? God tells Moses how to cause an abortion?


In Numbers 5:11-31 the Lord tells Moses how to cause a woman to miscarry. How should this be interpreted, given the Church’s teaching on abortion?


Those translations which refer to a “miscarriage” are mistranslated. There is no mention that the woman is even pregnant. This is typical ancient practice of “trial by ordeal”. She is forced to drink poison. If she is chaste, it will not harm her. If she has been unfaithful, “her belly will swell and her uterus will fall.”

From the NAB:


if you have gone astray while under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you”—
so shall the priest adjure the woman with this imprecation—“may the LORD make you a curse and malediction* among your people by causing your uterus to fall and your belly to swell!
May this water, then, that brings a curse, enter your bowels to make your belly swell and your uterus fall!”h And the woman shall say, “Amen, amen!”*
The priest shall put these curses in writing and shall then wash them off into the water of bitterness,
and he will have the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water that brings a curse may enter into her to her bitter hurt.
But first the priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and having elevated the grain offering before the LORD, shall bring it to the altar,
where he shall take a handful of the grain offering as a token offering and burn it on the altar.i Only then shall he have the woman drink the water.
Once he has had her drink the water, if she has defiled herself and been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings a curse will enter into her to her bitter hurt, and her belly will swell and her uterus will fall, so that she will become a curse among her people.
If, however, the woman has not defiled herself, but is still pure, she will be immune and will still be fertile.

This, then, is the ritual for jealousy when a woman goes astray while under the authority of her husband and defiles herself,
or when such a feeling of jealousy comes over a man that he becomes suspicious of his wife; he shall have her stand before the LORD, and the priest shall perform this entire ritual for her.

Nothing about a miscarriage/abortion


It’s more a way of shutting up vexatious husbands.

A man lays charges against his wife, the wife has to drink an unpleasant but harmless concoction, nothing happens, end of story.


Not exactly, although that almost certainly did happen. However, to the ancient mind, trial by ordeal was very real, and invoked the very power of God. So, this process also served the purpose of getting confessions out of unfaithful wives in order to avoid the (in their minds) certain extreme pain and possible death they faced if forced to drink the “poison”.


Oh, wow, I never understood those trials by ordeal, but this makes total sense!


Would the woman who cconfessed be stoned to death? That would be a problem with this…


Well, I disagree, I think our Bronze Age female ancestors were a lot less - shall we say - innocent than that. Not only that, the idea of trial by ordeal might have existed in ancient times but you’re talking about concepts that are much more in line with Medieval Europe.

This bit of nonsense is the one bit of ‘sympathetic magic’ in the Torah and we Jews don’t do ‘sympathetic magic’, it’s sort of against the rules. So, you have to ask yourself, how did this passage get there, what’s the purpose?

It’s about keeping the peace in a Bronze Age tribal community.


Probably. Its a “pick your poison”. Die quickly from a rock blow to the head. Die painfully and slowly as your uterus is forced from your body. And should you survive that, you will be infertile (barren), divorced, no means of support, rejected by the community and probably will starve to death or worse.


It was rather hard to get yourself executed, even in ‘biblical times’.


With that concoction?



The point is not whether dirty water will cause the effect. The point is that the scripture by which people lived “said it would”, and they believe it.


Which says more about Christian interpretations of Judaism than about Judaism itself. :wink:

Judaism interprets Torah with what is known as ‘Oral Torah’ (which might be described as argument, commentary, case law) in mind.

  1. You assert that Bronze age females were less innocent than medieval females?

With regards to certain groups, certainly,


We are getting off point here and apologies to the OP for that. The point is that God is NOT telling anyone how to perform an abortion. That is an absurd conclusion based on a complete misunderstanding/mistranslation of the passage from the Book of Numbers.


To an extent we’re talking at cross-purposes (no pun intended) because, while we’re looking at the same text, we’re looking through Christian v’s Jewish ‘lenses’. I’d suggest that the only people likely to ‘believe’ it would be the husbands (to whom the workings of the female body would be very mysterious - no change there then) and I expect they became rather cynical.


This is interesting, since it seems like a fair number of things called for it–adultery, misbehaving teens, etc. So how do modern-day Jews know it was hard to get oneself executed back then?

And did the commentaries which now exist exist way back then?



Because it’s what the sages reported.

And did the commentaries which now exist exist way back then?


Yes - you’ve even got glimpses of it in your own scriptures, parts of which could be described as Jesus’ commentaries on the Law and its application.


Thanks, Kaninchen :slight_smile:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.