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Bulletin for Biblical Research 16.2 (2006) 345–349 SHORT STUDY Leviticus 24:15b–16: A Crux Revisited bernon p. lee grace college, winona lake, indiana The occurrence of wyhla in the first law (v. 15b) of Lev 24:15b–16 has led to the understanding that the law envisions a distinct circumstance (for example, an insult directed at other deities) in contrast to that of the second law in v. 16 (an insult directed at the name of God). This article argues that both laws (vv. 15b and 16) have the same
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  Bulletin for Biblical Research  16.2 (2006) 345–349 SHORT STUDY Leviticus 24:15b–16:  A Crux Revisited bernon p. lee grace college, winona lake, indiana The occurrence of wyhla  in the first law (v. 15b) of Lev 24:15b–16 has led to theunderstanding that the law envisions a distinct circumstance (for example, aninsult directed at other deities) in contrast to that of the second law in v. 16 (aninsult directed at the name of God). This article argues that both laws (vv. 15band 16) have the same case in view (explicitly stated in v. 16) by demonstratingthat the use of wyhla  is part of a literary pattern displaying a movement towardspecificity through the course of vv. 15b–16.Key Words: blasphemy, divine name, Lev 24:15–16 A series of two laws in Lev 24:15b–16 prescribes penalties for the abuse ofthe divine person and name.The designation for the object of the insult in the first law (v. 15b), wyhla ,has led to a series of conflicting interpretations for the group of promul-gations as a whole. Dillmann and, more recently, Fishbane follow Philo inunderstanding wyhla  to refer to deities other than Israel’s God. 1  Dillmann wyhla llqyAyk çya çyawafj açnw Any man, if he disparages his God, he shall  bear his crime. (v. 15b) tmwy twm hwhyAµç bqnwhd[hAlk wbAwmgry µwgrtmwy µçAwbqnb jrzak rgk The one uttering the name of the L ord  surely shall be put to death; indeed, the whole congregation shall hurl rocks upon him. Just as the sojourner so the native, by his uttering the name surely shall be put to death. (v. 16) 1. Philo,  Moses  2.204; A. Dillmann, Die Bücher Exodus und Leviticus  (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1897),657; M. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985),  Author’s note : My gratitude to Professors D. Brent Sandy and Cynthia L. Miller for reading ear-lier drafts of this essay and assisting in clarifying its arguments.  Bulletin for Biblical Research 16.2 346 and Fishbane do not take the following imprecise statement of a con-sequence ( wafj açnw ) as the prescription of a penalty. For Dillmann, themention of the penalty for a disparaging remark against foreign deities isa cipher: the statement is without substance and consequence because theforeign deities (as opposed to Israel’s God) do not exist. This statement ofthe first law (v.15b) stands in stark contrast to the prescription of death forthe abuse of the name of Israel’s God in the second law (v. 16). Accordingto Fishbane, the obscurity of wafj açnw serves to underscore the legislator’slack of concern for the assignment of a penalty in v. 15b; in relation to thepenalty of death in the second law (v. 16), the rhetorical import of v. 15b,as in Dillmann’s interpretation, is one of contrast. Another interpretationfor the significance of wyhla  (in contradistinction to hwhyAµç bqnw in v. 16a)is that the disparaging remark of concern in v. 15b is made with referenceto a surrogate name, or without explicit reference to divinity by verbaldesignation. 2  Accordingly, wafj açnw  is understood to be a declaration thatthe detection of the crime and its required measure of retribution are in thehands of God. These interpretations of wyhla , therefore, bear consequencefor the semantic relationships within the passage of laws as a whole.Such readings of Lev 24:15b–16 precipitated by the occurrence of wyhla and the absence of a specific form of punishment in v. 15b ( wafj açnw ) un-derstand the laws to handle two separate, albeit related sets of circum-stances. The points of distinction and contrast vary in accordance with theinterpretation of wyhla . The element of contrast between the laws of vv. 15band 16 is between a transgression against other deities and one against Is-rael’s God. Alternatively, the contrast is between an illicit act in stealth(through the obscurity of the object of the insult) and an overt (and public)assault on the deity.More recently, Jacob Milgrom has rejected the suggestion that the oc-currence of wyhla  designates the use of a surrogate name, for the reasonthat the pronominal suffix would be an oddity within such an interpreta-tion of the term. The occurrence of  µyhla  without a pronominal suffix is theexpected designation for the use of a surrogate name. 3  Furthermore, Mil-grom observes that the Holiness Code often refers to God, not an appel-lation as an entity in itself, by deploying  µyhla  with a pronominal suffix. 