Not To Us, And To Us

I want to keep circling around to Bible here. I hope you’re not sick of it yet. If so, see you tomorrow!

In early January, I mused on some of the pressing issues that would be creeping up in my little corner of the evangelical world. The thought that we still need to figure out a better way to say what the Bible is and what we’re supposed to do with it continues to find traction. (Rachel Held Evans has made this one of her themes for the year as well.)

Yesterday one of my friends was snarking about acquiring for himself a new wife or two.

Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Apparently, he wants to lead a raid across I-95 and take a beautiful captive home for his efforts:

When you wage war against your enemies and the LORD hands them over to you and you take prisoners, if you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you fall in love with her and take her as your wife, bringing her into your home, she must shave her head, cut her nails, remove her prisoner’s clothing, and live in your house, mourning her father and her mother for one month. After that, you may consummate the marriage. You will be her husband, and she will be your wife. Deut 21:1–13, CEB

How are we supposed to deal with passages like this?

In general, of course, we do not want to build rules out of exceptions. If we meet a strange case, this is not necessarily the starting point for thinking through how to conceive of normal.

But…

When it comes to interpreting and applying scripture, how we think about what scripture is and what we’re supposed to do with it need to be able to handle myriad verses that we do not, and should not, “apply to our lives”–at least, not directly.

In short, we need an understanding of what scripture is, and a reading strategy, that allows us to say, first, “This was not written to us,” and then to say, with equal conviction, “This is written to us.”

The first is an acknowledgement of historical distance, cultural difference, and, most significantly when it comes to the Old Testament, an era of God’s work that applies to us only indirectly because of the advent of Christ.

“Not to us” is an important step in biblical interpretation. We need to have ears to hear how a story would have resonated with Babylonian exiles; we need ears to hear how “Jesus is Lord” might have resonated, or caused dissonance, for a first century Roman.

We need to know that when we read, “Expel the immoral brother!” that it is a word for a first century church and might not be God’s word to us about, say, the man in our meetings with a flatulence problem.

“Not to us” is a significant moment in our biblical interpretation.

But then, the Bible is the witness to God’s revelation; it is the authoritative word for the church. All scripture is inspired, and therefore somehow useful.

The question, of course, is what does “somehow” mean?

In the famous 2 Timothy passage about scripture alluded to above, Paul says that scripture is able to give the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. As we find in Romans as well, there is a Christological hermeneutic that comes with affirming the OT as the word of God. The OT scriptures function as a pointer to a later coming Christ.

“To us” means “to us who are in Christ,” which means that we must read with a Christological lens, and with Christ as the coming climax to the OT narrative (or surprising disruption of that narrative, as the case may be), in order to assert its authority over us.

“Not to us”: yes, this scripture passage told the Israelites they could take wives from their captives. But we may not.

“To us”: we boldly allegorize to fit our saving story of Christ. He defeated the king of the kingdom to which we were enslaved, and took us to be His holy bride. As scripture, to us, this is not a pass to engage in stealing humans for our own, but a veiled witness to the rescue from an enslaving union to the powers of sin and death into the freeing union of grace and life (Rom 7:1-12).

“Not to us” and “to us” is a dialectic that a narrative approach to scripture enables us to develop. It is a story. And in the revelation of the story’s climax, even the earlier moments in the story are transformed.

97 thoughts on “Not To Us, And To Us”

  1. I am not really comfortable with this kind of allegorical reading of these stories, though I recognize that Paul seems to engage in it heavily and that our theological ancestors were fond of them. I am more comfortable saying “We know this story and our story can be seen as an echo of it” — as we Christians regularly (and very effectively) do with the Exodus narrative, for example.

    I do wonder, however, how Jesus might have read these passages. He clearly understood his teachings to be in line with what had come before – so what did he see in them?

    Perhaps my problem is simply that I am so horrified and shocked and appalled by this image (a woman forced to marry her captor) that I cannot fathom applying it to my relationship with God (or anyone else’s for that matter). Akin to the “divine child abuse” arguments, I suppose.

    1. Do you have another way forward? Do we close our eyes, or grab our black highlighters?

      To me, part of seeing the NT as normative is recognizing in its use of the OT a normative example to follow.

      Jesus did more than a little of this himself. The entirety of Matt 5, almost, is a reinterpretation of the Law based on his own presence and authority.

      1. Is it possible that there is a difference between reinterpretation and allegorical reading? Perhaps the best way forward is to ask “Why was this taught?” In doing so, we can see why Jesus would reinterpret the Law (it was taught not so people would be outwardly clean only, but inwardly also), and give us a method for looking at the odd passages of Scripture.

        That in mind, is it possible that this is actually a picture of grace? Could it be that the common practice of nations was to kill, rape, and take without any second thought? Could it be that the stipulation of love, and the stipulation of a grieving period were ways to provide grace to those captured and conquered?

      2. “or grab our black highlighters?”

        Yes, Yes, a thousand times yes!

        When you get to the point of saying we can’t touch it, but instead are trying to find a way deal with a holding that it is the word of God, but it is utterly barbaric your starting from the wrong position. Even the very first Christians didn’t fall into that trap, they knew at least some of the writings were entirely the works of men.

        How many times does it not only condone but actually codify slavery?
        Ignore rape and instead require marriage based on who did or didn’t hear it?
        Did a loving god say, hey they just can’t deal with not having slaves, monogamy, equal rights, properly cooking shrimp, and giving each other equal rights so I’ll not tell them to do it (or keep kosher), just given them some rules they can live with, provided the men all cut off their foreskin.

        Biologically there is so little as to be no difference between man today and 4,000 years ago. God couldn’t figure out how to educate man? God couldn’t set up a school, have some angels teaching classes on food storage and preparation? God couldn’t explain why some conduct is unacceptable? Or hey, maybe simply forbid it. He knew lying was wrong, banned that outright, but slavery was just too tough a nut to crack?

        Because ether God couldn’t explain or ban those thing, in which case they surely aren’t God,
        or God didn’t want to, in which God is simply evil,
        or some of those books are purely the work of man.

        The back flipping acrobatics of not to us, and to us is only needed if you want to keep all those bits and pieces of obvious barbarity. If you start from a position the book must be divine, all of it, every single word. Elevate it above any condemnation, in short if you want a bit of idolatry for your bible.

        People do bad things. Sometimes Jewish people did bad things, like genocide, or slavery, or forced marriage. Sometimes Christians did bad things, like the inquisition, or burning witches, or killing people for reading the bible in a language other than latin.

        But we can recognize, hey that was wrong. Because we don’t say people are above being wrong. Then the books written by people aren’t above being wrong.

    2. Important questions, Parodie. I can see the veiled echo for us in the story. The problem still attends, of course, with how such actions in that historical context jived with justice & mercy. On the one hand such conquests were often, in part the product of Divine judgment (negatively) on the nations – is that part of the judgment? Does that answer the whole question?

