All Bible translations are in the NRSV unless otherwise noted.
This verse–read literally–would seem to indicate that all mention of idolatrous names are prohibited:
12 Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed. 13 Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. 14 Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. (Exodus 23:13 emphasis mine)
However, there are a few questions to ask:
1 Are there punishments for violations of this commandment?
2 Did this command apply to foreigners?
3 What does this command mean?
Not All Commandments Have Punishments
The Torah is known for having some harsh punishments but a lot of commands have no punishment–specifically you can make the case that only some of the negative commands have punishments and none of the positive commands have punishments. The ones that do appear to have punishments are really just a lack of obtaining the benefit gained from the command.
This Commandment Does Not Apply to Foreigners
It should also come as no surprise that some foreigners are explicitly permitted to break laws without punishments–an example–eating something that dies of itself:
The fat of an animal that died or was torn by wild animals may be put to any other use, but you must not eat it. (Leviticus 7:24)
You shall be people consecrated to me; therefore you shall not eat any meat that is mangled by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs. (Exodus 22:31)
It’s interesting in one verse it is thought to not be fit for human consumption (something that is only thrown to the dogs) but if there are aliens that disagree with that idea they can still partake in it.
You shall not eat anything that dies of itself; you may give it to aliens residing in your towns for them to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. (Deuteronomy 14:21)
I’m not arguing for moral relativism, I think all of God’s commands are good, I just think for practical purposes you couldn’t expect foreigners to follow a lot of the commands when they had not heard of them and it was not the Israelite’s domain of authority to make sure the foreigners obeyed them. Foreigners were given freedom in many regards, however there are some exceptions:
This shall be a statute to you forever: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny yourselves, and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. (Leviticus 16:29)
All persons, citizens or aliens, who eat what dies of itself or what has been torn by wild animals, shall wash their clothes, and bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the evening; then they shall be clean. (Leviticus 17:15)
These laws give strong indication that not all the laws in the Torah apply to, or should be, enforced on aliens–otherwise why would it need to specify that laws applied to both? There is also some leeway with certain types of commands–for instance I think Lev 17:15 indicates that a foreigner can become unclean just like a native but no one is required to be clean–only with regards to interacting with the temple/tabernacle.
There are places where it says “the same law shall be for a foreigner and a native” however if we take this literally it would contradict with the laws about foreigners versus native servants and the laws about lending at interest to foreigners and natives in the land:
35 If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. 36 Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. 37 You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be your God.
39 If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. 40 They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41 Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. 42 For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. 43 You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. 44 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. 45 You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46 You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness. (Leviticus 25:35-46 emphasis mine) 
In addition “the same law shall be for a foreigner and a native” is only said in the context of certain laws:
48 If an alien who resides with you wants to celebrate the passover to the Lord, all his males shall be circumcised; then he may draw near to celebrate it; he shall be regarded as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it; 49 there shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.(Exodus 12:48-49)
21 One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. 22 You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God. 23 Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel; and they took the blasphemer outside the camp, and stoned him to death. The people of Israel did as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Leviticus 24:22)
28 And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the one who commits an error, when it is unintentional, to make atonement for the person, who then shall be forgiven. 29 For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them—you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error. 30 But whoever acts high-handedly, whether a native or an alien, affronts the Lord, and shall be cut off from among the people. (Numbers 15:28-30)
14 An alien who lives with you, or who takes up permanent residence among you, and wishes to offer an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord, shall do as you do. 15 As for the assembly, there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. 16 You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance. (Numbers 15:14-6)
13 But anyone who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet refrains from keeping the passover, shall be cut off from the people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at its appointed time; such a one shall bear the consequences for the sin. 14 Any alien residing among you who wishes to keep the passover to the Lord shall do so according to the statute of the passover and according to its regulation; you shall have one statute for both the resident alien and the native. 15 On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant; and from evening until morning it was over the tabernacle, having the appearance of fire. (Numbers 9:14)
Exodus 23:13 Means to Not Worship Other Gods
First lets agree on one thing, Exodus 23:13 cannot be taken as it is literally read:
Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. (Exodus 23:13)
There are multiple places where the titles of other gods are mentioned in the Torah such as “Baal” Jdg 2:11, Jdg 2:13, Jdg 3:7 etc . . . https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H1168&t=KJV and “Baal” was indeed the name associated with that god because the Biblical writers replaced names that had “baal” in it with “bosheth” to signal a rejection of “baal.” 
So what does this mean?
Do not “invoke” the names
Hebrew is a language more focused on action than english. “To invoke” in English when associated with a god has the idea of “invoking to worship.” “Invoke” is a better translation of the word than the KJV has (“remember”) but even “to invoke” doesn’t give the idea that this word seems to be associated with action almost all the time: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H2142&t=KJV
5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.” 6 The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. (Exodus 34:5-8)
do not let them be “heard“
Even “heard” can mean “heed” or “pay attention” with your actions:
But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their wickedness and make no offerings to other gods. (Jer 44:5)
17 And to the man he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; (Gen 3:17)
and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. (Gen 16:2)
And the angel of the Lord said to her,
“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has givenheed to your affliction. (Gen 16:11)
I would argue that none of this is about words or names but about actions and possibly worship. At most this restriction on speech would prevent you from “invoking” the name of another god in a worshipful way but it wouldn’t prevent you from talking about that god, the worship of that god, or possibly even advocating for such worship. There are other verses that imply that the “name on the lips” and “name being remembered” are indeed idioms for worship:
Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke h2142 the names h8034 of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. h6310 (Exodus 23:13)
For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, h6310 and they shall be mentioned h2142 by name h8034 no more. (Hosea 2:17)
On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names h8034 of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered h2142 no more; and also I will remove from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit. (Zechariah 13:2)
Another reason we can see this active worship interpretation is correct is because of the clear punishment for idolatry elsewhere and the fact that it only prohibits people advocating the worship of other gods “in secret” not openly:
6 If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, “Let us go worship other gods,” whom neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other, 8 you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. 9 But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. 10 Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 11 Then all Israel shall hear and be afraid, and never again do any such wickedness.
12 If you hear it said about one of the towns that the Lord your God is giving you to live in, 13 that scoundrels from among you have gone out and led the inhabitants of the town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods,” whom you have not known, 14 then you shall inquire and make a thorough investigation. If the charge is established that such an abhorrent thing has been done among you, 15 you shall put the inhabitants of that town to the sword, utterly destroying it and everything in it—even putting its livestock to the sword. 16 All of its spoil you shall gather into its public square; then burn the town and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It shall remain a perpetual ruin, never to be rebuilt. 17 Do not let anything devoted to destruction stick to your hand, so that the Lord may turn from his fierce anger and show you compassion, and in his compassion multiply you, as he swore to your ancestors, 18 if you obey the voice of the Lord your God by keeping all his commandments that I am commanding you today, doing what is right in the sight of the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 13:6-18 emphasis mine)
2 If there is found among you, in one of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and transgresses his covenant 3 by going to serve other gods and worshiping them—whether the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden— 4 and if it is reported to you or you hear of it, and you make a thorough inquiry, and the charge is proved true that such an abhorrent thing has occurred in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or that woman who has committed this crime and you shall stone the man or woman to death. 6 On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. 7 The hands of the witnesses shall be the first raised against the person to execute the death penalty, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 17:2-7)
This command does not prohibit speech except possibly the worship of a god by invoking his name. However, advocating for worship or speaking about the god may not have been prohibited. Even if it was this would only apply to natives not foreigners. In addition advocating for worship elsewhere is only prohibited if it is done in secret and not allowed to be evaluated by the community.
1 Are there punishments for violating this commandment? No
2 Did this command apply foreigners? No.
3 What does this command mean? Not to worship other gods and possibly not advocate for such.
 Just to clarify, I don’t think the word translated “advance” interest is talking about something different than regular interest, see the following:
Two Types of Interest?
The Hebrew term for interest, נֶשֶׁךְ (nešekh), appears in all three of the Torah’s legal collections prohibiting interest, and in Leviticus, it is paired with תַרְבִּית (see also Ezek 18:8, 13; Prov 28:8), which also means interest. This seeming redundancy has led many commentators to understand these terms as two different types of interest.
* NJPS translates נֶשֶׁךְ as “advanced interest” (i.e., paid at the time of the loan or earlier) and תַרְבִּית as “accrued interest” (i.e., paid upon the repayment of the loan or after).
* The Mishnah (Bava Metzia 5:1), however, understands נֶשֶׁךְ as an advance agreement that the borrower will pay back more than the amount of the original loan and תַרְבִּית as paying back the loan of one form of produce with another form of produce that has risen in value, that the borrower did not have on hand at the time of the deal.
Although the verse in Leviticus may very well be including more than one form of interest, it is unlikely that the inverse is the case, namely that Exodus and Deuteronomy meant to forbid only one form of interest. Instead, these sources probably meant נֶשֶׁךְ as a catch-all term for interest. In all three sources, the point appears to be that an Israelite should not apply the “bite” of interest to loans given to his poor brethren.
 Ishbosheth, also spelled Isboseth, also called Ishbaal, or Eshbaal, (flourished 11th century BC), in the Old Testament (II Samuel 2:8–4:12), fourth son of King Saul and the last representative of his family to be king over Israel (the northern kingdom, as opposed to the southern kingdom of Judah). His name was originally Ishbaal (Eshbaal; I Chronicles 8:33; 9:39), meaning “man of Baal.” Baal, which could mean “master,” was a title of dignity. Because the name came to be increasingly associated with Canaanite fertility gods, Hebrew editors later substituted bosheth, meaning “shame,” for baal.
What you cannot do to a covenant would necessarily apply to the commandments. The commandments are just the instructions from an amalgamation of covenants. You can also have the same commandments in multiple covenants i.e. the law of pouring out blood for slaughter is in the Gen 9 covenant and the Sinai covenant of Leviticus 17.
27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. . . . 13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 3:1-4:13)
Romans 3:31 says positively that they “establish” https://studybible.info/strongs/G2476 the law (Sinai covenant) this is viewed as being opposed to καταργέω and “establish” is in this tense (note “law” is singular):
Based on Romans 3:31 and Galatians 3:17 it is hard to make the argument that Sinai can be λύω or καταργέω. Galatians 3:17 also says that a covenant cannot be made void G208 so to καταργέω the promise. This I think indicates that G208 has a similar meaning to καταργέω.
Romans 3:31 seems to be talking about properly interpreting the law . . . that is to say, they do not throw down Sinai but they establish it by proper interpretation since an improper interpretation would make it broken down. This idiom of interpretation only works if it is in parallel with the actual state of the law. If the law is broken down or in the process of being broken down Paul’s statements don’t make sense. The fact that it is used in this interpretive idiom can be evidenced by observing the parallels here: https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G208 Matthew 15:6 and Mark 7:13 use G208 as an idiom for properly interpreting or practicing and Galatians 3:17 uses G208 in parallel with καταργέω
Most of the time Paul uses covenants as analogies for soteriologies. See here:
However, I think in Hebrews Paul uses covenants as analogies for the priesthoods and ministries of those covenants. He uses kal-vahomer to argue that the new priesthood is greater than the old just like the new covenant is greater than the old. In fact, the new covenant priesthood is so much greater than the old priesthood that it is as if the old priesthood was “faulty” and “weak” because they could not perfect Israel. However, Paul does not mean this literally since he elsewhere states that the Levitical priesthood was never designed to take away sin:
1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? (Hebrews 10:1-2)
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14)
The first problematic chapter is 7:
11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 Now the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
15 It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, 16 one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of him,
“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
18 There is, on the one hand, the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God. (Hebrews 7:11-18 emphasis mine)
Notice the subject is the priesthood and the fact that the Levitical priesthood could not accomplish what Christ could. There is no indication of a change of rules that humans are supposed to follow rather a transposition of priesthoods. In verse 12 “change” means “transpose” and is used that way in Hebrews 11:5 to speak of Enoch being “transposed” into heaven: https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G3346
This same idea is stated more explicitly here:
23 Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:23-24)
So the law was not changed from one thing to another but rather moved in practice from earth to heaven.
for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
Following this new translation then in verse 18 Paul is speaking only in terms of the transgression of the laws of the Levitical priesthood. Those laws were transgressed either because the priesthood was made of imperfect humans unlike Christ or–more likely–the priesthood’s temple was destroyed and made them unable to carry out the laws. If the later, then this was because Israel was not perfected and God allowed the enemies of Israel to destroy the Temple. Observe the context which is all about the priesthood. If we translate Hebrews 9:26 and Hebrews 7:16-22 with the same meaning that the Greek has in 1 Samuel 24:11 then we end up with the following:
for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age [as an offering for] sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
16 one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of him,“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” 18 There is, on the one hand, the [transgression] of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God. 20 This was confirmed with an oath; for others who became priests took their office without an oath, 21 but this one became a priest with an oath, because of the one who said to him,
“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever’”—
22 accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.(Hebrews 7:16-22 emphasis mine with the translation changed to the Hebrew meaning of “abrogation” in verse 18)
This is one of the quirks of Hebrew where “transgression” can mean “offering for transgression” which makes the “offering” literally become the “transgression” being consumed on the alter.
Finally, we see that the reason the priesthood in verse 18 was weak was because of the ministry of the Levitical priesthood that was not designed to take away sin unlike the new covenant ministry. Paul does not mean this literally though because he is aware that the Levitical priesthood was never designed to take away sin—just to point to Christ and bring the knowledge of sin. Observe the parallels here:
(for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God. (Hebrews 7:19)
1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-3)
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:11)
This understanding will help us with the most problematic chapter 8:
1 Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They offer worship in a sanctuarythat is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one; for Moses, when he was about to erect the tent, was warned, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But Jesus has now obtained a more excellentministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. 7 For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.
8 God finds fault with them when he says:
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord. 10 This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
13 In speaking of “[a] new [covenant],” he has made the first [one] obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:1-13 emphasis mine)
I have put in brackets where the word “covenant” is supplied in the NRSV. In verse 13 most Christians interpret the covenant as a whole as growing old and disappearing. However we must look at this in light of the subject of the previous verses:
6 But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. 7 For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.
8 God finds fault with them when he says:
1. The new covenant is said to be better only to the degree that Jesus is a more excellent minister, this implies that the law/instruction remains the same for humans who aren’t priests.
2. God finds fault with a plural entity: the Levitical priesthood and Israel, not a singular covenant.
4. Verse 7 has parallels implying it is about the priesthood:
For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one (Hebrews 8:7)
Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:11)
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, (Hebrews 10:8-9)
So moving on to verse 13:
In speaking of “[a] new [covenant],” he has made the first [one] obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear [i.e. be destroyed]. (Hebrews 8:13 NRSV with my changes in brackets)
The focus of the “fault” is on the priesthood and the ministry of that covenant which just was not designed to take away sin: it only brought knowledge of that sin and was used to point to the one that makes an offering for sin. However, you could even say that inserting/supplying “covenant” is correct because of Paul’s use of the “law” analogy to refer to the priesthood and ministry (as we see elsewhere e.g. Hebrews 7:17-19). However, “covenant” could even be literally supplied correctly if Paul is using the idea of “covenant” in the broader sense of the rules and administration of those rules under the priesthood. This would be in contrast to 2 Corinthians 3 where he makes a distinction between the ministry and the covenant:
In speaking of “new,” he has made the first obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon be destroyed. (Hebrews 8:13 NRSV with my changes)
So it is entirely consistent with Torah to say literally that the “covenant” will be destroyed in the broader sense that it will become obsolete because the ministry that is part of it will be destroyed and is already in the process of being made obsolete by the Holy Spirit. Once the law is written on the heart by the Holy Spirit and is obeyed the curses incurred by Israel at Sinai become obsolete by their lack of a sinful target. However, Paul is probably just using the idea of “covenant” as an analogy for the priesthood. Either way I think he is using the idea of “covenant” in Jeremiah to explain the destruction of the Temple and the eventual destruction of the priesthood’s ministry. (there is some evidence that the sacrifices continued after the temple was destroyed) What is interesting is that Paul never supplies the word “covenant” why not? We shall see later.
Hebrews implies this destruction elsewhere:
8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing. 9 This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, (Hebrews 9:8-9)
To shore up the fact that Hebrews 8:13 is indeed focusing on the priesthood and not the covenant rules you can observe the parallel in Hebrews 10:9 where it implies God is in the process of “taking up” the old sacrifices to replace it with the new ministration (probably the Holy Spirit). However, notice that when Paul talks about the “sacrifice” of Christ on the cross he uses the past tense perfect “sanctified” in contrast to him progressively “taking up” the priesthood in Hebrews 10:9 or the old covenant ministration progressively becoming obsolete in Hebrews 8:13. This is because the law takes time to be written on Israel’s heart in contrast to the discrete death of Christ on the cross.
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He [takes up] the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:8-10 NRSV with my modification in verse 9)
Why does Paul leave out the word “covenant” in Hebrews 8:13? The entire context is about the priesthood but as an extra percaution Paul I think leaves out the word “covenant” because he doesn’t want you to think that the “covenant” in the more specific sense of God’s rules at Sinai will be done away with. God’s Sinai covenant is fine and its Levitical priesthood acted as the shadow to point to the greater priesthood of Christ. The Levitical priesthood can only be said to be “faulty” in that it did not accomplish what the new covenant priesthood will. Paul is using the covenants as analogies for the priesthoods: in a sense the new priesthood is so great that it is as if the Levitical priesthood was faulty. (kal-vahomer!)
Finally, Paul says it is becoming obsolete. This is at variance with those who insist this is related to the discrete work of Christ on the cross or in his resurrection:
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” (Hebrews 10:12)
Rather, what Christ did on the cross was only the beginning of a process of the ministry of the Holy Spirit writing the law on our hearts which is better than the human priests who cannot actually take away sin:
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:11)
The first covenant only becomes obsolete in the sense of its ministry because of the work of Christ through the holy spirit to write the law on Israel’s heart makes pointing to that work obsolete. However, that process was started by the discrete event of Christ sending going to heaven to send the Holy Spirit:
For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)
” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”
17 he also adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:14-18)
The last problematic chapter is 10:
1 Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He [takes up] the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:1-10 NRSV with my modifications)
In verse 10 I’ve changed the word “abolishes” since it can also mean “take up” like how Pharaoh’s daughter “took [Moses] up” in Acts 7:21 https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/337/start/60 so it could mean that God took up the ministry of the covenant into heaven with a heavenly priesthood or it could mean that the ministry of the earthly priesthood is destroyed in order that the second ministry is established: to explain the destruction of the Temple. I suspect that the Temple was destroyed to take away a distraction from the heavenly priesthood because Israel did not see the end to which it pointed. However, once Israel as a whole sees this, the priesthood will be reestablished to elucidate the heavenly priesthood to other nations since Israel is a priesthood to the world.
Paul well knows that the Levitical priesthood will be reestablished in Ezekiel 44-48. Also Zechariah 14 talks of the festivals being reestablished at Jerusalem (so presumably the priesthood and the Temple is again in action) This is just Paul’s way of reassuring people in a time where it looked like the world had ended for Jews. The Temple was destroyed and the sacrifices ceased (or were soon going to) and people were wondering if they could still carry on. Maybe the Levitical priesthood was destroyed because Israel did not see that it pointed to the heavenly priesthood. Maybe once Israel as a whole sees this, the priesthood will be reestablished to elucidate the heavenly priesthood to other nations. Regardless, it doesn’t matter because God’s plan will carry on for his people. Paul tells them that this could have been completely expected and that it really isn’t a big deal after all since what the Temple pointed to was the true Temple in the heavens. I hope you are also reassured.
