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Vignettes from Dr. Shalom Paul’s Lecture on Biblical History April 2003 Things that didn’t make the Passover Sermonette but are interesting: Insights as to Mespotamian Law, Hammurabi’s Code and the Bible; the Garden of Eden, Moses.

Dr. Shalom Paul: Head of Bible Studies, Hebrew University and Head of Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation. Speaking at the Everett Institute, 92nd Street Y in New York City, 23 March 2003.

According to Mesopotamian law, if a man takes a new wife but then the first wife has a son, that first son is the inheritor, even if the second wife has a son first. So when Sarah threw Hagar out and gave the inheritance to Isaac instead of Ishmael, she was acting according to the law and Abraham was the one out of order.

Myth defined as story of origin that motivates a community. Garden of Eden is in Bahrain.

Garden of Eden – Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the centerpiece; usually it is the Tree of Life. The universal myth of longevity has been the most favored pursuit. Garden tests man’s ability to make decisions; human’s main gift is the ability to make decisions. Hell is the fact that you must decide and live with those decisions. Eve says: Tree looks good, tastes good and will broaden my knowledge. She ponders, decides, acts and then feeds the husband. She doesn’t ask. If she didn’t decide, the Bible would end right here. The husband doesn’t do anything, but they are punished equally. Future results of man are a consequence of this decision. God doesn’t kill them or else the Bible would end. Didn’t destroy the garden so that people can still dream of returning to it. Story of maturation, loss of naivete, end of myth and start of history. Story ends with their having a kid and starting anew; an optimistic and courageous end instead of losing everything and going kaput.

God created woman last as a crescendo to creation: Ezer K’negdo – Ezer is a source of help and strength from above; only superiority given to man in the bible is over her libido. In Solomon’s Songs of Songs though, the curse is reversed: Ani L’dodi V’al T’shukato (T’shukato means libido). Same word used in the Eden context.

Moses is the “son of” in Egyptian, as in Ram(o)ses or Tut-Moses. Had nothing to do with the verb form attributed to the name in the Bible. Just an alliterative device used sometimes in the bible, such as Chava for Eve which really means Snake. Or The Windy City for Chicago which has nothing to do with the city being on the river but famous for long-winded speeches at a certain place by the river. Adam called Eve snake; means not just a temptress but also a healer and therapy, not necessarily a bad name. Moses made a snake icon to heal snake bites.

Mesopotamians had laws 800 years before Egypt. Hamurabi code was predated by several hundred years by other laws. Hamurabi’s Eye for Eye is only among equals but did not extend across social classes; in Bible it is more universal meaning everyone was subject to the law. Before Hamurabi, eye/eye meant monetary compensation. Hamurabi was literal; the medrash mechilta (early post-Christ centuries) went back to money. Allowing one with money to pay money removed deterrence for rich people; people who wrote Medrash didn’t know of Hamurabi or his predecessors (we only know of them since 175 years) but they thought of difficulty of equal application (ie: what if the infection spreads or one with 2 legs is paired up against one with one leg).

Law: In Bible, God gives it. Otherwise, king gives it. All crimes are also sins. Under Hamurabi, Egypt, Greece, etc. you can die for violating property and pay money for taking life. Bible, the two never cross. If you kill man, you strike at image of god and must lose your life. You never die for taking property. If an ox gores a man, animal must be killed and you can’t even eat it as it has struck god’s image, upset the universe by killing a superior species and you can’t even benefit from it as food. Adultery is a sin against god. Bible presents legal, moral/ethical and cultic all within the same chapters (ie: laws, love thy neighbor, bring sacrifice) – all 3 come from God. Law is given publicly and prospectively – what you shouldn’t do and what will happen if you do it instead of what you have already done and how you will be punished for it. Hamurabi says “if you did x, then y” – bible says Don’t do x BECAUSE (ie: you were slaves, it is inhumane). Only Bible does this. Useful for educating kids who haven’t done things yet. 

Bible was influenced by Mesopotamian law but it is unique. To see its uniqueness though, you need to look at the context of before and after (ie: with Eye for an Eye).

Good Quip: Rabbi Berel Wein: Life in Israel is one continuous Synagogue Meeting.

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