Eye for an Eye: Leviticus 24:10-23

We’ll end the week and the chapter with a narrative, finally. Like many of Aesop’s fables, though, this is not fit for children.

Two men get in a fight. One, a son of an Egyptian father and a woman of the tribe of Dan, blasphemed. Tradition says he made fun of the showbread, saying it was stale food for a God. Tradition also says he didn’t have a place in the camp, without a father in a tribe. He was arrested, and condemned to be put outside the gate, beyond the pale, and stoned to death.

This year, I re-imagined the penalty. Just as sacrifice of an animal requires that its owner stand before the priest with hand on its head, as it is ritually slaughtered, so this penalty of stoning is intimate. Everybody who could hear the blasphemy is to stand with hand on the head of the convicted blasphemer, while the stones pelt him. The accuser is at risk – as are those who were complicit in not scolding and sanctioning the guy into silence at the time!

Read it again in terms of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, and facing a penalty of stoning. We focus on ‘let the one without sin cast the first stone’ – how about the image of Jesus standing with her, not as one accusing her, but as one who could instead scold and sanction her into social order?

This story is presented as a setup a ‘moral of the story’ list of aphorisms, which hardly fit the sentiments of the preceding two dozen chapters of Leviticus. Without the story, it would be a forbidding list of capital crimes, which we’d addressed a couple of weeks ago. Here is the law of proportionate retribution, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’. The demand of proportionality is the usual distinction drawn – not indiscriminate revenge. Carpet-bombing, ‘shock and awe’, napalm, or total drone surveillance, don’t comply.

The wrinkle in this text is its concern that the same rule is used for a citizen as for stranger or sojourner or resident alien. Again, likely our treatment of asylum seekers and visible newer Canadians stands under judgment today.

He was condemned. They killed him. That’s it, right? And if you think that the brutal face value is the story, then you just don’t ‘get’ Torah yet.

And, if you can’t see a connection to the crucifixion, or think that any similarities are historical accidents, then you don’t get the difference between truth and historicity.

Let’s let that simmer, as we end our penultimate week as ‘Glib Liberals Reading Leviticus in Tory Times’!

10 A man whose mother was an Israelite and whose father was an Egyptian came out among the people of Israel; and the Israelite woman’s son and a certain Israelite began fighting in the camp.

11 The Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name in a curse. And they brought him to Moses —now his mother’s name was Shelomith, daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan—

12 and they put him in custody, until the decision of the LORD should be made clear to them.

13 The LORD said to Moses, saying:

14 Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands on his head, and let the whole congregation stone him.

15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying: Anyone who curses God shall bear the sin.

16 One who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death.

17 Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death.

18 Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life.

19 Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return:

20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered.

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.