I think we see throughout this that the focus is on the priesthood being changed and that the “law” is just used as an analogy for it’s ministry and priesthood. The old covenant could only be said to become obsolete in the sense that the ministry of it (death) is no longer needed to bring awareness of sin with the new covenant perfecting people. Paul leaves no room in the context to say he is speaking of anything but the priesthood and even goes so far as to leave the word “covenant” out when making his analogy–yet people still misunderstand him.
The new covenant is said to be better only to the degree that Jesus is a more excellent minister, this implies that the law/instructions remains the same for humans.
Paul uses covenants as analogies for priesthoods just like he uses covenants as analogies for soteriologies or ministries in his other works.
God finds fault with a plural entity: the priesthood or Israel, not a singular covenant.
Paul knows that the Levitical priesthood was never designed to take away sin. If he calls it “faulty” it is only because of the failings of that priesthood or more likely because it is so inferior to the new priesthood that it is “faulty” by comparison.
Paul is reassuring people. He does this by saying that the Temple could be expected to be destroyed since Christ had just come to inaugurate the new covenant and that when the old priesthood ceases to operate completely we will have an even better priesthood so take heart!
Here I’m not going to attempt to give rules of interpretation for when something in the Bible is or is not ordering genocide. However, I will point out a few problems with concluding that a verse that looks like it is commanding genocide is actually commanding it.
The language in the Bible is often imprecise and different than how we would use it today. For instance, the word for male “zakuwr” (H2138 ) sometimes just means men older than “infants” (see below)
13 and Jehovah thy God hath given it into thy hand, and thou hast smitten every male H2138of it by the mouth of the sword. 14 Only, the women, and the infants, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, thou dost seize for thyself, and thou hast eaten the spoil of thine enemies which Jehovah thy God hath given to thee. 15 So thou dost do to all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations. 16 `Only, of the cities of these peoples which Jehovah thy God is giving to thee [for] an inheritance, thou dost not keep alive any breathing; 17 for thou dost certainly devote the Hittite, and the Amorite, the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite, as Jehovah thy God hath commanded thee, 18 so that they teach you not to do according to all their abominations which they have done to their gods, and ye have sinned against Jehovah your God.
(Deuteronomy 20:13-18 YLT)
“Am” (H5971) for “people” can just mean “men” (seeming to exclude infants and very young children). It is also used in synonymously with “iysh” H376 (men) see below:
Before they lie down, the men H5971 of the city — men of Sodom — have come round about against the house, from young even unto aged, all the people from the extremity;
And Absalom and all the people, H5971 the men H376 of Israel, have come in to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him,
(2 Sa 16:15)
And the people, h5971 the men H376 of Israel, strengthen themselves, and add to set the battle in array in the place where they arranged themselves on the first day.
Here’s another example in war of “all the people coming out” when it is really all the men:
`And we turn, and go up the way to Bashan, and Og king of Bashan cometh out to meet us, he and all his people, H5971 to battle, [to] Edrei. (Deu 3:1)
Also this kind of implies that the “am” (literally “people” but here meaning “men”) were counted separately from the women especially in wartime:
and he bringeth back the whole of the substance, and also Lot his brother and his substance hath he brought back, and also the women and the people. H5971
Here the Amalekites come back later, so H5971 “am” “all the people” must not have been destroyed (king Agag is killed by Samuel later as well) First: Samuel hears a word from the lord that night then, second: Samuel rises early the next day to condemn Saul and kill Agag. This means Agag would have to impregnate a woman during the one day he was captured:
and he catcheth Agag king of Amalek alive, and all the people H5971 he hath devoted by the mouth of the sword;
(1 Sa 15:8)
Joshua uses “am” (h5971) or “people” to talk about the destruction of Ai which is a bit ambigous as to whether everything was destroyed or not:
16 And all the people h5971 that were in Ai were called together to pursue after them: and they pursued after Joshua, and were drawn away from the city. 17 And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel. 18 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Stretch out the spear that is in thy hand toward Ai; for I will give it into thine hand. And Joshua stretched out the spear that he had in his hand toward the city. 19 And the ambush arose quickly out of their place, and they ran as soon as he had stretched out his hand: and they entered into the city, and took it, and hasted and set the city on fire. … 24 And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants h3427 of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. (Joshua 8:16-24)
(it does not mention anything about the women or the children being slain when they go into the city, it is fighting men, or people of fighting age, that are drawn out of the city and are slain) However, it gets a little ambiguous in the next few verses:
24 And it came to pass, when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants h3427 of Ai in the field, in the wilderness wherein they chased them, and when they were all fallen on the edge of the sword, until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned unto Ai, and smote it with the edge of the sword. 25 And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai. 26 For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. 27 Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves, according unto the word of the LORD which he commanded Joshua.
The argument for “yashab” (H3427) “inhabitants” (which is used in Joshua 8:24) being just the men is much weaker, but there is still a possibility, such as here where it seems to separate out women and infants from the “inhabitants.” Also if they separated out women and infants in the command it shows that they did not normally kill women and infants in war which would go contrary to a lot of what is assumed about this bronze age culture in the Bible:
9 And the people numbered themselves, and lo, there is not there a man of the inhabitants H3427 of Jabesh-Gilead. 10 And the company send there twelve thousand men of the sons of valour, and command them, saying, `Go — and ye have smitten the inhabitants H3427 of Jabesh-Gilead by the mouth of the sword, even the women and the infants.
Below you could read it as “smite the inhabitants” but “utterly destroy everything else in the city including the animals” In most translation the pronoun “it” is used instead of “them”, meaning the rest of the verse, could be referring to other things in the city. And in most translation it says “all that is therein” instead of “all who are therein”, meaning it is probably referring to people’s possessions. The word for smite is mostly used to talk about partial destruction, or attacking.
`Thou dost surely smite the inhabitants H3427 of that city by the mouth of the sword; devoting it, and all that [is] in it, even its cattle, by the mouth of the sword;
The answer is nothing directly. However, there are a few things that are quite suggestive.
There are three positions I’ve seen people argue from the Bible: 1. Personhood begins at conception. 2. Personhood begins at some point in the womb. 3. Personhood does not exist in the womb.
I’ve used the term “personhood” because there may be cases where the fetus was not treated as a “person” but was still considered valuable (maybe partially as valuable as a “life”) as we will see. First an overview of some verses:
A. Verses Implying Personhood in The Womb
8 Your hands fashioned and made me; and now you turn and destroy me. 9 Remember that you fashioned me like clay; and will you turn me to dust again? 10 Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? 11 You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. 12 You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. 13 Yet these things you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose. 14 If I sin, you watch me, and do not acquit me of my iniquity. 15 If I am wicked, woe to me! If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head, for I am filled with disgrace and look upon my affliction. 16 Bold as a lion you hunt me; you repeat your exploits against me. 17 You renew your witnesses against me, and increase your vexation toward me; you bring fresh troops against me.
18 “Why did you bring me forth from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me, 19 and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave. 20 Are not the days of my life few? Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort 21 before I go, never to return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness, 22 the land of gloom and chaos, where light is like darkness.”
(Job 10:8-22 NRSV)
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me— 20 those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. 24 See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
(Psalm 139:13-24 NRSV)
Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
(Isaiah 44:2 NRSV)
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth;
(Isaiah 44:24 NRSV)
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
(Luke 1:41 NRSV)
For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
(Luke 1:44 NRSV)
Did not he who made me in the womb make them? And did not one fashion us in the womb?
(Job 31:15 NRSV)
I’ve left out one that I don’t find as convincing. Jeremiah 1:5 seems to say that God knew Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb. This seems to be an argument for life starting before conception.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
You might argue that Jeremiah 1:5 destroys the previous arguments since it implies life before conception which is not possible. However, I think it is used metaphorically and there are less metaphorical indications of personhood beginning in the womb just like the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumped. (indicating he was already aware of the Holy Spirit) These verses overall count against position 3. “Personhood does not exist in the womb”
B. Torah Ignores Fetal Personhood in Punishments of Sexual Immorality
When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.
(Leviticus 21:9 NRSV)
No caveat is added to say “make sure she is not actually pregnant when you kill her.” Tamar’s father is assumed to be a priest since Judah declares this judgment on her and other than this case there is no other place where there is an example of this punishment:
About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore; moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.” And Judah said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” 25 As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.” And she said, “Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” 26 Then Judah acknowledged them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not lie with her again.
(Gen 38:24 NRSV emphasis mine)
The punishment is not executed but the context shows it would have been carried out while she was about three months into her pregnancy. There are other examples of laws that seem to make no provision for when the woman is pregnant:
13 Suppose a man marries a woman, but after going in to her, he dislikes her 14 and makes up charges against her, slandering her by saying, “I married this woman; but when I lay with her, I did not find evidence of her virginity.” 15 The father of the young woman and her mother shall then submit the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 The father of the young woman shall say to the elders: “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man but he dislikes her; 17 now he has made up charges against her, saying, ‘I did not find evidence of your daughter’s virginity.’ But here is the evidence of my daughter’s virginity.” Then they shall spread out the cloth before the elders of the town. 18 The elders of that town shall take the man and punish him; 19 they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver (which they shall give to the young woman’s father) because he has slandered a virgin of Israel. She shall remain his wife; he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
20 If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, 21 then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
(Deuteronomy 22:13-21 NRSV)
1 while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”]]
(John 8:1-12 NRSV)
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
What if God assumed that every time the Israelites carried out an execution it was before an egg would be fertilized? However, it turns out that this is impossible:
Conception may take place as soon as three minutes after sexual intercourse, or it may take up to five days. Implantation occurs five to 10 days after fertilization, which means anywhere from five to 15 days after you had sex.
18 The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19 Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,” 21 —let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—“the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22 now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”
23 Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. 25 The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterward shall make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.
(Numbers 5:18-28 NRSV)
This one has varied interpretations. Some commentators interpret this ritual to induce an abortion and others do not: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1291&article=2888 While it seems more likely to me that she is just made unable to have children, (which was indeed a curse in that culture) if she had a fertilized egg when she did the ritual then she would not be able to carry the pregnancy–hence the fetus would die regardless. If the wife could tell she was pregnant it would be unlikely for the husband (as suspicious as he was) to want to destroy his wife’s child since it could still be his even if she did commit adultery. I would also think this would be looked down upon given what we had discussed in A. but my point is she could still have a fertilized egg.
The issue that might make this inconclusive is that this is a punishment from God and God can abide by different rules, like when God killed David’s son as a result of his sin with Bathsheba right? True, but the timing of this ritual is dependant on man. God could have specified that they were to wait a month or so from the time of the alleged adultery to see if she was pregnant. Maybe God would take care not to kill an already fertilized egg but this would require waiting nine months and there’s nothing in the ritual to indicate to wait this long before you assumed she was innocent.
There is one decent argument I have thought of in response to the things I have put in B. It is that the Torah sometimes skimps on detail and the detail of not hurting a fetus may have been assumed just like I assumed that the husband wouldn’t want his fully pregnant wife to go through this ritual. Here are a few of examples of evidence for this idea:
We can even imagine a scenario where an acceptable practice of stoning was slinging the stones at the criminal. This practice could have been forgotten during a period of exile. Indeed Exodus 19:13 groups archery and stoning together: “No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.”
You can interpret the Torah in many ways without an instruction manual of how to interpret it. Even with the Talmud you can interpret it in different ways. This to me is not a problem and I think this shows that there is some flexibility in interpreting the Torah. However, it is just interesting how the Jewish tradition has insisted that the Torah needed an Oral Torah tradition to help in coming to more conformity:
The law given in Ex. xviii. 2 says that a Hebrew slave acquired by any person shall serve for six years; but it does not state why and how such a slave may be acquired. The law furthermore provides that if such a slave has served for six years, his wife, if he has one, shall go free with him; but it does not state that the wife of the slave accompanies him to his master’s house, nor does it define her relation to the master. The law in Deut. xxiv. 1 et seq. says that if a man dismisses his wife with a bill of divorce (“sefer keritut”), and she marries again but is dismissed with a bill of divorce by her second husband also, the first husband may not remarry her. The fact that a woman may be divorced by such a bill has not, however, been mentioned, nor is it stated how she is divorced by means of the “sefer keritut,” or what this document should contain, although it must have had a certain form and wording, though possibly not that of the later “geṭ.” These examples, to which many more might be added, are held to imply that in addition to and side by side with the written law there were other laws and statutes which served to define and supplement it, and that, assuming these to be known, the written law did not go into details. It appears from the other books of the Old Testament also that certain traditional laws were considered to have been given by God, although they are not mentioned in the Pentateuch. Jeremiah says to the people (Jer. xvii. 21-22): “Bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.” In the Pentateuch, on the other hand, there is only the interdiction against work in general (Ex. xx. 9-11); nor is it stated anywhere in the Torah that no burdens shall be carried on the Sabbath, while Jeremiah says that the bearing of burdens, as well as all other work, was forbidden to the fathers. It is clear, furthermore, from Amos viii. 5, that no business was done on the Sabbath, and in Neh. x. 30-32 this prohibition, like the interdiction against intermarrying with the heathen, is designated as a commandment of God, although only the latter is found in the Pentateuch (Deut. vii. 3), while there is no reference to the former. Since the interdictions against carrying burdens and doing business on the Sabbath were regarded as divine laws, although not mentioned in the Pentateuch, it is inferred that there was also a second code.
Given the evidence in A. that life was thought to start at some point in the womb we may argue that the Torah does not speak of executing women who are pregnant beyond the point life was thought to start. It would also be unusual for a woman far along in her pregnancy to commit adultery and since executions seem to happen immediately after someone is found guilty we don’t have evidence against 2. “Personhood begins at some point in the womb.” However, while we could try other explanations, Judah’s command to kill Tamar is given three months later but this is only one case and cannot be used to make sweeping generalizations. This coupled with the fact that there is no command or example in the Bible to delay an execution based on pregnancy provides evidence against point 1. “Personhood begins at conception.”
C. Argument From Nature
So admittedly this is the naturalistic fallacy: that because something happens in nature it is good. However, if we want to argue that humans are specifically designed by God and not completely the product of random mutation and evolution we would expect the body to avoid killing a person inside it:
Around half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among women who know they are pregnant, about 10% to 25% will have a miscarriage. Most miscarriages occur during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. The rate of miscarriage drops after the baby’s heartbeat is detected.
Hence, maybe a fertilized egg is not a person after all. However, this is one of the weaker arguments in my opinion.
I don’t think this gets us anywhere but maybe it does for other people and I thought it was good to get the reader thinking on this subject.
D. The Infamous Verse About Two Men Fighting
We can use this verse to support almost all three positions depending on the translation. I will point out that since this is just talking about an accidental abortion and not an intentional one this verse is not conclusive either. In addition it is uncertain whether the damages refer to the woman or the child or both:
1. Personhood begins at (close to) conception:
22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-24 ESV)
She wouldn’t know she was pregnant till some time after conception and wouldn’t experience a miscarriage unless the pregnancy progressed further than conception (as we observed, around 50% of fertilized eggs don’t survive and the woman doesn’t notice this)
2. Personhood begins at some point in the womb.
22And if [3should do combat 1two 2men], and should strike a woman [2in 3the womb 1having one], and should come forth her child not completely formed, with a fine he shall be penalized, in so far as [5should put upon him 1the 2husband 3of the 4woman], and he shall give by means of what is fit. 23And if [2completely formed 1it should be], he shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 ABP)
3. Personhood does not exist in the womb.
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-24 NRSV)
The difference between the NRSV and the ESV is just translational (and ill explain that later) but the difference between the LXX and the MT are possibly a little more interesting.
There’s basically five positions in regard to this difference.
1. The LXX is not trying to be consistent with the Hebrew at all. 2. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario of miscarriage 3. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios) 4. The LXX is a paraphrase that only covers the scenarios the Hebrew does 5. The LXX is an accurate literal translation of the Hebrew.
In favor of 1. is Daniel Schiff citing Richard Freund.
1. The LXX is not trying to be consistent with the Hebrew at all.
How did the Septuagint arrive at this widely variant rendering? In each of the three Genesis occurrences of the Hebrew term ason, the Septuuagint employs a form of the Greek noun malakia, generally translated as “affliction,” for ason. Had the Septuagint utilized malakia in Exodus 21:22-25, it would have conveyed a sufficiently similar sense to the original Hebrew that it would have been highly unlikely to have become the cornerstone of a wholly divergent approach to the status of the fetus. But, in Exodus 21:22-25, instead of malakia, the Septuagint twice uses the Greek participle exeikonismenon to translate ason. A scholar of Hellenistic Judaism, Richard Freund, has made the case that the translator of these verses, who either deliberately bypassed or was ignorant of the translation used elsewhere, arrived at this version through a process of homophonic substitution. This technique was not uncommon in both Greek and rabbinic texts. According to this explanation, the translator probably transliterated ason into some form of the Greek word soma, meaning “human life,” and then replaced this Greek transliteration with a synonymous term that offered a more profound theological resonance. This resonance can be readily apprehended through the literal translation of exeikonismenon: “made from the image,” which evokes an immediate connection to the wording of Genesis 1:27, “In the image of God, God created man.” Freund posits that the usage of the verb exeikonizein in the Septuagint and Philo establishes a strong connection to the “made from the image” metaphor. This remarkable textual allusion led Freund to conclude that “[i]t is clear from the LXX use of exeikonizein in Exodus 21:22-23 that the transator had some idea, principle, or presupposition in mind, which made him deliberately violate a literal translation in favor of a more complex formulation.
It is possible, moreover, to conjecture why this “more complex formulation” was preferred by the translator. Using exeikonismenon, the tranlator’s literal rendering of verse 23 would be “If it be made in the image, he shall give life for life.” This implies that one who kills a fetus that is already “made from the image” deserves death. But the translator must have been aware of the fact that one of the Torah’s six references to being “made from the image” explicitly calls for capital punishment of a murderer on the grounds that he had destroyed a being “made from the image”: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in God’s image did God make man.” It is, therefore, reasonable to deduce that the Septuagint translator, through the employment of exeikonismenon, intended to create a link between feticide and homicide by way of the “made from the image” formulation. As a result, “formation” became critical because it was only when the fetus had attained a form that could be considered to be recognizably “in God’s image” that it would be considered sufficiently human that its destruction would become the equivalent of homicide.
The nature of the impact of Hellenistic thought on this section of the Septuagint has been much discussed. The scholar Victor Aptowitzer contends that the Septuagint’s portrayal of the status of the fetus effectively compromised between two schools of Greek philosophy, Plato (the Academy) and the Stoics. While the Stoics saw the fetus as being an integral part of the mother’s womb, the Academy regarded it as an independent living being. Hence the compromise entailed viewing the fetus either as dependent or as independent, contingent upon formation. Others have pointed to the similarities between the Septuagint’s focus on the pivotal role of formation and the Aristotelian thought which held that full human status was conferred at formation, since it was at that juncture that the soul was thought to infuse the body.
