Sunday, January 20, 2008

Deuteronomy 22 - 25: In Which Moses Reads the Fine Print

Moses' long farewell speech continues....

In the next four chapters, Moses continues laying down the law. As I talked about last time, it makes a lot of sense that he would be thinking about law at this point, as the Israelites are about to make a huge lifestyle transition without him around to guide them through it. But whereas in the proceeding chapters, he was concerned with the large-scale issues of maintaining an egalitarian society in a new context, at this point he is getting down to the nitty gritty. Deuteronomy 22 through 25 is basically a list of laws, some new, some from the earlier books. I will summarize them for your convenience.

Deut 22

  • If you see somebody's animal or property lying around, don't be a jerk: take it back to them. If you see somebody's animal in trouble, help it out.
OK, that was pretty straightforward. But now, a little social Conservatism for you:
  • 5A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.
And then, something wildly obscure. We are definitely working through a grab-bag, here:
  • If you take chicks from a bird's nest, you can't take the mother bird at the same time.
The reason given for this is a kind of "because I said so" that is repeated several times in Deuteronomy: "so that it may go well with you."
  • Houses should have parapets, so nobody falls off the roof.
Then, what I think of as the autistic laws:
  • Don't plant two kinds of seed in the same field.
  • Don't put and ox and a donkey in a yoke together.
  • Don't weave wool and linen together.
  • Put tassels on the four corners of your cloak.
Next, some laws about sex. One notices that the Israelites do not necessarily consider sexuality a life-affirming celebration of mutual affection:
  • If a guy tries to get rid of his new wife by saying that she wasn't a virgin, but her father can prove she was, he has to pay a hundred shekels and can never divorce her.
  • However, if she really did have premarital sexual intercourse, the town should tie her up and throw rocks at her until she dies.
  • Adultery: Both parties die.
  • If a man has sex with an engaged woman in town, stone both of them to death. He is considered to have raped her, and she didn't shout for help.
  • If it happens in the country, though, only the man gets stoned to death; it's assumed that she shouted for help, but nobody could hear her.
  • If a man rapes a single girl, he has to give her dad 50 shekels and marry her with no chance of divorce.
  • Marrying your father's wife is right out.
Deut 23

Three kinds people may not enter "the assembly of the Lord."
  • Anyone who "has been emasculated by crushing or cutting."


  • Those rotten Ammonites and Moabites.
  • First or Second-generation Edomites or Egyptians.

  • Keep things tidy in a military camp. Dig a latrine.
  • Shelter fugitive slaves
  • No shrine prostitutes in this religion!
  • No charging interest on loans within the community (although you can feel free to stick it to foreigners).
  • If you swear to God, you better follow through.

And then, another great "don't be a jerk" law:

  • If you are in your neighbor's farm, you can pick a few grapes or kernals of grain, but don't start filling a basket or using your sickle. What were you, born in a barn?

Deut 24

  • If a couple is divorced and one of them remarries, they can't remarry each other again.
  • After a man gets married, he is exempt from military service for a year.
  • You can't accept a millstone as collateral, because the miller's livelihood depends on it.
  • Kidnapping and slaving of fellow Israelites is a capital offense.
  • Don't mess around with leprosy. See a doctor!
  • If you make a loan, don't be a jerk about claiming the collateral.
  • Pay your employees' wages promptly.
  • Parents and children can not be punished for each other's crimes.
  • Aliens, widows, and orphans must receive equal protection under the law.
  • Don't be overly thorough when harvesting; leave some produce in your fields for the poor to gather.

Deut 25

  • Guilt or innocence is to be determined by the court, and the court will mete out punishment. No more than forty lashes may ever be given.
  • 4Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.
  • If a man dies, his brother must marry the widow. If he doesn't want to, the town elders will sit down with him for a little counseling session. If he STILL won't marry her, this is what is in store for him:

    9his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off
    one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, "This is what is done to the man
    who will not build up his brother's family line." 10That man's line shall be
    known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.

That will be a fun passage to remember next time you hear someone advocating a return to Biblical standards of morality. As will this one:

  • 11If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.
  • Don't cheat people by using inaccurate weights and measures.
  • And finally, don't forget that the Amalekites are a bunch of rotten bastards, and that God wants you not only to destroy them, but destroy their legacy so that they disappear from human memory!

NEXT UP: Blessings, Curses, Reggae....

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