second time through. You start to get the hang of the structural rhythms, the oscillation between instruction, harangue and story.

  2. A couple of thoughts:

    One of the things that strikes me from your reviews is how rich and complex these narratives are, perhaps compared to present day ones.

    Those who are religious and believe finding metaphorical significance in the Bible is a diminution of its spiritual value deny the power of metaphor itself. A strong metaphor can have tremendous power (again compare).

  3. There’s a strong parallel between this story and the one of Lot in Sodom, when the angels of the Lord come to visit Lot, and the men from the village want to have sex with the angels. Lot offers to send out his own daughters in order to spare the male guests.

  4. In both cases, the cultural value of hospitality to strangers overruled the value of kinship, which is a recurring biblical theme.

    More disappointingly, the cultural value of males outweighed the value of females, another recurring theme, though certainly not exclusive to the Bible.

    • I know that’s what the scholars say–the value of hospitality etc. But really the story goes so far over the top–it’s not just an illustration of the value of hospitality. It’s much more awful than that. The “value of hospitality” argument seems like someone trying to “make sense” of the story, when, in fact, the story is a story and doesn’t really make sense that way.

      • I’m with you, Doug. Which is why I dropped out of seminary and am now writing fiction.

        • Anna Maria, I just added another little parenthetical. See what you think.

          • mm, concubine=oxen. If I can momentarily set aside my post-women’s lib values and try to imagine living in such a context where women (particularly those lacking the status of “wife”) were equated with loot, that would probably be about right.

            Good parallel. Makes me wonder if this was a typical practice for recruiting an army? Or whether the biblical authors were referencing one another as they recorded these stories?

            (Although it’s impossible for me to imagine that the experience of cutting up a woman’s body into 12 parts would be the same as butchering an oxen . . . )

  5. My father likes to tell about his days at boarding school in New Zealand during the Depression,(he went away to school at the mature age of 7) and about going to chapel once a day and three times on Sunday and how during bible lessons the game was always to ask (or probably get one of the younger boys to ask): “Please, Sir, what’s a concubine?” Interesting to read one of the stories that might have prompted the question (not to mention some of the nonsense invented to gloss over the tale’s horror).

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