2. Rashi, Pentateuch: Leviticus  (translated and annotated by M. Rosenbaum and A. M. Sil- bermann; New York: Hebrew Publishing, 1965), 112a; D. Hoffmann, Das Buch Leviticus  (2 vols.;Berlin: Poppelauer, 1905–6), 2:314; K. Elliger, Leviticus  (HAT 4; Tübingen: Mohr, 1966), 331; cf. b. Sanh. 56a. Rashi and Hoffmann advocate the understanding that the law has in view a verbalassault upon God by the designation of a surrogate name; Elliger envisions a case where theobject of derision is not mentioned explicitly.3. J. Milgrom, Leviticus 23–27: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary  (AB 3B;New York: Doubleday, 2001), 2115–18.spread is 12 points short   101. Here and throughout the review of scholarship, the reference to opinions concerning thepassage is not meant to be exhaustive but only to be representative of the main currents ofthought on the subject of discussion.  Lee : Leviticus 24:15b–16: A Crux Revisited 347 The proposition that the term refers to foreign deities (not Israel’s God)also is improbable in the absence of the more explicit term  µyrja µyhla  em-ployed elsewhere (Deut 13:3, 7, 14; 17:3). In eliminating these options, Mil-grom settles on the interpretation that the first law (v.15b) has in viewcases where God, as the object of derision, receives no mention throughany nominal designation. This distinctive feature of v. 15b stands in con-trast with the specific address of the insult to the name of God within thefollowing law ( hwhyAµç bqnw ) in v. 16a. 4 However, Milgrom’s interpretation of another feature of Lev 24:15b–16 undermines the aforementioned reading of the text. In explaining theomission of the verbal form llq  as part of the statement of the crime in thesecond case (v. 16), Milgrom proposes that the occurrence of either llq  or bqn  in Lev 24:10–23 suggests the virtual presence of the action denoted bythe other verb. 5  The partial expression of the illicit act is an index to andan abbreviation for the full statement, which receives expression in thenarrative preceding the laws and providing the setting for the legal proc-lamation: llqyw µçhAta tylarçyh hçahAˆb bqyw (v. 11a). 6  In support of his ar-gument, Milgrom points to the designation of the perpetrator of the samecrime as llqmh  in the narrative following the laws denoting the commu-nity’s compliance with the divine pronouncement (v. 23a). The same des-ignation, llqmh , without its verbal counterpart ( bqn ) occurs in the divineinstruction in v. 14a for the community to put the culprit to death. 7  Mil-grom’s appeal to a preference for simplicity in expression through the de-ployment of synecdoche ( llq  or bqn  standing for the occurrence of bothactions) is to be preferred as an explanation for the interchange betweenthe terms llq and bqn  throughout vv. 10–23. This initiative is a welcome al-ternative to the awkward proposition that hwhyAµç bqnw  in v. 16 implies byitself, without the inference of llq , an assault on the divine name. 8  Further 4. Ibid., 2117.5. Ibid., 2118.6. Numerous commentators have alluded to the complementary nature of the two verbsin defining aspects of the illicit act in v. 11. See, for example, Dillmann, Die Bücher,  656; Hoff-mann, Leviticus , 312; J. Weingreen, “The Case of the Blasphemer,” VT   22 (1972): 119; B. Levine, Leviticus  (JPS Torah Commentary; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 166; J. E.Hartley, Leviticus  (WBC 4; Dallas: Word, 1992), 409.7. In the light of v. 11a, it is clear that both statements (vv. 14a and 23a) use llqmh  withreference to the individual who performed both aspects ( llq  and hwhyAµç bqn ) of the illicit act.8. The Aramaic versions deploy çrp  for the Hebrew verbal root bqn . The further quali-fication ˆypdgb  for clarity of expression within the context of the passage occurs in Tg. Neofiti ;similarly, Tg. Ps.