Kidnapping Law, Part 1

Source: Michael Fishbane’s Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (New York: Oxford, 1988) 188.

Exodus 21:16: “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death” (KJV).

According to Fishbane, “if he be found in his hand” is a later interpolation, for there’s illogic in the law’s final form. Fishbane states that, if the kidnapper had sold the person, he wouldn’t be found in his (the kidnapper’s) hand. Fishbane translates that part of the verse “and he is found with him,” which may account for his confusion. Still, he does acknowledge that ve can mean “or,” so I don’t understand where he believes the illogic is.

Fishbane also argues that, had the original author wanted to list the alternatives, he would have put “if he be found in his hand” before “selleth him,” since the kidnapper had the man in his hand before he decided to sell him. Because the syntax is awkward and the law is not simple, Fishbane maintains that there’s an interpolation: at first, people were charged with kidnapping only if they sold a person. Later Israelite law, however, held that mere possession of a person could lead to kidnapping charges.

What Fishbane says is possible, but is it necessarily the case? Is something an interpolation just because the verse doesn’t read as Fishbane thinks it should? Who says that the text has to read simply? Maybe the author thought that a kidnapper would obviously steal a person in order to sell him as a slave and make money on the deal. He then remembered that this may not be the case, since he could have kidnapped him to have a slave as his own.

Moreover, Fishbane assumes that the Torah had case-laws that were applied, when they could have been approached as an academic exercise.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at how Deuteronomy approaches the Covenant Code in this case.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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