      Others note that often what looks like an extremely harsh instruction in the Torah was actually rather modifying and mild relative to how the nations dealt with the same situations (dialing down the harshness) – and were such instructions, therefore, actually a tempering of common practices; so they pointed Israel in a more merciful direction, relative to the culture of the day? (we might be careful in our own subjective judgments; for what we deem merciful today could well be deemed evil by another culture or people of another day). I wonder if this might not be (suspect it is) the point of the instruction in Deut. 21.

      One wonders, as an aside, if any in Israel thought (as I think king Saul did with the Agag situation), “Hmmm … if we do this to them, what happens to our women, or to me, when another nation defeats us?” Of course, Israel did bad things to themselves with women (see the difficult moral imbroglio of the last few chapters of Judges).

    3. It would also be more appalling for a woman to be left in a destroyed city after a war with no possible means of supporting herself, starving to death or being attacked by sons of belial

      1. also, a war bride is a thing.

        Also intriguing are the numerous cases of women captured by american Indian tribes who refused to be rescued and returned to white society, preferring their new social situation.

    4. When people quote Jeremiah saying that God has plans for me I always wonder if this is meant really for us. We take that one verse but not the whole chapter. Is it theologically sound to do so?

      Doubt it although it is pretty comforting to think it’s meant for me.

      Makes me uncomfortable, though, to think that this is just reinforcing the American ideal that the sun and the universe revolve around me. It makes me feel farther away from knowing God better than vice versa.

      1. I think that’s right, Karelys. It’s not to us. But then again, it is to us! We are the people of the restoration, of the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises; we are those for whom all things work together for good, etc. So there is a Christological apprehension of the promise, even though it’s directly spoken about an event that is not properly our own.

  2. Daniel,

    I’m not totally convinced regarding your reading of Deuteronomy 21:1-13, but I’m not unconvinced either…I’ll have to think about it for a while… :)

    This post does, however, speak directly to some thoughts I’ve been working through regarding the idea that everything in the Bible has to be “applicable.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Bible teachers say that the “application is the most important part of Bible study” or “the Bible is useless if we don’t apply it.” I think I know what they think they mean, but what they end up implying is that every story, pericope, poem, and verse necessarily contains some behavioral change that we should immediately go out and implement.

    What I love about narrative theology (and appreciate more every day) is that it does not require that we “apply” everything, but that we are transformed by internalizing the story.

    1. Yes, Leslie, I think you’re onto something. Richard Hays articulates this as a “conversion of the imagination,” riffing off of “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”

      The question, then, is what are our converted minds (and lives) supposed to understand, or be transformed into, by such a terrifying law?

      1. I know it’s taken a while for me to respond to your question (What can I say? I’m a slow thinker).

        For me, part of the answer to your question lies in what you describe as “an acknowledgement of historical distance, cultural difference, and, most significantly when it comes to the Old Testament, an era of God’s work that applies to us only indirectly because of the advent of Christ.”

        The first step for me is (in the manner of any standard inductive Bible study method) to figure out what this passage meant for the people hearing it. I admit that my take on this is sort of a mash-up of Webber & Enns, but to me this is a situation of God speaking to Israel in a way they would understand, bringing them a step close to an ultimate godly ethic of mercy, while at the same time working towards his stated purpose of having them be an example to the nations around them.

        When I speak of being transformed by internalizing the story, it’s not that every individual story is transformative on its own, but that the story of God’s redemption-as a whole-is. I do not diminish the horror of this situation (I can imagine myself and my children as victims of war easily enough), but I don’t think it’s necessary to allegorize it, even in light of where we are on the other side of Easter. I can let the story stand as is, without ANY direct application to my life, because it is part of the larger story in which God works with and through His people.

        What I find more provocative is your statement that “part of seeing the NT as normative is recognizing in its use of the OT a normative example to follow.” While I’m not comfortable with the idea of allegorizing (for multiple reasons), I think an argument can be made for your position.

        I’ll have to think that one through some more…hmmm…

  3. Daniel,

    re: “yes, this scripture passage told the Israelites they could take wives from their captives”–

    No, I don’t think so. The text of Deuteronomy as we have it is actually a narrative depicting *Moses* telling his ancient Israelite contemporaries that they could take wives from their captives.

    This is a far cry from “scripture told them they could.”

    Bottom line: the characters in the story line are not talking to the reader (aka the “red letter bible” fallacy).

    Of course, it is possible that the author could be aiming the words of the characters at the reader–but this needs to be demonstrated on a case-by-case basis. In this case, while critical models of the composition and dating of Deuteronomy vary, a large number of scholars would argue that at the time the final form of Deuteronomy took shape, the Israelites were in no position to be invading surrounding nations in search of wives.

    1. So what’s the significance of an ancient writer depicting such a law being given by Moses to an earlier generation? And does the expectation of a future resurgence (after exile?) mitigate the claim here? In other words: isn’t the Moses character being used to speak to the reader over the shoulder of the imagined first listeners?

      1. It could simply be the preservation of older traditional material, having a purely descriptive function. The alternative would be to argue–if one could find evidence for it–that the composer is including this material as part of his argument strategy, or as part of a particular outlook.

        I’ll give you a parallel from the NT: I’ve run across modern readers who–I kid you not–read Matt 10:9-11 as if Jesus is talking to them. The alternative, of course, is that the characters are NOT talking TO the reader; the author is writing FOR the reader. Why then does the author include this text-segment in his gospel–to create a model of mission for his reading audience in which they are to go without suitcase, shoes & clothing? Or could it be for some other reason?

  4. Couple o’ replies:

    #1 – I’m not so sure the Deuteronomy passage is really an exception. The New Atheists like to charge that the Bible is really a monstrous book, full of violence and cruelty not just by the “villains”, but actively commanded and enacted by God and by the “heroes” of the narrative. Having taught lectio continua through the entire Old Testament and Apocrypha in my congregation I would say this is the dominant perception of first-time readers. We are better off owning that there is some very dark and disturbing stuff embedded in the fabric of scripture, not just in some dusty corners we rarely explore.

    #2 – Morally speaking, the stance that the darker stuff in scripture was for a different people in a different time is really problematic. For one, it seems awfully convenient that the stuff that makes us uncomfortable doesn’t really apply to us. Second, something which is evil doesn’t become okay just because it was done a long time ago by other people, not us. Particularly since we hold that we are still in relationship with the same God. I don’t think we can intelligibly claim that the God we know in Jesus Christ is good and is also the same God who commanded genocide and committed Near Total Extinction in the Flood. If God as revealed in JC is Love then God never approved, even provisionally, of evil. The idea that God would behave dispensationally, acting with cruelty in one era and peaceably in another is tantamount to saying God is a psychopath.

