Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Literary Structure of Mishpatim

Joe M. Sprinkle, The Book of the Covenant: A Literary Approach, pp. 199-201:

Exod. 20.22-23.19 is not only well structured vis-à-vis chs. 19-24, as shown above, but individual pericopes within Exod. 20.22-23.19 are well structured within themselves and vis-à-vis one another.

Frequently chiastic or semi-chiastic structuring has been discovered, a feature that bespeaks artful crafting by the author/editor(s). The units that show this stylistic device are 20.23-26; 21.2-11; 21.28-36; 21.37-22.3; 22.6-12; 23.1-9. The chiastic or semi-chiastic character of each of these unit is shown under the discussion of ‘structure’ under each unit respectively. In addition, a parallel structure was found in 21.12-27 in which the four regulations of vv. 12-17 have parallels (though not chiastic ones) with the four regulations of vv. 18-27. A parallel structure also links 23.14-16 with 23.17-19.

It is even possible to see Exod. 20.22-23.19 as a whole being part of a chiastic structure:

A Moses ascends Mount Sinai (20.21)
B Prologue related to Israel’s past experience at Sinai (20.22)
C Cultic regulation: worship: images and altars with a promise of God’s presence and blessing (20.23-26)
D Sabbath principle: release of the עבד עברי on the 7th year (overlaps with what follows) (21.2)
E Humanitarian admonition to better the lot of bondsmen and bondwomen as a disadvantaged social class [related to Israel’s experience of bondage in Egypt] (21.2-11)
F Participially formulated, most serious offenses of man against man, structured on a principle of decreasing violence (21.12-17)
G Moral comment on legal matters: offenses of men against men (21.18-27)
H Moral comment on legal matters: offenses of a man’s property against a man (21.28-32)
H’ Moral comments on legal matters: offenses of a man’s property against another man’s property (21.33-36)
G’ Moral comments on legal matters: offenses of man against a man’s property (21.37-22.16)
F’ Participially formulated, most serious offenses again [God]-religion, structured on a principle of increasingly severe penalty clause (22.17-19)
E’ Humanitarian admonitions with special emphasis on bettering the lot of sojourners and other disadvantaged classes (widows, fatherless, poor) related to Israel’s experience as sojourners in Egypt--with an excursus in 22.28-30 on firstfruits/firstborn and holiness (22.20-23.9)
D’ Sabbath principle: release on sabbath year and day--overlaps with what follows (23.10-12)
C’ Cultic regulations: worship: sabbaths and pilgrim feasts with an exhortation to worship [God] alone (23.10-19)
B’ Epilogue related to Israel’s future entrance in the land after leaving Sinai (23.20-33)
A’ Moses descends Mount Sinai (24.1-3)

One justification for taking 22.20-23.9 together as a unit is because it is bracketed by precepts on sojourners having identical motive clauses: ‘for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt’ (22.20 and 23.9). Moreover, the ‘exodus’ theme also holds the subunits together.

Note that there is a double structuring principle in Exod. 22.20-23.19, chiastic with respect to 20.21-24.3 as a whole, but also a pattern of simple parallelism between 22.20-30 and 23.1-19 (as observed by Carmichael) in itself:

a Prohibition of oppressing sojourners and protection of other classes (widows and fatherless) (22.20-23)
b Protection of poor from oppressive loans at interest (22.24-26)
c Call to respect the morality of God as administered by human leaders (22.27)
d Offering of firstfruits and firstborn sons and animals [related to feasts of Harvest (firstfruits) and Passover (firstborn sons) and perhaps Tabernacles (firstborn animals?)] (22.28-29)
e Cultic prohibition of eating meat torn by beasts--perhaps because it is dehumanizing (22.30)
a’ Prohibition of oppressing sojourner and protection of other disadvantaged classes especially with regards to courts (23.1-9)
b’ Protection of the poor from starvation and exhaustion through sabbath year and day (23.10-12)
c’ Call to obey God’s word to the exclusion of other gods (23.13)
d’ The three pilgrim feasts including the offering of firstfruits at the feast of the Harvest and the Passover lamb [which served as a substitute for firstborn sons and animals] (23.14-19a)
e’ Cultic prohibition of cooking a kid in its mother’s milk--perhaps because it is dehumanizing (23.19b)

This secondary pattern creates some discontinuity in the overall chiasm since to maintain the parallelism there needs to be cultic material (22.28-30) in the middle of the ‘social justice’ section (22.20-23.9). Nonetheless, the overall chiastic pattern of 20.19-23.3 is fairly consistent and clear.

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