The last few chapters of Deuteronomy are chock-a-block with a bizaare assortment of laws, some of them so brutal that it would seem impossible to uncover any goodness in them at all. In bullet form, here are some of the verses that just demanded my attention:
- Deut. 20:16-17- “of the towns of these people that the Lord your God is about to give you in estate, you shall let no breathing creature live. But you shall surely put them under the ban- the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has charged you.”
Ban is the military term to describe this total destruction. As one commentator offered, “It is hard to find any mitigation for the ferocity of this injunction to total destruction. The rabbis reinterpreted it, seeking to show that it was almost never strictly applicable. Since the archaeological evidence suggests that the ‘ban’ was never actually implemented, it seems to be the projection in legal imperative of a militant fantasy- but surely a dangerous fantasy.”
- Deut. 21:18-21- “Should a man have a wayward and rebellious son, who does not heed his father’s voice and his mother’s voice, and they punish him and he does not heed them, his father and mother shall seize him and bring him out to the elders of his town and… All the people of his town shall stone him to death…”
According to the Babylonian Talmud (rabbinic interpretation, commentary and discussion of Scripture), “The wayward and rebellious son never existed and never will.” If this isn’t a convincing explanation of the text’s purpose and presence, then at least it may serve as proof of a history of discomfort by religious authorities over a particular passage. Perhaps there is some Scripture that is unredeemable.
- Deut. 22:5- “There shall not be a man’s gear on a woman, and a man shall not wear a woman’s garment, for whoever does all these is an abhorrence of the Lord your God.”
Context is important! What might be “abhorrent about the practice of cross-dressing could be an association with pagan orgiastic activities or even with pagan magic…” Lifting difficult passages out of context is a dangerous activity- to be avoided at all costs.
- Deut. 22:21- [regarding a husband’s claim that his wife was not a virgin when they married] “But if this thing be true, no signs of virginity were found for the young woman, they shall take the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and… stone her to death.”
Again, early interpretation by rabbis attempted to frame this injunction as so difficult to prove that it basically never happened. Cold comfort, I think, for such a brutal practice (no matter how rare it might have actually been).
Which passages demand your attention? And what have you discovered in the process?