Reader Dan Gorin points out that my last entry missed the fascinating law that comes right before "eye for an eye" in Chapter 22. If a man pushes a pregnant woman and she miscarries, but is not otherwise hurt, then the offender pays only a fine to the victim's husband. This has interesting implications for how we think about abortionin particular about the claim that killing a 17-week-old fetus is the same as killing a 17-year-old. According to Exodus, it's not. As Gorin writes: "The text seems to clearly state that the destruction of a fetus is not a capital offense. It is a property crime for which monetary compensation is paid."
This was an eye-opener for me. I have actually read through Exodus, but I didn't see this in this light when I went over it. As Mr.Plotzz mentions, if fundamentalist Christians are going to take the injunctions about homosexuality so literally, why not this verse too? Not being bound to the "no commentary" code of Mr. Plotz though, I looked at several versions, and found a confusing array of translations for that word "miscarry". First, the verse, in the American Standard translation, says:
And if men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart, and yet no harm follow; he shall be surely fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
It seems the Hebrew literally says "her children come out of her, but there be no harm done." It seems to me that this means a premature birth occasioned by the trauma previously described, which results in no harm to either mother or child. This is the opinion of the commentaries I can find, but it seems some very smart people have thought the harm mentioned applies to only the mother. The earliest reference to this I can find is in the Vulgate, so maybe Jerome is at fault. He's caused confusion enough other places, I guess.
I wonder though, given the apparently contentious nature of the passage, that a bigger deal isn't made out of it, especially with the pro-abortion side of the debate trying harder to be more religious lately.
Next intruiging point here, is that the very next verse says:
"But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."
So this is important enough that God decides here to give the famous "eye for an eye" pronouncement. If the harm referred to is intended to be harm to the child or to the woman, then obviously it is taken very seriously. I'm getting the feeling that the preponderance of translators, and certainly those not influenced by Jerome, have concluded that the "harm" means harm to the woman or the child, and that the context implies merely a premature birth. This probably makes sense, when considered as a whole, but looking back a few verses to Ex 21:20 we read that if a servant is struck by his master with a rod and died, the master will be punished. Not executed, punished. So apparently, in the Hebraic law, there is a gradation of worth in lives.
What is to made of these considered together? Should we conclude that abortion is not murder? Is it merely a finable offense? Am I making a mistake in expostion here?
This is not an easy thing for me to write, because I don't have an answer that completely satisfies me and I wonder about the conclusion. Joel, if you read this, I'd be especially interested to hear your rather more educated opinion on the subject.