But perhaps the most significant Hellenistic idea of all was to be found in the notion that the willful abortion of a formed fetus was to be considered one of the most serious transgressions imaginable, deserving of the death penalty. From a range pagan and Hellenistic sources, Moshe Weinfeld, a prominent thinker in a the field, has demonstrated that the Assyrian attitude of dermined opposition to the woman who self-aborted was generally dominant in the Hellenistic world. Thus, bringing about the loss of a fetus was cited regularly alongside witchcraft, murder adultery, and theft as principle societal crimes. In contrast to the strong stance against feticide, however, the Hellenistic world often legitimated a relaxed attitude of “complete lawlessness” to infanticide, especially for children who were in any way defective.
It’s would be a bit disturbing for people who hold both the Hebrew and Septuagint in high regard if this were true. However, this is not the only idea I can present about what is going on with the LXX’s translation. Also to my knowledge, Freund and Schiff present no direct evidence of Soma being the transliteration or of the LXX writers needing to compromise between Stoicism and Platonism. Even if the Hebrew is covering more scenarios than the LXX i.e. both live birth, miscarriage, and whether or not the woman was harmed, the transliteration would be unnecessary given that the LXX could by clarifying what the Hebrew meant by “no harm” in the case of miscarriage–that the child is not completely formed. (it wouldn’t be considering harm to the woman) This will be discussed in the next section.
2. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario of miscarriage
If the Hebrew is ambiguous and refers to both “live birth” and “miscarriage” the Septuagint could be only trying to translate and clarify one of the scenarios covered–that of miscarriage. These two diverging interests in the course of their writings derive naturally from the different situations of the LXX translators and the writer of the Masoretic text. Chapter 21 of Exodus is near the beginning of the legal code given in the Hebrew Bible (having just started in chapter 19 at Sinai) The original author of the Hebrew text would not have a whole corpus of later law to draw on to explain the cases of live birth and cases of harm to the mother. However, the writer of the LXX already had the whole legal corpus of the Hebrew Torah to draw on. Therefore I speculate that the writer of the LXX didn’t feel the need to cover all the situations but instead chose to clarify one ambiguous one.
To outline an argument for the position that the Hebrew includes multiple scenarios (including live birth and harm to the mother) I will quote William H. C. Propp in his Bible commentary “Exodus 19-40 A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary” which states:
21:22. men fight. In a somewhat confusing and still comprehensible manner, 21:22-25 treats at least three ambiguities raised by the preceding laws (cf. Loewenstamm 1977; 246-57): What happens when a third party is injured in the course of a fight? If the third party is a pregnant woman who miscarries, is the abortion manslaughter? How does one redress non-deadly injuries? Rather than resort to textual dissection, as in most critical treatments, I regard this complexity as an original characteristic of the First Code. Unlike the cuneiform law collections, which delight in listing numerous eventualities, Israelite legal scholars proved their virtuosity by posing a small number of cases possessing broad implications.
Thus the basic question, that of the innocent bystander, is not answered directly. We are not told what happens should a male onlooker suffer such-and-such an injury. Rather, a pregnant woman is posited. From her case, we are presumably meant to extrapolate for all unintended harm (so Mek. nəzîqîn 8). Combatants who hurt a bystander are subject to punishment, depending upon the nature of the injury.
The second issue this law treats is more philosophical: is a fetus a person? Is a pregnant woman comparable to, say, a woman carrying her infant in her arms? Is the death of the fetus manslaughter, so that he who jostled the mother is subject to blood vengeance? Is he entitled to asylum?
The answer to the third question, what is the punishment for nonlethal injuries, is simple: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etc. I will discuss the Torah’s famous lex talionis below.
Although many ancient Near Eastern law codes treat injury to a pregnant woman and her fetus (or even gravid livestock; see Hittite Laws §77, 84), this surely cannot have been a common occurrence. Paul (1970: 71 n. 1) infers that we have a case of literary interdependence among the codes and Finkelstein (1981: 19 n. 11) rather simplistically posits an origin in a single, real case of premature labor and miscarriage. But these suppositions do not answer the question: why among all crimes and accidents likely and unlikely should the codes have borrowed and shared legislation concerning miscarriage? The answer is that, like legal scholars everywhere, ancient legislators were attracted to the unusual and ambiguous (e.g., on Roman law, see Watson 1991: 12).
they stike. Either of the men, not both together (Luzzatto).
a pregnant woman. I assume that the woman is an innocent bystander, not a participant as in Deut 25:11-12. (I find unwarranted Daube’s [1947: 108] inference that she is wife to one of the parties, and that the blow is therefore deliberate.)
her child. My translation follows Sam, LXX, etc. wəlādād ‘her child’ (see TEXTUAL NOTE). MT, however, reads yəlāde(y)hā ‘her children.’ This must be taken as referring either to the potential for multiple pregnancies–“(all) her babies, (however many)”–or else to all the stuff of childbirth: water, blood, child(ren), afterbirth.
comes out. The minority view is that the verb yāṣā(‘) here connotes a successful abeit premature birth (Jackson 1975: 95, 99; Durham 1987: 323). The majority view is that yāṣā(‘) indicates a miscarriage (most recently Houtman 20000: 161. It is true that the ancient Near Eastern parallels (quoted below envision an aborted pregnancy, and it is true that the expression “come out” (yṣ’) is used apropos of abortion or the immediate death of a newborn in Num 12:12; Job 3:11 (Schwienhorst-Schönberger 1990: 94). But, as we shall observe, the cuneiform law codes have a different aim than the First Code. In fact, the Hebrew verb yāṣā(‘) more often refers to live births (e.g., Gen 25:25-26; 38:28-30).
The text seems deliberately ambiguous. Something comes out of the pregnant woman. There are four possible outcomes: healthy mother and child, dead-or-injured mother and healthy child, healthy mother and dead-or-injured child, and dead-or-injured mother and child. The following clauses attempt to address these eventualities.
injury. The disputed noun ‘a̅sôn otherwise appears only in Gen 42:4, 38; 44:29; Sir 31/34:22; 38:18; 41:9. Both the biblical context and the Arabic cognate ’asiya ’be distressed’ suggest the meaning “harm” (e.g., Baentsch 1903: 193). Some claim, however, that the meaning is more specifically “fatality” (e.g. Josephus Ant. 4.8.278). The Rabbis, for example, think that ’a̅sôn here refers to the woman’s death (Mek. nəzîqîn 8). (For more discussion of the history of interpretation, see Isser  and TEXTUAL NOTE.)
Even though the argument that ‘a̅sôn implies a fatality draws support from the ancient Near Eastern codes, which cosider only the death of mother or child, I think this approach is incorrect. As observed above, the First Code is in one important way not comparable to the cuneiform documents. The Hittite Laws contain 200 clauses and the Code of Hammurapi 282. treating all manner of torts. In contrast, the technique in Exodus 21 is to compress multiple legal issues into a small number of complex, paradigmatic cases. In my holistic reading, 21:22-25 is about all injuries caused to third parties, and indeed about all injuries. If the biblical writer wished clearly to describe the death of the woman or her offspring, he would have used the verb mwt ’die.’ On the contrary, he makes it explicit what constitutes ’a̅sôn: death; damage to an eye, a tooth, an arm, a leg; a burn, a wound or a stripe (Schwienhorst-Schönberger 1990: 93). Not all of these can occur during childbirth to either mother or offspring, but, again, the case is intended to have broad application.
It remains unclear whether “injury” applies only to the mother, or to mother and child. By the theory that v 22 describes a miscarriage, ‘a̅sôn can only connote the mother’s death or injury; the baby is already dead. But if, as I think, v22 describes premature labor, then the “injury” would be to either the mother or the infant. If the child is viable and the mother is unharmed, then the man who accidentally justled her owes the women’s husband a modest fine for endangerment and inconvenience (Durham 1987: 323).
3. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios)
If I were to take this position I would have to argue that the Hebrew text really only speaks of miscarriage. More specifically we know that damages to a person are covered elsewhere in the Torah so the Septuagint is focusing on the situation of no harm being done to the mother. This position is made easier by the fact that the singular “child” is the lectio difficilior.
Propp says that the singular form of “child” is the lectio difficilior. This means “more difficult reading” and in textual criticism, this is called “lectio difficilior portior” or “the more difficult reading is stronger.” The theory is that it is more likely the original reading due to the scribes being more likely to change a text to an easier reading than to change it to a harder reading. “Child” in the singular is also the reading of the Samaritan Pentateuch. See Propp:
21:22. And if. Kenn 650 B lacks “And.” men. See TEXTUAL NOTE to 21:18
her child comes out. Reading a singular verb and subject with Sam, LXX, Tg. Neofiti I and probably Vg: wyṣ’ wldh, vs. MT wyṣ’w yldyh ‘and her children come out.’ The alternation between wyṣ’ w- (Sam) and wyṣ’w y- (MT) may reflect the similarity of waw and yodh in Roman-period script (Cross 1961a; Qimron 1971). The plural subject of MT is hard to understand–unless it refers, not just to children, but to all that comes forth during parturition. More likely, however, yldyh has simply been copied from 21:4. The noun wālād used by Sam et al. is paralleled only in Gen 11:30 and 2 Sam 6:23 (Kethibh in many MSS), making it lectio difficilior. Syr appears to conflate the aforesaid variants: wnpqwn ‘wlh ‘and her fetus (sing.) come out (pl.).’
pg. 121, “Exodus 19-40 A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary”
However, how do we get the following to be what is translated by the LXX? (see also LXX below)
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.
(Exodus 21:22 NRSV)
22And if [3should do combat 1two 2men], and should strike a woman [2in 3the womb 1having one], and should come forth her child not completely formed, with a fine he shall be penalized, in so far as [5should put upon him 1the 2husband 3of the 4woman], and he shall give by means of what is fit.
(Exodus 21:22 ABP)
The following lex talionis must in the Hebrew apply to both the woman and fetus and apply to the fetus on a sliding scale. Therefore, apply to stages of fetal development like in LXX:
23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 NRSV)
23And if [2completely formed 1it should be], he shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
(Exodus 21:22-25 ABP)
Assuming that this law doesn’t cover a delayed miscarriage, there is also some medical evidence that a live birth in this situation would have been unheard of in the ancient setting.
First, it is important to note that injury to the fetus in utero may be direct or indirect. Direct injury is rare, mainly occurring late in pregnancy when the head is deep in the pelvis and major trauma causes fetal skull fracture. A recent review of the obstetric literaturerevealed only 19 such reported cases. The outcome was almost uni-versally fetal demise, except when cesarean section was performed.There is no report of that particular surgical procedure having beenperformed in the ancient Near East.
Indirect injury to the fetus occurs when there is disruption of the oxygen supply coming through the umbilical cord. Rarely trauma may result in uterine rupture with grave consequences for mother and infant without immediate surgical intervention. Such event occurs in less than one percent of trauma. More commonly, in six percent of blunt trauma during pregnancy there is an overt disruption of the normal connection between the placenta and the uterus. Fetal mortality in such cases, given the best obstetric and neonatal care available in the United States, is 34 percent. Another reference cites 30to 68 percent fetal mortality. Without intravenous methods of fluid therapy for the mother and surgical intervention, it is obvious that the fetal outcome in the vast majority of these cases would be death. Timms states that “following uterine rupture or significant placental separation, rapid exploration [surgically] and fetal delivery provide the only chance for fetal survival.”
Less severe abdominal trauma may result in smaller disruptions of the placenta from the uterus, and less catastrophic outcomes. It is unknown how often an occult (self-limiting) placental separation takes place in these situations, but it may be the cause of common complaints such as “increased uterine activity” or slight cramping. Most of these cases progress to a normal outcome. In an excellent study of trauma in pregnancy Crosby suggests that if fetal oxygenation is impaired, labor or fetal death will occur within 48 hours.
Premature labor is a serious problem after trauma and is aggressively treated in appropriate cases these days with medication to stop uterine contractions. The lungs of the developing infant are not ready for life outside the womb until 33 to 34 weeks gestation (out of 40 weeks in a “full-term” pregnancy). In a nonhospital setting, themortality rate of these infants is very high.
There are only a few instances, in a nontechnological era, in which blunt trauma serious enough to cause abortion of the fetus would result in a viable birth. If medical data has anything to sayabout Exodus 21:22, it indicates that the overwhelming probabilityfor such a situation is an outcome of trauma-induced abortion withfetal demise.
4. The LXX is a paraphrase that only covers the scenarios the Hebrew does
This position is similar to the last one but here “harm” (ason) must only be applied to the fetus and the woman must be unharmed even in the Hebrew. ‘a̅sôn would have to be interpreted as only referring to a “death” (as Propp mentioned that some take this position based on the context of the word and of other law codes covering just the death of the fetus). The following paper assumes a contradiction between no harm (ason) and a miscarriage but this can be resolved by saying the fetus may only be described as having “died” when it was “fully formed” as it the Septuagint explains. The idea that the LXX covers all the scenarios the Hebrew does is made difficult because there isn’t direct evidence that “harm” only applies to the mother.
B. Is the Harm to the Woman or the Fetus? The RSV renders the word אָסֹ֑ון in v 23 as kill and attributes it solely to the mother. Other translations render it as “mischief”, “serious injury” or “harm”.1 That אָסֹ֑ון means some form of harm is well attested. אָסֹ֑ון occurs only three other times in the Hebrew Bible.
3 Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him.
38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”
27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’”
In each case it refers to Jacob’s fear that Benjamin will be harmed as his brother Joseph was. In the narrative, the harm that befell Joseph (or at least that Jacob thought had befallen him) was being killed by a wild animal. Moreover, its use later in the narrative is associated with the fear that he will be executed in prison.
The question is whether in this context it refers to harm to the mother. Some translations render the passage as “no further harm”. However, nothing in the Hebrew grammar demands this. In the Hebrew it is unspecified who the harm applies to and several arguments have been proposed suggesting that the harm is harm to the fetus and not the woman.
Westbrook argues that the word אָסֹ֑ון means “a disaster for which no one can be held responsible”. He then suggests אָסֹ֑ון is predicated of the child. Verse 22 deals with a case where one can assign responsibility and v 23 a case where one cannot. This interpretation has the added advantage of explaining the change from the third person “he shall pay” in v 22 to the first person “you shall pay” in v 23. In the first case the person responsible pays. In the second case, where the perpetrator is unknown, the whole community does.
The problem with this argument is that Westbrook’s claim that אָסֹ֑ון means “a disaster for which no one can be held responsible” is not well attested by the evidence. Moreover, as noted by Sprinkle several uses of אָסֹ֑וןin both the Hebrew Bible and in later Hebrew Apocrypha suggest the contrary. For example, the fear that Benjamin would be killed in Genesis does not have this feature. His brothers agreed to take responsibility and his execution by Egyptian officials is not an event in which one is unsure of who is responsible. In addition, Jacob believed a wild animal caused Joseph’s death so it is doubtful that אָסֹ֑ון carries the nuance that Westbrook suggests.
A second line of argument claims that the nuances of the word אָסֹ֑ון fit more naturally with the death of a fetus than the death of the mother. Kline argues,
A calamitous loss involving serious injury or even death is denoted by ason. In the only other Biblical context where ason is found it describes the grievous calamity that Jacob fears will befall Benjamin on the Journey to Egypt. (Gen 42:4, 38; 44:29). The choice of this unusual word in Ex 21:22 (problematic if the reference were to injury or death of the woman, for which the more common terminology would be expected) is readily explained if ason refers to the less everyday circumstance of the calamitous loss of offspring by violently induced miscarriage.
Similarly, Jackson argues,
[W]hy should an unusual word like aswn be used in Exod. xxi 23 to refer to death, when the ordinary verb mwt would appear to have served equally well? Fatal injuries are a common enough topic in the Misphatim, but on every other occasion the normal verb is used. There must be some reason why it is not used in Exod. xxi 22, 23. Part of the reason is that the word aswn, as is evident from the Jacob- Benjamin narrative, stresses the effect on the happening on some person other than the direct victim. Perhaps the best translation is “calamity”…
Later on in the same work he adds,
Had it [aswn] referred to the woman, it would be impossible to understand why the normal word for death was not used. But where a foetus is concerned, any hesitation to use the normal terminology of death is quite reasonable…We have seen that elsewhere it emphasizes the effect of the death or serious injury upon someone other than the victim himself.
Neither of these arguments is compelling. Jackson appeals to Gen 42:4, 38 and 44:29 where Jacob stresses that harm to Benjamin will cause him to die of grief and infers from this that אָסֹ֑ון means a harm that affects someone other than the direct victim but this does not follow. The fact that I note that the death of someone close to me will devastate me does not mean that the effect on a third person is written in to the meaning of the term ‘death’.
Moreover, both Kline’s and Jackson’s arguments suffer from the fact that the word אָסֹ֑ון is so rare in the Hebrew Bible that the samples they appeal to are too few to be decisive. The fact that the few references that occur have a special nuance is insufficient to ground an inference that this nuance is part of the meaning.
There is a more serious problem in attributing the harm as applicable to the fetus. The translation only makes sense if the passage refers to a premature birth and not a miscarriage. If the passage refers to a miscarriage then a miscarriage has occurred but the fetus did not die. This renders the text self-contradictory. I argued earlier that this text does refer to a miscarriage and that the premature-birth interpretation was subject to serious criticisms. In light of this, the argument ceases to be tenable. Once it is established that the text refers to a miscarriage the question of whom the mischief refers to is easily solved. If the blow has killed the fetus, it cannot be the fetus that is not killed in v 23. Further, if already dead, the fetus cannot be said to have undergone further harm.
Another way to make this position is if the difference in punishment between verse 22 and 23 deals with a level of intent. “The Janus Face of Prenatal Diagnostics: A European Study Bridging Ethics, Psychoanalysis, and Medicine” says:
(When translating Exodus 21:22, the Septuagint, i.e., the early Greek translation of the Old Testament introduces a distinction between a “formed” and an “imperfectly formed” foetus, not present in the Hebrew original (Childress & Macquarrie, 1986). This difference has been interpreted as indicating a difference in the evaluation of the life of a foetus and a living human being (Ferngren, 1987). However, such an interpretation is not the only possible one. The different judgements can be explained by reference to the different kinds of act. The first act is a non-intended accident, while the second is a deliberate killing.
The Gemara asks: Granted, according to the Rabbis, who say that if one intended to kill this individual and he killed that individual he is liable, there is support for their opinion from that which is written: “If men struggle and they hurt a pregnant woman so that her child departs from her, and there is no tragedy, he shall be punished, as the husband of the woman shall impose upon him, and he shall give as the judges determine” (Exodus 21:22). It can be inferred form the verse that if there is a tragedy, i.e., if the woman dies, there is no payment of restitution. And Rabbi Elazar says: It is with regard to a quarrel that involves the intent of each to cause the death of the other that the verse is speaking, as it is written: “But if there shall be a tragedy then you shall give a life for a life” (Exodus 21:23). This is proof that in a case where one intended to kill one individual and he killed a pregnant woman instead, he is liable to be executed, which is why he does not pay restitution.
I find it interesting that this view on the Hebrew and on the LXX can be unified (to some extent) with the idea of intent by speculating that it makes sense for the two men fighting to be held responsible for the fetus if the woman appeared pregnant. If she did not then it wouldn’t make sense to say that they were aware of this and hold them responsible for any negligence that they might be accused of in regards to the fetus itself.
