Childs on the Covenant Code and Exodus 24

For my write-up today of Brevard Childs’ commentary on the Book of Exodus, I will be a little more general than I usually am in my write-ups, since I am a little tired right now.  (Although this post will appear on a morning, I’m actually writing it at night.)  I have two items:

1.  Childs talks about the Covenant Code and compares the laws there with other ancient Near Eastern laws.  For him, there are cases in which the Covenant Code resembles other ancient Near Eastern laws, but there are other cases in which the Covenant Code is a vast improvement, as when it values the life even of a thief who breaks into a house during the day-time.  In some cases, Childs deems certain laws in the Covenant Code to be primitive, and he rejects attempts by ancient interpreters to rescue them.  For example, my impression is that Childs does not like the law saying that a slave-master can beat his slave and is let off the hook if the slave gets up after a day-or-so, since the slave is the master’s property.  The law also affirms that the slave-master is to be punished if the slave does not get up, and ancient interpreters have held that the master gets the death penalty.  But Childs does not buy that, and he laments that the punishment of the slave-master is in the arbitrary hands of the judge.

(UPDATE: See Paul D.’s comments and my responses here.  Another way to understand Exodus 21:21 is to say that, if the slave survives for a day or two and then dies, then the slave will not be avenged.  Some commentaries appear to go with that view, whereas others support the view that the slave in v 21 is surviving the beating.  I just checked how Childs translated the passage: “But if he survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged since he is the other’s property.”)

Overall, however, Childs does not agree with the idea that the progressive New Testament is replacing the primitive Old Testament, for he defends “eye-for-an-eye” as a step up from what other countries in the ancient Near East had (i.e., a rich person could simply pay up after causing damage to someone’s person), and he states that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount applies to individuals, not the social order.  But, given that there are some things in the Covenant Code that Childs does not like, what’s his view on progressive revelation, the notion that people evolved in their moral sensitivity and their understanding of God?  The answer is that he does not believe in it, for he sees little indication in the Bible of what can be called progress.  Rather, for Childs, different communities can have different standards, and Christians should not casually dismiss the Mosaic law or Jewish interpretations of it as “legalistic”.  Unfortunately, I did not see Childs really interact with the question of what we should do with the troublesome aspects of the Bible, if we want to regard it as sacred Scripture, as Childs indeed does.

2.  Childs documents that Exodus 24 has given exegetes problems—in ancient and modern times.  As usual, Childs disagrees with conservative attempts to explain those problems away through harmonization or midrash, as well as the liberal tendency to shatter the text into a multitude of pieces, while making no attempt to put the pieces together to see what the text is saying.  In the case of Exodus 24, Childs thinks that the chapter performs an important role: it presents the God who terrified Israel in Exodus 19 as now entering into intimacy with Israel, as elders eat in God’s very presence.

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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