Monday, March 23, 2009

EXODUS: Chapter 21

Chapter 21
Summary:The chapter basically outlines more of God's rules:
  • If you buy* a Hebrew slave, he shall serve only six years and be freed in the seventh, and need pay nothing to regain his freedom.
  • If a Hebrew slave sells himself into slavery and marries during his term as a slave, then only he himself will be freed; but if was married before slavery then both himself and his wife will be freed at the same time together. If a master gives a slave a wife, then only the slave will go free, the wife and any children will remain property of the master.
  • If a Hebrew slave wishes to remain with his wife and children that will belong to his master after his freedom, his master is to bring him before the judges, who will publicly bore his ear with an awl - branding him as a slave forever.
  • If a man sells his daughter into slavery:
    • She will not be freed after six years as the men are.
    • If she does not please the man who bought her, then he shall let her be bought back again. However, he has no power to sell her to foreigners since he has wronged her by no longer wanting her after having "married" her.
    • If he arranges an engagement between a Hebrew slave-girl and his son, then he must no longer treat her as a slave, but as a daughter instead.
    • If he himself marries a Hebrew slave-girl and then takes on another wife, he is not allowed to reduce her clothing or food, or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails at any of those three things, she may leave freely without any payment
  • Anyone who hits a man so hard that he dies will be put to death. If the act is accidental, then God will appoint a place where he can run and get protection. However, if a man deliberately attacks another man with the intention of killing him, he is to be dragged - even from a holy altar - to be killed.
  • Anyone who strikes his mother or father will be put to death.
  • Kidnappers must be killed, whether he is caught in possession of his victim or has already sold them into slavery.
  • Anyone who reviles or curses his mother or father shall be put to death.
  • If two men are fighting and one hits the other injuring him enough to confine him to bed - but not killing him - who is able to walk again, the man who hit him will be innocent, except that he must pay for the lost wages and expenses of the man he hit.
  • If a man beats his slave to death, then he will be punished. However if the slave lives for a day or two after the beating, the master will not be punished, as the slave is his property.
  • If men hurt a pregnant woman causing her to miscarriage* (or "give birth prematurely", see footnote) but she lives, then the man who injured her shall be fined whatever amount the woman's husband will demand, as approved by a judge. However, if any harm comes to the woman and she dies, he shall be executed.
  • If one knocks out or injures the eye of another, his eye shall be inured or knocked out as well. Eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth; hand for a hand; foot for a foot; burn for burn; wound for wound; lash for lash.
  • If a man hits his slave in the eye and thereby blinds him, the slave shall go free. If a man knocks out his slave's tooth, he shall let him go free to pay for the tooth.
  • If an ox gores a person to death, then the ox shall be stoned, but not eaten. The owner will not be held responsible unless the ox has been known to gore people in the past and was not kept under control. In that case both the ox and the owner shall be killed. However, the dead man's relatives may accept a fine instead, if they wish, determined by a judge.
  • If an ox gores a slave however, the slave's master will be given thirty pieces of silver and the ox shall be stoned.
  • If a man digs a well and doesn't cover it, and another's ox or donkey falls into it, the owner of the well shall pay full damages to the animal's owner, and the dead animal shall belong to him.
  • If a man's ox mortally injures another man's ox, then the two owners shall sell the live ox and divide the price between them, and each will own half of the dead ox. But if the ox was known to gore others, and its owner had failed to keep it under control, then the owner of the live ox shall pay in full for the dead ox, and the dead ox shall belong to him.
Notes:1.) "Buying" in this sense means that if someone owes you money and defaults on the payment, they will become your slave.
2.) There is obviously strong debate over the translation of this specific word for miscarriage. The Hebrew word used in this verse literally means "comes forth" which some take to mean a premature birth rather than a miscarriage or an abortion, noting that there are other Hebrew words that are used in other verses that describe still-birth miscarriages.
Thoughts:This chapter contains a lot of interesting little gems into the insights of justice and God's view points on the matters of human civilization. God obviously condones slavery, but wants to limit the term that a Hebrew will serve in slavery to six years - foreign slaves probably don't have to be released after the six years of service. If the slave marries either by his own volition or if his slave master gives him a wife, then he can kiss his wife and kids goodbye at the end of his six year term - his family now belongs to his slave master. If he truly wants to keep his family, then he'll have to resign to becoming branded as a slave forever.