5. The LXX is an accurate literal translation of the Hebrew.
This position is outlined below by Thomas F. McDaniel:
When Nina Collins (1993: 290) concluded with reference to Exod 21:22 “Yet the verse as a whole fails to make sense” she was referring to the Hebrew Masoretic text of this verse and its many variant translation, not to the Hebrew Vorlage behind the Greek translation in the Septuagint (250 B.C. to 132 B.C.), a translation which makes perfect sense.
. . .
In addition to the well recognized אָסוֹן which was related to the (asaya) “he grieved, mourned,” there was, as noted above, also the word אסון which was related to the (sawaya) “he made it equal, he became full-grown in body” and “of regular build and growth.” This אסון is a perfect match for the Septuagint’s έξεικονισμένον, “to make like, to be perfectly fully formed.” Thus the אסון in the Vorlage of the Septuagint could have been read as אֶסְוֹן (eswon) or אֶסְוָן (eswan) from the stem סוה — with (a) a prosthetic א, (b) an affixed ן, and (c) the ו of the אסון being a consonant rather than a vowel letter. Contra the MT plural וְיָצְאוּ יְלָדֶיהָ “and her children come out,” the Septuagint has the singular καί έξέλθη τό παιδίον αύτῆϛ, “and her child came out,” which is in agreement with the Samaritan Pentateuch which has the singular ויצא ולדה. Once the singular ויצא ולדה “and her child came out” is in focus it becomes obvious that the subject of the masculine singular verb יהיה in the phrase ולא יהיה אסון (v. 22) and ואם אסון יהיה (v. 23) is the singular ולדה “her child,” permitting the following translation of these phrases: “. . . her child come out but HE is not fully formed, . . . but if HE is fully formed.” The masculine “child” is obviously gender inclusive like the אדם “man” in Gen 1:27 and 5:2.
Simply by substituting the antecedent noun child for the pronoun HE the Septuagint text in 21:22–23 stipulated: “And if two men strive and smite a woman with child, and her CHILD BE NOT FULLY FORMED, he shall be forced to pay a penalty as the woman’s husband may lay upon him, he TRANSLATION OF EXODUS 21:22–23 7 shall pay what seems fitting. But if the CHILD BE FULLY FORMED, he shall give life for life.” This law was so perfectly clear that Sprinkle (1993:247) well noted:
The penalty paid is assessed on the basis of the stage of the development of the dead fetus. The rationale for this view is that the later the stage of pregnancy, the more time has been lost to the woman, the greater the grief for the loss of a child, and the more difficult. This may have been the view of the LXX, which paraphrases וְלֹא יהְיֶה אָסוֹן as “imperfectly formed child” and translates בִּפְלִלִים “with valuation.” Furthermore, Speiser’s view gains credibility in that penalties for miscarriage actually do vary with the age of the dead fetus in the parallel ancient Hittite Law §17, which states, “If anyone causes a free woman to miscarry—if (it is) the 10th month, he shall give ten shekels of silver, if (it is) the 5th month, he shall give five shekels of silver and pledge his state as security.”
A fetus aborted in an accidental miscarriage which is not fully formed—nor equal to an infant born prematurely—was to be treated as property. 19 However, if the aborted fetus was fully formed—and equal to an infant born prematurely—it was to be treated as a person. A property which is accidentally destroyed called for a fine to be paid by the destroyer. But the lex talionis became applicable when a person—including a fully developed fetus—was accidentally injured or killed. Accordingly, in Mosaic law a woman’s fertilized egg or an imperfectly formed fetus was not considered to be a vp,n, a person. 20 Only a fetus that was אֶסְוָן / אֶסְוֹן (eswon / eswan) “fully formed” was recognized as a נפֶשׁ, a person.
While I find Propp’s analysis interesting for point “2. The LXX is only trying to be partially consistent by clarifying part of the Hebrew” and McDaniel’s argument tempting for perfect harmony between the LXX and the Hebrew I have to disagree. Propp does not delve into the language used in the parallel legal codes he cites which also use generic terms for “go out” in reference to a miscarriage. I also tend to bias ancient consensus interpretations of a text against the later non-consensus of scholars which would make me more inclined to follow “3. The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios).” Russell Fuller deals with the premature birth interpretation in his article “EXODUS 21:22-23: THE MISCARRIAGE INTERPRETATION AND THE PERSONHOOD OF THE FETUS”
For the past thirty years most evangelicals have argued that Exod 21:22 does not refer to a miscarriage but to a premature birth. These evangelicals have offered the following points as evidence: (1) Biblical Hebrew has a technical word for “miscarriage” (sakol). If the author had intended to write about a miscarriage, he would have most likely used this word. Since, however, the author chose yasa, a word usually found with normal births, he probably envisioned a premature birth induced by the assault. Jack Cottrell affirms: “There is absolutely no linguistic justification for translating v. 22 to refer to a miscarriage.” (2) Biblical Hebrew has a technical word for “miscarried fetus” (nepel). Since the author chose yeled, he probably had live children—or at least the possibility of live children—in view.
Again, this suggests a premature birth. (3) Hebrew Däsön (“harm, damage”) is indefinite, and therefore should apply equally to both mother and fetus. Again, had the author intended to limit this word he could have inserted läh to clarify that the harm referred only to the mother and not to the fetus. (4) Although recognizing analogues between ancient Near Eastern literature and the Bible, adherents of the premature-birth view suggest that in Exod 21:22 the ancient Near Eastern legal tradition adds little or nothing to the understanding of the passage.
The first three points are actually one argument: the technical language argument. If Exod 21:22 refers to a miscarriage, why does the author employ such general language? Why not use more precise, technical terms? An author of course chooses a given word over another for his own reasons, leaving the interpreter only to speculate about the author’s decision. In Exod 21:22 the author chose yasa, a general term, meaning “to go/come out.” It specified normal births (Job 1:21; Jer 1:5) and a miscarriage (or perhaps a stillbirth, Num 12:12). There are, however, no passages in the HB where yäsäD clearly refers to a premature birth. Interestingly, the laws of Hammurapi and the Middle Assyrian laws described the miscarriage in general terms (nadû, “to cast down”; saläDu, “to cast, to drop”).
Hebrew säköl (like its cognates in Arabic, Ugaritic, Aramaic and Syriac), on the other hand, means “to bereave the loss of a child.” Although säköl is used in the context of miscarriages (or stillbirths, or perhaps even infant deaths) the word does not mean “to miscarry” or “miscarriage.” In Exod 21:22 the assailant is guilty of inducing the children (fetuses) to come out of the womb (a miscarriage, I believe), not of causing a mother “to bereave the loss of her child.” Why Moses chose yeled instead of nepel is more difficult to determine. Perhaps he desired a more euphemistic term, and he may have chosen yeled, at least indirectly, to indicate the personhood of the fetus. Similarly the laws of Hammurapi and the Middle Assyrian laws employed a euphemistic circumlocution, sa libbisa, “that of her womb,” instead of the technical words for fetus (izbu, kübu) or nid hbbi, a miscarried fetus. Why Moses did not further define Däsön by adding läh or lähem (läm) is uncertain. Perhaps he simply did not deem it necessary.
Although the “technical language argument” may, at first glance, seem to support the premature-birth view, upon further reflection the general language of Exod 21:22 actually favors the miscarriage interpretation. In fact the language is so general that there must have been a broader, cultural context to prevent doubt as to the law’s intent. The ancient Near Eastern analogues all supply that broader context. Indeed, in all Biblical and ancient Near Eastern legal literature and in almost all the general literature there are no references to premature births. It simply was not directly addressed. Therefore if Moses were introducing a new, unique law, previously unknown (at least from the sources we now possess) to the general society and culture, concerning a premature birth, he would have avoided ambiguity and misunderstanding by using precise language, especially if similar laws from the broader society, such as laws concerning miscarriage, might confuse the issue. Moses, on the contrary, by using general language in Exod 21:22, most likely intended his readers to understand this law according to the broader context of society. therefore he considered it unnecessary to insert läh after Däsön (or to write nepel instead of yeled) since that society and culture understood to whom the ason applied. Moreover the ancient Near Eastern law codes also employed general, nontechnical language. Thus the general language of Exod 21:22 actually supports the miscarriage interpretation rather than the premature-birth interpretation.
The interpretational history of Exod 21:22 also favors the miscarriage view. The miscarriage interpretation, despite its general language that could have misled later interpreters, held unanimous consent from the LXX to Martin Luther—some 1800 years. John Calvin was the first to suggest the premature birth view. He was later followed by the nineteenth-century German scholars such as Keil, Geiger and Dillmann. Yet none of these scholars had the complete picture. The ancient Near Eastern evidence was still underground. We cannot of course say whether this evidence would have changed their position. Nevertheless, they probably would have reexamined their opinions. Since the 1970s, the decade of the Roe v. Wade decision, the premature birth view has captured most of evangelicalism. But notwithstanding the recent ascendancy of the premature birth interpretation, at least among evangelicals, the miscarriage interpretation has the most impressive interpretational history and the securest exegetical foundation.
To me the LXX is merely trying to clarify part of the situations described: unharmed mother and miscarriage. Additional evidence for the LXX being consistent with the Hebrew might come from Josephus who knew both Hebrew and Greek and seems to have no problem following the Hebrew:
33. (277) If men strive together, and there be no instrument of iron, let him that is smitten be avenged immediately, by inflicting the same punishment on him that smote him: but if when he is carried home he lie sick many days, and then die, let him that smote him escape punishment; but if he that is smitten escape death, and yet be at great expense for his cure, the smiter shall pay for all that has been expended during the time of his sickness, and for all that he has paid the physician. (278) He that kicks a woman with child, so that the woman miscarry, let him pay a fine in money, as the judges shall determine, as having diminished the multitude by the destruction of what was in her womb; and let money also be given the woman’s husband by him that kicked her; but if she die of the stroke, let him also be put to death, the law judging it equitable that life should go for life.
(Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged (p. 122). Peabody: Hendrickson.)
Assertions range from the statement of Tachauer that Josephus employed only a Hebrew text to that of Schalit that Josephus used only the Greek Bible. The overwhelming majority of scholars, however, have taken an intermediate position, suggesting that Josephus used both, in addition to, perhaps, an Aramaic targum.
However, this is also not certain since it also argued that the LXX wasn’t available to him at the time he wrote this summary of the law and he–like any other author–can be unreliable:
The general result of the study can be outlined briefly at the outset: as he stated himself( AJ 1:5 f., CAp 1:54) he did translate from much-used library books in Hebrew containing many learned corrections and glosses; this source will be termed H. The first library in which the scrolls were written, stored, corrected and used until the 70 war is most probably the Temple archive; the text-type is quite close to the Hebrew source of the Septuagint (hereafter) but, strangely enough, this supposedly well known Greek translation of the Pentateuch was not available to him, at least not before the last stages of his work, though he knew and quoted the Letter of Aristeas, which expounds at length the story of this translation and gives it all due authority.
In many cases Josephus’ paraphrase is at odds with all the biblical witnesses we know, though he stresses his faithfulness to his sources (AJ 1:17): he adds speeches or omits whole chapters; he reshapes his material, not only by formal changes, but also by adducing many exegetical traditions, no less than laws and customs, which cannot have been extracted directly from the biblical letter. Moreover, the archetype of all the extant mss of the Antiquities is most probably two or three centuries later than the original scrolls, written by Josephus and/or his assistents. It has many alterations, either mistakes or learned corrections; the latter are more misleading, since they give way to granting Josephus pieces of information he never uttered. Of course, it is impossible to deal properly with Josephus’ Bible before an identification of all these alterations.
If a man intentionally struck a pregnant woman for the purpose of killing the fetus, the punishment would be most severe—probably death. Therefore to claim that the fetus is not a person and that the Bible permits abortion simply on the grounds of an unintentional but negligent assault on the mother and fetus in Exod 21:22 is reckless if not disingenuous.
Scholars have considered Josephus’ comments on Exod 21 22 and on abortion an ìnterpretational crux. On the one hand, Josephus held to the traditional Jewish interpretation in Ant4.278. “He that kicks a pregnant woman, so that the woman miscarry, let him be fined by the judges as for having destroyed in the womb (and) having diminished the multitude, and let money be given to the husband of the woman for it (ι.e. the fetus).” On the other hand, in Ap.2.202 he holds that intentional abortion is murder. “The law commands (us) to rear all (of our offspring), and forbids to abort the fetus, neither to destroy (it after birth), but she will appear to be a child killer (teknoktonos) if she destroyed a soul and diminished the race.” V Aptowitzer claims that these two statements are a “gross contradiction” and that “in the first case a law is reproduced, hence the language of the lawgiver, in the second case a moral valuation is involved, hence the language of the moralist.” “Observations on the Criminal Law of the Jews,” JQR.15 (1924) 87 η 117 This explanation, however, will not do Josephus clearly appeals to the law and indicts the one who commits an intentional abortion as a “child killer.” (Josephus used the cognate word teknoktonia to describe Herod when he murdered his sons Ant 16.392, J W 1 543 ) Perhaps he considered the Exodus case as an unintentional assault, although his loose paraphrase of Exod 21.22 does not directly indicate this since he considers intentional abortion as murder. If so, Josephus’ views are not contradictory. Indeed they parallel some of the ancient Near Eastern laws Josephus’ statement in Ap.2.202 curiously resembles Did 2.2 and Barn 19.5 “You shall not kill a child by abortion, neither will you kill (the child) after it is born ” Could these statements reflect a common axiom of both Jew and Christian concerning abortion in the late first and early second centuries?
For Exod 21:23, a question immediately arises. Is this not an accidental injury? It is, but evidently not one exempted by 21:13. In other words, we are to interpret 21:13 in the manner of Num 35:22-23; Deut 19:5: “acts of God” are true accidents like workplace injuries, not the unintended consequences of animosity. The same might be inferred from Exod 21:18: two men fight and one kills the other without previous intent. If the stricken party recovers, his assailant is cleared. The tacit assumption is that, if he does not recover, his adversary is a murderer, even in the absence of premeditation. In other words, what we reckon as manslaughter, the Bible considers murder. If people wish to brawl, they may, but they risk incurring capital charges if either participant or bystander dies.
Exodus 21:23 mandates execution should the pregnant woman die. But execution of whom, the male combatant or his wife? Strict talion in a patriarchal society would require the latter (Houtman 20000: 165). Hammurapi §§116, 210, 230 and Middle Assyrian Laws §55 offer examples of a man’s wife or children being mharmed for his offenses against another’s wife or children. Still, we cannot be certain.
On Propp’s last statements, it seems the Bible did not practice this type of retributive talion, it rather only punished the person responsible. It is uncertain if Josephus’ statements are indeed contradictory but maybe we could posit four levels of intentionality to reconcile them: 1. fully intentional, 2. negligent (partially intentional), 3 unintentional but directly following from your actions (go a city of refuge), 4. completely unintentional. (no need to go to a city of refuge) Maybe this verse then falls into covering “2. negligent (partially intentional)” they were fighting with the intent to hurt and ended up hurting someone nearby. Propp seems to not include item 2. or 4. as a possible category. The idea that these verses are addressing negligence (2.) is backed up by the context afterward. Contrary to Propp there is no evidence that Exod 21:18 would necessarily result in capital punishment if one man died. It could also be a case of negligence since the verse about a slave being monetarily compensated for his damages appears right after and negligence seemed to punished with equal retribution or equivalent monetary compensation that was laid on the perpetrator by a representative of the victim. An example of this idea occurs in the following context with an ox that is and is not known to gore where there seems to be 2. and 4. levels of intentionality covered i.e. 4. you are either killed or have to pay monetary compensation because of negligence when your ox is known to gore (no going to city of refuge), 2. there is no need to go to a city of refuge when your ox gores someone because the ox’s action is not your action:
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
26 When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. 27 If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth. 28 When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. 29 If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. 30 If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. 31 If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule. 32 If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall pay to the slaveowner thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
(Ex 21:22-32 NRSV)
As can be seen from this and the context, negligence is repaid either with literal lex talionis retribution or with monetary compensation depending on what is laid on the perpetrator. However, another idea must be considered the term “life for life” or other such phrases in a lex talionis cannot be taken literally at all:
1. Is the Death of the Woman a Capital Offence?
One influential interpretation argues that this phrase merely expresses a legal formula which is expounded in proverbial form. The principle is that whatever punishment is imposed (and in this immediate case the punishment is a fine) must be proportionate to the harm inflicted on the victim. Sarna notes “[r]abbinic tradition understood the biblical formulation to mean monetary payment and not physical retaliation” and he defends this interpretation. Drazin notes that the Halacah in b. B.K 84a and Sanhedrin 79a and Mekach understand the phrase to refer to a principle of commensurate compensation. Plaut states that “few passages in the Torah have been so thoroughly misunderstood” and suggests the text is best understood as requiring “the value of an eye for the loss of an eye”, “the value of a limb for its loss and so on”. Rachels, Harrison, et al. do not engage with this tradition of exegesis. They appear merely to assume a literalistic reading without argument.
There are, I think, good reasons for accepting the traditional, rabbinic exegesis on this point. Here I will provide six. While none of them may be decisive in themselves, jointly, I believe, they provide a strong case for reading v 23 in the traditional fashion.
The first reason is how phraseology such as that found in v 23 functions in such a genre as Exodus is written in. As noted above, this section of the book of Exodus in terms of its structure, literary form and language parallels the structure and language of Ancient Near Eastern (A.N.E.) legal texts. Interestingly enough, the legal formulas such as ‘an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth’ are not uncommon in such codes. In Old Babylonian law the hand that assaults is severed, a man who kisses another’s wife has his lips cut off, a person who steals bees is to be stung by bees. A person who had thrown his victim into an oven was to be thrown into an oven. A man who raped another’s wife would be sentenced to having his own wife or daughter raped. A negligent builder whose house collapsed and killed another’s son would be sentenced to having his own son killed. In act, the Code of Hammurabi states that if a man knocks out the eye of one of the upper classes, his eye must be knocked out.
Westbrook notes that such laws “reflect the scribal compilers’ concern for perfect symmetry and delicious irony rather than the pragmatic experience of the law courts”. The method used in legal texts was “to set out principles by the use of often extreme examples”. He goes on to note “[s]ome law codes impose physical punishments and others payments for the same offenses, while some codes have a mixture of the two. There is not necessarily a contradiction.” He explains that “in highlighting one or the other alternative, the codes are making a statement as to their view of the gravity of the offence”. Westbrook argues that serious wrongs “gave rise to a dual right in the victim or his family, namely to take revenge on the culprit, or to make composition with the culprit and accept payment in lieu of revenge”. He goes on to note, “[t]his right was a legal right, determined and regulated by the court”. The courts could “fix the level of composition payment” making “revenge a contingent right, which was only revived if the culprit failed to pay”. When talionic legal formulae occur in A.N.E. legal texts they merely express that the punishment be proportional to the crime. This could involve punishment in kind (which would be proportional to the crime) but in most cases it would probably involve monetary compensation. The phraseology is compatible with either.
J Finkelstein makes a similar point reflecting on what appears to be very harsh capital (and sometimes vicarious) sentences in the code of Hammurabi and the absurdity and impossibility of putting them into practice. He states that Mesopotamian penalty prescriptions,
[W]ere not meant to be complied with literally even when they were first drawn up, [But rather they] serve an admonitory function. If one would be bold enough to restate Hammurabi’s 230 as a direct admonition it might run to this effect: “woe to the contractor who undertakes construction and in his greed cuts corners”.
