Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lev 24:10-23, Blasphemy, the Lex Talionis and the Imago Dei

So there I am, minding my own business, reading through Leviticus with my lady wife one evening, when suddenly I realise, with great anger, that the person responsible for paragraphing my Bible (in this instance an ESV) has started a new paragraph complete with section heading in the middle of a narrative unit.  What a wally.  But then again, you could understand why someone might think v17 starts a new subject on account of the fact it moves from the topic of blasphemy to lex talionis (the law of retaliation).  The section starts in verse 10 with the introduction of a new character:

 pic from here
That is him in the middle, the offspring of a Danite woman and an Egyptian man.  It seems like he was visiting his mum (maybe he had had a row with dad?) and then, perhaps because someone made an unkind remark about his parentage, and then got into a fight and whilst he was fighting blasphemed (v11).  So the Israelites, who until that point had been enjoying watching a good fight, put him in custody until Moses could tell them what God wanted them to do (v12).  So far so good, the Lord then speaks to Moses explaining the method for dealing with blasphemers and also pointing out that the same rule applied to both aliens and citizens, one rule for all (v13-17).  But then God seems to go off on a tangent,
'If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone's animal must make restitution—life for life. If anyone injures his neighbour, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.'  Lev 24:17-22
Which you might think started a new subject, except for the fact it cannot, because the story that started with the introduction of the half-Israelite half-Eygyptian blasphemer is yet to finish, and does in fact finish in the next verse, where his story ends with his violent death (v23).  So what is the connection between blasphemy and the lex talionis, so that the author would place the two together like that?  (if indeed they needed to "placed" together in the first place)

What occurred to me as I pondered this was whether or not this might relate to Gen 9:6, where we have another lex talionis (kind of), that "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." (NRSV)  Isn't the justification for this lex talionis that murder equates in someway to blasphemy against the image of God in one's fellow human?  In which case the link between blasphemy and murder has already been made.  In Lev 24:10-23, that link is simply made in another direction, possibly predicated on Gen 9:6.  The punishment for blasphemy is death, and murder is itself a form of blasphemy, so it is simple move to go from talking about blasphemy (of the name) to murder (of the image bearer).  However the law is careful to differentiate between the life of an animal and the life of a human, because the animal does not bear the image (v18, 21; animal rights activists take note!).  On the other hand it is equally careful to remove differentiation between citizen and alien in this matter, all human life is equally sacred, it is not dependent on nationality (v16, 22). 

Ok, so here are some questions:
1) How come all the conservative Christians that want the death penalty for murder don't campaign equally vigorously for the death penalty for blasphemy?
2) Those of you who don't support the death penalty for murder, what does that say about your valuing of the human life that was taken?
3) Matt 5:38-42 anyone?


  1. Not on topic, but out of interest, what led you to pick an ESV?

    (My wife uses an ESV and she likes it cus she is an English teacher who loves the classics, and she likes to "elevated prose"!)

  2. since we've been married me and the missus have read through the NRSV and the NIV, we are now doing the ESV, we don't like it much, but it's still a Bible, personally, i find it is too often awkward for no good reason. for elevated prose i prefer the old RSV. for stilted adherence to the structure of the original languages the NASB. i don't think the ESV will find a place in my our hearts long term, but reading different translations is always good to help keep your Bible reading fresh. and no that really wasn't on topic, easily distracted much? :-)

  3. Pretty much :-). You should try the HCSB. The ESV and NRSV are both fairly stilted to me, and I reckon it's cus they both rely on the 60+ year old RSV as the basis for their text, and keep more than they change.

    The HCSB tries to be as literal as possible but it's a fresh translation. I like it!

  4. yes i'v been hearing good things about th HCSB and esoecially the study bible, maybe something for x-mas?