*TRIGGER WARNING* This article is a narrative about a biblical account of sexual assault and violence which may be triggering to survivors.
In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.2 And his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. 3 Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back.” (Judges 19: 1-3)
“Your husband has returned!”
Her father sounded so sure, so filled with hope. Her stomach was in knots. Had he come to put her to death for her unfaithfulness? Did he intend to take her back with him?
As he walked through the doorway and approached her, she held her breath. He offered a warm greeting to her and she bowed her head in response.
“Come, let us drink and feast all night.”
She was always thankful for the giftedness her father had of breaking through awkwardness with hospitality. For the next few days, her father invited the Levite, her husband, to stay and make his heart merry. She wondered how long he could stall her departure.
“Behold, now the day has waned toward evening. Please, spend the night. Behold, the day draws to its close. Lodge here and let your heart be merry, and tomorrow you shall arise early in the morning for your journey, and go home.”
She heard desperation in her Father’s voice, cleverly disguised as exuberance, but her husband declined this final invitation. As her heart sank, she fought back tears and said goodbye to her father once again. She turned around one final time before her home would sink into the horizon, and memorized the form of her father standing at the threshold.
After a long journey, they came to the town of Gibeah, but were surprised to find that no one offered to take them in. Something felt unsettling as she looked around the square. An older man approached and upon hearing that they had not yet been welcomed, invited them to stay. As he begged them not to spend the night in the square, and quickly ushered them into his home, her disturbed feelings were confirmed that something was off in this city.
They settled in at the man’s home and after dinner she finally began to relax. Her husband had been kind to her on the journey so far. He wasn’t really warm or overly inviting, but he was not being harsh with her, either. He had never been a very affectionate man, nor the kind to catch her and hold her with his eyes. She was just sort of there with him. Present.
She sat next to the fire with the host’s daughter and watched as she fashioned a neck piece from beads. The concubine reached into her bag and pulled out several pieces of her own jewelry. She handed them to the girl who gasped in delight. She wondered what happened to this girl’s mother and how long she had been without her. She could see that the girl was eager for her attention and so she smiled and nodded with affirmation at the girl as she draped the jewels over herself and displayed them for her new friend.
Her train of thought was suddenly broken, with the sound of men howling. It sounded as though they were circling the house. She looked over at the host, only to find her fears confirmed by the horror on his face. The men began to beat on the door. She held her breath and scooted closer to the girl, pulling her to her own side.
“Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him,” one of the men demanded.
The old man went to the door to answer them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing.”
She exhaled, perhaps this man could reason with them and send them away. Her relief quickly turned to terror as the host continued,
“Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.”
The man’s daughter began to cry, burying her face in the woman’s chest. She put her hand over the girl’s head and began to stroke her hair, reassuring her that her husband would not let harm come to either of them. She reminded herself that her husband was a priest and they would be leaving in the morning to go to the House of the Lord. He wouldn’t even allow them to stay in a city overnight with foreigners along this journey, so while she was not certain how he would convince these men to leave, she was certain that there was no possible way he would give them over to be violated by these worthless fellows.
The Levite stood up and rushed towards his concubine. He grabbed her by the arm and ripped her from the floor. The girl let out a scream and then wrapped her arms around her own knees, hiding her face as she sobbed. Before the concubine could say a word to her husband, he shoved her outside into the mob like a piece of meat thrown to a pack of hungry wolves. She could hear the girl whimpering from inside the house as the men began to circle around her.
They began to grunt and howl as they moved in closer. One man grabbed her by the back of her hair, pulling her face towards the night sky. “Well, it’s not the Levite morsel we were hoping for tonight, but I think we can have our fun with this” The men began to laugh, followed by more howling. The man yanked her by her hair to the ground and began dragging her through the dirt towards the square. She grabbed onto his arms with her hands, frantically trying to relieve the pressure. Her instinct to wrestle free was thwarted by her inability to have any sort of grip or control as her feet kicked wildly through the dirt. Finally the dragging stopped, but the pain only increased as the kicking to every part of her frame began in unison, without pause. The strikes were so frequent that she could no longer feel them individually, pain shooting throughout her entire body. Her will to get away was raging inside of her yet the blunts from all directions caused complete disorientation.
The first man grabbed the back of her head again and shoved her face into the dirt. She tried to scream as the man climbed on top of her body, forcing himself inside of her. The pressure of his hand to the back her head caused dirt to fill her open mouth. She tried to spit it out, but as he continually pushed her face into the ground, her own blood began to mix with dirt, causing her to gag. She closed her mouth and tried to concentrate on breathing. The other men watched, howling and laughing — eagerly awaiting their turn. When the man finally had his fill and rolled off of her, the beating began again. She quickly realized the only relief from battery would be violation. When she felt the force of the fourth man on her back, she began to vomit, feeling herself slip into unconsciousness.
No longer able to open her eyes, she became aware of the times that she was coherent only by the sound of the dreadful howling filling her ears. Having lost count of how many men had defiled her, her body lost the desire to fight. Her muscles were no longer tense, accepting the beatings as they came. Her mind began to drift to the girl, safe at home by the fire. She couldn’t imagine these men brutally taking her innocence this way. For a moment, she felt a sense of acceptance in her fate as a sacrifice for her — but never for the sake of that coward who threw her out into this blood thirsty mob to be played with like a rag doll.
Now, far from being the woman draped in jewels, esteemed for beauty before an adoring onlooker, who chose her from among many — she was no more than a dog toy, chewed up and thrown about. Her new owners found more violent and perverse uses for her body, cheering each other on with each salacious blow. This is how her life would end, as something to be tossed around and then thrown away as if she were nothing. She desperately hoped to slip into a final unconsciousness to escape the vile, maniacal taunting — but it never came. As the dawn began to break, the men grew tired and left her body lying in the square, a pile of dirt and bloody flesh. As the last man walked passed her, he pushed her over with his foot as if to check for a sign of life — and upon finding her still breathing, he bent down and spit into her face.
She crawled towards the old man’s house, fearful that the mob would change their minds and come back for her. As she reached the threshold, she outstretched her arms, and lay her head down, too broken to cry out for help. She recalled the form of her father, standing on the threshold of the home where she grew up, wishing she were at his feet now. As the tears began falling slowly from her eyes and then rolled down her blood stained cheeks, she took her final breath.
The Levite came outside and coldly commanded his concubine to get up and leave with him, but there was no sound. He picked up her body and threw it onto the donkey and headed back home. Upon arrival he immediately took a knife and divided the concubine’s body into twelve sections and sent it out to all of Israel.
A crowd gathered in Bethlehem to view a package that had just arrived, an elderly man pushed his way to the front, as the gasps from the crowd quickly turned to wailing. The man was overwhelmed with terror as he recognized the foot of his own beloved daughter. He fell to the ground and began to weep with his head in his hands.
“Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.” (Judges 19:30)