A friendly commentary on the Bible from an atheist

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I originally posted this on Dissecting Leftism but thought I should post it here for those who come to this site via a Google search

Although I am an atheist, I grew up steeped in the New Testament so reading the Bible is for me like visiting an old friend. I do not however know the Old Testament as well as I should so I recently read right through the Book of Deuteronomy. Its main theme is avoidance of false gods and when I think of the many false Gods around today -- socialism, global warming, anti-"obesity" etc. -- it is clear that people have not changed much and we do still need to be alert against false gods.

Another prominent theme in Deuteronomy however is what some might call "Christian" charity. There are frequent instructions to be kind, forgiving and generous to the poor. The compassion and concern for the outcast shown by Jesus was very Jewish.

But giving the poor your OWN goods is very different from giving the poor OTHER people's goods, which is what the Leftist wants to do and which would once have been called robbery.

And the Torah does make clear that abstract justice is an absolute -- a duty. Where PUBLIC matters are concerned (as distinct from deeds in private life), you are NOT allowed to favour the poor. Exodus 23:3 is clearest about that. The NIV probably gives the most accurate interpretation of the text. It says: "Do not show favouritism to a poor man in his lawsuit". So, just because a man is poor, the law is not allowed to be biased in his favour. Moses was clearly not a Leftist.

I probably should leave it at that but the pedant in me causes me to note further that the Hebrew word rendered as "lawsuit" above has a rather broader application than that in the original. The KJ renders it as "cause" and it could refer to any controversy. So again we see that special favour towards the poor in any public way is OUT. Private charity is the proper response to the poor.

Being a bit of a language freak, I wrote about the interpretation of Exodus 23:3 to David Boxenhorn, an Israeli who often blogs about the interpretion of Hebrew and the Hebrew scriptures. I received his comments after I had written the above and his comments would seem to broaden even my interpretation. He wrote (inter alia):

"That quote refers to favoring the poor in court, one of many possible dangers to justice cited in the Bible - see previous and following passages. Not distorting judgment is a major theme of the Bible....

But the word translated as "poor" - dal - is probably better translated as "weak", the usual Biblical word for poor is evyon, as you see three verses down in 23:6. Also, the word translated as "cause" - riv - is more simply translated as "argument", and the word "favor" - tehdar - I might translate as "make more wonderful or enhance". So I might translate the passage as: "and you will not enhance [the testimony] of the weak, in an argument"

So it is the disadvantaged generally that the passage applies to and it is arguments generally that the passage applies to. So you are not allowed to glorify the disadvantaged beyond what reality shows -- no absurd accounts of the glories of African history, for instance. Truth is paramount -- not the distorted and selective truth that is the stock in trade of the Left (Noam Chomsky take a bow).

You can see the original Hebrew (with accompanying translation) here.