Religion Prof: The Blog of James F. McGrath
The Blog of Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis
I’m sorry Miss Pollitt, but Moses failed to turn the stone tablets over, whereupon he would have found the remaining commandments so questionably inscribed.
I doubt it. War would have been re-termed “struggle against infidels”, tyranny as “national liberation”, taking over other people’s countries as “expanding the earthly dominion of the Lord”, cruelty to children as “discipline”, slavery as “voluntary serfdom”, wife-beating as “suppression of disorder”, exploitation of workers as “employment”, stoning as “corpse fragmentation”, and “treating women-or anyone-as chattel or inferior beings” as “complementarianism”.
If Israel’s history shows us anything, it’s obvious that more laws are the solution to all our problems.
As I understand it, God’s plan for the Israelites involved them taking over other peoples’ countries by war, stoning, and treating captured women as chattels or slaves. Perhaps he did wisely not to give them the proposed commandments – it would only have confused them.
I think “do justice”,”love kindness”,”do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “As you have done unto the least of these,even so have you done unto me” imply the use of reason and compassion without a lot of lists and specific orders.
Martin Luther’s commentary on the commandments in his Small Catechism interprets the existing 10 to cover everything listed above (with the possible exception of the notion of a justifiable war*). He takes the 10 from a very narrowly focused checklist to a broad paintbrush covering everything in the neighborhood.
In fact most of the points listed fall clearly under, “Thou shalt not kill.” If you can justify any of these not under that commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” should pick up the rest.
*See Thomas Aquinos’s Doctrine of Double Effect
Hmm…I don’t know. We humans seem to be pretty good at rationalizing, so I’m not sure that would have made a difference.
What most people don’t understand is that besides being a guide for a much different time and place, there is a great deal more than meets the eye to the Decalogue. First of all, it’s in theform of a suzerainty treaty, the treaty often accepted by a vassal people, except that, unlike the very detailed prescriptive law codes of the time, the much maligned negative form (You shall not…) was actually very freeing and represented unique freedom: avoid these things and you are able to live freely. The command about stealing was originally probably about stealing a person, capturing, kidnapping, taking or selling someone into slavery. (It could also apply today to stealing a person’s sense of self-worth, as in racism.) “Covet” meant not to envy but to begin making plans to acquire by whatever means necessary.
For those who believe God commanded the Israelites to slaughter whole villages, you should know that the term usually translated inhabitants, Yoshevim, meant “those enthroned,” which is much different and suggests an alternate version of the “conquest” model of Joshua, et.al. entering Palestine. It’s wearying to see fundamentalists and skeptics alike accept the Bible literally or in blatant ignorance of good scholarship.
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” likewise, was an improvement over disproportionate punishments such as death. It was a limitation: only one eye for one eye, one tooth for one tooth. It’s still retributive vengeance, but in that time and place, it was an improvement.
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