Laws for the Ger; Fully Forgiven?

1.  Today, I read Jacob Milgrom’s introduction to his commentary, Leviticus 17-22.   This commentary talks a lot about the Holiness Source (H) in Leviticus.  Milgrom contrasts H with the Priestly Source (P), both of which are part of this biblical book.  According to Milgrom, whereas P is concerned about the profanation of the sanctuary, H fears the profanation of the land, which can even be done by Gentiles.  That is why H believes that the non-Israelite resident aliens should observe the “Thou shalt nots” of the Torah, whereas they’re not obligated to perform the “Thou shalts”: H doesn’t want resident aliens to profane the land by doing bad stuff.

I wonder to what extent Milgrom is right about the resident alien and the laws that he has to keep.  Granted, when I do a search and see the Torah phrase that there shall be one law for the native Israelite and the resident alien, most often, the law being discussed is a “Thou shalt not”.  That includes prohibitions on working on the Sabbath and holy days. 

But there are some things that resident aliens don’t have to do, under the Torah.  Under one law in the Pentateuch, they can eat carrion, whereas an Israelite cannot (Deuteronomy 14:21; contrast with Leviticus 17:15).  Resident aliens only observe the Passover if they want to do so, and, in such a case, they must be circumcised (Exodus 12:48-49).  Numbers 15:14 appears to say (if I’m reading it correctly) that a resident alien may offer a sacrifice, implying that he’s not mandated to do so.  But, if the resident alien does something defiling, such as handle the ashes of the red heifer, or eat carrion, then he must practice the purification ritual (Leviticus 17:15; Numbers 19:10).  What defiles, defiles, regardless of who does it, and so those who do the defiling are required to clean up their messes, whether they’re Israelites or resident aliens.  That’s a “Thou shalt” that resident aliens must do!

I’m somewhat interested in the laws that apply to resident aliens, on account of something that Beverly Roberts Gaventa says in the HarperCollins Study Bible about Acts 15:20, in which James lays no more burden upon the Gentile Christians than to abstain from food offered to idols, fornication, strangled animals, and the consumption of blood.  Gaventa states: “In Lev 17:8-18:30 these regulations govern both Israel and outsiders who live within Israel; thus, James proposes a law for gentile Christians in keeping with Mosaic law but without imposing circumcision…”

But, if James were basing his decision on the laws of the Torah that bound resident aliens, would that imply that he believed the Gentile Christians couldn’t work on the Sabbath, since resident aliens under the Torah were forbidden to do such?  Or could James’ decision be based on something else, such as the Noachide laws that rabbis believed were binding on Gentiles?  Those included a ban on idolatry (which perhaps could be extended to eating food offered to idols), fornication, and the consumption of blood.

2.  In Midrash and Literature, I read James Kugel’s essay, “Two Introductions to Midrash”.  The following passage on page 85 stood out to me:

And so one does atone, and search in one’s midst and in one’s past; and if, in spite of all effort, conditions do not improve, what conclusion is available other than that atonement has not been sufficient, or that sinners continue even now, undetected, or that past infractions have so accumulated as to cause God’s long-restrained wrath to run a lengthy course?

This is a rich quote.  What it brought to my mind was how the Jews returned from exile at the decree of Cyrus, and yet, even then, Ezra remarked that they were still slaves to a foreign power, and he asked God for forgiveness (Ezra 9).  But didn’t God already proclaim through Second Isaiah that Israel was forgiven during the exile, that her penalty is paid and she has received double for her sins (Isaiah 40:2)?  Did God really forgive her?  If so, why was she still enslaved?

Of course, during the time of Ezra, there were Jews who were engaging in a fresh sin: intermarriage with foreigners.  Plus, in Nehemiah 5, we encounter rich Israelites who were exploiting and oppressing their fellow country-people.  Maybe full restoration didn’t follow Israel because sin was still by her side.  And yet, didn’t God promise that he’d take care of this problem when he restored Israel, by circumcising her heart (Deuteronomy 30:6), or giving her a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:26-27), or writing his laws upon her heart (Jeremiah 31:33)—however you want to phrase it?

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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