However, dads, if you'd like to sell your daughters into slavery, there's no need to worry about them coming back in six years - freedom doesn't apply to women in this case. Strangely here, is the blurred line between slavery and marriage, as we can probably assume that both women and slaves are to be considered property - despite both having slightly different statuses. Furthering this point, it is mentioned is that if a slave master "marries" his slave-girl and then takes on a second wife, then the husband is obliged to treat her as a "full wife" - meaning that he's not to reduce her food and clothing provisions, and that he still has to sleep with her, otherwise she regains her freedom.

Next up we deal with how to deal with a man hitting another, and if he intentionally causes his death, he shall be put to death; however, if it's "an accident" then he's got to hope God comes through on his promise to "hide him", otherwise he'll probably be stoned to death anyways.

Striking, cursing, or reviling your either of your parents is an instant death sentence.

Kidnappers are also on the top of God's list of people who must be executed, regardless of whether their victim has been recovered or not.

Back to slavery, if a man kills his slave outright - that's a stoning. However, if the slave manages to survive the beating for a couple of days and then drop dead, then God sees it as no harm done, as the slave was just "property" anyways. I have a hard time finding any justification for this stance at all. Not only do we realize here that God condones slavery, but that beating a slave is also okay, as long as the slave survives the initial day of the beating. We've seen already that God had no issues with Hagar, our pregnant concubine of Abraham, getting a "well deserved" beating herself in Genesis: Chapter 16.

Pregnancy leads into our next rule which may be one of the most controversial lines in the book of Exodus. The King James Version of the bible translates verse 22 as follows:
22: If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
Many feel that this verse implies that the life of a fetus is not as valuable as the life of the mother, and to this I agree.

However, I also do agree partially with this argument that I found on the website "Stand to Reason" at The argument this site makes starts out very solid explaining that the Hebrew word for "miscarriage" being translated here in Exodus 21:22 literally means "coming forth" or "to come forth", and the same word is used in various chapters (one specifically that relates here and that we have covered already is Genesis Chapter 25 which describes the births of Esau and Jacob) that describe "living" births, as opposed to different Hebrew words being used to describe "stillborn" or "miscarried" births (such as used in verse coming up in Exodus: 23:26, that we'll be covering shortly).

To this end, I can agree with the point being made, however, if we still consider the nature of a premature birth induced by "men fighting", along with the conditions of the bronze age, we can't conclude that we're simply having the men responsible paying for "medical care" or for compensation for "complications" from premature birth. Premature living birth induced by "men fighting" doesn't seem to be the natural or most likely outcome of what is being described here. Chances are greater that the expelling of a child from the womb will be a miscarriage, rather than a premature birth. Even a living premature birth from these conditions would most likely result in a slim survival due to the circumstances and the lack of medical knowledge back in these days. In this regard "miscarriage" probably is the more apt term, and causing a woman to expel her child from her womb by the force of men fighting is far more likely to result in the child's death than survival.

It is certainly debatable the perceptions we can have with the bible not being very specific, and loosely translated, but I find even the notion of a live premature birth probably not having a high rate of survival implies that God tends not to place as high of a value - as with this not being worthy of a stoning - even in the case of a living premature birth. Obviously women, concubines, male slaves, and female slaves all seem to have different worth and values to God's punishments.

Almost immediately we verify that, by stating that knocking out the eyes and teeth of normal free Hebrew men and women carries a different price than if administered to a slave. Knocking out a free man or woman's eye means that you'll lose your own eye, knocking a slave's eye out means only that the slave regains his or her freedom.

The last few verses deal with deaths caused by (and to) animals and the "appropriate" punishments to dole out. An ox who is known to gore, and and gores a human calls for a stoning to both the ox and his owner, however, if the goring was not predictable, only the ox will be stoned. However, if an ox gores a slave, the owner can simply pay a fine of thirty pieces of silver along with the life of his ox - by stoning.

Clearly the bible shows that not all human life is to be considered equal.

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