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

This week- Section 21
Name- כי תשׂא (When You Take) (When You Elevate)
Parashah/Parsha- Sh’mot 30.11-34.35
Torah Portion: Exodus 30.11-34.35

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 5.18 [5.21] and Exodus 20.14 [20.17].

Deuteronomy 5.18 JPS [Deuteronomy 5.21 KJV]
18You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not crave your neighbor’s house, or his field, or his male or female slave, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

Exodus 20.14 JPS [Exodus 20.17 KJV]
14You shall not covet your neighbor’s house: you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

– – – – –

As I discussed in Year 2 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 discussed the ninth of the Ten.

In this Essay, I want to discuss the tenth of the Ten.

As I discussed in the previous Essay, there is no movement from first person to third person with the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, or tenth.

That absence of movement from first person to third person means that an inline comment explaining these particular commandments is clearly absent.

That absence of inline comments encourages multiple facets of interpretation as to the intended meaning of the commandment, which I will discuss as I go through this Essay.

 
Let me begin by providing a comparison between Deuteronomy 5.18 JPS [Deuteronomy 5.21 KJV] and Exodus 20.14 JPS [Exodus 20.17 KJV].

18a- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
14a- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house:

18b- You shall not crave your neighbor’s house,
14b- you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,

18c- or his field,
14c- [for me, technically, i see Exodus 20.14c as being found in the next group, but this note is made to show the difference between the two passages and therefore I show alignment to phrasing]

18d- or his male or female slave,
14d- or his male or female slave,

18e- or his ox, or his ass,
14e- or his ox or his ass,

18f- or anything that is your neighbor’s.
14f- or anything that is your neighbor’s.

As can be seen, there are several noticeable changes between Deuteronomy and Exodus.

The first change is that Deuteronomy reverses the order of Exodus 20.14a (house) and 20.14b (wife), where Deuteronomy presents it as wife (5.18a) and house (5.18b).

The next change is that Deuteronomy 5.18c includes a reference to the neighbor’s field, which is completely absent from Exodus 20.14.

Additionally, the JPS has several punctuation differences between the two passages.

 
In Essays 17, 18, 19, and 20 I discussed that there is no inline commentary regarding the commandments, which has led to many commentaries about the intended meaning of each commandment.

Similarly, the tenth of the Ten has no inline commentary.

Admittedly, Deuteronomy 5.18 is similar to Exodus 20.14, but they are also different. So why the difference?

Regarding Deuteronomy, a commentary states:
Wife . . . house [order found in Deuteronomy], contrast the order [of] “house . . . wife” in the Exodus Decalogue (Exod. 20.14). There [in Exodus] the sequence suggests that “house” is the inclusive term, with the following list (wife, slave, ox, or ass) serving to itemize its contents. Consistent with their view elsewhere [in Deuteronomy], the authors of Deuteronomy here [in 5.18] completely separate family law from property law. They [the Deuteronomy authors] invert the earlier sequence [of Exodus], placing the wife first. By removing her altogether from the list of other chattels, they [the Deuteronomy authors] establish that the law does not regard the woman as merely one commodity among others comprising a “house”. This [change] is consistent with Deuteronomy’s general view of women.[1]

Regarding Exodus 20.14, that same commentary states the following regarding the concept of “Your neighbor’s house”:
that is, “household,” which the second clause explicates as consisting of wife, servants, and livestock. In Deut. 5.18, which places the wife in the first clause and house, field, servants, and cattle in the second [clause], “house” means dwelling. The wording in Exodus reflects conditions when the Israelites lived as nomadic herders without realestate…; Deut. refers to the kinds of property people will own after settlement in Canaan.[2]

For me, those explanations are inadequate.

So, first, I have to candidly admit that I am NOT studying the Hebrew text, I am studying the English Translation. So there could be conveyances in the Hebrew that do not appear in the English. Not having familiarity with the Hebrew, I am assessing the English.

What is clearly seen is that the tenth provides a list.

The Deuteronomy 5.18 list is: wife, house, field, male slave, female slave, ox, ass [donkey], anything that is your neighbor’s.

The Exodus 20.14 list is: house, wife, male slave, female slave, ox, ass [donkey], anything that is your neighbor’s.

Importantly, an observation I have made is that the JPS makes clauses in Deuteronomy 5.18 by placing a termination point (a period) after wife, but there is no termination point in Exodus 20.14)

That type of punctuation is not found in the KJV, therefore that translation does not make different clauses, and therefore does not make a distinction.
Deuteronomy 5.21 KJV:
Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Exodus 20.17 KJV:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

But Deuteronomy 5.21 ESV retains the JPS termination point:
And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

And Exodus 20.17 ESV places a semicolon after house whereas the JPS used a colon:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

All this demonstrates is that translators cannot seem to agree upon how to punctuate the verses.

Since that is the case, then with regard to Deuteronomy 5.18 [5.21] and Exodus 20.14 [20.17] how should they be understood?

First, it is completely possible that the Hebrew has embedded punctuation that I am not aware of. If so, then that could affect what I am about to postulate.

Yet, not being aware of the Hebrew punctuation, I postulate that the clausal interpretation is not necessarily warranted.

To the contrary, I posit that Deuteronomy 5.18 [5.21] and Exodus 20.14 [20.17] are both providing examples of what can be associated with one’s neighbor, and is not declaring the woman to be chattel of any kind. But, I can accept that word order might have been considered significant at some point.

With that in mind, regarding Exodus 20.14, the same commentary as the previous states the following regarding the concept of “You shall not covet”:
Some view this as an ethical exhortation to master the kinds of impulses that would lead to violation of the preceding commandments, but the Heb[rew] verb sometimes refers to having designs on a desired object, perhaps even to scheming or maneuvering to acquire it (see especially 34.24). Hence, the sense could be “do not scheme to acquire… .”[2]

Considering that then, whether Deuteronomy 5.18 [5.21] or Exodus 20.14 [20.17], it appears that the intent is to curb and/or remove the desire a person could have in coveting, craving, desiring, lusting, and/or ultimately obtaining that which a neighbor has in their life, whether family, land, those who labor for them, animals, or anything, any thing, that one’s neighbor has, especially when one’s neighbor could be a woman, and she could have a husband, those who labor, animals and other possessions.

Therefore, the word neighbor, while associated with the masculine is not functionally limited to what the masculine may or may not have. That means that the tenth is a statement directed at the masculine, but is also a generic statement, because a woman could be a fully functional neighbor, and she too must be respected for that which she has.

Therefore, the Deuteronomy rephrasing can make sense. In the sense that the Deuteronomy Redactor and/or Moses is not placing the woman as a separate issue, but that Deuteronomy and Exodus are listing specific instances that function as examples to explain the generic concept of not coveting.

 
 
Footnote:
[1] Commentary on Deuteronomy 5.18; The Jewish Study Bible; Jewish Publication Society; Tanakh Translation; Oxford University Press; pp.377-378; ISBN: 0-19-529751-2.

[2] Commentary on Exodus 20.14; The Jewish Study Bible; Jewish Publication Society; Tanakh Translation; Oxford University Press; pp.150-151; ISBN: 0-19-529751-2.

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