Death Penalty Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

Shoshanna Walker rosewalk at
Sun Jan 27 10:24:06 EST 2002

Aren't you distinguishing between when it was man's responsibility to 
put someone to death, and when G-d said He would do it??


>>>[LSF] No murder isn't always punished by death, cf Exodus 21:20. 
>>>No punishment is listed. How do you translate naqom >>>yenaqem?
>>[JDS] He shall be avenged. Blood vengeance, meanng the death 
>>penalty. In other words, a slave is worthy of blood 
>>vengeance >>just as is a free man. That;s the punishment. Casuistic 
>>law always has a sanction.
>[LSF} I'm not sure about this.It seems if so, then it would say mut, 
>yamut. I don't think a punishment,
>except what is avenged by God, i/e., if he has an accedental death. 
>But there is no punishment
>assigned. The slave was his property, and the presumption is you 
>don't purposely destroy
>your own property. So the assumption probably is that you can't 
>murder your own slave
>(Like you can't rape your wife?), so that there is no death penalty.
The death penalty is mentioned elsewhere in the Covenant Code without 
using the term "mot yamut".
Ex. 22:1) If the thief is discovered while breaking in (at night) and 
he is smitten and dies, he has no blood [revenge].
2a) If the sun shone upon him (i.e., if he was discovered and killed 
in daylight), he has blood [revenge].
(2b continues the law begun in 22:37. The principle of associative 
organization of the laws is operating here, as pointed out by Cassuto 
many years ago.)
So both in Ex. 22:20 and in 23:2-3. terms other than "mot yamut" are 
used for the death penalty, indicating in both cases who was to carry 
out the death penalty - as also in 22:12-14.
As for the presumption of a slave-owner not destroying his own 
property, this indeed is operative in 22:21, where the slave smitten 
by his master does not die immediately, but several days afterwards. 
Here, the cause-and-effect relationship between the blows inflicted 
by the master and the death of the slave is no longer unambiguous, 
and the master is given the benefit of the doubt.
The principle of benefit of the doubt is still used in halakhic 
"pesiqa le-qula" .
Jonathan D. Safren
Dept. of Biblical Studies
Beit Berl College
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