Category Archive: Bible – OT – Exodus

September 19, 2018

Divorce in the Pentateuch and ANE

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David Instone-Brewer’s comparison of the biblical laws relating to divorce and other laws in the Ancient Near East (ANE) reveals that “women have greater rights in the Pentateuch than in the ancient Near East generally” (Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, 21).

What rights? Instone-Brewer points to these two in particular:

(1) While other ANE lawcodes did allow women to divorce their husbands in some cases, few allowed a woman whose husband has failed to provide food and clothing to divorce her husband. A Middle Assyrian law does, but only after the wife has been abandoned for five years.

“The Pentateuch was more generous to the woman because it did not prescribe time constraints while it allowed women to divorce their husbands on the same grounds of neglect” (26).

(2) Only in the Pentateuch do we hear about a certificate of divorce being given to the divorced woman. The certificate would likely have said something like “You are allowed to marry any man you wish.”

“It would have been a most valuable document for a woman to possess,” says Instone-Brewer, “because it gave her the right to remarry. Without it she would be under the constant threat of her former husband, who could claim at a later date that she was still married to him and thus charge her with adultery” (29).

After all, “in other ancient Near Eastern cultures, the man could neglect his wife and then reclaim her within five years, even if she had remarried in the meantime” (30; cf. Middle Assyrian law # 36).

It strikes me that the differences Instone-Brewer points out between the laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy and the laws in the rest of the Ancient Near East concerning divorce indicate that the Pentateuch is not making a concession to the culture (e.g., “The ANE generally allowed divorce, and so the Law goes along with that, but it wasn’t ideal and God wanted to tighten it up later”).

No, as a matter of fact the Law goes beyond what ANE culture normally allowed, allowing speedier divorce in the case of neglect and making it clear that a first marriage really was over and the divorced wife was free to remarry.

Put another way, it’s one thing to say “The ANE was ‘loose’ on divorce and so, by way of concession to the culture, the Bible is correspondingly ‘loose’ … for a while.” I don’t buy it, but it makes a certain sort of sense.

But it makes no sense to me at all to say “The ANE was ‘loose’ on divorce and so, by way of concession to the culture, the Bible is even ‘looser.'”

Posted by John Barach @ 9:07 pm | Discuss (0)
July 17, 2018

Rules for Passover (Exodus 12:43-50)

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Umberto Cassuto sees seven distinct commands relating to the Passover in Exodus 12:43-50:

And YHWH said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover:
Every son of a foreigner will not eat it.
And every servant of a man who is acquired with silver,
and you have circumcised him, then he will eat it.
A settler and a hired-hand will not eat it.
In one house it will be eaten; you will not bring forth from the house any of the flesh outside,
and a bone you will not break of it.
The whole congregation of Israel will do it.
And if a sojourner sojourns with you and would make Passover to YHWH, every male of his will be circumcised, and then he will draw near to make it, and he will be as a native of the land.
But every foreskinned-man will not eat it.”

It seems to me that these seven commands are related to one another chiastically:

A Every son of a foreigner will not eat it

B Servant, once circumcised, will eat

C Settler and hired hand will not eat

D Eaten in one house; none taken outside; not a bone broken

C’ Whole congregation will do it

B’ Sojourner, once circumcised, will draw near

A’ Every foreskinned-man will not eat it

The parallel between A and A’ is emphasized by the word “every,” which is found only in these lines. What A’ makes clear that A does not is that the prohibition is on the uncircumcised partaking.

The parallel between B and B’ lies in the fact that, whether it’s a servant or a sojourner, if he’s circumcised he may partake of the Passover.

The parallel between C and C’ may be less clear, but there is a contrast between the (uncircumcised) settler and hired-hand and the (circumcised) whole congregation of Israel, which would include the circumcised servants and the circumcised sojourners.

At the center is D, which may in fact be viewed not as one command (Cassuto) but as two closely parallel commands, bringing the total from seven (Cassuto) to eight: eating the Passover in one house and not taking any of it outside emphasizes the unity of the Passover and hence of the Passover people, but so does not breaking a bone (e.g., to carry some of it somewhere else).

In fact, it might even be possible to see the D and D’ sections as “In one house it will be eaten” and “A bone you will not break of it,” with “You will not bring forth from the house any of the flesh outside” forming an E section (so that there are not seven or eight but nine sections here).

A Every son of a foreigner will not eat it

B Servant, once circumcised, will eat

C Settler and hired hand will not eat

D Eaten in one house

E None taken outside

D’ Not a bone broken

C’ Whole congregation will do it

B’ Sojourner, once circumcised, will draw near

A’ Every foreskinned-man will not eat it

And that middle section (E), it seems to me, relates to what the whole passage is saying about who may partake: Those who partake are the ones inside the house, the house which, on the first Passover night, had blood on the doors and was passed over by YHWH when he struck Egypt. Only the circumcised are in the house; the Passover flockmember may not be taken outside the house, that is, to the uncircumcised.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:29 pm | Discuss (0)
July 16, 2018

Fill in the Blanks

Category: Bible - OT - Exodus :: Link :: Print

Another reason to look at the Bible in the original languages:

In Exodus 21:6; 22:8, and 9, it says that a certain person should be brought before _______ and in Exodus 22:28, it says “You shall not revile _______ nor curse a ruler of your people.”

Now, in several versions (including the KJV and NKJV) the word in the first blank is “the judges” and in the second blank is “God.” In fact, virtually all versions have “God” in the second blank. But in some other versions, the word in the first blank is “God.”

In Hebrew, both blanks have HaElohim, which is either “(The) God” or “the gods.” If it’s the latter, it’s referring to the judges, who are called “gods” elsewhere in Scripture (Ps 58; 82).

I suspect that the latter is correct in connection with both blanks: The person in Ex 21:6; 22:8, 9 is to be brought before the gods (= the judges) for them to pass sentence, and Ex 22:28 is telling us not to revile the gods (= the judges/rulers), which is parallel to cursing “a ruler of your people.”

But if I had just looked at an English translation, the question would never have come up.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:44 pm | Discuss (0)
November 28, 2017

“The Sojourner in Her House” (Exodus 3:21-22)

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In Exodus 3:21-22, we read that each “woman will ask from her neighbor and from the sojourner in her house objects of silver and objects of gold and clothing.”

What in the world does “the sojourner in her house” mean here? It makes it sound as if there were Egyptian women — or at least, non-Israelite women — living in the houses of the Israelite women (?!).

Houtman, who doesn’t have a good answer himself, says that some think this is a reference to a family member who is Egyptian. Some think it’s an Egyptian woman living with an Israelite family. Some think it’s an Egyptian slave of an Israelite family (“Those last people won’t have had much to give,” says Houtman).

None of those answers makes much sense to me. Why would family members or slaves be called “sojourners”? Why would Egyptians or other non-Israelites be living with an Israelite family?

I wonder if it might refer to Egyptians who are now living in the houses once occupied by and owned by the Israelites. Goshen was, after all, the best part of the land. Perhaps some Egyptians moved in and kicked the Israelites out of their own homes. They’re called “sojourners” because the homes they’re living in are not their own. And so these people are singled out in particular because they owe the Israelites something in recompense for their mistreatment of them.

This isn’t a view I’ve found in any commentary, but I haven’t seen any commentary with a clear explanation. Any better suggestions?

Posted by John Barach @ 9:15 pm | Discuss (0)
March 30, 2017

How Long in Egypt?

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Duane Garrett, in his commentary on Exodus, speaks of the new Pharaoh who did not acknowledge Joseph and who oppressed Israel, and says, “There is no indication of how long was the time between the death of Joseph and the ascension of this Pharaoh.”

Well, no indication in Exodus 1:8-10 itself. That’s true. But it’s not hard to ballpark it based on what the rest of Scripture tells us, right?

There were 430 years from Abraham to the Exodus (Gal 3:17), and 215 years from Abraham to the time when Jacob and his offspring went down to Egypt. Joseph was 39 or 40 when that happened, and he lived another 70 years, dying when he was 110. So that’s 285 years into the 430, leaving 145 left to go.

Moses was born 80 years before the Exodus, during the period when this Pharaoh’s oppression had reached the point where he was having all the baby boys killed.

When did this new Pharaoh come on the scene? Sometime between Joseph’s death and Moses’ birth, somewhere between 80 to 145 years before the Exodus.

Given that there had to be some time for Israel to fall from faithfulness and start worshiping other gods and for the Egyptians to apostatize and turn against Israel and no longer honor them as they had while Joseph was alive, it seems more likely that the new Pharaoh came on the scene a generation or so after Joseph died and about 100 years before the Exodus.

Garrett is correct that Scripture does not give an exact indication how long the time was between Joseph’s death and the rise of this Pharaoh. But we can make a pretty good guess and we can definitely pin down the range of possibilities.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:01 pm | Discuss (0)
November 30, 2006

Darkness in Egypt

Category: Bible - OT - Exodus :: Link :: Print

Last night in our Bible study, we were talking about the plagues on Egypt leading up to the Exodus.

The first nine plagues appear to come in three cycles.  In each cycle, the first plague is announced to Pharaoh early in the morning, usually by the water.  The second is also announced to Pharaoh beforehand.  The third happens with no warning at all.

In the first cycle, there’s an emphasis on the Egyptian sorcerers and at the end of that cycle they are admitting their inability: “This is the finger of God.”  The second cycle seems to emphasize the distinction between Egypt and Israel.  The third … well, that’s harder to see at first.

But what jumped out at me last night is that all three of those plagues may have something to do with darkness.  The ninth plague, of course, is darkness.  In the eighth plague, the land is darkened because of all the locusts.  But where’s the darkness in the seventh plague?  It doesn’t show up in English translations.  But it did show up in the margin of my NKJV.

In Exodus 9:32, it says “the wheat and the spelt were not struck, for they are late crops.”  But the word for late, the margin suggested, means “darkened.”  That may be true, given that the root of the word is used for darkness in Isa. 29:18 and Amos 5:20.

And yet … I note that it isn’t the same word used in Exodus 10 for darkness, nor is it obvious to me how the “darkness” (= lateness) of the wheat and spelt would be related to judgment since these were the plants that weren’t destroyed by the hail.  So it just goes to show you that what jumps out at you, even if it is in the NKJV margin, isn’t always really there.

It is interesting, though, that a word related to darkness shows up in connection with these three plagues.  And I suppose that if there was thunder and hail there were likely clouds, which would have brought darkness.  So maybe there’s something there.  But if there is, it isn’t as clear as I thought last night, looking at that marginal note.  Alas.

Any thoughts on the structure of these ten plagues?

Posted by John Barach @ 6:33 pm | Discuss (0)