Our name refers to a story replete with rape in the closing chapters of the book of Judges. Judges is rife with brutalities and recounts a time of military skirmishes before there was even more organised warfare in the days of monarchy. The book ends with events at Shiloh and comments, on a closing note, that in those (chaotic and violent) days there was no king, so each man did as seemed right in his own eyes.
In Judges 20 an inter-tribal war begins between ‘the people of Israel’ and the tribe of Benjamin (which is also part of Israel). The catalyst for this war is the brutal gang rape of the Levite’s wife – a gang rape that is preceded both by the threat of male rape of the Levite and by the cavalier offering up for rape of his wife and a host’s virgin daughter (Judges 19). The war has divine backing – though the Israelites have misgivings about fighting their own kin (Judges 20.23).
After Benjamin is defeated there is more upset, because the Israelites had sworn an oath at a place called Mizpah, not to give their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites. But if the Benjamites had no access to wives, how would the tribe survive?
A ‘solution’ is found: one group, from a place called Jabesh-gilead, had not sworn the oath at Mizpah. So, Israelite soldiers went to Jabesh-gilead and killed all the men and all the women who had had sex with a man. But all the female virgins were brought to Shiloh to become wives for the Benjamites. These virgins, however, prove insufficient for the Benjamites and ‘compassion’ (Judges 21.15) transpires in a further scheme: the Benjamites are to seize the young women of Shiloh as they come out to dance in the vineyards. Any Israelite male – father or brother – who is unhappy about this is told to be ‘generous’ (21.22).
We know nothing more about these women of Shiloh – they have no voice. The text is filtered through a lens of male demands for progeny and posterity. But we can resist the women’s invisibility and insist on giving them a voice. We can imagine their ordeal and demand that this story is not overlooked. In our own time, resonances with rape in war and with the abduction of the girls of Chibok by Boko Haram makes this particularly poignant.