Exodus and Asylum: Uncovering the Relationship between Biblical Law and Narrative; Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

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This article argues that there is a close relationship between biblical law and narrative regarding the subject of asylum. It contends that the narrative of Moses finding refuge from Pharaoh in Exod. 2.11-22 is repeated on a much larger scale in
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    Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Vol 34.3 (2010): 243-266 © The Author(s), 2010. Reprints and Permissions: http://www.sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0309089210363028 http://JSOT.sagepub.com Exodus and Asylum: Uncovering the Relationship between Biblical Law and Narrative *   JONATHAN P. BURNSIDE Centre for the Study of Law and Religion, School of Law, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, Queens Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ Abstract This article argues that there is a close relationship between biblical law and narrative regarding the subject of asylum. It contends that the narrative of Moses nding refuge from Pharaoh in Exod. 2.11-22 is repeated on a much larger scale in Exodus 14–15 and that Israel’s ight from Egypt into the desert of Sinai can be seen, inter alia , as a large-scale example of asylum-seeking. It also argues that there are key structural similarities  between these two narratives of asylum and the biblical laws of asylum (Exod. 21.12-14;  Num. 35.9-34; Deut. 19.1-13). This nding has several implications for the study of  biblical law. It suggests that the biblical laws of asylum are best understood as ‘paradigm cases’ that draw on the Exodus   narratives as part of their social construction. It also helps to explain why the biblical laws of asylum are typically concerned with ight from * I am grateful to Bernard Jackson, Kenneth Kitchen and Alan Millard for comments on earlier drafts of this article, as well as to participants at various conferences including the Jewish Law Association and Tyndale Fellowship conferences of July 2008. I am especially grateful to Nick Lunn for observations which I am glad to acknowledge at several points in the article. The usual disclaimers apply. Translations are from the Jewish Publication Society version of the T   ANAKH  .    244  Journal for the Study of the Old Testament   34.3 (2010) accusations of homicide, rather than other forms of asylum-seeking commonly found in the ancient Near East. Israel saw itself, not simply as a nation of escaped slaves, but also as a nation of successful asylum-seekers. Keywords:   Asylum, biblical law, cities of refuge, Exodus, homicide, narrative stereo-type, social knowledge. Introduction  It has long been recognized that there is a close relationship between  biblical narrative and biblical law. Nowhere is this better seen than in the connections between the Exodus narrative and a number of biblical laws which make this relationship explicit (see, generally, Daube 1963). Thus we nd that on the single subject of slavery, for example, there is a strong and multi-faceted relationship between biblical law and biblical narrative. In Exodus   alone we nd an explicit narrative reference to Israel’s release from slavery in the opening words of the Decalogue (Exod. 20.2), an explicit narrative allusion at the head of an individual section (Exod. 23.9) of the Mishpatim (or Covenant Code, which fre-quently refers to Exod. 20.22–23.33 [Heb. 20.19–23.33]) and an implicit  narrative allusion at the head of the entire Mishpatim itself (Exod. 21.1-2). Finally, we also nd that slavery, and liberation from slavery, is the subject of Exod. 21.2-11 (the rst section of laws in the Mishpatim ) as well as being the main organizing theme of Exod. 21.2-27 (Jackson 2006: 447). This article proposes that there is an example of the relationship  between biblical law and narrative that has so far been overlooked. It concerns the biblical laws of asylum, which, like the laws of slavery, also have their roots in the Exodus narrative (Exod. 14–15). I shall argue that the book of Exodus   contains two asylum narratives, namely: (1) the story of Moses seeking asylum from Pharaoh in the wilderness (Exod. 2.11- 22) and (2) the story of Israel seeking asylum from Pharaoh in the wilder- ness (Exod. 14–15). Although Moses’ ight from Egypt is commonly seen as a story of asylum, the idea that Israel as a whole also sought asylum has not previously been recognized, to my knowledge. If this is correct, then we should see the Exodus story not only as an account of a release from slavery in Egypt, but also as an account of seeking asylum. Israel is not simply a nation of former slaves but also a nation of asylum-seekers.   BURNSIDE  Exodus and Asylum  245 1. A Structural Approach to Asyla in Biblical Israel Before we explore these proposals in detail it is important to acknowl-edge that the subject of asyla in biblical Israel is controversial. The texts have played a key role in redactional histories of the Pentateuch. 