Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Part 1 – Equality under the Law

Lev. 24:22, “I am the LORD your God, and I demand equal justice both for you Israelites and for those foreigners who live among you.” 

This verse is the cornerstone of all just government, and while it may seem to contain an obvious truth of equality under the law, yet that truth was unseen by most nations until comparatively recently in history. Rome believed in the rule of law, but there was never intended to be equality of law. There were three classes in the population of Imperial Rome with each having different procedures applied to them. Citizens had many rights that non-citizens did not have. Non-citizens when giving testimony were often tortured to validate what they said, but it was forbidden to do this to citizens. Slaves, the third tier, had it even worse and their testimony was disallowed unless under the most extreme of tortures. Worse if their master was accused of something, they were almost certain to be called in as witnesses if they had any proximity to the case and would be subject to torture. CORRECTION: After typing this post it has come to my attention that slaves in the Roman Empire were not allowed to bear witness against their masters. The rest of the post holds good though. 

Even in this day in any place where Sharia law is in place the testimony of a women or non-muslim is counted at half value to that of a muslim man. This is not a prejudice on the part of the judges weighing the truthfulness of various witnesses, this is the actual legal procedure. So even if a judge believes the half witness to be more credible he is obliged to rule otherwise. In Jewish law however every witness was seen as equally valid unless shown to be false through self-contradiction or the contradiction of other witnesses. King David in fleeing from Absalom too readily gave credence to the word of Ziba, the servant Mephibosheth (2 Sam. 16:1-3), yet when he returned to Jerusalem and heard the other side of the story, he did not take the word of a master over a slave, but having two contradictory witnesses and no easy way of ascertaining the truth, he split the verdict, (2 Sam. 19:25-30). Since the plaintiff confessed himself satisfied with the verdict there was no need to pursue it further. 

From a Protestant viewpoint, we look back to the New Testament Church and we see that they never desired special privileges for themselves. The only exemption that was desired was one already granted to Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism, that is being obligated to burn incense to Ceasar in worship as opposed to interceding to God on his behalf. With that sole exception New Testament Christians were content to live within the legal constraints of the Roman law as it was, using only their individual moral capacity to create the most just situation in their immediate vicinity.

It was only after Christianity became the state religion that this began to change, and in most cases the legal framework enacted did not come from Mosaic legislation, but rather from the already existing Roman religious system. For example, Constantine retained the title of Pontifex Maximus (high priest) and sat essentially as the president of the Nicene Council, even though he was not yet a full-fledged member of the church, let alone a leader in it. Other privileges such as the right of asylum were also carried over at this time. Gradually these privileges grew into a huge monstrosity with one set of laws for the secular realm and another set for the clerical. While this was justified by using the example of Solomon and Abiathar the priest (2 Kings 2:19-26), it is scarcely warranted. Abiathar had served David, Solomon’s father, with exemplary service and up until his involvement with Adonijah’s conspiracy there is no evidence of wrong doing on his part. The other main conspirator, Joab, had been equal parts indespensible and dangerous to David and anyone who excited his jealousy was removed by him. Thus Solomon had fairly good grounds for merely banishing Abiathar instead of executing him. There is nothing within the law itself which in any way exempts the clergy from the ordinary course of justice. 

Thankfully after the Protestant reformation, there has been a progression towards equality under the law for all classes of people. So that all are under the law and subject to the same law and subject to the same penalties for the transgression of it. For this we can thank God foremost, but also Moses His messenger.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Jewish Law and Government as viewed by a Protestant – Introduction

For a little while now I have wanted to do a post on the Law of Moses and look at a few ways it has influenced American law. In doing this I will also look at some of the issues often raised by unbelievers and how the Mosaic law is modified in the New Testament. When we look at the Law of Moses it should be remembered that it was given to a nation that had no law among itself, because it was a nation having just left generations of slavery under foreign law with no courts or law system of its own. Some things contained in it are positive commands, some are allowances and restraints placed upon already existing customs and social norms. The Nation of Israel was, like all nations of antiquity, a theocracy. Separation of Church and state was first put into practice in Rhode Island by Roger Williams. Until that time every nation had some form of religion that was the officially sanctioned one, and others were sometimes allowed with various degrees of toleration. The New Testament is NOT a Theocracy. It contains NO commands for secular government. Neither Jesus, Peter, the original other Apostles, nor Paul advocated a Christian government. It is possible for Christians to be in governmental positions, and obviously in those positions their morality should be influenced by the teachings of Christianity, but Christianity in the New Testament is not and was not intended to be a state religion. It was a self-governing group within the state, which could only inflict the punishment of removing a non-compliant member from the church. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to exercise this punishment upon a man guilty of flagrant immorality. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." 1 Cor. 5:9-13 This was also the ultimate step which Christ allowed in case of one who committed a wrong against a fellow believer and refused to make reconciliation after having been told first by the injured party, then by the injured party with one or two witnesses involved, and lastly still remaining obstinate when the whole church body has heard the case (Matt. 18:15-17). It should be noted while mentioning this process, which is often called excommunication, how it differs widely from later excommunication. In both of these instances it is not the leadership of the Church, but the church as a body that excommunicates. Paul did not consider himself competent to excommunicate someone in his own authority, he therefore told the Corinthians what was morally required and urged them to do it with his full support (1 Cor. 5:3-5). Any later ideas of excommunication releasing the person to the civil body for punishment are much later, and belong to the time when the church had been joined to the Roman state. In fact the first execution for heresy was in 385 in Treves, though most of the bishops in Treves were in favor of the execution, those in the surrounding areas were not, specifically Martin of Tours, and Ambrose of Milan opposed the action and broke off any communion with those involved. Since the reign of Constantine, however, there had been varying degrees of oppression towards what was deemed heresy. In this series of posts I would like to look at some of the concepts of Jewish law that have greatly influenced western society and also look at various aspects of the Jewish Theocracy and what a Protestant Christian would and would not consider applicable and why.