Good evening Jeff,
I recently got into a discussion with someone regarding Deuteronomy 22:13-21, specifically verses 15-17. He seems to think that the evidence being talked about here was blood, something I do not disagree with. I told him that I have heard that not every woman bleeds when she has sex for the first time, so if she did not bleed, yet had never had sex, then she would be getting stoned to death for something she had never done. He appears to be disagreeing with me on this, implying that bleeding does happen for every woman during the first time of intercourse. Can you tell me which is true? Does every woman bleed, or not? I know that if her hymen is broken during sex, she would, but what if she has already broken it, or never did have one, to begin with? Would she still bleed during the first time of intercourse, and if so, why?
"If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then turns against her, and charges her with shameful deeds and publicly defames her, and says, 'I took this woman, but when I came near her, I did not find her a virgin,' then the girl's father and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of the girl's virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. The girl's father shall say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter to this man for a wife, but he turned against her; and behold, he has charged her with shameful deeds, saying, "I did not find your daughter a virgin." But this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity.' And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. So the elders of that city shall take the man and chastise him, and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give it to the girl's father, because he publicly defamed a virgin of Israel. And she shall remain his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days. But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father's house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you" (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).
The situation is that a man recently married a woman and then decides that he doesn't like her. He then starts to publicly slander his wife by claiming that she had committed "shameful deeds." In other words, he is telling people that his wife was a prostitute or had sex with men prior to her marriage. Non-virgin women could get married (Hosea 1:2) but a virgin woman carried more value. Potential husbands were expected to pay a dowry to the woman's family. Thus, the husband's charge implies that he was lied to about the value of his bride and was cheated by the bride's family.
Since the charge impacts the reputation of the bride's family, they are offered the opportunity to prove their new son-in-law to be a liar. If they bring out evidence of bleeding on the wedding night then the new husband is immediately found guilty. He is publicly scolded and has to pay his father-in-law 100 shekels. A shekel is about two days' wages, so he has to pay over a half-year's worth of wages. That is twice the fine a man would pay for being caught having sex with a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). He also lost all rights to ever divorce his wife.
But what if the family didn't have evidence that the woman was a virgin? One study found that "The frequency of congenital absence of the hymen has been found to be <0.03%" [Jenny C, Kuhns MLD, Arakawa F. "Hymens in newborn female infants." Pediatrics. 1987;80:399–400.] Thus, it is extremely rare for a woman to be born without a hymen. However, another study found that even when a woman had been penetrated, she didn't always bleed. "We agree with Rogers and Stark that so-called rupture and bleeding of the hymen is not to be routinely expected after first sexual intercourse" [Curtis E, San Lazaro C. "Appearance of the hymen in adolescents is not well documented." BMJ. 1999 Feb 27;318(7183):605.] Thus, what is to be done if a woman didn't bleed?
Notice that the law said if the charge is true that the woman is not a virgin. Truth under the Law of Moses was established by two or three witnesses. "A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed" (Deuteronomy 19:15). A lack of evidence is not a witness. The husband's charge is also not a witness since he is the one making the accusation. Thus, two or more independent pieces of evidence would need to be shown that the woman had sex, prior to marriage, with other men. If the truth is established then the woman received the death penalty at the doorway of her family's house. Why? Because the family was involved in lying about her status to gain a larger dowry and because an engaged woman who consents to have sex prior to marriage receives the death penalty (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Another law also states that the death penalty cannot be carried out without multiple independent witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6).
By the way, Deuteronomy 22:23-24 also states that the man who has sex with her is also put to death. It would seem that in trying to prove that his wife was committing fornication prior to marriage, the husband is not going to be able to get other men to admit that they had sex with her because that would put their own lives at risk. In other words, the husband would have a really difficult time proving his case.
What this law does is eliminate "buyer's remorse" in weddings where a man marries a woman and then after a short while decides he made a mistake and wants a different wife. Slandering his wife will likely result in him receiving a very stiff fine. (God doesn't tolerate lying.) Only in a case where the husband can prove that he was lied to about the woman he was marrying was the death penalty invoked.