    Okay 3 replies

    #3 – Therefore I think it is more consistent to read all of scripture as being “by us” before it is “to us”. The darkness and the horror are in there because the darkness is in us. A passage like this one from Deuteronomy definitely speaks “to us” in our contemporary setting, not as the voice of God, but as a warning about the sort of stuff we have in the past (and today) put into the mouth of God. God’s Word through the Holy Spirit reverberates through such passages calling us to repentance for the way we still treat women as property, as objects to be desired, pursued, and claimed. We should write these kinds of quotes on walls as memorials to our astounding hubris that we would attempt to use the Lord of Love to justify evil.

    1. “I don’t think we can intelligibly claim that the God we know in Jesus Christ is good and is also the same God who commanded genocide and committed Near Total Extinction in the Flood. ”

      I don’t think we can claim that when Jesus actually uses the flood as a picture of future judgment that the Son of Man will bring (Luke 17). We have to have a complete picture of jesus, not just the parts that fit.

      “If God as revealed in JC is Love then God never approved, even provisionally, of evil.”

      Well, that’s true. And so I think it behooves us, as much as possible (and its usually not hard) to not go to the darkest possible reading of a text (like this is actually a text that approves rape or something)

      1. Yup, Jesus uses scripture. I’ve preached on the Flood passages and lots of other passages too. I’m not suggesting we jettison it – just that we treat it differently. What Jesus means by judgement is given content by how he then lives and dies – and importantly how he behaves when he returns resurrected. Jesus’ judgment is sweeping and total and cleanses the whole world of sin like the Flood. It does not in anyway involve mass murder – very much UNLIKE the Flood.

    2. #1 is true.

      #2 Well, good to hear someone say they understand subjective and relative morality. Of course the problem comes in when one considers that the Bible also says God is perfect, God is God, God is unchanging. And the same bible which says all that also says God was for moral relativism then. God was for subjective morality. And if that conduct is impermissible today then God isn’t unchanging at all

      #3 is going to get you in trouble, but it is the logical result of the previous statements. Once you accept #3, or even consider it with any kind of critical eye you will reach a certain inescapable conclusion, it applies to every single word of the Bible, red-letter or not. And that will terrify some people.

    3. Each of Aric’s points seem pretty inevitable to me, and I confess I have no real idea how to deal with them as a Christian. This Deut 21 example is a good one. Another that I keep coming back to is Exod 21:20-21 “If a man strikes his servant or his maidservant with a rod and he dies under his hand, he shall surely be avenged.” So far so good, but it goes on: “Only if he should survive a day or two he will not be avenged for he is his property.” Arguments about such things simply reflecting a previous way of doing things or that the intent was to mitigate the worst effects of established practice doesn’t work at all for me. If God really spoke this from a mountain surrounded by cloud, fire, and lightning, he could say whatever he want. How horrible that this text presents him as adding that beating a slave to death is ok as long as he doesn’t die the same day as the beating.

  5. In Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, Chris Wright writes concerning this text, “We want to say that there should not be wars, and there should not be prisoners, and women should not be captured. Doubtless. But Deuteronomy’s legal and pastoral strategy is to deal with the world where such things were realities, and then to mitigate the worst effects for those caught up in them. So the law permitted the victorious soldier to take a woman from among the captives. However, first of all he might only take her as his fully legal wife with all the responsibilities that gave him and the rights it gave her…the law, in the midst of the nastiness of war, is trying to privilege of the needs of the vulnerable over the customary rights of the powerful” (313).

  6. American servicemen used to bring back a lot of Japanese and German wives … doesn’t seem to have been a big moral problem. Those women started as defeated and occupied people (“captives”), but they were elevated to members of the household, full-fledged Americans. Part of the interpretive problem here might be that people are ready and eager to read rape-with-violence and ignore a message about taking your enemy into your heart.

    I don’t see Iraqi or Afghani wives coming home, and just could be this is a demonstration of the heartless way we are running the current set of wars.

    1. wikipedia sez

      “War brides from wars subsequent to Vietnam became less common due to differences in religion and culture, shorter durations of wars, and direct orders. As of 2006, about 1,500 visa requests had been made by US military personnel for Iraqi spouses and fiancees.[12] There have been several well publicized cases of US soldiers marrying Iraqi women.”

      Also theyre smaller wars and we didn’t deal a death-blow to a big chunk of a (male) army.

  7. ““Not to us”: yes, this scripture passage told the Israelites they could take wives from their captives. But we may not.”

    Daniel: well, first we’d have to have some captives before its even an issue.

    And can’t we if we do? if we defeat japan, as say, Christians serving in WWII soldiers its completely impermissible to marry a woman from Japan?

    1. Yes, it would be completely impermissible for an allied soldier to kidnap a Japanese woman and drag her back to North America against her will. That’s rape. The difference between that and a loving marriage between an allied soldier and a Japanese woman is consent.

      Not to mince words, Deuteronomy 21 is a rape manual. It is telling me what the proper procedure is if I want to kidnap a woman for sexual purposes. That’s appalling, and it’s not much comfort to say that its procedure is incrementally better than the usual behaviour of soldiers in occupying armies. It’s good that v.14 forbids soldiers from turning prisoners into sex slaves, but exceedingly disturbing that the text is cool with swordpoint marriage.

      Sure, it was not written to us, but how could it have been written to anyone?

      1. A rape manual? Getting a little carried away the hermeneutics of suspicion, don’t you think? What kind of rape manual suggests a 30-day period of abstinence?

        Maybe a better presupposition is to assume that the author of the text was at least as decent of a guy as you are.

  8. Hi Daniel, really enjoyed this post – it captured my imagination and motivated me to ponder and read.

    Looking at this as a Microbiologist (not a theologian!) I am struck by the practical wisdom of the detailed commands in the verse. Head and body lice are usually endemic in refugee populations due to poor hygiene and overcrowding, in turn exacerbating the spread of disease and malnutrition. Shaving hair and discarding old clothes would be an ideal way of preventing their transfer to the new household.

    In terms of Mosaic commands having relevance to us, I was struck by this verse: Matt 19:8 “Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.” This suggests to me that in our interaction with God’s spirit, the message we receive will not only pass through the filter of our mindset (cultural, temporal circumstances etc.) but also the state of our hearts.

    On the wider point of struggling with the continuity of scripture over time, I was thinking about Peter’s vision in Acts 10. If a church leader stated he had “gone into a trance” and God had given him a command which apparently contradicted one already written down in scripture, I wonder how the church would respond… What is the role of prophecy in helping us reinterpret scripture in a way that allows us to remove unhelpful restrictions from our mindsets and behaviour while remaining faithful to the commands of Jesus?

  9. This passage is significant to me because it changed the way I thought about the authority of scripture. It tells the Israelites that they can sleep with captured maids if they wish but they must allow them a thirty day grieving period first. On the face of it this is a provision of compassion, and it was certainly expounded that way in my community. But a moment’s reflection on the practicalities suggested to me that the thirty day pause was of immediate significance because it allowed the Israelite to verify that his booty was not pregnant. Less than 30 days would be inadequate for this, more than 30 days would be superfluous. It struck me with some force that in this scripture something profane was being dressed up as something sacred. Much of the OT has never looked the same since.

