[b-hebrew] Exo 21:21 - does the slave live or die?

Jim Courter jim.courter at gmail.com
Fri Oct 31 06:08:19 EDT 2008

I am overseeing a revision of a German translation where I commented on the
present translation of Exo 21:20-21 (the German is at the end of for those
who know German): "If a master beats his slave with a stick so much that he
dies on the spot, the owner must be punished. But if the slave stays alive
for a day or two the owner should not be punished; the loss of his
possession is punishment enough. The same goes for female slaves". The
Hebrew translated in the German as - "stays alive" is ya'amod (someone
please send me a list of the transliteration guidelines). I commented that
this word is ambiguous here and should be translated differently as I
explain under interpretation 2 which follows. Of course, two very different
conclusions can be drawn from the way this is translated: 1. The owner will
not be punished at all if his badly-beaten slave is confined to a bed for a
day or two then dies (since he must not have intended to kill him)  2. The
owner will not be executed if the slave is back on his feet after a day or
I commented on this translation that since interpretation 2 is possible and
presents a more 'humane' scenario the translation should be changed. The
Hebrew seems to be ambiguously worded, but the question is what the passage
really means. The reviser who is checking my comments does not agree with
me, citing most other translations (except NIV) and some commentaries she is
Then there is the question about what the Hebrew "for he is his money"
means. With interpretation 1 the slave has a right to beat his slave as
badly as he wants as long as the slave doesn't die right away. He'll just
not have the slave any more when he dies and be out financially because his
investment is gone. This is how the German translation finishes verse 21.
With interpretation 2 the owner has a right to beat his slave so badly he
has to be in bed for a day or two, but he will miss out on the slave's work
for that long.
Any conclusive insight into this would be greatly appreciated.
German original: Schlägt ein Herr seinen Sklaven mit einem Stock so sehr,
dass er auf der Stelle stirbt, muss der Besitzer bestraft werden. *Bleibt
der Sklave aber noch ein bis zwei Tage am Leben*, soll der Besitzer nicht
bestraft werden; der Verlust seines Eigentums ist Strafe genug. Dasselbe
gilt für Sklavinnen.
Jim Courter

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