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Deuteronomy 21

Laws Concerning Unsolved Murder

21:1 If a homicide victim 1  should be found lying in a field in the land the Lord your God is giving you, 2  and no one knows who killed 3  him, 21:2 your elders and judges must go out and measure how far it is to the cities in the vicinity of the corpse. 4  21:3 Then the elders of the city nearest to the corpse 5  must take from the herd a heifer that has not been worked – that has never pulled with the yoke – 21:4 and bring the heifer down to a wadi with flowing water, 6  to a valley that is neither plowed nor sown. 7  There at the wadi they are to break the heifer’s neck. 21:5 Then the Levitical priests 8  will approach (for the Lord your God has chosen them to serve him and to pronounce blessings in his name, 9  and to decide 10  every judicial verdict 11 ) 21:6 and all the elders of that city nearest the corpse 12  must wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley. 13  21:7 Then they must proclaim, “Our hands have not spilled this blood, nor have we 14  witnessed the crime. 15  21:8 Do not blame 16  your people Israel whom you redeemed, O Lord, and do not hold them accountable for the bloodshed of an innocent person.” 17  Then atonement will be made for the bloodshed. 21:9 In this manner you will purge out the guilt of innocent blood from among you, for you must do what is right before 18  the Lord.

Laws Concerning Wives

21:10 When you go out to do battle with your enemies and the Lord your God allows you to prevail 19  and you take prisoners, 21:11 if you should see among them 20  an attractive woman whom you wish to take as a wife, 21:12 you may bring her back to your house. She must shave her head, 21  trim her nails, 21:13 discard the clothing she was wearing when captured, 22  and stay 23  in your house, lamenting for her father and mother for a full month. After that you may have sexual relations 24  with her and become her husband and she your wife. 21:14 If you are not pleased with her, then you must let her go 25  where she pleases. You cannot in any case sell 26  her; 27  you must not take advantage of 28  her, since you have already humiliated 29  her.

Laws Concerning Children

21:15 Suppose a man has two wives, one whom he loves more than the other, 30  and they both 31  bear him sons, with the firstborn being the child of the less loved wife. 21:16 In the day he divides his inheritance 32  he must not appoint as firstborn the son of the favorite wife in place of the other 33  wife’s son who is actually the firstborn. 21:17 Rather, he must acknowledge the son of the less loved 34  wife as firstborn and give him the double portion 35  of all he has, for that son is the beginning of his father’s procreative power 36  – to him should go the right of the firstborn.

21:18 If a person has a stubborn, rebellious son who pays no attention to his father or mother, and they discipline him to no avail, 37  21:19 his father and mother must seize him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his city. 21:20 They must declare to the elders 38  of his city, “Our son is stubborn and rebellious and pays no attention to what we say – he is a glutton and drunkard.” 21:21 Then all the men of his city must stone him to death. In this way you will purge out 39  wickedness from among you, and all Israel 40  will hear about it and be afraid.

Disposition of a Criminal’s Remains

21:22 If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse 41  on a tree, 21:23 his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury 42  him that same day, for the one who is left exposed 43  on a tree is cursed by God. 44  You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

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1 tn Heb “slain [one].” The term חָלָל (khalal) suggests something other than a natural death (cf. Num 19:16; 23:24; Jer 51:52; Ezek 26:15; 30:24; 31:17-18).

2 tn The Hebrew text includes “to possess it,” but this has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.

3 tn Heb “struck,” but in context a fatal blow is meant; cf. NLT “who committed the murder.”

4 tn Heb “surrounding the slain [one].”

5 tn Heb “slain [one].”

6 tn The combination “a wadi with flowing water” is necessary because a wadi (נַחַל, nakhal) was ordinarily a dry stream or riverbed. For this ritual, however, a perennial stream must be chosen so that there would be fresh, rushing water.

7 sn The unworked heifer, fresh stream, and uncultivated valley speak of ritual purity – of freedom from human contamination.

8 tn Heb “the priests, the sons of Levi.”

9 tn Heb “in the name of the Lord.” See note on Deut 10:8. The pronoun has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons to avoid redundancy.

10 tn Heb “by their mouth.”

11 tn Heb “every controversy and every blow.”

12 tn Heb “slain [one].”

13 tn Heb “wadi,” a seasonal watercourse through a valley.

14 tn Heb “our eyes.” This is a figure of speech known as synecdoche in which the part (the eyes) is put for the whole (the entire person).

15 tn Heb “seen”; the implied object (the crime committed) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

16 tn Heb “Atone for.”

17 tn Heb “and do not place innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel.”

18 tn Heb “in the eyes of” (so ASV, NASB, NIV).

19 tn Heb “gives him into your hands.”