    1. So you prefer to ignore the stated words of the text (its a mourning period: and Moses encourages compassion) impose a hermeneutic of suspicion that (not sure, sounds almost like an evolutionary psychological explanation) and decide the bible said something horrible, even though it didn’t say something horrible the way you read it the first time.

      Not to mention you already restated it as ‘sleep with’ when the text said ‘take her as a wife’.

      This tells us a lot about you, but not much about what the bible means.

      1. And your response tells me a lot about you. Friendly, aren’t you?

        The Bible says in another place “kill every male child, and kill every woman who has slept with a man, but you may spare for yourselves any of the women who have not slept with a man.”
        The normal grieving period allowed by the Bible is seven days.
        Just joining the dots. But I understand why you would resist the possibility that the writer of any part of biblical history might have given it with a more “worthy” facade.

    2. There may have been some concern about pregnancy but I think it is overly cynical to say this was JUST spiritualizing more practical concerns. Thirty days was the traditional time for mourning, not seven:

      Numbers 20:29
      and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, the entire house of Israel mourned for him thirty days.

      Deut 34:8
      The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

      But there is a larger issue. Craig Hill writes about the “But in Christ …” moments in the New Testament. Daniel mentioned the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus keeps saying, “You have heard it said …. But I say to you …” These point to an unfolding of the ultimate ethic to which God is pointing.

      A similar hermeneutic consideration exits in the Hebrew Testament as well. How does what God commands in any given place match up with surrounding cultures and customary practice? There are places where God says “Do not do as X does, but do this.” It disjuncture like this that points us toward the ultimate ethic God would have us embrace.

      Take violence. The biblical narrative begins with the sevenfold vengeance … “I’ll do seven times worse to you whatever you do to me.” God institutes and eye for eye. When Jesus comes we are told it is now about loving your enemies. William Webb calls this a “redemptive movement hermeneutic.” God is moving his people, over time, toward his ultimate ethic.

      So an interesting question with this Deuteronomy passage is how does what is being commanded stack up with what was happening other cultures and contemporary practice? That is one way to find application in some of these passages.

  10. Trevor – is there some textual basis for this view that it was to verify she was not pregnant? It seems one could speculate on a hundred different reasons for the 30 days. And, the reason in the text is specifically given, that she would be permitted to mourn the loss of her father & mother.

  11. It is pretty significant that v. 14 was ignored in this post.

    “But if you no longer desire her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.”

    This law was written to protect the woman’s interests.

  12. It is interesting how we would just like to reason from the hallowed and unquestionable sanctity of our own principles rather than let Scripture speak for itself and work on us. Perhaps there is a bit of the arrogance of the enlightened (post)modern at work here?

    I mean, we have no problem seeing Paul directly implement case law in his favor in the New Testament in order to justify the payment of ministers (as just one easily found example). Preachers like to do the same with the tithe but they won’t when it comes to other issues like this. How preferential we are with the Scriptures and how something other than apostolic.

    Left to our own historico-grammatical devices, the modern church would never have been able to take the Old Testament as the early church did and produce the New Testament.

    Perhaps we have reason to look back at what ought to be a cherished Jewishness in our faith that has long since been forgotten–especially after a hundred years of doing theology since the Holocaust and with it and the rest of World War II in mind. How can we castigate the words of Moses as embarrassing, immoral, and unjust to women when it was a Christian civilization that allowed the Holocaust to happen and in some sense also actively participated in it?

    1. There is a dangerous pride (ethnocentrism) which lurks behind our condemnation of the OT Law. “Our culture is much more civilized than those prehistoric misogynistic Jews.”

        1. It is imbedded so deeply in the culture Johnson because it is one of those horses we’ve beaten to death.

          Taking slaves is morally wrong. It is simply unjustifiable. Is there really any debate about that?

          The fact God couldn’t manage to simply ban the practice, but did get out that false testimony is banned is more suggestive of the Abrahamic religions codifying their own racism than of a divine being handing them those laws.

          Break the sabbath you must die – (Exodus 31:14; 35:2. Numbers 15:32-36)
          Beat a slave to death, well as long as they live a day or two after the beating it’s okay.(Exodus 21:20-21)

          Unless anyone really thinks a perfectly loving deity thought it would be acceptable losses for them to keep taking slaves, but lying nope no tolerance for that.

      1. “Our culture is much more civilized than those prehistoric misogynistic Jews.”

        No need to separate them out, they were pretty much like all of their neighbors in how they treated women. And in other respects they were much like their neighbors still in taking slaves and war booty.

        Who would have ever thought that a people who have rejected slavery, are working on racism, and no longer treat women as something just barely more than property (and only just) might consider them self morally superior to a group of people who embraced all of that, plus the odd bit of genocide every now and then.

        The veil of ignorance is a great tool.

        If you had no idea where you would be born, what race, what sex, what religion, or who your parents would be into which culture would you think you would have a more fair chance.

        It isn’t dangerous pride to question the morality of groups. Although one could probably explore some of the actions of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim peoples over the last few thousand years and find some signs of some dangerous pride at work.

          1. “There’s nothing like having a bias against all of ancient civilization”

            Not at all. Only those which found slavery to be permissible, treated one half of the population as little more than cattle, and got on the odd bit of genocide. I’m sure I have other things I frown upon, perhaps you don’t. But that is really telling about you and I isn’t it.

            Although I admit a bias against institutional inequality based on accident of birth rather than inequality as a result of unequal abilities.

            If that happens to cover all of them then so be it, I didn’t create those cultures.

            “How convenient and so superior we are.”

            Not sure about convenience, sometimes it is probably very inconvenient. For instance, one of the disadvantages is we have to deal with the odd bit of self-delusion in our populations being elevated up as if it is equal to testable methods of evaluating how things work. It also means we have to actually look at ourselves and say what are we doing right, and where do we still fall short. The solution in the past to that problem I believe was genocide and enslavement when possible, uneasy truce when not.

            The latter half of your statement is one of comparisons. Of course part of that is a matter of taste, so lets try and remove our bias, pull down the Veil of ignorance and then delete the symbols you think do not belong. Of course I’m using mathematical symbols, but the meaning should be clear enough.

            Would a culture that embraces the first state of being be less than, equal to, or greater than the second in morality. How ought we to live:
            slavery freedom
            woman as chattel equality
            genocide based on religion tolerance
            priest class as leaders secular governance

            1. the symbols were deleted, so to make sure the terms aren’t mixed up:

              slavery or freedom
              woman as chattel or equality
              genocide based on religion or tolerance
              priest class as leaders or secular governance

              1. In Israel, runaway slaves were given refuge and it was a crime to return a fugitive to his former owner (Deuteronomy 23:15).