There is evidence then to suggest that when talionic formulae occur in A.N.E. legal texts they do not necessarily function as commandments to inflict literal mutilation in kind. They rather function as a kind of hyperbolic, ironical way of denouncing the crime and expressing a principle of proportionality.
The second reason for understanding the lex talionis in this fashion follows on from the first. A careful reading of the Hebrew Bible suggests that something like what Westbrook and Finkelstein argue is true of the Torah. Verses 29-32 deal with a case where an ox gores another person to death due to negligence on the part of the owner. This is a case of negligent homicide as opposed to premeditated killing; the penalty rendered is that the negligent person shall be put to death. However, immediately proceeding this, provision is made for a monetary fine to be paid instead of execution. This suggests that the command to execute was not considered incompatible with payment of monetary compensation proportional to the offence. The phrase “he shall be put to death” is not always to be taken literally.
This brings into question the very distinction of the lex talionis from the fine in verse 22, is one necessarily more serious than the other?
I would argue that the ox is a different situation because of the level of intent. In addition, I would argue that “life for life” is often used literally, although lesser punishments like “eye for eye” are not based on the servant who goes free based on any significant damage. Yet the servant who is killed is not covered by monetary compensation see misconception 8: https://hebrewroots.intentionalcommunities.world/2020/04/09/a-list-of-torah-misconceptions-in-short/ Also the death of someone “life for life” is demanded based on man being made in the image of God:
Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. (Gen 9:6 NRSV)
life for life. This NOTE and the following treat the Old Testament’s notorious lex talionis or “law of ritribution” (Exod 21:23-25; Lev 24:17-22; cf. Deut 19:19). In this context, “life for life” almost certainly prescribes a capital punishment (Luzzatto). (Hypothetically, nepes tahat nepes could also indicate giving the aggrieved part a child or a wife to replace the deceased–cf. Gen 4:25–but such recompense would be impossible with eyes, teeth etc., and so probably is not intended here, especially since no recipient is specified.)
The principle “life for life” appears also in nonjudicial contexts. Jehu admonishes his guard, 2Kgs 10:24, “The man who escapes from among the men I am about to bring upon your hands–his life for his life (napso tahat napso),” apparently meaning that anyone who lets a Baal-worshipper escape will forfeit his own life. And in 1 Kgs 20:39, a prisoner is entrusted to a soldier with the words, “Your life for his life (napseka tahat napso); or you must weigh out a talent of silver.”
. . .
Exodus 21:23 mandates execution should the pregnant woman die . . .
What if the pregnant woman merely miscarries? If fetal death counts under “injury,” then someone must die. But who? It must be either the assailant (cf. Middle Assyrian Laws A §50) or perhaps his youngest child, in the true spirit of talion. (One might argue that Deu 24:16 “Fathers shall not be put to death on account of sons; and sons, they shall not be put to death on account of fathers,” attacks this very practice, but, more likely, the subject is vicarious punishment; e.g., if a murderer fled abroad, his son was executed in his stead.)
“Life for life” raises one other question: the term nepes technically refers to both human and animal life. Obviously, one cannot compound a murder or manslaughter just by killing a sheep. But if I kill your sheep, is my punishment to kill one of my own? Or do I owe you a sheep? Lev 24:17-18, 21 explicity addresses these issues:
And a man, should he strike (dead) any human’s life (nepes), must be put to death, death. And should one strike (dead) an animals’s life, he must repay it, life for life (nepes tahat nepes). . . . And whoever strikes (dead) a beast must repay it, but whoever strikes a human must be put to death.
I think you see by now that the interpretation of the text is uncertain enough that we may not be able to make any definite conclusions about it with regard to the ethical nature of abortion. You may also notice that none of these ideas help us get to where exactly conception begins. Philo does have some commentary on it:
(135) Thus the souls which are already pregnant are naturally likely to bring forth children, rather than those which are now receiving the seed. But as the eyes of the body do oftentimes see obscurely, and often on the other hand see clearly, so in the same manner does the eye of the soul, at times, receive the particular impressions conveyed to it by things in a most confused and indistinct manner, and at other times it beholds them with the greatest purity and clearness; (136) therefore an indistinct and not clearly manifested conception resembles an embryo which has not yet received any distinct character or similitude within the womb: but that which is clear and distinctly visible, is like one which is completely formed, and which is already fashioned in an artistic manner as to both its inward and its outward parts, and which has already received its suitable character. (137) And with respect to these matters the following law has been enacted with great beauty and propriety: “If while two men are fighting one should strike a woman who is great with child, and her child should come from her before it is completely formed, he shall be muleted in a fine, according to what the husband of the woman shall impose on him, and he shall pay the fine deservedly. But if the child be fully formed, he shall pay life for life.”
For it was not the same thing, to destroy a perfect and an imperfect work of the mind, nor is what is only likened by a figure similar to what is really comprehended, nor is what is only hoped for similar to what really exists. (138) On this account, in one case, an uncertain penalty is affixed to an uncertain action; in another, a definite punishment is enacted by law against an act which is perfected, but which is perfected not with respect to virtue, but with reference to what is done in an irreproachable manner, according to some act. For it is not she who has just received the seed, but she who has been for some time pregnant, who brings forth this offspring, professing boasting rather than modesty. For it is impossible that she who has been pregnant some time should miscarry, since it is fitting that the plant should be conducted to perfection by him who sowed it; but it is not strange if some mishap should befall the woman who was pregnant, since she was afflicted with a disease beyond the art of the physician. (Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 316). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.)
(108) But if any one has a contest with a woman who is pregnant, and strike her a blow on her belly, and she miscarry, if the child which was conceived within her is still unfashioned and unformed, he shall be punished by a fine, both for the assault which he committed and also because he has prevented nature, who was fashioning and preparing that most excellent of all creatures, a human being, from bringing him into existence. But if the child which was conceived had assumed a distinct shape in all its parts, having received all its proper connective and distinctive qualities, he shall die; (109) for such a creature as that is a man, whom he has slain while still in the workshop of nature, who had not thought it as yet a proper time to produce him to the light, but had kept him like a statue lying in a sculptor’s workshop, requiring nothing more than to be released and sent out into the world. (Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 605). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.)
This should be interpreted in light of this information (note Flannigan follows a non-literal lex talionis interpretation unlike me in the case of death)
The LXX’s teaching about an assault upon a woman does not contradict the MT’s teaching on this question. While the LXX does not mention harm to the mother in this passage, causing harm to the mother falls readily under the other laws dealing with assault where an assailant is required to compensate his victim for damages suffered. Hence, its teaching on this question is essentially the same as the MT’s even if the presentation of it differs.
Nor does the teaching of the LXX regarding feticide contradict the teaching of the MT. The MT states that if a person kills a fetus he or she must pay a fine based upon an assessment. While the mode of assessment is not specified, evidence suggests that there existed a practice that based it upon the age of the fetus. The LXX does not contradict this. It states that if a person kills a fetus he or she must pay an assessment and it bases the assessment upon the age of the fetus.
The difference between the two is that the LXX specifies exactly how this assessment is to be carried out. It claims that when the conceptus is formed the payment must be a payment for homicide. The Hebrew is silent as to how the assessment is to be carried out so it does not deny that this is the correct way to carry out the assessment. Hence, the LXX is entirely compatible with the Hebrew here. As Scott notes, “This Greek interpretation of the passage reveals how the law had come to be applied over centuries of use, at least in the Alexandrian, Jewish community”.
The distinction made between a formed and unformed conceptus strengthens this conclusion. The distinction appears to be drawn from Greek natural philosophy. Kapparis notes, “Formation was a crucial concept in connection with the human identity of the unborn in Hippocratic medicine”. He adds,
In the understanding of many, [Hippocratic doctors] the acquisition of human identity was not something that happened at birth but well before that, when the foetus was sufficiently formed to be considered a human being.
Kapparis draws attention to numerous examples of the formed/unformed distinction in numerous, ancient, embryological writings. Galen for example noted that two contemporary studies, The Commentaries on the Demonstration and On the views of Hippocrates and Plato, defended the view “[t]hat what is in the womb is already a living being when it is formed in all its members”. Similarly, the Hippocratic study On the Nature of the Child, affirms that a conceptus “becomes a child” when it attains form. A similar view appears to be expressed by Socrates in Platonic dialogues.
The formed/unformed distinction appears in numerous other works. Soranus mentions the distinction and suggests that abortions should be performed only when the conceptus is unformed.
Interestingly, authors who mentioned the formed/unformed distinction tended to place its occurrence at roughly the same time, though they differed on the precise details. Diogenes Laertius informs us of the Pythagorean view.
This first creation [the conceptus] is formed in forty days, and then, in accordance with the law of harmony, the baby is perfected and born after seven, or nine, or maximum ten months.
Empedocles similarly argued that formation started on the 39th day and was completed on the 49th. Asclepiades noted the formed/unformed distinction and suggested that for males formation occurred between the 26th and 50th days and females were formed around 60 days. The tract, On the Nature of the Child, states a male fetus is formed
after 30 days and female fetuses were formed on the 42nd day. The author of On Seven Months Child, states a male conceptus is formed at 40 days while a female is formed after this.
Perhaps the most influential of Greek biologists was Aristotle. Aristotle developed the Hippocratic views with more sophistication. He argued that the soul was the life principle of the body. A conceptus began with a vegetative soul and then gradually acquired a sensitive soul. It became fully human when it achieved form, which occurred 40 days after conception for a boy or 90 for a girl. Aristotle’s views were based on empirical investigations. Other biologists from the period also based their views on empirical observation either from miscarriages and abortions that had occurred in humans or on analogy with the embryological development with animals.
There appeared then to be an established distinction in ancient Greek embryology between a formed and unformed fetus. The similarity between the Hippocratic/Aristotelian position and the LXX can hardly be a coincidence. It appears Alexandrian Jews utilised the biological information of their day, concluded that a formed conceptus was a human being and hence applied the law accordingly. In many ways this is unsurprising because even with Palestinian Rabbinical Judaism, Aristotelian embryology was often appealed to by Jewish scholars. Several examples bear this out.
The first comes from Nid. 3:2-7. Here the question arises about how the cleanliness laws recorded in Leviticus 12 apply to a woman who has miscarried. The law prescribes that a woman who has given birth to a child is unclean for forty days if the child born is a boy and eighty days if it is a girl. The question raised is when does miscarrying a fetus constitute giving birth to a child?
The answer given is that a miscarriage qualifies as the birth of a child if the conceptus has the form of a human being. It is stated that this happens on the forty-first day after conception. The justification provided for this ruling is precisely the kind of empirical studies that Greek biologists had appealed to.
A second example occurs in Ker. 1:3-5. The law requires that after a woman has undergone her post-birth period of uncleanness she is required to make a sacrifice. The question is asked, does this apply if she miscarries a fetus? The answer is the same as in the previous case, after forty-one days the conceptus has form. At this stage, a miscarriage is considered the birth of a child.
The third example comes from Bek. 8:1. Here the issue is the application of Exodus 13:12 where it states that a woman must redeem her first-born son with an offering. The question arises as to whether a child born to a woman who had miscarried previously is considered the first-born son. The answer is yes but only if the miscarried conceptus had not been formed which occurs at forty-one days after conception.
Four things then are evident. Firstly, in translating the LXX Alexandrian scholars aimed at “a gloss or commentary rather than a literal rendering of the Hebrew text”. They were “attempting to embody — in a widely accessible form — then-current applications of the Scriptures”. Secondly, it was common practice even in Rabbinical Judaism to utilise Greek natural philosophy in applying the Torah to various issues. Thirdly, the dominant, Greek, natural philosophy placed an important stress upon form in determining the human status of a conceptus. Fourthly, the LXX appears to utilise this distinction in applying the Torah to the question of feticide.
The best explanation appears to be that Alexandrian Jews utilised Greek embryology in an effort to apply the Torah to the question of feticide. The law told them that if a person killed a fetus they had to be punished based on an assessment of the maturity of the fetus. The science of the day taught them that a conceptus was human when it attained human form around 40 days post-conception. Hence, they concluded that if a person killed a formed conceptus this was homicide.
Consequently, the LXX is perhaps best seen as simply complementing the MT and offering an interpretation as to how to apply the law that it prescribes. The scribes behind the LXX did not so much attempt accurate translation of the text but rather faithful interpretation of it to explain its requirements to others. The Hebrew text taught that if a man killed a fetus one was to base the punishment upon an assessment based upon its level of development. This is precisely what the Alexandrian Jews did. Utilising the empirical information of the day they made such an assessment and concluded that early in the pregnancy it constituted homicide. In order to determine if their conclusion were mistaken or correct, the time of hominisation must be assessed. It is not determined by examining the text. The text simply demands that the assessment be made. The question is whether it was made correctly. Are there good grounds for holding that a formed conceptus is a human being? If there are then the LXX does propose a faithful application of the law.
I take position 3. “The LXX is a paraphrase clarifying the scenario where the woman wasn’t harmed (miscarriage is assumed in all scenarios)” so harm could apply to the woman. The LXX only addresses a scenario where the woman isn’t harmed. I take lex talionis as an additional punishment to the fine and I take it literally in the case of “life for Iife” and non-literally in the case of lesser mutilations. I take Exodus 21:22-25 as speaking to “negligence” where a literal “life for life” or monetary compensation can be applied to the offender based on what the husband of the woman demands.
While we can see some implications with regards to fetal personhood in the case of miscarriage in Ex 21:22-25 they do not appear certain to me especially given that the uncertain nature of the lex talionis and intent in this case. Josephus interestingly was against intentional abortion and yet interpreted the passage as a miscarriage along with all the other commentaries of his time. Hence, I prefer to weight the evidence in sections A and B more heavily.
The conclusion I can come to is that fetal personhood happens at some point during pregnancy. Josephus interestingly elevates an intentional abortion of any type to be punished with death but this is not consistent with the evidence in section B. The only way to make it consistent is to say that the timing of justice is paramount and invalidates fetal personhood in executing perpetrators of sexual immorality. However, I think that exceptions were made for pregnancies if the fetus was thought to be “fully formed” or similar based on my tentative understanding of the lex talionis in Ex 21:22-25. I think this is possible because many details on how to carry out punishments could be left out of the Torah and fetal personhood is elsewhere supported in the Bible. Fetal personhood is also supported by the extra-biblical sources which indicate that believers did value fetal personhood: https://glanier.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/abortion-in-the-scrolls-and-the-didache/
The value of the fetus before being “fully formed” would then be up for debate at different stages. A newly fertilized egg seems to not be considered valuable but later stages seem to be since a fine is imposed in Ex 21:22 even before it was called “fully formed” (even this is not certain if it were only about compensation for trauma but is itself made complicated by the fact that this may have been an unintentional act). What I have drawn from all this is that these topics are nowhere near as easy to decide as I had once thought. This does not suggest there isn’t value in the fetus before it attains a status of personhood so abortion (after the time of conception and before it is “fully formed”) is difficult to comment on with certainty.
9. Misconception “A woman’s vows in her father’s house could only be annulled when she was young.”
This may not be a misconception but I thought I’d add my alternate interpretation here as well. The verses in question are here:
3 When a woman makes a vow to the Lord, or binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house, in her youth, 4 and her father hears of her vow or her pledge by which she has bound herself, and says nothing to her; then all her vows shall stand, and any pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5 But if her father expresses disapproval to her at the time that he hears of it, no vow of hers, and no pledge by which she has bound herself, shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her, because her father had expressed to her his disapproval.
6 If she marries, while obligated by her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, 7 and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her at the time that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. 8 But if, at the time that her husband hears of it, he expresses disapproval to her, then he shall nullify the vow by which she was obligated, or the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the Lord will forgive her. 9 (But every vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall be binding upon her.) 10 And if she made a vow in her husband’s house, or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, 11 and her husband heard it and said nothing to her, and did not express disapproval to her, then all her vows shall stand, and any pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. 12 But if her husband nullifies them at the time that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows, or concerning her pledge of herself, shall not stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the Lord will forgive her. 13 Any vow or any binding oath to deny herself, her husband may allow to stand, or her husband may nullify. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he validates all her vows, or all her pledges, by which she is obligated; he has validated them, because he said nothing to her at the time that he heard of them. 15 But if he nullifies them some time after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her guilt. 16 These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses concerning a husband and his wife, and a father and his daughter while she is still young and in her father’s house. (Numbers 30:3-15)
What if “youth” here just means “under authority” like a “servant.” Indeed some people are more mature than others regardless of their age. The fact that it speaks about the woman’s vows being able to be annulled by her husband later means there isn’t necessarily a concern for the woman’s youth or inexperience just a concern for the authority structure in the household and of protecting the woman from making rash vows (men are not protected in this way at any point) However, women and men are always allowed to run away from any authority. (as we have learned in my previous post)
In other places boy is rather the name of function, and denotes servant . . . Gen. 37:2 נַעַר הוּא “he (was) servant with the sons of Bilhah,” etc. . . 2 Kings 5:20; 8:4: Exod. 33:11; 2 Ki. 4:12; used also of common soldiers . . . 1 Kings 20:15, 17, 19; 2 Kings 19:6
Indeed, it uses the same term for “youth” when a woman returns to her father’s house when older “as in her youth” and says she can eat the same things she could in her “youth.” In addition, along with the family, it was only servants bought with money that could also eat these holy things:
10 No lay person shall eat of the sacred donations. No bound or hired servant of the priest shall eat of the sacred donations; 11 but if a priest acquires anyone by purchase, the person may eat of them; and those that are born in his house may eat of his food. 12 If a priest’s daughter marries a layman, she shall not eat of the offering of the sacred donations; 13 but if a priest’s daughter is widowed or divorced, without offspring, and returns to her father’s house, as in her youth, she may eat of her father’s food. No lay person shall eat of it. 14 If a man eats of the sacred donation unintentionally, he shall add one-fifth of its value to it, and give the sacred donation to the priest. 15 No one shall profane the sacred donations of the people of Israel, which they offer to the Lord, 16 causing them to bear guilt requiring a guilt offering, by eating their sacred donations: for I am the Lord; I sanctify them. (Leviticus 22:10-16 NRSV)
The annulling of vows by the father may have partially been to prevent the curse in Genesis from taking place, compare the following:
To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16 NRSV)
16 When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins. (Exodus 22:16-17 NRSV)
A woman may rashly vow to marry a controlling husband but think better of it later as this research may show:
Even worse, these masculine men often embody the Dark Triad, a personality constellation that encompasses Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. So, what in the world is appealing about these objectionable individuals? Quite simply, they possess high-quality genes that they will pass down to their future children.
. . . What did the researchers find? Women preferred aggressive men as short-term mates, and particularly during ovulation. This finding builds on previous work demonstrating that women find male characteristics such as dominance and masculine facial features especially attractive when they are fertile.
We have also learned the following in my previous post:
A. Even sons in their father’s house had no income of their own and had to follow all the orders of their father. (Luke 15:11-32)
B. Good sons are said to “serve” their fathers with the same word used for “servant” in Malachi 3:17.
C. That a servant is not different from a son until inheritance. (Galatians 4:1-3)
D. That sex with the capability of producing children is an obligation of men to women.(Ex 21:10) (Gen 30:14-18) (Gen 38:8-10)
In addition to D. one of the Jewish interpretations of Leviticus 19:29 in the Talmud is to not deny your daughter her right to get married when she is young:
(Fol. 76) You shall not profane your daugher (Lev. 19, 29). R. Eliezer says: “This refers to one who marries off his [young] daughter to an old man.” R. Akiba says: “This refers to one who leaves his daughter unmarried until she enters the age of womanhood.” R. Cahana in the name of R. Akiba said (Ib. b) Who is to be considered poor and shrewd-wicked? He who has left his daughter unmarried until she enters the age of womanhood.”