-Jonathan  offers detail of an explanatory nature with its phrase  πrjmw çrpmd .The verb ojnomavzw  in the LXX, in agreement with the use of çrp in the Targums, retains the re-stricted sense of pronouncement inherent to the Hebrew verb (cf. m. Sanh.  7:5). Arnold B. Ehr-lich ( Randglossen zur Hebräischen Bibel  [7 vols.; Hildesheim: Olms, 1968], 2:88) circumscribes theproblem of bqn  standing for the act of verbal abuse by emending MT’s bqEnow] to bq'n;w] . Further-more, Ehrlich suggests the deletion of wafj açnw  in v. 15b; consequently, the act of pronouncing( bqn ) the divine name would follow directly upon wyhla llqyAyk çya çya (v. 15b) in the form ofa consecutive clause, providing a complement to llq  just as in v. 11.  Bulletin for Biblical Research 16.2 348 in support of Milgrom’s postulation of synecdoche as a literary device inthe complex of narrative and law, a second example of the literary maneu-ver may be seen in the clauses of vv. 15b–16. The phrase  µçAwbqnb (v. 16b)is almost certainly anaphorically related to the full expression in the pre-ceding clause, hwhyAµç bqnw , of v. 16a; the complete expression provides theexpected absolute nominal constituent to stand at the end of the constructchain beginning with  µç  in v. 16b: tmwy [ hwhy ]  µçAwbqnb jrzak rgk . 9  However,the perception of llq  and bqn  as a fixed lexical pair throughout the passagethrough co-reference undermines Milgrom’s other suggestion that thelaws of vv. 15b–16 deal with two distinct cases. The coexistence of the twoacts as a set despite the mention of only one action means that v. 15b, incontrast with v. 16, cannot be perceived as a situation where a disparagingremark is made without the mention of any appellation for divinity. Con-sequently, the prescriptions of vv. 15b–16 ought to be perceived as mul-tiple legal pronouncements with the same circumstantial detail in mind:an attack on the deity through the abuse of the divine name.In holding on to the proposition that the laws of Lev 24:15b–16 are le-gal pronouncements on the same set of circumstances, an alternative ex-planation ought to be sought for the occurrence of two legal statements (vv.15b and 16) regarding the same situation, while employing different termsfor crime and punishment. The outline of an answer already exists in com-ments by those who would endorse the interpretation of two distinct casesin the passage of laws. Broadly stated, there exists a pattern of interpreta-tion considering the first law to prescribe a general statement of retribution(the culprit bears the penalty) for a general circumstance regarding verbalabuse (disparaging remarks against God or gods). The second law refers toparticular, and often concrete, aspects of crime and punishment that may be perceived as varieties of the broader semantic categories espoused bythe first law. 10  This proposition of a movement from the general to thespecific through the clauses of vv. 15b–16 is applicable as a stylistic fea-ture, even while the interpreter maintains that the legal passage addressesthe circumstances of a single case. As an interpretation of vv. 15b–16, theproposed reading has the merit of identifying a literary strategy behinddifferences in the lexical choices within the laws, while avoiding the diffi-culties in discerning legal distinctions between the circumstances of the 9. Hoffmann, Leviticus , 314. This interpretation explains the absence of the definite ar-ticle for  µç  in v. 16b (cf. v. 11a) without recourse to the assumption of scribal error. The ren-dition of the clause in question by LXX and Tg. Onqelos  notes the grammatical incongruity ofthe absence of the definite article and fills in hwhy  in their reading of the clause. The postulationof synecdoche and anaphoric reference as literary features in the passage, therefore, offers res-olution for a second textual difficulty in the passage. Noteworthy is the fact that the differentpositions of the related phrases within their clauses ( jrzak rgk  precedes  µçAwbqnb  in v. 16b,whereas the same verbal root followed by hwhyAµç  in v. 16a stands at the front of the clause)does not disturb the ability of bqn  (verbal root) followed by  µç  in v. 16b to be an index to thepreceding full expression in v. 16a.10. See, e.g., Elliger, Leviticus,  331; Hartley, Leviticus , 410; E. S. Gerstenberger, Leviticus: ACommentary  (trans. Douglas W. Stott; OTL; Louisville: Westminster, 1996), 364.
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