                Kidnapping was a capital offense and the slave trade was prohibited (Deuteronomy 24:7).

                Slaves were also protected by the Sabbath laws (Deut. 5:14). Even the slaves had one day off per week.

                Hebrew slaves were given their freedom after six years, if the slave so desired (Deut. 15:12).

                Morever, there is the constant reminder that Israel was a nation of rescued slaves. Therefore, YHWH expected his people to treat slaves with the same compassion that YHWH showed Israel (Deut. 5:15).

            2. Honestly, I don’t see how the two of us are anywhere close to being able to use ‘mathematical symbols’ in order to supposedly come to any sort of agreement.

              For one thing, you’ve already posited false dichotomies by perpetuating the myth that there is such a thing as secular government without the sort of ultimate commitments classical religious governments have maintained. So, I don’t agree that we can have EITHER a priest class OR secular governance. Not all religious governance is found in priest class societies anyway so your comparison here at least is prima facie false. Additionally, the short run of secular governments in Communist China, the Soviet Union, and most of Western Europe during the 20th century certainly demonstrated that they outdid all of the ancient genocide that ever happened anywhere in prior centuries. And, these same enlightened societies in the name of freedom enslaved billions of people. So, the notion that we are somehow more enlightened as moderns is just patently false. Perhaps we ought to consider that the Hebrew Law Code is at least honest about the problems of human society and does not paper it over like so many of the idiotic false assumptions and arrogances of the modern world.

              1. Kevin, Jake did not say that all modern societies are better than all ancient societies. I’m sure he would agree that David’s Israel, Solon’s Athens and Warring States China were all morally superior to the Soviet Union or North Korea. What Jake said was that slaveholding societies (ancient or modern) are morally inferior to societies in which no one is a slave. It is not ethnocentric to say that USA-1865 was morally superior to USA-1860.

                  1. Right, there was some progress. That’s what makes USA-1865 morally superior to USA-1860.

                    (Doesn’t it? What do the words “morally superior” mean to you? Doesn’t progress mean that society is morally improving, becoming morally superior to what it once was? If not, how are you defining these words?)

                    1. I think that’s a rather simplistic way to look at the matter so no I’m not sure I would agree with you. Let me give you a contra example. God sent the Jews into exile as a result of their wickedness and employed Babylon to do so, yet Jeremiah 51 does not appear to me to be a ringing endorsement of progress once the Exile had actually taken place at God’s direction and via Babylon’s hands. Apparently, there is more to these things than meet the eye.

              2. On one thing we agree. We aren’t even close to coming to any type of agreement. And I think I’ve determined why.

                Did I ever say all modern societies are equally moral? Actually I believe I mentioned putting on our veil of ignorance.

                When wearing that veil would you judge all modern societies as equally moral? I wouldn’t. So let’s not pretend you can pick the most egregious and use them as if I said they are all equal. I’ve never made that assertion.

                Secondly, no false dichotomies were presented, your accusation is false. A comparison was being made between two cultures in reaction to your comment
                “How convenient and so superior we are.”

                That comment is only consistent if one is making a comparison between two cultures. To respond with a comparison of my culture to that of the old testament then is not false in any way, shape or form then.

                I did not say the ONLY possible forms of government are rule by priest class or secular government, I asked “How ought we to live” if those are your choices based upon your reflection that I was judging one society as better than another. Interesting that in attacking that judgment you brought different cultures into it rather than debating the merits of the actual claim.

                In comparing the murderous effects of the policies of the USSR, China, and I assume WWII era Germany to the tribes of Isreal if the ancient peoples of Isreal would have had at their disposal the technology and tools of the 20th century, and a population to victimize of equal size as that of those other cultures it seems very likely they could have given them quite a run for their money in blood. That is if one assumes the Old Testament bears at least something like a passing familiarity with an accurate portrayal of reality.

                But the problem I keep coming back to is this, your argument seems to built entirely to assail a target I never presented. Your particular straw man seems to be that at some point I had asserted all modern societies are more enlightened or superior than any that precede it temporally. I’ve not made that assertion.

                So I have to apologize here. I honestly thought you wouldn’t simply be building up straw men. My mistake.

                1. I can only deal with what you’ve written. Certainly you must know that I’m not dealing with straw men on purpose. Perhaps you could be a bit more clear and expansive in what you’re saying sufficient to allow us to dialog further. Doubtless, you’ve given me little to go on so pardon me if I’ve had to color in some detail where you’ve left nothing but what you consider to be mathematical equations with very little in the way of explanation in terms of what you actually specifically mean.

                  As far as proposing that ancient cultures would have taken advantage of the technology available to kill as 20th century “secular” governments, please, let’s avoid hypothetical arguments and deal with the reality of the matter. It’s not fair to a culture thousands of years removed to propose all the ways they might have done wrong when you have no real knowledge of the culture other than what you’ve read or studied in the fish bowl like atmosphere of modernity.

                  Your criticism doesn’t change the fact that so many did die and were enslaved by tyrannical atheistic governments during the 20th century. That injustice shouldn’t be minimized by redirecting the subject to discuss ancient cultures in the abstract.

  13. I read the post By Daniel and this is my first response on his site. For several years now, I’ve been trying to understand more, the Bible and my salvation, always thinking I am eternally condemned by old testament writings and what they say. To me, this response or explanation by Daniel helps to reassure me that I can’t always take what is written literally in the OT. The world was certainly a different place 2000-4000 years ago and civilization certainly much different than ours today. I wonder how the Bible would be written and what it would say if it were written with today’s world and societies in mind.
    Thanks for letting me post.

  14. Lawmakers are compromisers. They make concessions. To deal with the evil in this world, we sometimes need to make baby-steps. Wilberforce started by ending kidnapping but his ultimate goal was ending slavery.

    Even today pro-life activists propose compromise bills to limit the number of abortions. Are they content with the compromises? No, but compromises are a good head-start.

    Deuteronomy deals with laws in a real world. A world with sin and evil. So, the study of OT ethics must not only analyzed the various legal documents of the OT. It must also observe the trajectory of these laws as they run throughout the canon into the NT and into the life of the church.

    1. Agreed. Friedman’s “To Kill and Take Possession” is an excellent book on this subject.

      Of course, such a reading acknowledges that what the text says about itself (that it is God’s law handed down verbatim from the mountaintop through Moses) is not true. These are not timeless moral principals. These are human attempts to codify morality and social behavior. Accepted as such they can be seen for the way they make advances over previous injustices over time – AND we can recognize that they fall far short of what we should regard as Just.

      In other words, all the excuses that point out how Torah is an improvement relative to other ancient practices and societies, undermine those in this thread arguing that we cannot or have not improved on Torah in the 2,500 years following. The inherent progressive nature of Law in scripture itself argues for a better way to live and love than is contained in much of the Bible.

      1. And yet, we find Jesus eternally fulfilling the Law in his person and work. I don’t agree that there is a better way to live and love except in understanding the real intent of the Law as found in Christ. We cannot look at the Old Testament without the New and certainly not vice versa either.

