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Parashat Naso

It is always interesting to see how we-teach-all-and-only-what-the-Bible-teaches Christians deal with certain biblical texts. A common reaction is not to read all the Bible. Another is not to mention the awkward bits.

The synagogue, however, reads through the Torah systematically, and this Sabbath reads Parashat Naso, Numbers 4:21-7:89, which includes the awkward piece quoted below.

In the video, above, Inbal Freund-Novick, an Israeli activist for women’s rights, tells the difficult tale of the accused wife in Parshat Naso. She produces some lovely eisegesis (as opposed to exegesis) to sidestep the issue. Undoubtedly lovely, and undoubtedly eisegesis.

Here is the text:

Numbers 5:11-31

Concerning an Unfaithful Wife

11 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 12Speak to the Israelites and say to them: If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, 13if a man has had intercourse with her but it is hidden from her husband, so that she is undetected though she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her since she was not caught in the act; 14if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife who has defiled herself; or if a spirit of jealousy comes on him, and he is jealous of his wife, though she has not defiled herself; 15then the man shall bring his wife to the priest. And he shall bring the offering required for her, one-tenth of an ephah of barley flour. He shall pour no oil on it and put no frankincense on it, for it is a grain-offering of jealousy, a grain-offering of remembrance, bringing iniquity to remembrance.

16 Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; 17the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. 18The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain-offering of remembrance, which is the grain-offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ‘If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you’— 21let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—‘the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen. Amen.’

23 Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. 25The priest shall take the grain-offering of jealousy out of the woman’s hand, and shall elevate the grain-offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; 26and the priest shall take a handful of the grain-offering, as its memorial portion, and turn it into smoke on the altar, and afterwards shall make the woman drink the water. 27When he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. 28But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.

29 This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, while under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, 30or when a spirit of jealousy comes on a man and he is jealous of his wife; then he shall set the woman before the Lord, and the priest shall apply this entire law to her. 31The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.

As previously, for those who want to read the whole Bible in three years, which includes following the synagogue reading on the Sabbath, check here.

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10 thoughts on “Parashat Naso”

  1. It’s these sorts of passages that make your wonder where God the Father was at this time. Did Jesus really agree that these sorts of action were in line with what the Father wanted? Or was this kind of law something that the priestly group wrote up for themselves without actually having it revealed to them by God?

    1. You might well ask the same question of these days – when apostasy is rife, abominations are considered normal and are accepted without question.

  2. Yuk.

    I suppose most religion is eisegesis though really…people believe what they believe, despite what they are instructed, and impose what is meaningful to them, and cultural, into their reading of texts?

    Christian eisegesis in the US for example occurs since many people are wealthy or desire to be wealthy, and go give all your stuff to the poor doesn’t fit well with capitalism and materialism!

    And anywhere a hateful person will seek to prioritise words of hate in the Bible, a peaceful person lean towards passages about love….

  3. Jenny Chalmers

    The Wellington Council of Christians and Jews are about to embark on a study of Phyllis Tribbles ‘Texts of Terror’.I’ll let you know how we go
    On another tack, I’ve always wondered what the literalists make of stories like the Levite’s Concubine Cheers Bosco!

    1. I will be interested in hearing about that, Jenny. And yes, there haven’t been a lot of literalists advocating following these rules in the comments… Blessings.

  4. Hardly, dear man, but can you provide a fully notarised document to that effect for my sixteen year old who told me yesterday ‘ it’s not your fault you’re stupid mum, there must be something fundamentally wrong with your brain…’

    You’re not yourselves looking to adopt any time soon are you?!

    Wonder if the people who originally wrote down scriptures which are hardly Godly were dealing with teenagers at the time??? I can see how that might affect and skew one’s perspective…and look for blame, and pass it off to the mother…

    : )

  5. Mark Aitchison

    Let’s see if I have got this right: If a husband thinks his wife has been unfaithful to him, even though there is no proof, and he is unloving enough for her to suffer bitter pain and so on, she has to drink some water with a bit of dust off the floor and ink mixed with it. Then, if it doesn’t cause those symptoms mentioned, everyone accepts her as innocent and the matter is closed!

    Hmmm. Clever. There is another idea a bit like this – more on the topic of “annoying teenagers”, that is worth thinking of too. Again, it relates to someone who should have a loving relationship yet is steamed up and expects God to sort it out. Again, it isn’t a “this is the punishment for…” but “if you are so darned upset about this person then this is all you are allowed to do, no beating them half senseless or carrying on about it for the rest of lives until everyone’s lives are ruined”, but one (extreme!) option… if parents think their child has been so disobedient that they think they deserve death then they can take them to the religious authorities, and if they too think they deserve to die then the village has to be cold-hearted enough to stone the child. I have heard that scripture used to imply people “in those days” didn’t love their children any more than possessions, or that God was a bit over-the-top in the punishment department, but notice how both these laws are LIMITATIONS on what people can do. Sometimes cruel people become parents, sad to say. This limits what they can do… if they are so heartless as to invoke this, then almost certainly the religious authorities will be sane and tell them to go home and forgive and forget. If they, too, are heartless then the community they live in is the final circuit-breaker. If that fails to protect the child then you have a society that has totally gone off the tracks and is probably too far gone to expect anything other than ruin – the parents happy to kill their children, those who should know the meaning of Scripture asleep at the wheel, and so on. Even today, in some parts of the world, there are “honour killings” by people acting according to some tradition or other. The two O.T. laws are discouragements and hurdles that filter what (let’s face it) angry people can do. No doubt they have somewhere to vent their anger, but the odds are really stacked heavily against them getting the death penalty for the family member that they have a bee in their bonnet over.

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