Ein Yaakov (Glick Edition), Sanhedrin 9:1
Gesenius has this for the word used in Leviticus 19:29:
(3) to lay open, to give access to [“to profane, from the idea of opening”], hence—(a) חִלֵל הַבַּת Lev. 19:29, to prostitute one’s daughter, comp, Lev. 21:7,14.
So these things about making sure the father lets his daughter get married may fit with my interpretation but it would also fit with the standard interpretation of “youth.” If that standard interpretation is correct then by specifying “in her youth” it’s implying the father should make sure she doesn’t have to remain in his house afterward. Given what we know about household authority and not being able to resolve “why are her vows able to be annulled when she is older by her husband” this would make some sense.
The last question is “could the word be interpreted both “youth” and “under authority” in this case?” If that was the case the associated meanings I have come up with for both interpretations would seem to apply.
There are negative and positive commandments and there are not (in general) legal punishments for breaking the positive ones. Negative commands use the Hebrew words for “no” and “not” which are לא and אין to describe what one should avoid doing, such as “thou shalt not” in the ten commandments. However a negative can also be implied, like describing a rebellious son and issuing punishment for him. (implication: don’t be a rebellious son)
18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. 20 They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21 NRSV)
However, what if this is actually the case throughout? It would be another rule of interpretation we could use. Just like the rules of Hillel are found throughout the Bible, Hillel just described the rules as Newton described the law of gravity. Hillel no more instituted the rules of Hillel than Newton instituted gravity. So it is possible that this is a principle of biblical law and we can make an argument based on the idea of positive commandments not having a legal punishment.
One of the positive Passover commandments states:
10 Speak to the Israelites, saying: Anyone of you or your descendants who is unclean through touching a corpse, or is away on a journey, shall still keep the passover to the Lord. 11 In the second month on the fourteenth day, at twilight, they shall keep it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute for the passover they shall keep it. 13 But anyone who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet refrains from keeping the passover, shall be cut off from the people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at its appointed time; such a one shall bear the consequences for the sin. (Numbers 9:10-13)
My argument follows:
1. The Passover is a positive command and therefore does not have a legal punishment.
2. “Cut off from the people [of israel]” taken literally, means not being considered an Israelite.
3. “Cut off a from people [of israel]” would not be punishment for foreigners who were already not israelite.
4. Therefore if you gain the status of Israelite via the Passover then being considered a foreigner would not be a legal punishment, you would just not get the benefit of the Passover.
5 But if “cut off from people” is legal punishment this contradicts with number 1.
6. To reconcile, we suppose the Passover gave the legal right to be Israelite. Therefore, being cut off is not a legal punishment, just a lack of benefit from the positive command.
Additional evidence seems to imply the Passover was a conversion ritual:
If an alien who resides with you wants to celebrate the passover to the Lord, all his males shall be circumcised; then he may draw near to celebrate it; he shall be regarded as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it; (Exodus 12:48)
It’s interesting that this idea of positive and negative commandments assumes that God can decide to write things in a specific way in order to convey a message. “God said let there be light and there was light” is written as “וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אֹור וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור” you’ll notice that “and there was light” and “let there be light” are written in the same way ” וַֽיְהִי־אֹֽור” and ” יְהִי אֹור” except for the vav (meaning “and”) and the nikkud (nikkud weren’t added till later). How can this be? Because of the vav conversive which changes the tense of the statement, so they can be written the same way even though the tenses are different. However, the vav does not force this to be the case all the time. Therefore, this may be conveying “it happened exactly as God said it would” through the syntax. If I see a pattern in the way punishment is given for negative and positive commandments then that may be evidence of a pattern that has meaning.
For instance, with the positive command of honoring your father, you can do things that wouldn’t honor your father that should not be legally punished like squandering your inheritance. Another example, Christ criticized some Pharisees for teaching that people can make offerings of things instead of supporting/honoring their father. Mark 7:10-12. However, it would be inappropriate for the legal system to step in and tell them that you had to give your parents things to support them, this is a family matter. (at the very least it would be inappropriate if it dictated the specifics)
But can “cut off” really mean that? The LXX has what may appear to a more violent interpretation of “cut off.” “that soul shall be utterly destroyed from it’s people” https://studybible.info/interlinear/Numbers%209:13 For those who aren’t familiar with the Septuagint (LXX), it is simply a translation of the Hebrew and is trying to convey the meaning behind the Hebrew. It will also reflect their understanding of the Hebrew at that time. I think it is a good reference which was quoted by Jesus and his disciples but I don’t view it as the final authority on something. It is something that must be weighed with the rest of the evidence. It is also useful because it is translated sometimes from more ancient Hebrew texts than the Masoretic so you can use the Dead Sea scrolls as a second witness to see if a certain reading is correct (for example it turns out the Goliath is not as tall as he is the Masoretic text according to the witness of the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls)
In addition, the LXX also uses some greek words that mean violence in much less forceful ways, for example, read the context of these and often “force” just means “persuade” https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G971Also, the LXX translates “cut off” as “destroyed from his race” which isn’t the same thing as destroyed. Also, observe that that same word is used to just mean “destroyed” without the corresponding “from his race” qualification: https://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G1842 If something is qualified it is usually not the same as the unqualified thing and should be restricted to that context, another example would be “olam” or “forever” it is sometimes used in context of a human life where it just means “forever until death” The LXX actually uses “forever” to translate “all of his days” from the Hebrew multiple times (i.e. https://studybible.info/interlinear/ex%2021:6 )
Going back to positive commandments, another interesting set of verses is:
25 The priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the Israelites, and they shall be forgiven; it was unintentional, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their error. 26 All the congregation of the Israelites shall be forgiven, as well as the aliens residing among them, because the whole people was involved in the error. 27 An individual who sins unintentionally shall present a female goat a year old for a sin offering. 28 And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the one who commits an error, when it is unintentional, to make atonement for the person, who then shall be forgiven. 29 For both the native among the Israelites and the alien residing among them—you shall have the same law for anyone who acts in error. 30 But whoever acts high-handedly, whether a native or an alien, affronts the Lord, and shall be cut off from among the people. 31 Because of having despised the word of the Lord and broken his commandment, such a person shall be utterly cut off and bear the guilt. (Numbers 15:30)
This would seem to include any sin, including breaking positive commands. So is “cut off from among the people” a legal punishment here? Not in my mind; the law is part of the covenant and if you reject part of the law by sinning purposely then you reject the whole covenant. (James 2:10) Therefore it’s hard to see if this is actually punishment or is just a statement of the result of purposely rejecting part of the covenant. You get the benefit of the covenant by being Israelite, if you reject it you lose that benefit. Therefore this may not actually be punishment but a lack of obtaining the benefit of the covenant.
Interestingly, in addition to sinning on purpose, verse 30 may refer to taking an improper place of judgment for oneself. The previous context is about forgiving sins and the following context is about them asking what to do to a man who had picked up sticks on the sabbath so the would judge properly.
It actually uses the same word to talk about claiming responsibility for something yourself: (“ought” is supplied in the KJV)
Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, H7311 and the LORD hath not done all this. (Deu 32:27 KJV)
But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, H7311 whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. (Num 15:30 KJV)
The Septuagint uses the same word here for people who refuse to listen to the priest to carry out the law properly:
And the man who ever should do in pride G5243 to not obey the priest standing beside to officiate in the name of the lord your God, or the judge who ever should be in those days, then [2shall die 1that man], and you shall lift away the wicked one from out of Israel. (Deut 17:12)
And the soul who shall do a thing by hand through pride G5243 — of the native born, or of the foreigners — [3God 1this one 2provokes], and [2shall be utterly destroyed 1that soul] from out of its people,(Num 15:30)
11 You must carry out fully the law that they interpret for you or the ruling that they announce to you; do not turn aside from the decision that they announce to you, either to the right or to the left. 12 As for anyone who presumes to disobey the priest appointed to minister there to the Lord your God, or the judge, that person shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13 All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again. (Deut 17:11-13 NRSV)
While none of that conclusively shows it also refers to presumptuous judgment it does provide an interesting parallel. If you purposely reject God’s authority structure by taking up judgment and not listening to the priest you also reject God’s covenant.
Update 2020-03-14: I have found a possible flaw in my idea of “cut off from people” (KJV version) This seems to parallel “put to death” with “cut off from people”:
Exo 31:14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work H4399 therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
Exo 31:15 Six days may work H4399 be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work H4399 in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.
Exo 35:2 Six days shall work H4399 be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work H4399 therein shall be put to death.
One possible explanation to save my theory is that both happen. Not only is the person killed but they are no longer considered an Israelite since working is a purposeful act of breaking the covenant.
Introduction: The Modern Concept of Hell in the Old Testament doesn’t exist
Verses are in the KJV unless otherwise stated. Hell is never mentioned in the Hebrew Old Testament, but only “the grave” (“sheol” in Hebrew). Some translations will translate sheol as “hell,” but it is without basis. For example in the KJV here Sheol is the inevitable destiny of all mankind and in Job 14:13 and Amos 9:2 a place where one would hide from God’s wrath” (if that were possible) Gen 37:35 And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave H7585 unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? H7585 Selah.
O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, H7585 that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
Though they dig into hell, H7585 thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:
The Old Testament and the New Testament do not contradict, so it’s hard to believe that the foreign concept of eternal torment would be introduced into the NT without any precedent in the OT. However, the OT goes further and contradicts this concept. Take these verses for example that say God’s wrath is only temporary:
Psalm 30:5 NKJV For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.
Isaiah 54:8 NKJV 8 With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,” Says the Lord, your Redeemer.
Lamentation 3 NKJV 31 For the Lord will not cast off forever. 32 Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion According to the multitude of His mercies. 33 For He does not afflict willingly, Nor grieve the children of men.
And these verses show that the wicked will be destroyed or consumed, not tormented:
Psalms 37 NKJV 10 For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, But it shall be no more. … 20 But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the Lord, Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away.
Psalm 68:2 NKJV As smoke is driven away, So drive them away; As wax melts before the fire, So let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
Psalm 104:35 NKJV May sinners be consumed from the earth, And the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!
Malachi 4 NKJV 4 “For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3 You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,” Says the Lord of hosts.
Isaiah 1:16 NKJV “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil,
Ezekiel 28 NKJV 18 “You defiled your sanctuaries By the multitude of your iniquities, By the iniquity of your trading; Therefore I brought fire from your midst; It devoured you, And I turned you to ashes upon the earth In the sight of all who saw you. 19 All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; You have become a horror, And shall be no more forever.”
The New Testament Does Not Change from the Old Testament
We must keep this in mind when we investigate the NT. As Yeshua (Jesus) states KJV:
Luke 24 44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled,G4137 which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
Mat 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.G4137 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break G3089 one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The same greek word G3089 for “break” is used here when talking about making rules in the church and makes the undeniable connection that the rules it says not to “break” or “loose” are the rules in the old testament.
Mat 16:19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose G3089 on earth shall be loosed G3089 in heaven.
Mat 18:18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose G3089 on earth shall be loosed G3089 in heaven.
Hence we see the word “fulfilled” as meaning the accomplishment of something, but not the passing away of something. The Law of Moses, and The Prophets, and The Psalms, remain after they have been fulfilled in Christ, for example:
Mat 8:17 KJV That it might be fulfilled G4137 which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
This is just to point out that everything remains unchanged by their fulfillment. (they are indeed not destroyed as Yeshua says) My point is that if the OT speaks against the concept of eternal torment, then that cannot change in the NT. However, let us examine some of the verses commonly used to argue for the modern concept of hell in the NT anyway. It is not my intent here to provide a full proof argument for an alternate interpretation but just give evidence for and provide a possibility for an alternate interpretation. This will be sufficient to resolve the contradiction and provide people with options for interpreting the Bible that are not contradictory.
New Testament Words Translated As “Hell”
The words that are translated into english in the NT as “hell” are “Hadēs,” “Tartarus,” and “Gehenna.” Hadēs is the mythological Greek underworld and is also the greek word which is used for “sheol” in the new testament e.g.
Act 2:27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.
Psa 16:10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
Probably the closest word in the Greek language to what we think of as hell is Tartarus (the reason I say closest, is because it is the bad part of Hadēs where people were punished) Hadēs is a more neutral concept but Tartarrus is only used once in the new testament here:
2 Pe 2:4 KJV For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, G5020 and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
And notice it isn’t even used as a place of judgement but a place to be stored until judgement.
Gehenna is a real place: gehinom
And the lake of fire is also probably a real place on earth. (see: http://www.askelm.com/secrets/sec106.htm and see: https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/lake-of-fire/ ) Rico Cortes argues that the lake of fire symbolically corresponds to ancient legal devices to determine innocence or guilt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2V-Uf3v0aE )
With these three concepts, none on their own charactize eternal torment.
“Hell” Didn’t Mean Hell Originally
In fact even the english translation of hell may have meant something different in older meaning of the word:
Another interesting thing to note is that webster’s 1806 dictionary:
Hell, n. the place of the damned, the grave, prison
Here hell has the meaning of Sheol included. In addition from the Watchtower online library, they quote another version of webster’s dictionary:
“It is, in fact, because of the way that the word “hell” is understood today that it is such an unsatisfactory translation of these original Bible words. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, unabridged, under “Hell” says: “fr[om] . . . helan to conceal.” The word “hell” thus originally conveyed no thought of heat or torment but simply of a ‘covered over or concealed place.’ In the old English dialect the expression “helling potatoes” meant, not to roast them, but simply to place the potatoes in the ground or in a cellar.”
Interestingly enough both the Online Etymology Dictionary, and Google Entymology backs up part of their assertions:
“Old English hel, hell, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hel and German Hölle, from an Indo-European root meaning ‘to cover or hide.’”
Old English hel, helle, “nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions,” from Proto-Germanic *haljo “the underworld” (cognates: f. Old Frisian helle, Dutch hel, Old Norse hel, German Hölle, Gothic halja “hell”) “the underworld,” literally “concealed place” (compare Old Norse hellir “cave, cavern”), from PIE *kel- (2) “to cover, conceal” (see cell).
The English word may be in part from Old Norse Hel (from Proto-Germanic *halija “one who covers up or hides something”), in Norse mythology the name of Loki’s daughter, who rules over the evil dead in Niflheim, the lowest of all worlds (nifl “mist”). Transfer of a pagan concept and word to a Christian idiom. In Middle English, also of the Limbus Patrum, place where the Patriarchs, Prophets, etc. awaited the Atonement. Used in the KJV for Old Testament Hebrew Sheol and New Testament Greek Hades, Gehenna. Used figuratively for “state of misery, any bad experience” since at least late 14c. As an expression of disgust, etc., first recorded 1670s.”
“cell (n.) Look up cell at Dictionary.com
early 12c., “small monastery, subordinate monastery” (from Medieval Latin in this sense), later “small room for a monk or a nun in a monastic establishment; a hermit’s dwelling” (c.1300), from Latin cella “small room, store room, hut,” related to Latin celare “to hide, conceal.”
The Latin word represents PIE root *kel- (2) “to cover, conceal” (cognates: Sanskrit cala “hut, house, hall;” Greek kalia “hut, nest,” kalyptein “to cover,” koleon “sheath,” kelyphos “shell, husk;” Latin clam “secret;” Old Irish cuile “cellar,” celim “hide,” Middle Irish cul “defense, shelter;” Gothic hulistr “covering,” Old English heolstor “lurking-hole, cave, covering,” Gothic huljan “cover over,” hulundi “hole,” hilms “helmet,” halja “hell,” Old English hol “cave,” holu “husk, pod”)…”
So we see that hell, is related to cell, which is in turn related to cellar: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=cellar which is an interesting connection to the fact that helling potatoes could mean just putting them in a place like a cellar.
Verses Used to Argue for Hell
If we don’t get any of this stuff about hell from the words themselves, where do we get it? Well we probably get it from the Greeks and their teaching that the human soul is nessesarilly immortal. (Judaism was quite Hellenized at the time of Jesus, no pun intended) The Bible specifies no such thing universally (you can get the idea that if some people have eternal life, then their souls must be immortal, however this is not true by nessesarilly for everyone)
Now let’s look at some common verses used to argue for the modern Christian concept of “hell.”
Matthew 25:41 (NKJV) 41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: … 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Notice we have an immediate problem with the modern christian reading. Eternal life is contrasted with everlasting punishment, but that would mean the wicked would also attain eternal life. If you search for the word used for “punishment” “κόλασιν” in the septuagint you come up with these results:
Search result: κόλασιν
I John 4:18
The corrosponding hebrew words used in Jeremiah 18:20 is H2534 which means “wrath”.
for all but one of the passeages in Ezekiel it is H4383 which means “stumbling stone” http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H4383&t=KJV
for Ezekiel 43:11 it is H3637 which means “ashamed” http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H3637&t=KJV
So we see the majority usage in the septuagint is the Hebrew for “stumbling stone.” This might even remind us of the word used in Romans 9:32 where christ is refered to as a stumbling stone. The words are however different.
In addition Liddle and Scott bring out a different possiblity for the meaning in the greek, which is:
“kol-a^sis, eôs, hê, checking the growth of trees, esp. almond-trees, Thphr.CP3.18.2 (pl.).”
So thus far, we have an implication of not nessesarilly torment or punishment but prunning, shame, stumbling, but what about the eternal part? Even if we take the fire literally here (which I don’t) that just means the fire here is said to be eternal but not the time people are in the fire. Also This passage from Daniel needs also to be considered:
Daniel 12 NKJV 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever.
So yet another punishment is mentioned, that of contempt. The only other time this word is used is in this passage.
Isa 66:24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring H1860 unto all flesh.
Now here we have two types of consuming forces mentioned. “Fire” and “worm.” One should notice that both of these things together are not possible: worms cannot survive in fire. When we have incompatible statements we can resolve the statements by taking them metaphorically and see what is common between them. The thing in common seems to be consumption, both worm and fire consume and destroy. The shame can be read as eternally shamed or that their memory is looked on with contempt, so this can coincide with their consumption. Although I find it quite interesting that the Bible would even bother mentioning shame and not mention eternal torment, since the latter is of so much more import than the former. I see a tension there that can be resolved by a metaphorical reading.
Anouther example of these coinciding metaphors appears in the passages where Isaiah is quoted:
Mk. 9:43-48 NKJV
43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 44 where
‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 46 where
‘Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.’
47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— 48 where
‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
I mention these passages so we can kill two birds with one stone: If Isaiah is not talking about the afterlife, then neither are the passages that quote it. Keil and Deilitzch comment on Isiah 66:24 passage thusly:
“The prophet had predicted in Isaiah 66:18, that in the last times the whole multitude of the enemies of Jerusalem would be crowded together against it, in the hope of getting possession of it. This accounts for the fact that the neighbourhood of Jerusalem becomes such a scene of divine judgment. בּ ראה always denotes a fixed, lingering look directed to any object; here it is connected with the grateful feeling of satisfaction at the righteous acts of God and their own gracious deliverance. דראון, which only occurs again in Daniel 12:2, is the strongest word for “abomination.” It is very difficult to imagine the picture which floated before the prophet’s mind. How is it possible that all flesh, i.e., all men of all nations, should find room in Jerusalem and the temple? Even if the city and temple should be enlarged, as Ezekiel and Zechariah predict, the thing itself still remains inconceivable. And again, how can corpses be eaten by worms at the same time as they are being burned, or how can they be the endless prey of worms and fire without disappearing altogether from the sight of man? It is perfectly obvious, that the thing itself, as here described, must appear monstrous and inconceivable, however we may suppose it to be realized.”
