Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Friday, April 07, 2006

Lex talionis: Bible Comment on Leviticus 24 with poem by Amos N. Wilder, To Pulpit and Tribune

Daily Readings
Psalm 56, Numbers 3, Leviticus 24, Matthew 2

Daily Text: Leviticus 24

Lex talionis
Blasphemy of YHWH’s name motivates Moses to make a special inquiry as to what judgment should be made in this Leviticus 24 reading. This special inquiry occurs on only three other occasions, all recorded in Numbers (9:6ff., 15:32ff., and 27:1ff. [185:936]). In response God gives Moses instructions as to how to respond to blasphemy and other violent acts. Blasphemy is obviously seen as a violent and heinous act against God. Others are all against fellow humans and include murder, the death of another’s animal, and injury to another human being.

The blasphemy is what concerns us here, apart from why the inquiry is necessary, whether because the man is an alien, or because of the problematic nature of mixed marriage or the blasphemy itself. More interesting is God’s response. Take him outside the camp, have all of those who heard him blaspheme lay their hands on his head and then the whole congregation is to stone him. The laying on of hands is reminiscent of offering animal sacrifice e.g., Leviticus 1:4, 3:2. That is, all those who heard him blaspheme, probably by pronouncing the name of YHWH, bear some guilt by association. Running through their minds is this blasphemy and they witness to his sin and their inadvertant participation in it by laying their hands on his head before he is stoned. The man dies for his own sin, but there is suggested here that his death in some way atones for theirs.

Lex talionis, an eye for and eye, is also included here. Hertz writes that ‘This is ”one of the paradoxes of history. On the one hand, Judaism, the so-called religion of ‘strict justice,’ rejected the literal application of the law of retaliation and knew neither torture in legal procedure nor mutilation as a form of punishment. In Christian lands, on the other hand, mutilation and torture are well-nigh the indispensable accompaniments of justice from the middle of the thirteenth century down to the middle of the eighteenth, and in some countries to the middle of the nineteenth and beyond” [185:939]. What is interesting is that in the late twentieth century and in the present, Israel is going way beyond Judaism’s former conservative practice in its violence against the Palestinians, the current day ‘aliens’ in their midst. They are going way beyond even Lex talionis in this struggle. Reportedly, the state of Israel now employs secret prisons for the torture of prisoners who are never heard of again and that the United States makes use of such facilities, as well. How refreshing it would be to see a return to the sanity of biblical justice!

To Pulpit and Tribune
Amos N. Wilder


Speak holy words—too many blasphemies,
Too many insolent and strident cries
And jeers and taunts and maledictions rise.

Speak faithful words—too many tongues that please,
And idle vows, and disingenuous pleas,
And heartless and disheartening levities.

Speak quiet words—the constellations wait,
The mountains watch; the hour for man is late
Likewise to still his heart and supplicate.

Speak chastened words—for anguish is at hand,
Intolerable, that none can understand,
And writs of ill no mortal eye has scanned.

Speak gentle words—for fallen on the knives
These sentient hearts and these exceeeded lives
Bleed till their pitying Advocate arrives.

Speak holy words—and O thou tarrying Lord,
Leave not thy cherished to the power of the sword;
Come with thy hosts and rout the opprobrious horde.
407:1644

Collect for the Day
Giver of courage, when our path is hard and dangerous, give us the grace of quiet confidence. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. [476:777:56 Psalm prayer]

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