1  As a result, the veracity and dating of the biblical material in relation to the cities of refuge is deeply contested. Scholars claim, without exaggera-tion, that when considering the Levitical cities and the cities of refuge, ‘so much in biblical studies seems to be at stake’ (Ben Zvi 1992: 83-84). Despite this scholarly interest, and indeed because of it, there is value in approaching the question of asyla from a different perspective. This article seeks to advance such an alternative perspective by highlighting a series of structural similarities between the Exodus narratives and the laws of asylum. It follows that, in this article, I am interested in the literary presentation of the texts, and the various symbolic acts contained therein, such as ‘grasping the altar’, as they are presented in canonical form. 2  Hypothesizing earlier texts and the different literary strata to which they may or may not belong is thus of limited value in this con-text. Accordingly, this article does not seek to reconstruct any particular redactional history either between the main texts (e.g. Num. 35.9-15; Josh. 20.1-9) or their parts (e.g. Exod. 21.12; 21.13-14). Instead, my focus is on the narratives of asylum in Exodus and their connections with the biblical laws of asylum and homicide found in Exodus 21, Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19. I begin by arguing that there are two   narratives of asylum in Exodus,  both of which are connected to the laws of asylum and homicide. I shall argue that these narratives consist of a number of elements which also recur in the biblical laws (see Table 1 and §§2-7, below). 1. Variously, for example, Wellhausen 1885: 156-57; Greenberg 1959: 130-31; Rofé 1986. 2. As Viberg (1992: 8) notes in his methodological discussion of legal symbolic acts: ‘the effort to create a hypothetical text through the use of source-critical methodologies leads to the creation of a hypothetical context for the act, i.e., another textual world, and  possibly to a new, hypothetical function for the symbolic act’. Following Viberg, I will concentrate on the picture presented by the nal editors of the texts since their appreciation of how these asyla functioned in their socio-cultural context is ‘likely to be more reliable than a hypothetical context reconstructed by a modern scholar’ (1992: 8).    Table 1.  Recurring Elements in Narratives and Typications of Asylum  Recurring Elements  #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 There is a death (actual/ alleged homicide) Asylum-seeker Place of asylum (includes the charac-teristics of dwelling  ;  sacrice ;  priestly authority  and ritual observance ) Flight to place of asylum   Pursuit of asylum-seeker   Risk of being overtaken   Narrative of individual asylum (Exod. 2.11-23)  Death of Egyptian (Exod. 2.12) Moses (on the run from Pharaoh) Home of Jethro,  priest of Midian (Exod. 2.21) Moses ‘ees’ from Pharaoh (Exod. 2.15) Pharaoh ‘seeks to kill’ Moses (Exod. 2.15)  Not stated (but implied in Exod. 2.15) Narrative of collective  asylum (Exod. 14–15)  Death of Egyptian rst-born (Exod. 2.29) Israel (on the run from Pharaoh) Wilderness/ Sinai (Exod. 19ff.) Israel ‘ees’ from Pharaoh (Exod. 14.5) Pharaoh  pursues the Israelites (Exod. 14.8, 9; 15.9) Pharaoh’s armies ‘overtake’ Israel (Exod. 14.9; 15.9) Asylum at divinely approved altar  Death of a human  being (Exod. 21.12) Person accused of homicide Y HWH -approved altar (Exod. 21.14) / Tabernacle ‘a place to which he can ee’ (Exod. 21.13)  Not stated (but implied in Exod. 21.13)  Not stated (but implied in Exod. 21.13)     Recurring Elements  #7   #8   #9   #10   #11   #12  Fear of being killedAvenger/ Go     el haddam   Deliver-ance for (factual/ legally) innocent persons   No deliverance for legally guilty persons   Deliver-ance from the L ORD   Period of asylum ends with death of national leader Narrative of individual asylum (Exod. 2.11-23)  Moses ‘frightened’ (Exod. 2.14) Pharaoh seeks vengeance for death of Egyptian (Exod. 2.15) Deliverance for legally innocent (‘spur-of-the-moment’ killing; Exod. 2.12)  N/A Not stated (but implied; cf. Exod. 2.1-11) Asylum ends when ‘the king of Egypt dies’ (2.23) Narrative of collective  asylum (Exod. 14–15)  Israel ‘greatly frightened’ (Exod. 14.10) of death (14.11-12) Pharaoh seeks vengeance for death of Egyptians (Exod. 15.9) Deliverance for factually innocent  N/A ‘The L ORD  is my strength and my might; he is  become my deliverance’ (Exod. 15.2) Asylum in wilderness ends with death of high priest (Num. 33.38; Deut. 2.4) Asylum at divinely approved altar   Not stated (but implied in Exod. 21.14)  Not stated (but implied in Exod. 21.14) Deliverance for acci-dental and spur-of-the-moment killer (Exod. 21.13)  No deliver-ance for  premedi-tated killer (Exod. 21.14) God ‘assigns’ the place of asylum (Exod. 21.13)  Not stated (continued overleaf)
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