Deuteronomy 25: 11-12


Why are these verses in the bible?

Do they have any meaning whatsoever for us today, or were they solely intended for the Jews in Israel thousands of years ago?


The verses in context:

Deuteronomy 25
*][LEFT]1 When men have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. 2 If the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make him lie down and have him flogged in his presence with the number of lashes his crime deserves, 3 but he must not give him more than forty lashes. If he is flogged more than that, your brother will be degraded in your eyes. [/LEFT]
[/LIST][LEFT]4 Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain. [/LEFT]

*]5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. 7 However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” 9 his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” 10 That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.[/LIST][LIST]
*]11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.[/LIST]Just Weights and Measures
*]13 Do not have two differing weights in your bag—one heavy, one light. 14 Do not have two differing measures in your house—one large, one small. 15 You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 16 For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.[/LIST]Holy War against Amalek
*]17 Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. 18 When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. 19 When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget.[/LIST]========

[LEFT]The passage is part of a body of what might be called “family law”. The woman is severely dealt with because of the great importance of the perpetuation of the family: a man who cannot beget children, cannot marry his brother’s widow so as to keep his brother’s name alive; nor can he beget offspring to perpetuate his own family. Deuteronomy 23 excludes eunuchs & bastards from the Chosen People, presumably for similar reasons: see also Isaiah 56 & Acts 8, where eunuchs are admitted to the People of God [/LEFT]

[LEFT]This issue turns up in Gen. 38 - Onan dies because of his refusal to perpetuate his brother’s family. In the end, his father Judah has offspring by Onan’s widow Tamar, & the family is perpetuated in that way. It could be refused,as the Book of Ruth illustrates,provided someone in the family was prepared to take the place of the deceased.

Marriage of this kind was also important because of the disposal of property - the significance of the sandal is that it was used to claim land as property, as happens in the Psalms.

The law of the custom whereby a man married his brother’s widow is given in verses 5 to 10 above, & is known as levirate law (Latin levir, brother-in-law).

One of the questions asked of Jesus was based (however remotely) on the issue of levirate law. [/LEFT]

[LEFT]Hope that helps.[/LEFT]


Thanks Michael.

But is this not unusual? How often could this possibly happen back then or even now? It must be a very rare occurence - but yet it is still important enough to be mentioned in the bible. Why??


This passage refers to “the immodest lady wrestler,” as one scholar humorously put it. Her action was considered a shameful act, and, what’s worse, the man could possibly be permanently injured and thus deprived of future children. At first blush, this passage apparently requires that a woman’s hand be cut off if she seizes the genitals of a man fighting with her husband. Now, if this were the case, it would be the only biblical instance of punishment by mutilation; beyond this, where ancient Near Eastern laws call for bodily mutilation for various offenses, the Mosaic law does not. ...

A more plausible interpretation of this passage is the punishment of depilation (“you shall shave [the hair of] her groin”), not mutilation. The word commonly translated “hand” (kaph) can refer to the “palm” of a hand or some rounded concave object like a dish, bowl, or spoon, or even the arch of a foot. The commonly used word for “hand” (yad) isn’t used here. It would be strange to cut off the palm of a hand! Furthermore, in certain places in the Old Testament, the word kaph is clearly used for the pelvic area—either the concave hip socket (Gen. 32:26, 32) or the curve of the woman’s groin area: “I arose to open for my lover, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles [plural: kaphot] of the lock” (Song of Songs 5:5 NIV). This language alludes back to the “locked garden” in 4:12: “You are a locked garden, my sister, my bride; you are an enclosed spring, a sealed-up fountain” (NET). Scholars generally agree that the garden language is a metaphor for a woman’s sexual organs, and its being “locked” implies her purity/virginity.14 Also, in the Deuteronomy 25 text, there is no indication of physical harm to the man (as some commentators commonly assume). For those who assume a literal “hand for a hand” punishment, remember that the man’s hand hasn’t been injured or cut off (if so, then the idea of cutting off her hand would make slightly more sense). In addition, shaving hair—including pubic hair—as a humiliating punishment was practiced in Babylon and Sumer (see also 2 Sam. 10:4–5; Isa. 7:20). This isn’t mutilation for mutilation, but humiliation for humiliation. In addition, the specific Hebrew qal verb form (in Deut. 25:12) has a milder connotation than the stronger, intensified piel verb form, meaning “cut off” or “(physically) sever [qatsats].” Whenever it appears in this milder form (Jer. 9:26; 25:23; 49:32), it means “clip/cut/shave [hair].” There’s just no linguistic reason to translate the weaker verb form (“shave”) as a stronger form (i.e., amputation). In this particular case, we’re talking about the open concave region of the groin, and thus a shaving of pubic hair. In short, the woman’s punishment is public humiliation for publicly humiliating the man—something still very severe and for which no mercy was to be shown. From a textual point of view, the superior view is clearly the “shaving” view, not the mutilation view.

Copan, Paul (2010). Is God a Moral Monster? (pp. 121-122). Baker Books. Kindle Edition. tion.


There are more problems with this analysis than can probably be discussed here, but just a few observations. The first is that the author is mistaken about the difference between kaph and yad. Kaph typically refers to what we would call “hand” while yad although often translated as “hand” actually often refers to the hand and forearm. So using the word kaph here makes perfect sense and moreover, is clearly used to refer to “hand” over 70 times in the Hebrew Bible. Only her hand is to be cut off, not her hand and forearm.

Indeed, shaving was used as a form of humiliation in Babylon, but I don’t know of any instance where only one’s pubic hair was be shaved as a penalty–it defeats the purpose–which is to make a public example of someone. However, having people’s hands cut off for a variety of offenses, particularly stealing or negligence, is a very common feature found in Mesopotamian law. Furthermore, a similar law in a Middle Assyrian Law Code stresses that if a woman damages one of a man’s testicles in a quarrel, her finger should be cut off–and if both testicles are damaged, the woman’s breasts or nipples are removed. Martha T. Roth, ed., Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, 2d ed., Society of Biblical Literature Writings from the Ancient World Series (156-157).

The idea that piel verbs in Biblical Hebrew are somehow generally “intensifiers” of qal verbs is simply incorrect. It does work in a couple of examples, but you can’t generalize about it across the entire language. Further the examples in Jeremiah refer to the cutting off of the “corners” which most people interpret as either the trimming of the corner of the beard or “forelocks” which is not shaving, but is instead “cutting,” although in this particular case, hair. Biblical Hebrew has a perfectly good word for shaving: גלח which is not used in the Deut. passage.

I think this author is probably working hard to try to make the Bible look “nice” when it isn’t always.


Thanks for the analysis.


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