Keil and Delitzsch don’t suppose instead that the passage could be metaphorical but say that it must be realized. And they imply (correctly in my view) that the passage has to do with the battle for Jerusalem also known as armegeddon in revelation.
John Gill also observers:
“… these are not the carcasses of the camp of Gog and Magog, the Jews so call, as Kimchi interprets it; though it may have reference to the carcasses of Gog’s army, the Turks, that will be slain in their attempt to recover Judea, Ezekiel 38:1 or else the carcasses of those that will be slain at the battle at Armageddon, Revelation 16:16 or the army of Gog and Magog, at the end of the thousand years, Revelation 20:8.”
So whichever way you take it (casualties of Armegeddon or the army of Gog and Magog) it is a reference to something happening on earth in the future, which makes the worm and fire almost certainly incompatible.
Rashi comments here:
“their worm: The worm that consumes their flesh.
and their fire: in Gehinnom.
and abhorring: Heb. דֵרָאוֹן, an expression of contempt. Jonathan, however, renders it as two words: enough (דֵּי) seeing (רְאִיָה), until the righteous say about them, We have seen enough.”
A Look at Revelation:
Revelation 14 NKJV 9 Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
While their torment is continual here, it does not specify how long a duration it is. The smoke rises forever, but that is metaphorical language also used elsewhere. See for example the parallel description in Revelation 18:18 and Revelation 19:3, the smoke of Babylon is described in both places to be rising forever even though Babylon is ultimately destroyed, and doesn’t burn forever. The smoke be a hyperbole that the destruction was very great or that it symbolizes an eternal remembrance of the destruction by the smoke being an eternal memorial. The lake of fire (which this may refer to) is probably a real place. (as we’ve seen before) In addition the fire here is used metaphorically. Look at:
Revelation 21 (YLT) 4 and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and the death shall not be any more, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor shall there be any more pain, because the first things did go away.’ 5 And He who is sitting upon the throne said, Lo, new I make all things; and He saith to me,Write, because these words are true and stedfast;’
Since the fire is on earth and he is making all things new it makes no sense for it to last forever.
In fact Revelation 14 is a quote from Isaiah 34:9-10 about the judgement of Edom, in NKJV:
Isaiah 34 NKJV 9Its streams shall be turned into pitch, And its dust into brimstone; Its land shall become burning pitch. 10 It shall not be quenched night or day; Its smoke shall ascend forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; No one shall pass through it forever and ever.
And this verse relates this future Judgement of Edom to the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorah in NKJV:
Jeremiah 49 NKJV 17 “Edom also shall be an astonishment; Everyone who goes by it will be astonished And will hiss at all its plagues. 18 As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah And their neighbors,” says the Lord, “No one shall remain there, Nor shall a son of man dwell in it.
Deuteronomy 29 NKJV 23 ‘The whole land is brimstone, salt, and burning; it is not sown, nor does it bear, nor does any grass grow there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and His wrath.’
Genesis 19 NKJV 24 Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
The reason I point this out, is that Sodom and Gomorah is said to be destroyed by eternal fire:
Jude 1 NKJV 7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
One way to resolve this problem of “why aren’t the fires of Sodom still burning?” is to say that the fire is not actually eternal, but infact a metaphor for eternal consumption. Sodom and Gomorah were destroyed, and that destruction was eternal (the people never came back or were revived), it was consumed, and that consumption wasn’t reversed (eternal consumption). That is why I think it is said to be destroyed by eternal metaphorical fire or… eternal consumption.
There are other examples of hyperbolic or metaphorical language in scripture such as this. When the word “hated” is used in the old testament it often means “loved less.”
Genesis 29 KJV 30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. 31 And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
This is to show that hyperbolic language is often used. Eternal fire could be the same way. Now for Revelation 20:
Revelation 20 NKJV 9 They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. 10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
At first glance, you may see a problem for my argument especially when paired with the previously mentioned Matthew 25
Matthew 25:41 NKJV 41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: … 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
However, observe that the devil and his angles aren’t nessesarilly made of the same stuff as others. Hence, they may indeed be tormented forever but others may be consumed instantly. In addition this is an expounding upon revelation 14:9-11 and not describing something new so we can’t read something contradictory to Revelation 14 here. (read Revelation 19:17-20:10 to see the parallel) This is similar to how Revelation 18:1-19:3 expounds upon Revelation 14:8. Also it says the beast, the false prophet, and the devil are tormented, and the beast is probably an abstract concept such as an empire, or a world system. (using the metaphors of beasts in the book of Daniel) So the implication here is that the torment may be abstract as well. The devil and his angels also seem to be treated differently by the lake of fire than humanity is, consider these verses:
Rev 20 NKJV “12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
When it says this is the “second death” we have to include this verse in our analysis:
Mat 10:28 KJV
And fear not them which kill G615 the body, but are not able to kill G615 the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
This indeed sounds like a second death: destruction of the soul, not eternal life with torment. Again we have the concepts of Death and the Hades (read “grave”) thrown into some physical place like Gehenna or The Dead Sea, this has to be metaphorical (probably for destruction) especially since the word second death is used. Hebrew words used for death here in the septuagint are: H01698, H04194, H06913, H01565, H04191
They all mean death or destruction. The first one H1698 which may be a little different is often translated as pestilence or plagues, but it is used to mean destruction as well. For example:
Hos 13:14 NKJV I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; H1698 O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.
1Pe 1:7 NKJV That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, G4442 might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
One also needs to recall the material we have already reviewed regarding Isaiah 34 noticing that the terms “day” and “night” are again used and notice that with regards to Matthew 25. In addition to all this, the word for torment here may imply to test for quality or to destroy as well.
Taking the greek definition:
G928 βασανίζω – Strong’s Greek Lexicon Number
Derivation: from G931;
KJV Usage: pain, toil, torment, toss, vex.
1) to test (metals) by the touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal
2) to question by applying torture
3) to torture
4) to vex with grievous pains (of body or mind), to torment
5) to be harassed, distressed
5a) of those who at sea are struggling with a head wind
Encyclopedia Britannica: Alternate titles: Lydian stone; Lydite
Alternate titles: Lydian stone; Lydite
Touchstone, black siliceous stone used to ascertain the purity of gold and silver. Assaying by “touch” was one of the earliest methods employed to assess the quality of precious metals. The metal to be assayed is rubbed on the touchstone, adjacent to the rubbing on the touchstone of a sample of a metal of known purity. The streaks of metal left behind on the touchstone are then treated with nitric acid, which dissolves impurities, and thus, when the streaks are compared, the contrast between pure and impure metal is heightened. Because other metals, such as copper, can be alloyed to silver without significantly changing its colour, the touchstone method is not usually employed now to assay silver. It is still used, however, to assay gold and provides a reasonably accurate guide to quality.”
Or taking the corrosponding Hebrew definition that is often translated to mean “make desolate” or “destroy.”
G928 appears in the old testament:
But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed H8074 them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.
So whichever definition we take, either from the Greek or the hebrew, both have alternate definitions to torment. However, I must admit the way the word is used in this verse adds some difficulty to this possibility:
Revelation 9 NKJV
5 And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment G928 them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.
However, revelation is a highly metaphorical book in general. The rider of the horse that has the sword his mouth may be a symbol of the word of God going out to convert people. Hence revelation may use a militaristic metaphor to talk about spiritual warfare. See the previous series on Herb Montgomery Knowing this, it is interesting that a good number of the verses used to argue for the modern concept of hell (with eternal torment) come from revelation.
Check out the usage of fire in revelation 19 in NKJV:
Rev 19 NKJV 19 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire G4442 burning with brimstone 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.
http://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G4442 Here are a couple corrosponding hebrew words to this greek one:
With the first you will notice the usage in KJV: Exo 3:2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire H784 out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, H784 and the bush was not consumed. Exo 12:10 And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. H784
What fire does is consume things, if it doesn’t, it is a miracle like the burning bush.
Also the word Brimstone Rev 19:20 is most often used to describe destruction, here in NKJV:
Job 18 NKJV 15 They dwell in his tent who are none of his; Brimstone is scattered on his dwelling. 16 His roots are dried out below, And his branch withers above. 17 The memory of him perishes from the earth, And he has no name among the renowned.
Isaiah 30 NKJV 27 Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar, Burning with His anger, And His burden is heavy; His lips are full of indignation, And His tongue like a devouring fire. 28 His breath is like an overflowing stream, Which reaches up to the neck, To sift the nations with the sieve of futility; And there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, Causing them to err. 29 You shall have a song As in the night when a holy festival is kept, And gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute, To come into the mountain of the Lord, To the Mighty One of Israel. 30 The Lord will cause His glorious voice to be heard, And show the descent of His arm, With the indignation of His anger And the flame of a devouring fire, With scattering, tempest, and hailstones. 31 For through the voice of the Lord Assyria will be beaten down, As He strikes with the rod. 32 And in every place where the staff of punishment passes, Which the Lord lays on him, It will be with tambourines and harps; And in battles of brandishing He will fight with it. 33 For Tophet was established of old, Yes, for the king it is prepared. He has made it deep and large; Its pyre is fire with much wood; The breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, Kindles it.
Ezekiel 38:22 And I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed; I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.
To summarize some of what is said here and in http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/2001-1_021.pdf Revelation describes destructions:
Revelation 6:12-17, 11:15-18, 14:6-20, 16:17-21, 17:1-19:5, 19:6-20:21
There are many mappings from short to long descriptions of things:
Revelation 14 is the Judgement of Babylon (14:8) and expanded in 18:1-19:3
14:9-11 is expanded in 19:17-20:10.
14:12-13, is expanded in 20:11-21:8.
18 and 19 is of destruction and the expanded form in 14:6-11 cannot contradict this.
You will notice that the order in the Isaiah 34 is:
1 burning and brimstone
2 not quenched (no rest) day and night
3 ascending forever
Some argue that since 2 and 3 are reversed in revelation John is switching the emphasis to them having no rest day and night. However, there is another reason why John would modify the order and that is to preserve a certain structure. To quote Ralph G. Bowles:
“To see how John has structured this description of judgement
against the worshippers of the Beast, it is necessary to examine the
whole unit, Revelation 14:9-11. It can be set out in its inversion as follows:
(A) If anyone worships the beast and its image, and receives a
mark on his forehead or on his hand, (9)
(B) he also shall drink the wine of God's wrath, poured
unmixed into the cup of his anger, (lOa)
(C) he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the
presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the
(Ci) And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and
(Bi) and they have no rest, day or night, (l1b)
(Ai) these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever
receives the mark of its name. (l1c).
This pattern conforms to the recognised structure of introverted
parallelisms in the Bible. This structure has been described thus:
‘There are stanzas so constructed that, whatever be the number of
lines, the first line shall be parallel with the last; the second with the
penultimate; and so throughout, in an order that looks inward, or to
borrow a military phrase, from flanks to centre.’21 Using the marks of
this figure listed by K. Bailey, it is possible to trace the structure of
Revelation 14:9-11. The climax ofthe unit is found in the centre (the
tormenting destructive judgement by God’s fire)…”
Now lets look at Matthew 18
Matthew 18 NKJV 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
This one is in fact a parable, which cannot at all be read literally, hence the argument for hell here is especially weak, and one should note that hell is not portrayed as a torment that motivates you to pay back any sort of debt. However, even more prominent is the observation that this torment may not be in the afterlife at all but a consquence of the human conscience.
There are in fact just 4 texts that are used mainly for these types of arguments: Matthew 18:34-35; Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 14:10-11 and Revelation 20:10
The last thing we should deal with is the parable of lazarus. It is indeed a parable but some still use it to argue for a literal interpretation.
Luke 16:19-31 New King James Version (NKJV)
19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
I contend that this parable is directed at the hellenized Jews using their worldview to get a message across. Other problems that this parable brings up if taken literally is that there you will literally be able to see your relatives tormented while you are relaxing in heaven or “Abraham’s bosom.” Also why wasn’t this place called “Abraham’s bosom” mentioned before in the Bible?
Citation taken from Herb montgomory “Do I have to Believe in Hell?” https://renewedheartministries.com/sermons/2015jesusdialogue/outlines/12doihavetobeleiveinhell.pdf Concentric Circles - Free to Think and ask Questions “In order to understand the parable in detail and as a whole, it is essential to recognize the first part derives from a well-known folk- material . . . This is the Egyptian folk-tale of the journey of Osiris, the son of Setme Chamois to the under-world . . . Alexandrian Jews brought this story to Palestine, where it became very popular as the story of the poor scholar and the rich publican Bar Ma’Jan.” - J.Jeremias, Parables p. 183
From what I know this was common in early hellenized Jewish literature:
Other early Jewish works adapt the Greek mythical picture of Hades to identify the righteous dead as being separated from unrighteous in the fires by a river or chasm. In the pseudo- epigraphical Apocalypse of Zephaniah the river has a ferryman equivalent to Charon in Greek myth, but replaced by an angel. On the other side in the Bosom of Abraham: “You have escaped from the Abyss and Hades, now you will cross over the crossing place… to all the righteous ones, namely Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Enoch, Elijah and David”
Herb Montgomery makes the connection that since God is an all consuming fire, and in the Song of Songs it says love is a fire
Song of Songs 8 (NKJV) 6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, As a seal upon your arm; For love is as strong as death, Jealousy as [am]cruel as [an]the grave; Its flames are flames of fire, A most vehement flame.
Since it says that God is love that being in the presence of God is the real fire that is spoken of. For instance Isaiah 33 talks about the everlasting burnings being the destination of all, but that only the righteous survive: (NKJV)
14 The sinners in Zion are afraid; Fearfulness has seized the hypocrites: “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” 15 He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, He who despises the gain of oppressions, Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes, Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, And shuts his eyes from seeing evil:
Isaiah 43 says something similar about the fire being for all and in this life:
1 But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
Here is the link to Herb Montgomery’s series. The ones I have drawn from are “Do I Have To Believe In Hell? Part 1″ and Do I Have To Believe In Hell? Part 2”
I had a discussion with some people that thought Leviticus 19:29 could have just prohibited forcing your daughter to become a prostitute. One person argued that prostitution wasn’t wrong on its own while the other stated that prostitution was wrong not because it was premarital sex but because sex was supposed to be free! This view about premarital sex being permitted is becoming more common among Christians today so I thought I’d share what I’d found. All verses are in YLT unless otherwise noted.
`Thou dost not pollute thy daughter to cause her to go a-whoring, that the land go not a-whoring, and the land hath been full of wickedness. (Lev 19:29)
1 How can we take the meaning of “cause to” given the definition? http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cause “Cause” is different than “force” even though force certainly can be a cause. Can we cause our brother to stumble only if we do it forcefully? Romans 14:13-23
2 Yeshua says:
But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
This is not about “causing” by force but about “causing” by neglect hence why must Leviticus 19:29 be about “causing” by force?
3 Gesenius defines the word translated “pollute” as “to lay open, to give access to [“to profane from the idea of opening”]
The “laying open” is easier to understand if you look at the father as having responsibility for the daughter (other examples are his right to annul her oaths and refuse a marriage) There are many ways to “lay open” your daughter to prostitution, and I think forcing them to become one is certainly laying open access. I think their issue with it being an intensive Piel of “profaning” (hence they think it implies force) is resolved with Gesenius by the fact that laying open access to your daughter is an intense way of profaning your daughter (or is REALLY profane to put in another way)
I also should point out that that word for pollute/profane is only used in that exact form in Leviticus 19:29 and Lev 18:21 http://biblehub.com/text/leviticus/18-21.htm Lev 18:21 doesn’t really give us much insight but it would seem a bit odd if it allowed you to let God’s name be profaned and only prevented you from forcibly profaning it.
The expanded Brown Driver Briggs says: that it is to “sexually defile” a woman. So you can say that this is related to the prostitution and not to the act of causing:
1 defile, pollute:
a. sexually, Genesis 49:4 (poem) = 1 Chronicles 5:1 (the father’s bed); a woman = זנהLeviticus 19:29; …
However the “opening” in that lexicon is only in the Hiphil:
Hiph`il also begin (literally untie, loosen, open, ….
4 The word translated “harlotry” refers both to prostitution and premarital sex.
For instance: ‘They shall not take a woman who is profaned by harlotry, H2181 nor shall they take a woman divorced from her husband; for he is holy to his God. ( Lev 21:7 KJV)
then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her unto death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing H2181 the harlot H2181 in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you. (Deu 22:21 KJV)
Would you say that this only applies if she did it for money? Of course there is the more monetary definition used as well:
“Thus you are different from those women in your harlotries, in that no one plays H2181 the harlot H2181 as you do, because you give money and no money is given you; thus you are different.” (Eze 16:34 KJV)
But my point is that it means both things (gaining monetarily from promiscuity and just plain promiscuity) and is narrowed by context. This is why I think the respected Stone’s edition to the Tanakh translates this word is many places as “promiscuity” because that is the broadest definition.
I would also point out as a matter of context that promiscuity in any form is looked at as negative and used as a metaphore for very negative things: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?page=2&strongs=H2181&t=NASB#lexResults
It also condemns promiscuity in the next part of the verse: “so that the land will not fall H2181 to harlotry H2181 and the land become full of lewdness.” It says to prevent the land from “falling” from a better state into a worse state of harlotry. It also doesn’t say anything about force it says “lewdness” which is related to sexual sin: http://biblehub.com/hebrew/zimmah_2154.htm
https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H2455&t=NASB H2455 has the root H2490 ( H2455 is used in Leviticus 19:29 for “pollute.”) The word H2490 implies sexual defilement. The word is never used for sexual uncleanliness, even in it’s expanded search in the strong’s. The other occurrence of the exact form is without a doubt negative. The usage seems to be only for prohibited sexual relations (when it is sexual): https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?page=1&strongs=H2490&t=NASB#lexResults http://biblehub.com/hebrew/techallel_2490.htm
If it was about “uncleanness” it would say uncleanness, not defilement, which is a much stronger negative word.
