Bible study 71 – Exodus 21Posted: December 13, 2016
In this and the next two chapters, God continues with a long list of rules the Israelites must follow. Note that there is still no indication that the Ten Commandments given in the previous chapter are more important than these.
First, slaves. The Oxford Bible notes suggest that some “slaves” are only indentured servants, but chattel slavery clearly also exists. Slaveowners can sell their slaves, and beat them almost to death (only if the slave dies within two days of the beating should the slaveowner be punished), “for the slave is the owner’s property.” In particular, the slaves are valued at thirty shekels of silver (which would suggest that these rules were not supposed to be written down and followed literally for eternity, since the value of slaves and silver obviously fluctuate over time).
Next, capital offenses: Premeditated murder, physically abusing one’s parents, kidnapping, verbally abusing (“cursing”) your parents. But if someone kills someone else “by an act of God” (which I take to mean “in the heat of the moment”), the killer can flee and hide from the victim’s family.
The rest of the rules concern various types of violence; in quarrels, injuries to innocent bystanders near quarrels, injuries to victims of wild oxen, and injuries to animals. Most of these are to be solved with the Babylonian principle Lex Talionis, or “tooth for tooth”.