It turns out my little rant about how “returning property” rules result in awful things when you consider slaves as property was a little premature. I wasn’t expecting verses 15-16 and when I read them I almost started crying. Deuteronomy especially fills you with a lot of values dissonance. I can see where the authors were coming from and I can even see them as “inspired” in improving things beyond the awfulness of society in general, but there’s still so much that’s out of synch with what I think of as right.
Because if a slave runs away, the people who find him or her are not allowed to give him or her back. A person is different from a cow, a donkey, or a coat. If they run away, Deuteronomy seems to assume, they had a good reason for it, and you’re to offer them sanctuary.
Which begs the question: how did all the Bible-thumping slavers in the American south insisting that their “peculiar institution” was Biblical justify fugitive slave laws? The Bible says – literally, plain English, black-and-white – that if a slave escapes, you do not get them back. Unlike the laws limiting the duration of slavery, this isn’t bound by whether someone is your “countryman” or not. Any slave, any time, they run away, they are now free.
There’s a lot in this chapter that’s very positive, but it starts out with more delineation of what’s “out” and what’s “in,” this book’s favorite subject. In this instance, it’s people. Eunuchs or any men with genital injuries? Out. Anyone from an “illicit union” (NRSV, implying incest and/or illegitimacy; the NCT has konketsu, “of mixed parentage,” presumably looking at the next verses)? Out, for at least ten generations. Anyone descended from Ammonites or Moabites? Out, for at least ten generations. Edomites and Egyptians? In, but only after three generations.
What’s amusing about these commands is how much they’re violated throughout the Bible. With eunuchs, it’s not just the early church who seemed to welcome them. Isaiah declares that even eunuchs who follow God’s laws will be welcomes (56.3-4). People descended from illicit unions? Wouldn’t that include everyone in the tribe if Judah, given how Tamar got pregnant? Or how about Abraham marrying his half-sister? Jacob marrying two sisters? Moses’ father marrying his aunt? All of those are forbidden marriages.
This also made me realize how radical the book of Ruth is: King David is only three generations removed from a Moabite, “unfit” to join the assembly, yet anointed by God to be king.
There are other good ideas in this chapter once it’s done barring most of the major characters in the Hebrew Bible from being “real” Israelites. You should dig latrines outside of army camps, for example. Good idea for hygiene, that. People can pick food from their neighbor’s vineyards and fields, but not more than they can eat standing. That could help the poor, and makes you rethink how the Israelites saw “private property.” Not taking interest on your fellow countrymen versus outsider is more of a mixed bag. If taking interest is so bad because of how it can drive people into poverty, shouldn’t it be wrong to do that to anyone?
Overall, though, this was a less infuriating chapter than the last one. I’m also really starting to get how intertextual the Bible is, and I’m really glad I’m reading through all the detailed law bits that most Christians choose to ignore. This is the underlying fabric that everything else in the Bible is relating to.
The Japanese: suso “skirt,” arawasu “to reveal, to display” (v 1), koukan “testicle,” tsubu “to crush,” inkei “penis,” kuwawaru “to join” (v 2), konketsu “mixed-race” (v 3), kangei suru “to welcome” (v 5), han‘ei “prosperity” (v 7), musei “nocturnal emissions” (v 11), nichibotsu “sunset” (v 12), kui “post,” kagamu “to bend down, to crouch,” haisetsubutu “excrement” (v 14), shiitageru “to persecute” (v 17), shoufu “prostitute,” danshou “male prostitute” (v 18), yuujo “harlot,” kasegi “earnings,” izuremo “both, either” (v 19), rishi “interest” (v 20), chuushi suru “to cancel, to call off” (v 23), omou zonbun “to one’s heart’s content” (v 25), tsumu “to gather, to pick” (v 26).
First, this is another occasion where the Japanese is following the Jewish numbering, so all the verses are off by one from the NRSV. The NCT seems to be rather more literal than the NRSV. For example, Deuteronomy 22:30 is “A man shall not marry his father’s wife, thereby violating his father’s rights” in the NRSV. Deuteronomy 23:1 is “A man shall not marry his father’s wife, revealing the skirt of his robe,” which is the actual Hebrew. Likewise, instead of “male prostitute” in verse 18/19, the NCT has the literal Hebrew, “dog.”
Speaking of the “prostitute” verses, the NOAB notes that “temple prostitute” is only a guess of what qedesha means, and what distinguishes it from zonah. The word shoufu versus yuujo in Japanese implies a difference in high-class versus low-class, and the NOAB thinks that may be a possibility as well, with “zonah” being more of an insult word, like “dog” for male prostitute.
Also, note that in both Japanese and English, “prostitute” means female by default and you have to specify that it’s a man. I think that lets you know something about the status of women in both societies…