One of them was arguing that in places like Deut 23:7 it only prohibited cult prostitutes and not regular prostitutes. However, I argued that qedesh and zonah (cult-prostitute and prostitute) were used as synonyms. I cited the following:
“Contrary to the claims of some 20th-century scholarship, the Hebrew Bible never refers directly to cult prostitutes. Many modern Bible translations are simply misleading in this respect. Much of the confusion results from a misunderstanding of a few Biblical texts that mention qedeshot, the plural of qedeshah, which is related to qodesh, “holy place.” Originally qedeshah referred to a “consecrated maiden,” but Biblical authors used it in the sense of “harlot.”” https://members.bib-arch.org/biblical-archaeology-review/40/1/10
“As Lipiński argues, however, there is nothing in the story of Judah and Tamar to suggest sacred prostitution was involved; rather, it seems that zonah and qedeshah were synonyms and that the latter has simply been misinterpreted by translators. Qedeshah likely originally referred to “consecrated maidens” who were employed in Canaanite and later Phoenician temples devoted to Ashtoreth worship. As such, the Biblical writers came to associate the fertility rites of Ashtoreth worship with sacred prostitution, and the word qedeshah, therefore, came to be used as a pejorative term for “prostitute.”” https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/ancient-israel/sacred-prostitution-in-the-story-of-judah-and-tamar/
When they responded that the articles I quoted narrowly defined “cult prostitution” as Ashteroth worship. I responded: The main article does not use this as an argument from what I have seen. Here are examples of arguments it uses about Israel related to Astoreth:
The Hebrew meaning of qedeshah as harlot possibly derives from the perception that some “consecrated” maidens employed in Canaanite temples were also prostitutes in the context of fertility cults, especially of the goddess Ashtoreth. Indeed, the simple fact that such women served a heathen deity may have led to the understanding of the word qedeshah by outsiders in the sense of “harlot” and to its use in Biblical Hebrew as a synonym of zonah, “prostitute.” In short, in the Hebrew Bible, qedeshah (and its plural) simply refers to a prostitute, not to a cult prostitute in particular. . . . A widespread modern misunderstanding of the term asherah as a pagan goddess has led some to conclude that cult prostitution was involved in this passage, i.e., 2 Kings 23:7. It thus becomes important to unpack this reference to asherah and explain how it became confused with a Canaanite goddess, either Ashtoreth or Ashratu. The conclusion, however, as we shall see, is that asherah in the Bible refers to a shrine or sacred grove, not to a goddess. The confusion can be easily recognized because in several West Semitic languages (Assyro-Babylonian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew), the common word for shrine (aširtu/ešertu in Assyro-Babylonian, ’šrt in Phoenician, ’trt in Aramaic and ’šrh/’šyrh in Hebrew) is similar to Ashtoreth (’štrt) and to the name ’Atrt of the Ugaritic goddess Rabbatu Atratu Yamma, “The Lady Who Treads upon the Sea.” The similarity of Biblical asherah to these terms in other related languages led modern mythographers to invent a goddess Asherah in the Bible. Modern translators followed suit.
It is clear, however, that asherah in the Bible cannot refer to a goddess. In the Bible, asherah has a plural, ’šrym,3 sometimes ’šrwt.4 This would hardly be the case if asherah were a goddess. Moreover, in the Bible asherah sometimes occurs with the article ha- (“the shrine”)5 and with the pronominal suffix (“his shrine”), as in the well-known Hebrew inscriptions from Khirbet el-Qom, near Jerusalem (yhwh w’šrth, “Yahweh and his shrine”), and from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud in the Sinai (yhwh šmrn w’šrth, “Yahweh of Samaria and his shrine”; yhwh tmn w’šrth, “Yahweh of the South and his shrine”).a This proves that asherah cannot be a proper name. In addition, asherah could be “built” (1 Kings 14:23), “made” (2 Kings 21:7), “set up” (2 Kings 17:10) or “installed” (2 Chronicles 33:19), again showing that asherah cannot be a goddess. Asherah was no deity but simply a grove or a shrine that eventually became a small construction.6
Provincial shrines, like those referred to at Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, were prohibited after the centralization of religious observance in Jerusalem by King Josiah in the seventh century B.C.E. (2 Kings 23), but the prophet Jeremiah in the seventh–sixth centuries B.C.E. still refers to the asherim (in the plural), the sacred groves or shrines in the shade of spreading trees. In other texts, such as Jeremiah 2:20 and 3:6–10, the metaphors of prostitution and adultery are used as poetic descriptions of Judah’s infidelity to the Lord.
These passages do not allude to cult prostitution performed by young Judahite women, although the existence of fertility cults in Canaan was certainly known. They were even exported by Phoenicians to the western Mediterranean and appear in Phoenician and Carthaginian colonies.
There’s two other mentions of Ashtoreth in that paper that relate to the Canaanite practice (exported by the Phoenicians to Phonecian and Carthaginian colonies) and one related to an Etruscan version of the Goddess: “At Pyrgi, north of Rome in what was Etruria, archaeologists uncovered a temple (Temple B) from about 500 B.C.E. A bilingual inscription found in the excavation records the dedication of a “holy place” to the Etruscan goddess Uni (Latin Juno), called Ashtoreth in her Phoenician version.” None of these are making the argument that there is no evidence of cult prostitution in Israel because there is not evidence of Astoreth worship. They clearly recognize that other types of cult prostitution took place since Lipinski states “maidens employed in Canaanite temples were also prostitutes in the context of fertility cults, especially of the goddess Ashtoreth.” In fact Lipinski also states:
A further explanation is needed concerning the qadesh. In the well-known cuneiform texts from Ugarit (on the Mediterranean coast of modern Syria), which date to about 1200 B.C.E., qdšm (= Hebrew qedeshim) are often mentioned with the khnm (= kohanim, “priests”) and seem to be cultic servants assisting the priests. There is no indication that they were male prostitutes. They were simply priestly assistants. The qdšym of older Biblical psalms may have exercised a similar function, but the word was later understood in the sense of “holy men” and vocalized accordingly. In fact, the priestly assistants got a bad reputation in the seventh century B.C.E., as shown by 2 Kings 23:7, possibly indicating that prostitution did occur in the Temple, even a kind of cult prostitution. In the time of Josiah, the Biblical text tells us, the king “pulled down the houses of the qedeshim in the House of the Lord, where women were renting2 cubicles as a shrine (asherah)” (2 Kings 23:7, my translation). There is no evidence, however, that the qedeshim were male cult prostitutes. As at Ugarit, the qedeshim were priestly assistants. In 2 Kings 23:7, Josiah is said to have torn down the cubicles (literally, houses) of the qedeshim (male) in the Temple precinct. The qedeshim are thus said to have been renting houses in the Temple precinct to some women, possibly for prostitution. Perhaps the men were also acting as pimps.
Note that the women who rented their houses (or cubicles) are not called qedeshot. Whatever the women were doing in the cubicles (the JPS translation suggests they were weaving coverings for the shrine), it had something to do with a shrine, as indicated by the term asherah, which designates a shrine, a sacred grove or a tree under which an illicit cultic ritual is performed.
. . . Cult prostitution existed in some parts of the Near East as well as in the Phoenician colonies of the western Mediterranean. It reflected the ritual practices of the Canaanites surrounding ancient Israel and Judah. Its faint reflection recorded in the Hebrew Bible serves as a metaphoric allusion to Israel’s infidelity to God or as a synonym of harlotry. Modern translations of the Hebrew Bible often unfortunately give another impression. There is a single passage (2 Kings 23:7, discussed above) that may contain an obscure reference to cult prostitution; it mentions a shrine rented to women in the precinct of the Temple and destroyed by King Josiah. But that is all.
There is a mistaken notion that “asherah” meant a shrine to Ashtoreth in the Bible which Lipinski argues against. However, this does not describe his full argument for why he believes qedesha and zonah to by synonyms. Their argument is as follows:
The earliest Biblical attestation of qedeshah is found in the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. Judah’s son Er, married to Tamar, died. Judah then gave his second son Onan to Tamar. Onan also died. Judah was reluctant to give his third son Shelah to Tamar, as was required when a brother died without children. Later, Judah himself was widowed. He saw a woman on the road, assumed her to be a harlot (zonah), and slept with her. He gave her his seal as assurance that he would pay her with a sheep from his flock (Genesis 38:15–18). The zonah turned out to be none other than his daughter-in-law Tamar, who had dressed herself in a veil and sat by the road because Judah had refused to give her his third son as a husband. When Judah’s friend went to redeem the pledge, he inquired of the people of the town where he could find the assumed prostitute. They replied that there was no qedeshah in the area (Genesis 38:20–21). Obviously the two words (qedeshah and zonah) are used as synonyms. And there is no indication whatever that cult prostitution is involved. There is no cultic context here.
Lipinski says something similar with Deuteronomy
No Israelite shall be a prostitute (a prohibition expressed in the third person): “There shall be no prostitute (qedeshah) among the daughters of Israel; there shall be no qadesh among the sons of Israel” [my translation]. The word qedeshah here is a synonym of zonah, which is used in the prohibition in verse 19 [i.e. verse 18 in English]. This is the same situation we have seen in the story of Judah and Tamar.
I can also observe that the Hebrew uses these words as synonyms: zonah (h2181) and qedesh(ah) (h6945/h6948)
There shall be no whore H6948 of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite h6945 of the sons of Israel. (Deu 23:17 KJV)
Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, h2181 or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the LORD thy God. (Deu 23:18 KJV)
This is how the septuagint treats it as well translating both as porneia (G4203/G4204)
17 There shall not be a harlot G4204 from the daughters of Israel, and there shall not be one whoring G4203 from the sons of Israel. 18 You shall not bring the hire of a harlot, G4204 nor the price of a dog, G2965 into the house of the lord your God for any vow. For [4an abomination 5to the lord 6your God 3are 1even 2both].
Gen 38:15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; H2181 because she had covered her face. Gen 38:21 Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, H6948 that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot H6948 in this place. Gen 38:22 And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot H6948 in this place. Gen 38:24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; H2181 and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. H2183 And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. (KJV)
15 And [2seeing 3her 1Judah], assumed her to be a harlot. G4204 For she covered up her face, and [3not 1he recognized 2her]. 16 And he turned aside to her in the way. And he said to her, Allow me to enter to you. For he did not know that [2his daughter-in-law 1she is]. And she said, What will you give to me, if you should enter to me? 17 And he said, I will send to you a kid of the goats from out of my flocks. And she said, You should give a deposit until you send it. 18 And he said, What deposit shall I give to you? And she said, Your ring, and the pendant, and the rod in your hand. And he gave them to her, and he entered to her. And [2in 3the womb 1she conceived] from him. 19 And rising up she went forth. And she removed her lightweight garment from herself, and put on the garments of her widowhood. 20 [3sent 1And 2Judah] the kid of the goats by the hand of his shepherd the Adullamite, to deliver by him to the woman the deposit. And he did not find her. 21 And he asked the men of the place, Where is the harlot, G4204 the one being in Enaim upon the way? And they said, There was no [2here 1harlot G4204]. 22 And he returned to Judah, and said, I did not find her, and the men, the ones from the place, say, There was no [2here 1harlot G4204]. 23 [3said 1And 2Judah], Let her have them, but lest at any time we should be ridiculed, I indeed sent this kid, but you have not found her. 24 And it came to pass after three months, it was announced to Judah, saying, [3fornicated G1608 1Tamar 2your daughter-in-law]. And behold, [2in 3the womb 1she has one] out of harlotry. G4202 [3said 1And 2Judah], Lead her out, and let her be incinerated!
ἐκπορνεύω+ V 14-9-23-0-1=47 Gn 38,24; Ex 34,15.16(bis); Lv 17,7 to commit fornication, to play the harlot [abs.] Gn 38,24; to commit fornication with, to play the harlot with [ἐπί τινα] Ez 16,26; id. [ἔν τινι] Ez 16,17; to resort to sb for fornication [εἴς τινα] Nm 25,1; to prostitute, to cause to commit forni-cation [τινα] Lv 19,29 to go whoring after [ὀπίσω τινός] Ez 20,30; to seduce into immoral practices [τινα] 2 Chr 21,11 neol. Cf. HARL 1986a, 266; HELBING 1928, 78; →LSJ RSuppl; TWNT
A different version of the Septuagint even feels the need to add the idolatrous context to Deuteronomy 23 to make the case clear, showing that the original words did not necessarily mean just cult prostitution but included prostitution in general:
17 There shall not be a harlot of the daughters of Israel, and there shall not be a fornicator of the sons of Israel; there shall not be an idolatress of the daughters of Israel, and there shall not be an initiated person of the sons of Israel. 18 Thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot, nor the price of a dog into the house of the Lord thy God, for any vow; because even both are an abomination to the Lord thy God.
Septuagint Greek definitions from here: http://www.glasovipisma.pbf.rs/phocadownload/knjige/greek%20lexicon%20for%20the%20septuagint.pdf
One other thing I think is interesting in the paper is that this adds some context to Lev 19:29:
In the ancient Near East, women could in fact be dedicated by their fathers or their masters to a deity. Women could also devote themselves to the service of a god or a goddess in order to secure their living. This was done mainly by young widows without grown children, by repudiated wives, by female slaves sent away (like Hagar, Abraham’s concubine in Genesis 21), by lonely women, etc.
So the reason for becoming a prostitute could be from lack of support as well as compelling by the father. (both of which could be termed a cause by the father since the father was supposed to provide for them) Lipinski goes on to describe another nuance in their argument:
These “consecrated” persons performed tasks in the sanctuary, provided domestic help in temple annexes, perhaps provided musical entertainment and possibly sexual services, remitting their fees to the temple. However, qedeshot in the Bible never appear as performing religious sexual rituals, which is the key attribute of a cult prostitute. Women on duty at the entrance to Israelite sanctuaries are mentioned in Exodus 38:8 and 1 Samuel 2:22, but their tasks are not described, and they are not called qedeshot.
At the end of their paper Lipinski has this as well:
Genesis 38:15, 20–21 When Judah saw her, he took her for a harlot (zonah); for she had covered her face. … Judah sent the kid by his friend the Adullamite, to redeem the pledge from the woman; but he could not find her. He inquired of the people of that town, “Where is the cult prostitute (qedeshah), the one at Enaim, by the road?” But they said, “There has been no prostitute (qedeshah) here.”
Deuteronomy 23:18–19 [17–18 English] No Israelite woman shall be a cult prostitute (qedeshah), nor shall any Israelite man be a cult prostitute (qadesh). You shall not bring the fee of a whore (zonah) or the pay of a dog [i.e., male prostitute] into the House of the Lord your God in fulfillment of any vow, for both are abhorrent to the Lord your God.
It looks to me like their main argument is from the biblical text and from Hebrew grammar concerning “Asherah.” Their argument that cult prostitution (as it was practiced in Cananan) was at least extremely rare or even unheard of in Israel is just an additional fact that strengthens their argument. I do think it’s possible that we may just be missing the archaeological evidence that the Israelites were indulging in cult prostitution but the fact is that evidence is hardly in the bible (if at all) and the fact that Archaeologists are better than me at figuring out when we have enough archaeological evidence to conclude that an absence of archaeological evidence is indeed evidence of absence.
They (the people who believe in premarital sex) also stated that in the story of Judah and Tamar the context is cultic prostitution. I responded:
There is no cultic context here, she is sitting in the open not in a temple (as is the practice of cult prostitutes) and he recognizes her as a prostitute simply because she has covered her face. An interesting parallel is Rebecca wearing a veil for Isaac. Surely we are not to conclude that Rebecca is acting as a cult prostitute for Isaac:
The veil is also used as a means of enticement/attractiveness/sexuality when Rebecca is being led by Abraham’s servant to meet for the first time her new fiance, Isaac. (Gen 24) Upon being told that the man in the distance is in fact Isaac, she puts her veil on. (v. 65) Mind you, she had no veil on for the entire journey with Abraham’s servant – APPARENTLY, there was no “modesty requirement” compelling her to wear a veil when with the servant. Rather, when she meets her fiance – someone who she wants to and should look sexually attractive for! (see v. 67) – she then decides to put on a veil. (Much of this answer is developed at length by Olivia Wizniter, at
In addition, it seems like Lipinski is saying that there wasn’t archaeological evidence in the area that Judah and Tamar were in for that. In addition we have plenty of testimony from the Hebrew and the Septuagint that Lipinski’s understanding of zonah being synonymous with qedesha is how the earliest translators would have understood those passages. You again have to insert assumptions into the passages that are not there (and even contradict with Rebecca’s behavior) to make the Bible allow for premarital sex. Just like you have to assume that when Judah promises Tamar to Shelah he is betrothing her and hence her later being declared “zonah” might refer to “adultery.” However, it states in Gen 38:14
“And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.”
If Shelah was betrothed it would have been a big deal to break off the engagement so he could marry someone else. (engagements were treated like marriages) Remember Judah is planning on Shelah NOT marrying Tamar. Tamar obviously doesn’t think that she is going to marry Shelah, this is the whole reason she seduces Judah.
Another reason to connect H3611 and H2181 (hence prostition and “cultic” prostitution) is the following:
Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, h2181 or the price of a dog, H3611 into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are an abomination unto the LORD thy God. (Deu 23:18 KJV)
Gesenius notes that qedeshim (“cult” prostitutes) and the word for “dog” H3611 are used synonymously at the end of his lexical entry: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H3611&t=KJV However, in the verse it is “a whore (zonah) or the price of a dog”
On the biblical and translational evidence alone I think it’s pretty overwhelming that qedashah and zonah are synonymous.
Brad Scott claimed that the Greek letter “Xi” looked like “in the name of Allah” or “bismallah” in Arabic. The first problem with this is that the Arabic is significantly longer. In modern script it is something like:
However, this is not how it was originally written. When you get into the relevant scripts (the earliest Qurans) the comparison is even harder to make. In the 8th century script you can see “Allah” الله the second word from the right below the orange line of Arabic text in the picture:
The Greek and Arabic comparison is further made different by the fact that the ancient Greek Xi looks very little like the script Brad Scott used. Here is a comparison someone made in their post (compare the three examples to the last inserted picture)
This is partially because Greek was originally written in all capital letters (majuscule) and minuscule (lowercase) script only emerged in the 9th century but Brad Scott was using minuscule (lowercase) script for his comparison:
Lastly, what Brad Scott was actually doing was comparing later Greek lowercase script not to “in the name of Allah” but to “Allah,” (which looked like it was not in the original Arabic script of the Quran) الله
I’ve compared below “Allah” and lowercase “xi” in modern Greek. I don’t have the script that he got “Allah” from.
In addition to what I already stated there is another problem here: “Allah” generically refers to “God” in Arabic and can be found as the name of God in Arabic Christian bibles. You can see it here as the fourth word in Genesis (from the right): http://www.copticchurch.net/cgibin/bible/index.php?version=SVD&r=Genesis+1 This would label Muslims and Arabic speaking Christians together.
Brad Scott says he got this theory from Walid Shoebat but contrary to Brad Scott, Shoebat alleges that letters in Arabic were inserted in the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus and this is what scholars (mistakenly) read as “666”
In this video Walid Shoebat asserts that the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Vaticanus and “other codexes” don’t have the number 666 in Greek but instead just the three Greek letters (which he asserts are actually Arabic and an Islamic symbol). . . However, the Codex Sinaiticus has the numbers written out in Greek (not in the form of the three letters: chi, xi, and stigma) while Codex Vaticanus did not originally include The Book of Revelation which was added to it in the 15th century.
Here’s confirmation of this from Sinaicticus if you look at verse 13:18 (I don’t have a font for the ancient script so it is displayed in modern)
Shoebat says he read the Codex Vaticanus and saw Arabic words (and an Islamic symbol) instead of Greek letters. However, the Greek script he saw is minuscule 15th century which does not represent how the original Greek would have looked in majuscule. Irenaeus wrote in the second century that the number was 666 (he alleged that 616 which is in the earliest documents we have was a scribal error) when they were still writing in capitals in Greek and this is before the manuscripts that Shoebat mentions: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103530.htm In fact I don’t believe there is an extant manuscript that predates Irenaeus’s assessment of the Greek characters being a number.
The 15th century addition (which shouldn’t be relevant) of the Codex Vaticanus contains this for the number of the beast:
of which Shoebat is trying to say the middle letter is this in Arabic: