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This Study Series is being released according to the Torah Reading Schedule.

This week- Section 17
Name- יתרו Yitro (Jethro) (Abundance)
Parashah/Parsha- Sh’mot 18.1-20.23
Torah Portion: Exodus 18.1-20.23

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from the JPS edition of The Torah, The Five Books of Moses, A New Translation of The Holy Scriptures, according to the Masoretic Text, First Section. Copyright 1967 by the Jewish Publication Society of America, Second Edition.

This week I want to discuss Deuteronomy 5.17a and Exodus 20.13a.

Deuteronomy 5.17a JPS
17You shall not murder.

Exodus 20.13a JPS
13You shall not murder.

– – – – –

As I discussed in Essay 10, the Deuteronomy narrative of the Ten is from Moses’ perspective. In previous Essays, I have given substantial reasons explaining why. For this Essay, I am not going to restate or summarize any of those reasons. Instead, I assume my reader to have read those Essays.

In the previous Essay, I added more information about the fourth of the Ten and I addressed the fifth of the Ten.

In this Essay, I want to discuss the sixth of the Ten, to include a short review and how it is relevant to the sixth of the Ten.

In the previous Essays, I have discussed that the Ten have an interesting issue, in that the presentation contains information from the first person and the third person points of view.

That is a textual critical analysis where the student notices that the voice of the narration moves from first person (e.g. I am making this statement.) to the third person (e.g. The writer is making this statement.).

Those are significant events within the textual narrative, and critical changes in voices presentation.

For instance when first person (e.g. I am making this statement.), the reader assumes that the “I” in that statement is from me, the author of this material.

However, when third person (e.g. The writer is making this statement.), the reader assumes that “I”, as the author, am pointing to a different person, a third party writer, who is making a particular statement.

That means that we as readers do not make the natural assumption that the third person and the first person refer to the same person. Why? Because in the natural flow of things, that is how it works, first person (e.g. I, me, my) is from one source and third person (he, she, it, they, or “the writer”) is from or about another source, a third party.

For instance, within the second of the Ten (Deuteronomy 5.8-10) is found the first person:

“You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters below the earth. 9You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the LORD your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, 10but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

Therefore, unlike the third, the fourth, and the fifth of the Ten, the second of the Ten lacks the third person portion of the narrative.

IF the second of the Ten included the third person portion of the narrative, the second would look similar to the following (which means it would look similar to the third, fourth, and the fifth):

8You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters below the earth. 9You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For [the LORD] your God [is] an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject [Him], 10but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love [the LORD] and keep [His] commandments.

But that is NOT how the second of the Ten is presented.

Yet that type of first-to-third person shift is how the third, the fourth, and the fifth of the Ten are presented.

Therefore, as students, we have to account for that shift.

I account for that shift by positing that the third-person information is provided by some ancient commentator (e.g. Moses) or some ancient redactor (e.g. the one I call the Deuteronomy Redactor or the one I call the Exodus Redactor).

Therefore, I do NOT posit that Jehovah is speaking from himself (first person) while referencing himself[1] in the third person.

Why do I not posit that? Because positing that Jehovah would speak from himself while referencing himself posits an unnatural means of speaking which contradicts the natural means of speaking.

Importantly, the natural voice is found within the second of the Ten, because the second is being presented from Jehovah’s first person point of view.

Therefore, Jehovah retains and maintains proper natural discourse, which means Jehovah does not shift arbitrarily from first person to third person.

Yet within the narration of the third, fourth, and fifth of the Ten, the narration of those contain a shift from the first person to the third person.

That has to be accounted for.

Consequently, for me, the only rational conclusion is that against the advise found within Deuteronomy itself (Deuteronomy 12.32, or 13.1), Redactor edits were added to the narration of the text.

Uncomfortable? Sure, but that seems to be the manner of human transmission.

Therefore, as students, we have to rationally and reasonably account for the shift from first person to third person, without making Jehovah appear unsound and unstable in manner of presentation.

All of that may appear pedantic but it is tremendously important, because of what we find when we arrive at the sixth of the Ten.

What is missing? An explanation for the commandment.

The second has an explanation, as does the third, the fourth, and the fifth, but not the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, or tenth, not even a third person commentary.

Instead and interestingly, unlike the tenth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, and the ninth are all simple statements from the first person point of view.

Why is that important?

One simple observation, the amount of commentary that exists on the sixth of the Ten, discussing the translation of the Hebrew word. Does the Hebrew word mean “murder” or does the Hebrew word mean “kill”?

Therefore what is conspicuously absent from the sixth is an ancient commentary, even when third person, providing inline comments about how to understand the sixth of the Ten.

Since that commentary is missing, we have discussions about the intended meaning of the Hebrew word that is translated as either: murder, or kill.

So herein sets the issue for me, while the sixth of the Ten does not contain divine or human commentary, the laws within the Torah (and Genesis through about Exodus 19 is not law) are to be interpreted based on the Ten.

Therefore, the application of the Hebrew word ratsach (H7523, which is translated by the KJV into English with the words: slayer, murderer, manslayer, kill, murder, slain, death, killed, killing) matters.

Why?

Because if ratsach is properly understood as “killing” then the priests and participants “killed” animals for sacrifices as well as “killed” animals for food.

Because if ratsach is properly understood as “killing” then it seems improper for a person to be “killed” for having “killed” another person.

These things make for emotional, ethical, and moral dilemmas.

Why?

Because if ratsach prohibits “killing”, it is proper to ask: can a person “kill” an animal and eat it (Deuteronomy 15.23)?

Because if ratsach prohibits “killing”, it is proper to ask: can a person “kill” another person in self-defense (Exodus 22.2-3)?

Because if ratsach prohibits “killing”, it is proper to ask: can a “killer” be sentenced to death (Numbers 35.30)?

These types of questions have plagued students of the scriptures for millennia, and have given rise to multiple interpretations of the sixth of the Ten.

Some interpret the commandment as prohibiting the act of extinguishing any life whether animal or human, which makes for interesting social issues regarding one-time murderers or serial murderers.

Some interpret the commandment as prohibiting only murder, which makes for interesting social issues regarding police and military personnel who are placed into a position when they may bring a human life to an end.

What does ratsach mean?

Brown-Driver-Briggs conveys that the Hebrew conveys death by murder, slaying, or killing, that death could be premeditated, accidental, done by an avenger, or even an assassination.

So that definition doesn’t resolve anything, because it simply confirms what I have already discussed.

Strong’s definition conveys that ratsach is from a primitive root that means to dash into pieces.

Following the meaning of the primitive root, it follows that one can dash a clay pot into many pieces and thus one has “slain” the clay.

Therefore it follows that the sixth of the Ten is not prohibiting all applications of “dashing into pieces” Why? Because if all applications were prohibited then the sixth could be interpreted as prohibited things like recycling, where entire items are “dashed” into pieces for the purpose of being reconstituted into other items.

So prohibiting the breaking of glass and pottery cannot be the intended meaning of the sixth.

Therefore, to have a greater appreciation for the depth of this commandment, it helps to turn to a passage like Numbers 35.30 JPS:
If anyone kills[H5221] a person[H5315], the manslayer[H7523] may be executed[H7523] only on the evidence of witnesses; the testimony of a single witness against a person[H5315] shall not suffice for a sentence of death[H4191].

I have been discussing H7523, because that is ratsach, the word found in the sixth of the Ten, whether Deuteronomy or Exodus.

Numbers 35.30 is helpful, but not as helpful as we might like.

The passage is helpful because ratsach is translated by the JPS as both manslayer and executed, which gives two different applications.

The passage is helpful because it brings up different Hebrew words nakah (H5221, kills), and has a double occurrence of muth (H4191, death).

The passage is not helpful because the Hebrew word nephesh (H4315) can refer to animal life (e.g. Genesis 9.4 where animals are permitted as food, but the blood of the animal is not to be eaten).

Therefore, Numbers 35.30 is helpful and not helpful, because the passage itself could be interpreted as not taking the life of an animal.

Since that is the case, it is helpful that passages like Genesis 9.3-4 exist (JPS):
3Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these. 4You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it.

Therefore, it seems that the sixth of the Ten (Deuteronomy 5.17) is not prohibiting the “killing” of animal life, but the “killing” of human life, which becomes further described as accidental death (e.g. Deuteronomy 4.42, Deuteronomy 19.5), or justice (e.g. Numbers 35.30).

The difficulty is that death is part of life, and death will be addressed in additional passages in Deuteronomy.

But the question remains: does Jehovah intend for humans to take life?

I answer from the creation account.

Genesis 1.29-30 JPS:
God said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, [I give] all the green plants for food.”
NOTE: the “[I give]” is original to the JPS.

Consider that “life” translates the Hebrew word nephesh. As such, as created, Eden was to be a place of vegetarian diet, which means that humans were not intended to eat animals, and it seems animals were not intended to eat other animals.

However, after the flood, the dietary directive changed, as seen in Genesis 9.3 (JPS):
Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.

However in Genesis 9.3 the English word “lives” translates the Hebrew word chay (H2416), which is different than nephesh.

Yet, within that context, it still seems that God gave to humanity animal life as food, and that was given only after humanity was given the directive of vegetarian dietary sustenance at the garden.

So it is possible to interpret the sixth of the Ten as prohibiting the extinguishing of any nephesh, whether animal or human.

But, based upon the remainder of the Five Books of Moses, and because the sixth of the Ten has direct situational context to honoring parents and respecting personal relationships and personal property and people associated with persons, it seems most likely that the sixth of the Ten is prohibiting the taking of human life, which if/when human life is taken that loss of life is addressed in various situations that gave rise to that lose of life.

 
 
Footnote:
[1] I have explained my position about Jehovah’s gender in previous Essays. However, as I have mentioned in previous Essays, I simply retain the gender reference of “himself” from the Hebrew in order to make it easier for me to state my point.

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