20 tn Heb “the prisoners.” The pronoun has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons, to avoid redundancy.

21 sn This requirement for the woman to shave her head may symbolize the putting away of the old life and customs in preparation for being numbered among the people of the Lord. The same is true for the two following requirements.

22 tn Heb “she is to…remove the clothing of her captivity” (cf. NASB); NRSV “discard her captive’s garb.”

23 tn Heb “sit”; KJV, NASB, NRSV “remain.”

24 tn Heb “go unto,” a common Hebrew euphemism for sexual relations.

25 sn Heb “send her off.” The Hebrew term שִׁלַּחְתָּה (shillakhtah) is a somewhat euphemistic way of referring to divorce, the matter clearly in view here (cf. Deut 22:19, 29; 24:1, 3; Jer 3:1; Mal 2:16). This passage does not have the matter of divorce as its principal objective, so it should not be understood as endorsing divorce generally. It merely makes the point that if grounds for divorce exist (see Deut 24:1-4), and then divorce ensues, the husband could in no way gain profit from it.

26 tn The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation indicates by the words “in any case.”

27 tn The Hebrew text includes “for money.” This phrase has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons.

28 tn Or perhaps “must not enslave her” (cf. ASV, NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT); Heb “[must not] be tyrannical over.”

29 sn You have humiliated her. Since divorce was considered rejection, the wife subjected to it would “lose face” in addition to the already humiliating event of having become a wife by force (21:11-13). Furthermore, the Hebrew verb translated “humiliated” here (עָנָה, ’anah), commonly used to speak of rape (cf. Gen 34:2; 2 Sam 13:12, 14, 22, 32; Judg 19:24), likely has sexual overtones as well. The woman may not be enslaved or abused after the divorce because it would be double humiliation (see also E. H. Merrill, Deuteronomy [NAC], 291).

30 tn Heb “one whom he loves and one whom he hates.” For the idea of שָׂנֵא (sane’, “hate”) meaning to be rejected or loved less (cf. NRSV “disliked”), see Gen 29:31, 33; Mal 1:2-3. Cf. A. Konkel, NIDOTTE 3:1256-60.

31 tn Heb “both the one whom he loves and the one whom he hates.” On the meaning of the phrase “one whom he loves and one whom he hates” see the note on the word “other” earlier in this verse. The translation has been simplified for stylistic reasons, to avoid redundancy.

32 tn Heb “when he causes his sons to inherit what is his.”

33 tn Heb “the hated.”

34 tn See note on the word “other” in v. 15.

35 tn Heb “measure of two.” The Hebrew expression פִּי שְׁנַיִם (piy shÿnayim) suggests a two-thirds split; that is, the elder gets two parts and the younger one part. Cf. 2 Kgs 2:9; Zech 13:8. The practice is implicit in Isaac’s blessing of Jacob (Gen 25:31-34) and Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim (Gen 48:8-22).

36 tn Heb “his generative power” (אוֹן, ’on; cf. HALOT 22 s.v.). Cf. NAB “the first fruits of his manhood”; NRSV “the first issue of his virility.”

37 tn Heb “and he does not listen to them.”

38 tc The LXX and Smr read “to the men,” probably to conform to this phrase in v. 21. However, since judicial cases were the responsibility of the elders in such instances (cf. Deut 19:12; 21:3, 6; 25:7-8) the reading of the MT is likely original and correct here.

39 tn The Hebrew term בִּעַרְתָּה (biartah), here and elsewhere in such contexts (cf. Deut 13:5; 17:7, 12; 19:19; 21:9), suggests God’s anger which consumes like fire (thus בָעַר, baar, “to burn”). See H. Ringgren, TDOT 2:203-4.

40 tc Some LXX traditions read הַנִּשְׁאָרִים (hannisharim, “those who remain”) for the MT’s יִשְׂרָאֵל (yisrael, “Israel”), understandable in light of Deut 19:20. However, the more difficult reading found in the MT is more likely original.

41 tn Heb “him.”

42 tn The Hebrew text uses the infinitive absolute for emphasis, which the translation indicates by “make certain.”

43 tn Heb “hung,” but this could convey the wrong image in English (hanging with a rope as a means of execution). Cf. NCV “anyone whose body is displayed on a tree.”

44 sn The idea behind the phrase cursed by God seems to be not that the person was impaled because he was cursed but that to leave him exposed there was to invite the curse of God upon the whole land. Why this would be so is not clear, though the rabbinic idea that even a criminal is created in the image of God may give some clue (thus J. H. Tigay, Deuteronomy [JPSTC], 198). Paul cites this text (see Gal 3:13) to make the point that Christ, suspended from a cross, thereby took upon himself the curse associated with such a display of divine wrath and judgment (T. George, Galatians [NAC], 238-39).

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