September 08, 2007

Deuteronomy 21-23: Ask Moses

Today's reading is Deuteronomy 21-23 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers laws for a variety of situations the Israelites might encounter: unsolved murders, family disputes, marriage disputes, and some other miscellaneous laws.

Because today's readings discuss family and marital disputes in such detail, today I am going to depart from my usual style to present some of the cases in these chapters. Instead of the analytical style I usually try to adopt, today we're going to have a round of every ancient Israelite's favourite advice column, "ask Moses."

Dear Moses,
After our recent raid on a foreign city, after we killed all the men I took one of their women captive, but I've fallen in love with her and want to marry her. What should I do?
Armed and Distressed

Dear Armed,
Clearly, you and this woman were meant to be together. If you really want to go through with the marriage, get her to shave her head, cut her fingernails, and take off her servant's clothing. Then she needs to mourn her parents for a month, because she'll never see them again. After that, go nuts! Just be careful: if you find you don't like her after you've sampled her wares, you can't sell her anymore, but need to let her go free.
(Deut. 21:10-14)

Dear Moses,
I love my husband and he loves me, but I'm his second wife. He hates his first wife, but her son is older than mine. He's supposed to inherit everything, even though my husband hates the brat and loves my little darling better. Is there anything we can do to twist the inheritance laws?
Sugar Momma

Dear Sugar,
Sorry, but you're stuck. The first son gets the double share of inheritance, even if he's an ungrateful brat. Better luck next time.
(Deut. 21:15-17)

Dear Moses,
My son won't listen to me or my wife. He's completely stubborn and is becoming a menace. What should I do?
At My Wit's End

Dear Wits,
If he's as bad as you say he is, take him before the city elders and tell them all about your situation. If they agree that he's uncontrollable, all the men in the city will stone him and save you the trouble of dealing with him.
(Deut. 21:18-21)

Dear Moses,
My daughter's husband is making all sorts of accusations about her. He says that she wasn't a virgin when she married him, but I know for sure she was. No daughter of mine would shame herself by having sex before marriage! How can I make him pay for this slander?
Father Knows Best

Dear Father,
What you do now all depends on whether you've got tokens of your daughter's virginity, by which I mean the bloody sheet from the first time she slept with her husband. If you do, take it before the city elders as proof, and they'll force her vicious husband to pay you 100 shekels of silver. Also, he won't be able to divorce your daughter, ever, saving you the trouble of finding her a new husband. If you don't have the tokens of her virginity, you might want to keep things quiet, because the elders will take your daughter to your house and stone her as a prostitute. Hopefully you're a pack-rat.
(Deut. 22:13-21)

Dear Moses,
My sister was raped; it was horrible! What can I do to bring her attacker to justice?
Searching for Justice

Dear Searching,
It all depends on where your sister was raped. If it happened in the city, you're out of luck: people will assume that she never cried out against the attack, because cities are full of people who would have heard her shouting. She may even have enjoyed it. If this is the case, both your sister and her attacker will be stoned to death. If she was raped in a field, it's better for her case: only her attacker will die, while she will live free. Obviously, even if she cried out in a field, no one would be able to hear her, so it's not her fault she was raped. Just check with her first: if she wasn't betrothed to anyone, and she actually likes the man who slept with her, he can pay your father fifty shekels of silver and marry her, and no one needs to die.
(Deut. 22:23-30)

Dear Moses,
My father was an Egyptian but I converted to the Israelite way. But my priest says that I still can't be part of the Assembly of the Lord! Is he right? This is an outrage!
Raging Like an Egyptian

Dear Raging,
Unfortunately, your priest is right: you can't enter the Assembly of the lord until three generations after the conversions, both for Egyptians and Edomites. But don't worry, at least you're not from Ammonite or Moabite stock; then you'd never be allowed to enter the Assembly!
(Deut. 23:3-8)

Dear Moses,
I was in my neighbour's vineyards yesterday, and I was really hungry because I hadn't eaten breakfast. I picked a few grapes from his vines and ate them, and he caught me doing it. He screamed bloody murder, and I ran. Should I be making for the cities of refuge?
Grapes of Wrath

Dear Grapes,
So long as you didn't try to take any of the grapes away with you, you're safe. You're allowed to eat them as long as you don't fill any container to eat more later. It's the same thing with corn: you can pick a few ears in your neighbour's field, but don't touch a sickle or you'll be in trouble. At least for now, you can go home with a clean conscience.
(Deut. 23:24-25)

And that's it for today. Come back in three days for our usual regime of close textual analysis. For now, be grateful you live in times when talking back to your parents isn't punished by stoning.

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