Numbers 5:11-24 explains the process for determining if a wife has cheated on her husband. And while I’ve read some ignorant crap in books of “magic spells,” this one takes the cake. To begin with, the passage makes a distinction between when a woman cheats on her husband and leaves no evidence, to when a husband is merely jealous that his wife may have cheated on him and there is no evidence. It’s almost as if the bible doesn’t follow the innocent until proven guilty ideal (probably because it doesn’t).
The ritual begins when the husband brings his wife to the priest along with half a gallon of grain to be sacrificed. Unlike other sacrifices, this grain will not be covered in oil or perfume, but rather burned. Then, the bible says the woman is “stood before the Lord with her head uncovered” (not sure what this means), and she must hold the grain. Next, the priest gets an earthen jug full of holy water. This, of course, would be difficult to do, since there has never been any mention of what holy water is or how to make it, but let’s just roll with it. Next, the priest takes some dust off the ground of the tabernacle and mixes it into the water jug. There is no mention of how much dust is to be added, or how much water there is supposed to be (more on this tomorrow).
Now the priest charges the wife with an oath saying that if she has cheated on her husband, this dirty water will curse her so that her belly will swell and her thigh will rot. Despite the KJV’s vague translation, it’s understood by scholars that “thigh” is referring to the woman’s genitals, “belly” is the woman’s uterus, and “swell” means to cause abortions. Modern translations are a bit more explicit, though they prefer to use the word miscarriage over abotion.
Once the wife is aware of the curse that will be bestowed upon her, she is expected to say, “amen,” or, “so be it,” indicating that she is willing to drink the dirty water that will destroy her baby-making abilities. Commentator Matthew Henry wrote that a woman who cheated would never agree to the oath because she wouldn’t want to lose her womb. This is just as psychologically naïve as the “nobody would die for a lie” argument of Christian apologists. Furthermore, there isn’t even any mention of the wife being allowed to deny this oath or refuse the potion. Not like denial would be advisable—the punishment for adultery is torturous execution—so the choice is, drink the water and never have kids again, or be stoned to death. Granted, in this culture having children is a woman’s primary purpose, but it sure beats a bunch of rocks in the face. And for those women who already have several children, this isn’t a punishment so much as a free tubal ligation.
Finally, the priest records this curse in a big book of curses—no really, they have a book of curses—only to immediately blot the words out with the dirty water. I’m thinking that this is how the curse is imbued into the “holy” water, but it’s hard to make sense of the backwards magical thinking we’re dealing with here. Tomorrow we’ll cover the drinking process.