Wednesday, November 26, 2003


The (hardly-radical but deeply humanitarian) scholar B Davie Napier (President of the Pacific School of Religion) on the values and principles of the ancinet Hebrew legal codes:

"The principle of sympathy and consideration for the weak is expressed with astonishing variety. There are numerous duplicate and some triplicate laws which buttress the rights of all dependent classes -- servants, slaves, captives, the defenseless, the maimed and the handicapped, and of course the poor. Widows, orphans and sojourners... are regarded in the law with full appreciation... This is best illustrated in one of the most remarkable single features of the law -- its prescribed treatment of the alien. The term in Hebrew, ger, certainly does not apply exclusively to the resident alien, the foreigner in permanent residence, although to be sure this is the sense of Exodus 23:9. Possibly, as Herbert G. May has recently reminded us, the term applies in postexilic times primarily to the resident alien or the proselyte. But that even then this was by no means exclusively the sense is attested by the parallelism of Job 3 1:32: "The ger has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the wayfarer." The ger may be a foreigner in permanent or semi-permanent residence; but he (sic) is also any stranger who happens into the community on a peaceful, friendly and legitimate errand."

And of course the trajectory of the specifically prophetic narratives is towards the abolition of 'dependent classes' altogether, and in favour of communal justice. Worth reminding your local parliamentary representative about that.

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