QUOTING SCRIPTURE TO ONE’S OWN PURPOSE

Apparently there has been some heated controversy between James Dobson (of Focus on the Right Kind of Family) and Barack Obama about Obama’s speech to Sojourners back in 2006.  The speech is old news. The controversy, oddly, seems to have just arisen.  Dobson says Obama distorted the meaning of scripture when he said, “Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage so radical that it’s doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application? ” 

Oddly enough, I’m not going to dispute Dobson today (I must be having a really weird day–see today’s previous posts), but I do think Obama is distorting scripture, though certainly not in the ways Dobson talks about.  Leviticus doesn’t really “suggest slavery is OK.”  It regulates it.  In fact, as between one Israelite and another, it regulates it out of existence altogether.  What Leviticus talks about that usually gets translated “slavery” is actually time-limited indentured servitude.  The time limit is 7 years, the longest one can keep an Israelite slave.  At the end of that time, BTW, the master is supposed to not only free the servant, but set him up with the biblical equivalent of 40 acres and a mule.  The word “ebed” can legitimately be translated “worker,” “slave,” or “servant,” depending entirely on context.  Clearly what it means in the passages of Leviticus dealing with the Israelite who becomes an “ebed” (usually because of debt) is “servant.” 

[BTW, I just found out the other day that Judah Benjamin, Jefferson Davis’ Jewish Secretary of State, was the only member of the Confederate cabinet who owned no slaves during his term of service.] 

Jane Grey

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