        1. Fufilling the Law while directly contradicting major aspects of it and utterly reinterpreting other portions. A process of re-interpretation that Paul and basically all Christians since have continued. I agree that the best way to live and love is exemplified in Christ, but since neither you nor I is a 1st Century Palestinian lay Rabbi/Carpenter it will require interpretation to imply that way to our own lives.

          1. You might consider that if such is the design of the applicability of God’s Law in our lives that it transcends then both the original and succeeding cultures–making it truly eternal and superior to other Law codes written by the human hand.

      2. “Such a reading acknowledges that what the text says about itself…is not true.”

        No, this reading acknowledges that God is a realist. He works with sinners. He doesn’t work with perfect people. The OT Law never claims to be a set of “timeless moral principals.”

        God’s very election of Israel means that God is committed to working with a particular people at a particular moment in history. A redemptive hermeneutic doesn’t dismiss the authority of Scripture. Rather it observes how God’s authority unfolds throughout the canon.

        1. God is a realist… God did the best she could with what she was given… God is the sovereign creator of the universe and author of salvation. See the logical disjunct there?

          I didn’t “dismiss the authority of scripture”. I dismiss the idea that scripture’s authority comes from a particular flawed understanding of inspiration, which says that God dictated the Bible to a handful of bronze age priests and apostles. Inspiration means that the community of faith has testified (repeatedly) to experiencing the action of the Holy Spirit in our interpretation of scripture (among other things).

          1. The problem with your theory is that the text of Scripture nowhere endorses it. If anything we have to be ready to take the text for what it is, what it claims to be, and not what we think it ought to have been.

          2. You’re going to have to spell out what you mean by “logical disjunct”? (Sorry, I’m a little dense.)

            How are God’s interactions with fallen people incompatible to his sovereignty? Christian theology has traditionally believed that God’s transcendence is perfectly compatible with his immanence.

  15. Wow. This thread has been taken far astray. Daniel’s post in no way implied a conflict of civilizations!!! It is foolish to try to pass summary judgment on entire societies ancient or modern.

    What IS important is the work of ethics. It is not arrogant to attempt to discern what is right in a limited fashion. It is not some kind of massive hubris to look at slavery or laws which treat women as property and note that these things fall short of most people’s understanding of justice. Given that we all accept that certain practices of slavery and treatment of women were indeed legal and common in ancient societies, including Israel, is there actually disagreement that these things were bad? Is anyone here bold enough to suggest that the world would be better off if women were obliged to marry their rapists, or debt-slavery was the method of handling bankruptcy?

    1. It’s not that there is disagreement that such things are bad but rather whether or not such things are actually gone or still present in some form–are we really dealing with them in ways better than the Hebrew Law code. If so, why? When I can point to sex slavery throughout the developed world as just one tragic example in modern times that outdoes any allowance provided by the Hebrew Law Code, it really does little good to talk about how this or that modern supposition is ethically superior.

      Plus, look at how you frame the question … “would be better off if women were obliged to marry their rapists” … that’s not the way the Mosaic Law construes the matter and translating it into 21st century feminist speak does no better at getting to an actual construal of what such a thing was about ethically speaking. At some point, some concession has to be given to the context and life of the ancient culture–at least as much as we’re willing to give our own more modern solutions to these issues.

  16. Concerning the “marry your rapists” thread, this is a misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 23:28. Violent rape was a capital offense (Deut. 22:24). Scrap the NIV here. It is more probable that the text is concerned with consensual premarital sex. The verb which the NIV translates “rape” is much milder. “Handle” or “hold” is better.

    Even our laws differentiate between violent rape and statutory rape.

    1. So Daniel, according to your blog you are married to a “beautiful wife,” Shelley, and have a daughter, Mae, and son, Noah — and live in Eastern Colorado.

      Are you saying that since Deut 21.10-14 (not sure what Deut 23.28 says since it doesn’t exist) isn’t about “violent rape,” it’d be ok if some people from the next town over in Eastern Colorado sacked your town, killed you and Noah, and then some of the men took Shelley (a “beautiful” woman; c.f., Deut 21.11) and Mae as their “wives”? Would this whole situation be ok to you because the people from the next town over explained what they were doing to Shelley when they had sex with her as “not violent rape” but “marriage of a beautiful captive woman”?

      Does that make the whole situation not that bad?

      1. I despise this line of argument. For one thing, we don’t live in ancient Mesopotamia, we have no idea of the horrors of the situation, and our own personal safety and that of our family shouldn’t be questioned in the midst of arguments about theology and the like. This is just an inappropriate line of thought because it does nothing but stir up feelings — nothing is accomplished in making a point for any side of this debate. I don’t expect you or anyone else to automatically agree with me but I do expect better of those who engage in such inappropriate conversation in the name of making theological points. It’s just simply obscene what’s being asked.

        1. But Kevin, that’s precisely the point! If it’s obscene to be asked such a thing, why can it not be claimed that it’s obscene to allow / command it? The question is provocative, to be sure, but it provokes in just the right way: getting us to recognize the implications of what’s in our canon.

          1. No. Daniel. You’re making the mistake that we would automatically equate the situation presented by Stephen with the biblical account. I don’t believe he’s substantiated that and therefore the comparison remains obscene whether the actual biblical record and events described were or not.

          2. I tell you one of the things that does bother me about this conversation is the sort of ahistorical review of the Mosaic Law without input from the very communities that framed it and even continues to work with it over the centuries in places like the Talmud, the Mishnah, and rabbinic Judaism. Why are we so confident we properly understand these laws without reference to these and many other important sources? I’ve not read one comment here which seems to presuppose any sort of familiarity with such a history of interpretation yet we have strong and wild accusations against the legitimacy of the Mosaic Law on the basis of our postmodern postmortem look at what we think is a dead and obsolete law code of long ago. Not even the early Christians took that sort of anti-Semitic approach to biblical interpretation.

        2. It’s obscene to be sure, but not because it was asked or because it involves our own families, but because it involves an obscene injustice. Your point here would be like saying a scene in a movie depicting a rape is obscene because it shows nudity. It misses the point.

            1. I guess this concludes the conversation. I and others have repeatedly asked direct questions, given analogies, and offered argument which you have consistently left unanswered. Maybe it’s the medium. Maybe we’re just not speaking the same language. I wish you well. Doubtless we’ll bump into each other again in other comment threads.

              1. I haven’t left things unanswered, Aric. The plain fact of the matter is that we proceed from different starting points. We’re like the old proverbial two ships passing in the night with no lack of fog in between. You don’t take the time to understand where I’m coming from and I have little interest in allowing you to merely spout your viewpoint unopposed. So, there’s bound to be cross talk ringing about that doesn’t seem entirely productive. But, let’s not pretend that’s the same thing as not giving you the answers you’d like to hear as if you’d be satisfied with what I say in response to anything you outline anyway. For once, I wish you guys would play fair.

