[b-greek] Re:Exodus 21:22-23 (LXX)

From: Daniel L. Christiansen (dlc@multnomah.edu)
Date: Thu Oct 19 2000 - 17:46:11 EDT

I privately received the following post, which I assume was meant for the
entire list. My response follows.

Deborah Greenhill wrote:

> Daniel,
> We must read this passage and interpret it as the rabbis interpret it; in
> that way we can fully understand the Law of Moses, and how the Sanhedrin
> would have ruled in such a case. I quote from Sanhedrin 79a:
> "If it is,then a 'life for a life' is meant literally; the assailant
> receives the deaath penalty. If it is not sufficient intent, the above
> phrase refers to damages, i.e., he must pay her monetary value.'
> Verses 13 and 14 establish intent to murder-or premeditated murder. That
> gets the death penalty. But unintentional taking of life is not the death
> penalty. I quote from the rabbinic interpretation in the Stone Edition
> Chumash:
> "Never was there a Jewish court that ever blinded or otherwise inflicted a
> physical injury in revenge on retribution; the only corporal punishments
> ever imposed are the death penalty and lashes, where provided by the Torah
> [Law]. The question that remains, however, is why the Torah expressed this
> monetary punishment in terms that could be taken literally to mean that
> Jewish courts routinely mutilate people. Rambam and other commentators
> explain that in the Heavenly scales, the perpetrator deserves to lose his
> own eye-and for this reason cannot find atonement for his sin merely by
> making the required monetary payments; he must also beg his victim's
> forgiveness-but the human courts have no authority to do more than require
> the respponsible party to make monetary restitution." page 423
> You will recall that the 'cities of refuge' were set up for those
> individuals who accidentally took the life of another individual. Thus,
> Exodus 21:22-23 is speaking of a premeditated act.
> Hope I have helped,
> Dr. Deborah J. Greenhill


    I would disagree that we "must read this passage and interpret it as the
rabbis interpret it; in
that way we can fully understand the Law of Moses." That, of course, begs the
question of whether the rabbinical interpretation is correct. Of course, that
is beyond the scope of this list. I only mention this disagreement, so that I
am not misunderstood when I say I do value historical interpretations.
However, while I agree that the history of Rabinnical interpretation has value
in our coming to an understanding of a text's meaning, I hope that you noticed
I was not attempting to interpret the Exodus passage. James Anderson asked
only for a translation; that is why I avoided providing any commentary along
with my response. There is no hint in the immediate context that YUXH means
anything other than a literal life. In the absence of clearly-demonstrated
idiomatic phrasing, I believe that a translation should not attempt to
"explain" more than the original.
    The Rabinnic "unpacking" of the phrase may indeed approach the author's
meaning, or not. However, the first issue must be (IMO) faithfully
representing what the text itself actually says. (Yes, I am aware of the
current discussions regarding the *meaning* of texts). Afterwards, one must
determine what is meant by what was said. Lastly, a decision must be made as
to whether one wishes to stick with the "unpacked" language, or produce a
translation which explains.


Daniel L. Christiansen
Professor of Biblical Languages, Portland Bible College
Adjunct Professor, Bible Department, Multnomah Bible College
(503) 820-0231

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