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Sexual Harassment in the Bible
Perspective on the News
Thursday, December 14, 2017
J.L. Robb

Joseph was handsome, young, well-built, prosperous and lived in a home of luxury. In the political world, he was admired by the ruling party and respected by the opposition. It seemed that everything Joseph touched turned to gold. Life was good, and he rubbed elbows with the richest of the rich.

One afternoon, Joseph returned home from work, troubled about the events of the day, only to find the police waiting inside his home. An hour later he was in jail. He had been accused in one of the first cases of sexual assault. He kept denying, claiming he never touched her; but everyone knew better. Too much evidence.

Joseph did not receive Due Process. As a result, he lost his luxurious abode and personal property, his freedom and any pursuit of happiness.

All the news sources condemned him. The accuser, after all, was a beautiful and irresistible woman, the wife of an important man, completely credible. Plus, she had Joseph’s cape. There really was no need for a trial, no need for Due Process. She had his DNA on a piece of clothing.

What is Due Process?

According to the Legal Information Institute:

While there is no definitive list of the "required procedures" that Due Process requires, Judge Henry Friendly generated a list that remains highly influential, as to both content and relative priority:

  • An unbiased tribunal.
  • Notice of the proposed action and the grounds asserted for it.
  • Opportunity to present reasons why the proposed action should not be taken.
  • The right to present evidence, including the right to call witnesses.
  • The right to know opposing evidence.
  • The right to cross-examine adverse witnesses.
  • A decision based exclusively on the evidence presented.
  • Opportunity to be represented by counsel.
  • Requirement that the tribunal prepare a record of the evidence presented.
  • Requirement that the tribunal prepare written findings of fact and reasons for its   decision.

Due Process, derived from England’s Magna Carta (Clause 39), basically states that there is a constitutional guarantee that legal proceedings should be fair. The defendant will be notified in advance and given the opportunity to be heard in a legal setting before losing his right to life, liberty and property… and reputation.

Joseph’s life changed that day; and had they given him Due Process, the authorities would have discovered that the woman was lying.

Sound familiar?

It is interesting to me that the Due Process guarantee from the Magna Carta is in Clause 39, and the story of Joseph is in Genesis 39. They go hand-in-hand.

About 4,000 years ago, Joseph became the 11th son of Jacob and one of Abraham’s great-grandsons.  Jacob’s descendants became the Children of Israel; and Jacob’s twelve sons became the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Joseph was hated by his older brothers who sold him into slavery to a group of Ishmaelites (modern-day Muslims), making their way to Egypt. In Egypt, Joseph was resold as a slave to Potiphar, Captain of the Guard.

From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. Genesis 39:5 NIV

In today’s world of sexual harassment charges, the line has grown fuzzy between appropriate and inappropriate. A man in the United States is being charged with sexual harassment because he whistled at a lady, and this is an ongoing debate in England. Joseph did not whistle.

Day after day, Potiphar’s wife pleaded with Joseph to “go to bed with me,” but he always refused. He was a Hebrew after all, and he knew this would be a sin to God.

And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. Genesis 39:10 NIV

The day that broke the camel’s back did not break Joseph. He was chosen, and this was just another crook in his road.

Potiphar’s wife is not named, like Noah’s; but beware a scorned Potiphar’s wife.

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. Genesis 39: 11-12 NIV

The Ninth Commandment instructs mankind to “not bear false witness against your neighbor.” In other words, do not lie against someone just to cause him trouble. Do not accuse one of theft unless it is true. This applies to sexual assault, too.

Things ended up well for Joseph. He finally interpreted a couple of dreams for the Pharaoh, Potiphar’s boss; and Joseph became Pharaoh’s right-hand man.

So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. Genesis 41:41-43 NIV

Four-thousand years after Joseph, Emmett Till did not receive Due Process either. Emmett sexually harassed a woman by whistling at her. Everyone knew he was guilty.

From the Chicago Tribune, August 28, 1955.

On Aug. 28, 1955, Emmett Till was beaten and shot for reportedly whistling at a white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi. The body of the black 14-year-old from Chicago was discovered days later in the Tallahatchie River. The accused killers were later acquitted by an all-white jury.  Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted on an open-casket funeral back home in Chicago, allowing tens of thousands of people to view his mutilated body, publicly illustrating the violence of Jim Crow segregation. Tribune news services  

The accuser later recanted, and reports have her living in North Carolina. Emmett has been dead for 62 years

Sexual harassment of any kind is unsuitable and should be unlawful, but where is the line drawn? What do we do about the bearer of false testimony?

If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Deuteronomy 19:16-21 NIV

It is a dilemma, and I am sure there are many people in powerful places who wish this Pandora’s Box had not been opened; but it has. There also appears to be plenty of folk who could not care less about the Ninth Commandment. There are plenty of people who do not fear God. But that leaves more rooms for those who do.

About J.L. Robb

Last week: O Jerusalem



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