                1. Kevin, I’m curious how you would describe the law in Exod 21:20-21 as not being obscene. The allowance for beating a slave to death given the proviso that he not die the same day as the beating looks unspeakably horrible to me.

      2. Daniel is referring to Deut 22:28 (not 23:28) and claiming that what is referred to there is consensual sex. Given the use of the verb elsewhere for seizing people and holding them against their will (1Sam 23:26; 1 Kgs 13:4; 18:40 Jer 37:14; and many others), Daniel is wrong. This means that Deut 22 only makes raping an engaged Israelite woman a capital offense. If she is not engaged, she gets to marry her rapist. Yay for her.

        1. There are two different words used for “seized” in Deuteronomy 22. In v. 25, hazaq is used in the hiphil. In v. 28, taphas is used in the qal. The use of two different terms suggests that the author is distinguishing between the two different crimes. The penalty for the young man who hazaq a woman is much more severe than the young man who taphas a woman.

          The qualifying phrase “and they are discovered” also suggests consensual sex.

          1. Yes, the author is distinguishing between two different crimes: the rape of an engaged woman and the rape of an unmarried woman. As I have already shown with cited examples, tapas does not refer to a consensual act, and I would take it to be more or less synonymous with hazaq. The phrase “and they were found” does not suggests consensual sex at all, but rather addresses the evidence required for the man to be considered guilty and the penalty applied. In other words, her word against his isn’t going to cut it; they have to be caught in the act.

            1. Compare Exodus 22:16-17, the text which Deuteronomy develops.

              “When a man seduced a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride price for her and make her his wife.”

              Sounds consensual in the earlier law. The strong words in Deuteronomy reflect the harsh feelings in ancient Israel toward premarital sex. It was paramount to rape.

              1. Yeah, and the Exod 22:15-16 law actually uses a word that actually means “seduce”: yepatteh. You would have a point if the Deut law used this word, but it doesn’t and so you don’t. The issue is the word tapas in Deut, which does not permit a “consensual” interpretation.

                1. Examine how the two terms are used in sexually-charged situations.

                  2 Samuel 13:14, “But he [Ammon] refused to listen to her [Tamar], and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.” This is hazaq in the hiphil.

                  Genesis 39:12, “She caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.” This is taphas. Here the term describes a sexual seduction. Potipher’s wife comes onto Joseph, but he refuses her advances. In Genesis 39:12, taphas overlaps with the semantic range of yepatteh.

                  So, there are no occurrences in the OT where taphas refers to “rape.” Deuteronomy 22:28 is the only possible occurrence.

                  On the other hand, hazaq refers elsewhere in reference to the violent rape.

                  1. Your semantic analysis of these terms is wrong. tapas with a human as object means to seize against someone’s will. It is an action done forcibly with the hands. Your suggestion that it overlaps with pitteh and means “to seduce” is without basis. In Gen 39 the woman is literally grabbing him such that he has to leave his garment to get away. Tie this notion of grabbing forcibly to having sex with someone and you have what we call rape. Pitteh, on the other hand, is something one does with words, not hands. It involves persuading or fooling them into going along with you, not seizing them against their will. Reading your comments leaves me with the distinct impression that your theology is driving your philology. Such an approach may work for you, but it does not work for me, or, one might add, any of the standard lexica of Classical Hebrew of which I am aware.

                  2. not to beat a dead horse, but according to Tigay, the Jewish halakhah always understood this passage as referring to rape.

      3. The situation described in Deuteronomy 21 involves foreign wars. It’s not about neighboring villages. Nor does this law apply to Israel’s initial conquest of the Promise Land (cf. Deuteronomy 7:1-5). It applies to battles against nations who were not under the ban.

        Of course, in an ideal world there would be no such thing as wars or refugees. In an ideal world, a woman would not have to mourn the loss of her family.

        Do you think that this law was written to benefit the soldier? I don’t think so. If a soldier wants to rape and pillage, he’s going to rape and pillage. He doesn’t need a law to give him permission.

        The law was written for the benefit of the refugee woman. The law affords the woman the full-legal status as a wife. She could not be treated as a concubine or a slave. The law gives the woman an extended time to be in mourning over the loss of her family. The law also protects the woman from rape. A rapist doesn’t wait 30 days for sex. He demands it immediately. V. 11b also assumes that the soldier must treat this woman with love chashaq. This word occurs twice in Deuteronomy to describe YHWH’s feelings for Israel (7:7; 10:15).

        Now you can argue that the law didn’t go far enough, but the law was written to protect the woman’s interest. And since all laws are compromises to deal with ugly situations, sometimes we have to start small and work for further progress.

        Our approach to the text is everything. If we use a hermeneutic of suspicion, we will question the author’s every move. We will read as a “rape manual” or as legal protection for serial rapists.

        However, if we use a hermeneutic of charity, we treat this text for what it is–a law written to protect women in a difficult situations. This law serves as the basis for further laws to protect the helpless from the powerful. It belongs to a trajectory in the canon which demonstrates YHWH’s preferential treatment of the disenfranchised (the widow, the orphan, and the alien).

        1. Daniel,

          Firstly, you just said that the hermeneutic of charity sees the text for what it really is. There is no reason to think that, at all. It is just as likely that rushing to be charitable deludes you as rushing to suspicion. There is value in reading any text with a variety of lenses, but it’s ridiculous to claim that your preferred way of reading the text sees it for what it really is. A charitable interpretation might just as well be incorrect and suspicions might well be justified. Blanket claims like this don’t serve the conversation.

          I agree with you that there is a commendable theme in Torah of concern for the disenfranchised. That does not change the fact that in specific cases (many of them) moved by the spirit behind the law we can do much better than what Torah actually commands. You have maintained that this law concerns consensual relations, but that is a flagrant abuse of consent and a poor understanding of rape.

          Rape is any sexual contact that does not involve the full informed consent of both adult parties.

          Consent requires the following: an informed adult, provided genuine alternatives, and free to choose without coercion.

          This law does not have the consent of the woman in view as frankly most of the Torah does not. If you have murdered a woman’s family in war, taken her captive back to Israel and then “politely” waited 30 days to initiate sexual relations – it is still rape. She cannot give authentic consent in those circumstances. She has no real choice.

          Just as women throughout the Torah have extremely limited choice. Their word is not counted equally in court. They may be accused of adultery by their husband with no witnesses and forced to undergo a horrific ordeal that could kill them. In fact, adultery is a crime that ONLY applies to women and not men because it is understood as sullying the woman’s value as a man’s property.

