Sunday, November 21, 2010

Slavery Gets Oh-So-Marginally Better

Chapter 18 features the return of Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, who gives him what is apparently a ridiculously long-overdue lecture on the merits of delegating. Moses has apparently been personally handling every quibble and confusion that arises in our group of extremely whiny nomads, and is nearing burn-out. He appoints an entire hierarchy of trustworthy men to govern subgroups in sizes of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands, to teach the laws, tell everyone what work to do, and "show them the way wherein they must walk" which seems like it might be overkill, but I suppose God is nothing if not a stickler for detail.

Next, preparations for God's descension to Mount Sinai, where Moses will receive the Ten Commandments, thought to be the fundamental basis of our legal system by people who presumably are totally unfamiliar with either the ten commandments, our legal system, or both.

As far as I can tell, the rules given in Chapters 20-24 happen before Moses goes up the mountain; either God is just talking to himself, or he has no problem with giving out rules, including the Ten Commandments, without three days of cleansing and hullabaloo.

Most notably, we get a ton of super creepy slavery rules! If you buy a Hebrew, you have to let him go in seven years for free, but if he gets a wife from you then you get to keep her and all their kids-I guess the seven year limit doesn't apply to Hebrew women? Or children? Or maybe you are giving your servant non-Hebrew wives or something. If your servant doesn't want to abandon his entire family, he has the option of committing to lifelong slavery, at the low low price of getting stabbed through the ear. Also you are NOT allowed to beat your slaves to death, unless it takes your slave a day or two after said beating to actually die, in which case hey, your money, your business. Careful not to blind your slave or knock out any teeth, though, because if they survive, they get their freedom! I get the impression this explicit out was conveniently ignored during our country's sordid pro-slavery past.

If you dig a pit and someone's ox falls into it and dies, you have to buy it, so careful. "You break it, you bought it" also applies to virgins, btw.

Most interesting to me is the context in which we find the famous "Eye for an eye" passage:

[21:22] And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow; he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
[21:23] But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
[21:24] eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
[21:25] burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

That's right, gang-beating a woman to miscarry warrants a fine. That has to be more morally despicable than a clinical abortion procedure, and yet it is a slap-on-the-wrist offense. Right there with the most explicit vengeance morals in the Old Testament, it clearly says fetuses don't count. Kind of puts a kibosh on the logic of blowing up abortion clinics, don't you think?