Surviving the Pentateuch

I’m just about done Deuteronomy. It’s been a brutal read, in more ways than one. Following God’s instructions, Moses makes it clear that if a woman is raped in the city she must be stoned. The rationale is that she can’t have screamed very loudly. And stoned at her father’s door. Disobedient or rebellious sons must be handed over to the men, who will stone them at the gates of the town. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Recently I remember following the story of an Irnanian woman whose husband had thrown acid in her face, burning her horribly and destroying one eye. She was offered the choice. Do this back to him, or allow some other legal action to be taken. She chose to do it. Herself. Extreme Sharia law calls for an adulterous couple to be stoned. So does Moses.


Then Moses, still following God’s command, orders that every human being, man, woman, child, baby, be slaughtered in the cities God has told the Israelites to take. It was the times, we can say. Or we can watch ISIS at work and think ‘”It’s still the times.”


The challenge for me here is not to demonize Moses or the people who had followed him. They weren’t doing anything different than the Assyrians were doing. Or the Taliban.


The challenge is relating to all of this as God’s command, being prepared to accept and integrate the Bible as sacred text. Not much “God so loved the world that He gave His Son,” and not much of the God Incarnate who simply said “Love each other, love God, and the law will take care of itself.”


Did God change? Of did our understanding?


If we’re going to pick and choose among the laws laid down in the Pentateuch, what criterion should be use? The ones we like? The ones that feel humane? If we obey them all we’re going to end up burning promiscuous daughters of clergypeople at the stake and stoning girls who get raped.


I’m really struggling with this, not wanting to throw the baby out with the bath-water. If God did not specifically say to Moses “Burn promiscuous girls. Stone rebellious boys,” then did He say “Thou shalt not kill”?


The Jews of that time were tribal, nomadic, not much on the rights of the individual, vengeful, clannish, a violent culture held in check by violent laws. Cultures with that kind of social structure need the laws they have in order to stay coherent and survive. The Law kept them intact as a society.


The tricky piece here is maybe Moses himself. “God spoke to Moses”, every section begins. And then Noses told everyone what God had said. Moses translated the raw, undifferentiated power of God into social laws. That Moses was an interesting guy. Was he a magician himself? Did he sometimes get confused between his own considerable power, and God’s?




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