Looking at the Bible through a different lens

bible2.jpgMost Americans look at the Bible through the lens of religion. Professor Christine Hayes, in her Yale University course Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), teaches us how to look at the Bible through the lens of modern biblical scholarship, which includes the insights of literary analysis, comparison with other contemporary cultures, and comparative anthropology.

Course tidbit: Listening to this course, I have learned to look at the Hebrew Bible in new ways. Example: most of us think of the famous lex talionis, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” as a vengeful and primitive law. Professor Hayes points out that another ancient near Eastern law code used similar language to call for punishment that fits the crime but the differences are very instructive. An aristocrat who destroys the eye of another aristocrat will have his own eye destroyed. But if an aristocrat destroys the eye of the commoner, he only has to pay monetary compensation.

The full text of the biblical lex talionis reads: “If anyone maims his fellow, as he has done so shall it be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The injury he inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him… You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I the Lord, am your God.”

The biblical law is emphasizing that punishment should be proportional, that is only an eye for an eye, not a life for an eye. Furthermore it says that all residents of the land are equal before the law. The same law applies to the stranger and the citizen, and there is no special exception carved out for aristocrats.

Another great resource for the do-it-yourself biblical scholar is the Princeton series of three lecturers by renowned biblical scholar Paula Fredriksen on the subject Sin: The Early History of an Idea. Professor Fredriksen’s lectures are available on iTunes under “Princeton University podcasts,” and on this webpage.

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