          For it’s time the Torah does well and we would do well to embrace it’s spirit of protecting the weak and vulnerable. But precisely based on that spirit Justice demands we do much much better than Torah does in protecting the weak and vulnerable. And guess what, we do do better in many ways (not all). A soldier may not take a woman captive on the battlefield back to his home and then marry her by our laws. A soldier caught raping or pillaging is tried for those crimes by our laws. Women have the ability in our culture to give authentic consent because they are not men’s property and not dependent on men for their livelihood. All of these are massive improvements and I can’t fathom how anyone would suggest otherwise.

          Saying “this law was a compromise with good intentions in a horrible situation” doesn’t make it just. That is exactly like moderate apologist for segregation during the Civil Rights movement in our country who said segregation was a compromise – a real improvement over chattel slavery, no doubt, – and it would take time for things to change. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had no patience with them. Justice demanded better.

        2. What Aric said…

          If I may pile on a bit, Daniel, you discuss “the hermeneutic of suspicion” like it’s the boogeyman. Surely in some people’s hands it has been, but the basics of that approach are just the basics of historical methodology. You approach the text asking whose voice and interests it represents and furthers versus whose voices and interests it doesn’t represent, etc. Thus one can situate the text more accurately and plausibly in certain social, historical, and so on contexts. Again, these are basic aspects of historical methodology.

          What you suggest doing, which you give a positive and pious valence as a “hermeneutics of charity,” still serves as a methodology for such kinds of contextualizing of a text, but it closes off your ability to ask questions that would help you situate it accurately since you’re methodologically opposed to even asking them. Point is, your “hermeneutics of charity” isn’t just some way of “respecting” the text, it actually keeps you from potentially handling the text as accurately as possible. Furthermore, it allows you to impose your own ideas of what is a “respectful” and appropriately valorizing approach onto that text, which is a way that you engage in such historical contextualizations as well – but you do so with assumptions and not analysis. You also mask the fact that you too are engaging in such further contextualizations by claiming that you’re just engaged in a “hermeneutics of charity” that somehow gets at what the text really is on its own terms.

  17. Kevin,

    I’m unclear on the point of what you’re saying. You continue to shift attention away from the specific issues in question by making claims about the arrogance of modern Westerners, accusations of marginalizing Jews from the discussion (even invoking the Holocaust), claiming that criticizing the Mosaic law is tantamount to antisemitism, characterizing others here as being “postmodern,” and so on.

    Can you connect the dots for us? How do these grand reframing claims relate to discussing the specifics of Deut 21.10-14 and ways that grappling with that passage could help us rethink our models of biblical authority? I’m not denying the potential relevance of your points, just asking you to be specific in spelling it out.

    Let’s be concrete here. Are you cool with the “ethics” of Deut 21.10-14? I got provocative with Daniel because one easy way to get at that question is to see if you’d affirm the acceptability of other people living out Deut 21.10-14 against him or you?

    As for claiming that we are treating Deut in an “ahistorical” way because we’re not involving various positions by diverse Jewish interpreters, what do you mean? Are you invoking the (incorrect) idea that one can only understand or analyze something accurately if s/he agrees with it or claims to adhere to it? Also, it’s unclear to me that the people responsible for writing the Mishnah and Talmuds are in any relevant way part of “the communities that framed” “the Mosaic Law.” Can you demonstrate some kind of historical and even essential (whatever that would mean, but that seems to be your logic) continuity between the scribes who wrote and edited Deuteronomy (for example) and the Jewish writings you mention that come from 200 CE and later?

  18. Kevin and others,

    Since some people here turned this into a “clash of civilizations” discussion and invoked the common “how can modern Westerners pass judgment on these ancient societies when us moderns are much less ethical, more violent, etc.”…a few thoughts.

    (1) Scholars research questions such as comparing levels of violence and the like. The most recent contribution, Steven Pinker’s 800 page book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declines, actually discusses and tries to explain how, on the whole, the modern world is much less violent than the ancient societies we are discussing here.

    (2) Kevin, especially, tries to point us approvingly to more overtly “religious” governments as somehow better regimes under which there was less injustice and more ethical societies as a whole. I’m curious, what’s the evidence here? This relates to my above point. It’s empirically false that the “modern” world with its non overtly-religious governments are somehow more violent.

    Just for fun, here’s a link to an FAQ webpage Steven Pinker set up to address some of these kinds of questions: tinyurl.com/cjbsztr

    1. Oh. We do so bristle against those who think differently than we do. :)

      To put it mildly, I do question whether a group of people on the Internet or elsewhere can simply sit down 3000 years removed from a brief text or pericope and pretend to accurately read, evaluate, and judge its content and societal implications without taking into account much of what I’ve already outlined.

      I mean, let’s be serious. You and others can’t even agree if the text in question is the result of one author or a hundred. You can’t tell me if it actually served as Hebrew Law code when it was written and delivered. You can’t tell me when the various scribes actually made it law — all you have is the received form and a bunch of higher critical theories about how it may have been produced let alone enforced in ancient Hebrew society. But, you are sure able to tell me how stupid and obscene the text is contra the words undoubtedly prayed by our Lord and every other orthodox Jewish person on the planet in Psalm 119, “Forever, O LORD, your word is settled in the heavens…Oh how I love your law! it is my meditation all the day.”

      I don’t believe the two of us or even a wider group can simply pretend that we’re getting anywhere near the text(s) at hand in the Mosaic Law without sufficient attention paid to things like canonical contexts of differing degrees, the communities that have already commented on these things and found them not just relevant but life-giving, and our present posture as arrogant moderns all too willing to yet further criticize the basis for a civilization that we almost wiped out a hundred years ago. Yes, the Holocaust is most certainly relevant to this discussion.

      As a more classical Protestant, I believe in the perspicuity of the text so don’t get me wrong, but the Reformed never saw clarity in the text due to flat ignorance and the use of presuppositions in evaluating it that tended to minimize or doubt altogether the nature of the Mosaic Law as God-breathed/theopneustos Scripture. But, see, covering these things in a blog comment or two sufficient to answer everyone’s concerns is near to impossible. And, of course, you have yet to outline any of your own presuppositions brought to the text though some are undoubtedly clear just by the nature of your comments.

      As for the relevance of the Talmud, the Mishnah, rabbinic Judaism and other “200 CE” (it would just kill you to say, Anno Domini as if Christ actually did come and was raised from the dead) sources — any community that has or had a living connection to the textual sources at hand most certainly has priority over the sterile assumed pseudo-scientific interpretive process provided to us by the modern Academy. The Law is life to Jews and informed Christians alike and as such their take on the matter is absolutely important even if removed from the context by a thousand or more years.

    2. BTW, having taken a glance at Pinker’s material I would just say the evidence is likely overwhelming that it is the Christian influence over Western Civilization that has among other things tended to provide us with less violence in modern times much like many in China have no problem seeing Christianity as the main source or engine of economic/technological prosperity in Western Civilization compared to other parts of the world. Pinker will obviously disagree but his methodology is flawed and his reliance on incomplete empirical statistical data is likely the lynchpin that would undo his thesis in the main. But, perhaps that is a discussion for another time.

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