Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Manumission Laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy: The Jeremiah Connection

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Manumission Laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy: The Jeremiah Connection

Article excerpt

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The complex relationship between the legislation in Deuteronomy (D) and the Holiness Code (H) in Leviticus continues to provide fruitful avenues of inquiry for researchers into the formation and function of biblical law. These two legal collections provide an invaluable resource for studying the thought of disparate Israelite religious groups living in relative temporal proximity to each other, both inheriting a common intellectual, cultic, and sociological legacy of a much older Israelite culture. There is general agreement that D emerges from the scribes associated with Josiah's court in the late seventh century B.C.E.; no such consensus exists, though, with respect to H.1 While many scholars agree that the work arises from a "Holiness School" faction of the Zadokite priesthood,2 they remain divided on the matter of a date for the composition of H in its present form. Israel Knohl and Jacob MUgrom argue for a Hezekian origin for the legislation, pointing to features in the H laws that presuppose life in the land among a mixed rural/urban populace and the prophetic critiques of the eighth century B.C.E.3 There is much to recommend this position, and many scholars consequentiy view H as a source for the (re)visionary hermeneutics of the D scribes.4

Nevertheless, more recent examinations of the relationship between pentateuchal legal collections have made clear that the authors of H have taken up legislation originating in D at certain points. Bernard Levinson has made a strong case for the slave manumission law in H (Lev 25:39-46) as an exegetical response to its parallel in D, and a study by Jeffrey Stackert further reinforces Levinson's view.5 Although this need not preclude viewing the ideology of H (and perhaps even some of its laws) as originating during Hezekiah's reign,6 the exegetical development of D laws in the current form of H makes clear that the latter underwent significant development during a period subsequent to D. But if D indeed emerged in 622 B.C.E.,7 it is unclear whether the subsequent response in H should be seen as a late preexilic, exilic, or even early postexilic reflex.8

One might argue that the emphasis on the jubilee in the H manumission law is evidence that the law was developed before the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of its inhabitants. From this perspective, the prospect of an active jubilee cycle (a mytho-sacral institution bound to hinterland life) would apply only while the author and the authence still resided on their native soil.9 However, this would cause more difficulty man it would purport to rectify. Binding slave manumission to the fifty-year jubilee cycle is a dramatic departure from the D legislation that serves as the audior's source, since in D (as well as in the earlier Covenant Code), the slave is given a six-year term of servitude with release in the seventh. This term is specific to each slave on a case-by-case basis with independent periods of term initiation; as many commentators recognize, it strains credulity to imagine that the end of a six-year term of one slave would automatically coincide with the end of every other slave's term of servitude as well. The result would be no defined period of servitude for any slave: in waiting for the jubilee as the time of release, some terms could conceivably last over forty years while others could last less than one.10 The economic problems are readily apparent. Slavery in ancient Israel was rooted in matters of financial debt,11 and someone who entered servitude only a year before the jubilee could not be expected to work off a debt that traditionally required six years of service, disadvantaging the slave owner in terms of fair restitution. The difficulty is felt on the other side of the equation as well, as extended tenures of servitude disadvantage the slave and leave room for abuse.

The H author must have been aware of this; legitimizing financial disadvantages could hardly qualify as a way of reinforcing national holiness. …

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