Friday, July 13, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 017

Leviticus 24:10-22

Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and this Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought each other in the camp. And the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the name of the Lord and cursed; and so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.) Then they put him in custody, that the mind of the Lord might be shown to them.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him.

“Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the ger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.

‘Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for animal.

‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him— fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death. You shall have the same law for the ger and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God.’ ”

What Does It Say?

This passage is one of the most revealing and complex of all that we have come across so far. There are some challenges to interpreting the mindset of the author, so take what I say with a larger grain of salt that usual. I'll try to make my personal interpretation clear and leave room for other opinions.

Let's start with the obvious: no one is exempt from the law, Israelite or ger. Ger are also required to take part in stoning blasphemers to death.

It's also interesting that this law on blasphemy is included in a list of "eye for an eye" punishments. The implication that blasphemy is so terribly wicked that the only equally appropriate punishment is death. Just as the perfectly proportionate punishment for the destruction of an eye is the destruction of the offender's eye, so the the perfectly proportionate punishment for blaspheming the Lord and Creator of Life is the death of the offender.

Let's look at the more debatable stuff about race mixing now.

The passage starts with the explanation of a legal case. The son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man gets into a fight with an Israelite man, and, in the heat of the moment, blasphemes the name of the Lord. It's something we might even find a bit understandable - perhaps he simply lost control of his tongue.

It's not clear where his father is in all this. As the Israelites were recently slaves in Egypt, it's possible the boy is the product of a rape. It's also possible his Egyptian father followed the Israelites out into the wilderness. There is some evidence in Exodus that the people who left Egypt were not purely Israelites. Exodus 12:38 says that "A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock." The words translated as "mixed multitude" are ereb rab.

Ereb is used mostly in the Bible to refer to mixed cloths - think a polyester-cotton blend. However, it is also used  in Nehemiah 13 to refer to Ammonites and Moabites who had been "mixed" into the Israelite population. Specifically, verse 3 says that these mixed-in people had to be removed. So we know it can refer to a ethnically mixed population. Rab is a more general term used to describe an abundance or great number.

There's also some mathmatical evidence for extended race mixing in Egypt that I'm not going to go into detail on. Here's a link to a blog discussing it (I'm not vouching for the blog, just the math in that post).

If this is the case, it definitely informs our understanding of race mixing in the Bible. While there are many passages where interracial marriage is shown in a negative light (the incident with Phineas springs to mind), these instances are always explicitly mixed with concerns of religious mixing. So if we have this example of interracial marriage being perfectly fine when there's no concern of faith mixing, it clarifies the Bible's stance.

There are of course plenty of individual instances of mixed-ethnic marriages in the Bible, including Moses' previously discussed marriage, and several women in Jesus' own family tree. But it would be interesting if it was happening commonly in the background, not just in special exceptions.

In the interest of fairness, we should say that there is no overwhelming evidence in the Bible for large-scale intermarriage. And even if it was normal at the time of the Exodus due to the Israelites living in Egypt, I'm not familiar with any evidence (so far) that it was normal after the Israelites entered the Promised Land. If anything, taboos against intermarriage seem to increase in Cannan due to the hostile and unrepentantly pagan people surrounding Israel, as well as the tendency of the Israelites to fall into idol worship.

Still, the lack of explicit condemnation of intermarriage per se would indicate it was allowed even if not common.

Next: Leviticus 25

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