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God's law; Your neighbour's field

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posted on Jan, 31 2014 @ 05:01 PM
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The social laws of the Pentateuch were not designed for the modern world,
They were clearly designed for a different kind of world, a mainly agricultural society.
But since they were published in the name of the Biblical God, they can still throw light on his nature and intentions.
Which gives us a new reason for reading the collection even if the laws themselves have been superseded.
Let’s take, for example, what God’s law says about your neighbour’s fields.
We get the impression, from these laws, that the fields are not marked off by clear physical boundaries.
In different parts of the world, famers have used fences, hedges, stone walls, and even ditches (in the Fens, we called them “dykes”).
Presumably the Israelites are on the kind of ground which makes all these options difficult, because people and animals are moving freely from one property to another.
Most of the possible disputes can be traced back to that problem..

Obviously, in that situation, the first priority is to protect what boundary markers you’ve got.
If digging is difficult, and wood is in short supply, and building a dry-stone wall is too much like hard work, you can at least deposit a large stone at the corner of your field (or allow the boundaries to be defined by a stone that’s already there).
Therefore it will be an important legal principle that boundary stones must not be moved.
“In the inheritance which you will hold in the land which the Lord your God gives you to possess, you shall not move your neighbour’s landmark”- Deuteronomy ch19 v14
The principle is important enough to be included among the curses, which were to be pronounced when the people stood on Mounts Gerizim and Ebal.
The curse against “he who removes his neighbour’s landmark” is third on the list- Deuteronomy ch27 v17.
This curse is preceded only by the curses on the maker of a graven image(undermining the worship of God) and the man who dishonours his father and mother (undermining authority and cultural tradition).
These are the offences which most seriously endanger the stability of Israelite society.

If you don’t have any physical boundaries, you can’t easily stop people moving over your property.
In fact the Pentateuch doesn’t even offer a law against “trespass”, in that sense of the word.
No Israelite farmer could put up a sign saying “Trespassers will be prosecuted”.
This was probably because, in the absence of lanes and public footpaths, a man would be obliged to cross another man’s property in order to reach his own.
A similar situation, in the Middle Ages, gave rise to “public rights of way” all over the English countryside.
Modern campaigners have turned them into a recreational network, but they would originally have been intended for local people going about their business.

So they can cross your property to get access to their own, or to travel through to other places, but what happens if they start nibbling the crops along the way?
The Law not only fails to forbid this, but even offers explicit permission.
“When you go into your neighbour’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of the grapes, as many as you wish... When you go into your neighbour’s standing corn, you may pluck the ears with your hand.”
But the Law does concern itself with keeping the practice within reasonable bounds and preventing abuse.
Therefore it adds restraints- “You may eat your fill of the grapes, but you shall not put any in your vessel…You may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbour’s standing corn”- Deuteronomy ch23 vv24-5

When you think it over, this looks like good, practical common sense.
If people are crossing the fields at liberty, there is no practical possibility of policing the “nibbling” habit. If it can’t be prevented, it may as well be permitted.
(The same policy is operated by modern “pick your own fruit” farms, for exactly the same reason)
Hopefully the effects would even out, in the long term, because everybody would be crossing everyone else’s field.
So when the disciples of Jesus picked ears in the cornfield (Matthew ch12 v1), they were acting perfectly legally in terms of the civil law, though the Pharisees wanted to pull them up on the question of Sabbath observance.

But the crops might also be damaged by fire, spreading from another property, or by wandering domestic beasts.
It is simple to make provision for the first case;
“When fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain on the field is consumed, he that kindled the fire shall make full restitution” –Exodus ch22 v6

The law about wandering beasts is more complicated, because there are more things that can go wrong.
Obviously crop damage is one of the possibilities.
“When a man causes a field or vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard”- Exodus ch22 v5
The wording implies that these are not just cases of inadequate tethering. The suggestion is that owners are letting their animals loose deliberately, as a cheaper way of feeding them.

But the wandering beast may itself suffer injury. It might find its way onto a field where a pit has been dug, and fall into the pit. Where, then, lies the liability?
“When a man leaves a pit open, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or an ass falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his”- Exodus ch21 v33
At first glance, there seems to be a legal inconsistency here.
The law about damaged crops lays the onus on the owner of the beast, to keep his animal secure, whereas this law ignores that assumption and lays responsibility on the man who owns the pit.
But it’s possible to see a principle common to both laws; whichever party suffers the serious damage, from the side-effects of another man’s action, the damage is to be mitigated, and some compensation found.
This has the effect of evening out the impact of unfortunate accidents, and helps to ensure that no-one suffers too greatly.

What can these laws tell us about the God who endorses them?
Once again, the principle that runs through them is respect for the property of others.
People should not suffer loss, by malice or neglect.
And the law seeks to promote peace, by providing solutions to contentious problems.
So that speaks of a God who wants his people to live at peace with one another.
At a later time, this can be made more explicit in the teaching of “love”.

Wherever these laws resemble the laws of other societies of the time, that’s instructive in itself.
It shows us a God who deals with people as he finds them, starting with the customs they’ve got already and allowing time to improve them.




posted on Jan, 31 2014 @ 05:03 PM
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For comparison, these laws are to be found in the Code of Hammurabi.

53. If any one be too lazy to keep his dam in proper condition, and does not so keep it; if then the dam break and all the fields be flooded, then shall he in whose dam the break occurred be sold for money, and the money shall replace the corn which he has caused to be ruined.
54. If he be not able to replace the corn, then he and his possessions shall be divided among the farmers whose corn he has flooded.
55. If any one open his ditches to water his crop, but is careless, and the water flood the field of his neighbor, then he shall pay his neighbor corn for his loss.
56. If a man let in the water, and the water overflow the plantation of his neighbor, he shall pay ten gur of corn for every ten gan of land.
57. If a shepherd, without the permission of the owner of the field, and without the knowledge of the owner of the sheep, lets the sheep into a field to graze, then the owner of the field shall harvest his crop, and the shepherd, who had pastured his flock there without permission of the owner of the field, shall pay to the owner twenty gur of corn for every ten gan.

The principles are the same, but the landscape is clearly different. The damage that spreads from one field to another is more likely to be water than fire.
Note also the casual ruthlessness of “HE AND his possessions will be divided”. (There is a similar provision in the law of debt)

Code of Hammurabi



posted on Jan, 31 2014 @ 11:18 PM
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I think some people make the mistake of dismissing the Bible's teachings in general because of the fact that the books were initially written by and for a certain generation of people a very long time ago. This does not automatically negate what it states, nor does it automatically negate the idea that the books were divinely inspired. If God really did divinely inspire certain individuals to write some of these laws, it makes sense to me that He would have done so not because such laws are infallible, or that they are things we should live by today, but rather because "law" in general, as with morals in society, advance over time.

Nobody could expect the peoples of that time to suddenly switch their entire way of life to something like we are living today. Although our modern world is anything but moral. And a lot of what the Bible says regarding daily living of that time was meant for practical purposes. And again, none of thus automatically translates into the Bible being false.

I know I didn't really touch on what you had in mind with this thread, but I just wanted to say that. I really did enjoy this thread, and you did a good job with it. I can't say that I agree with every single detail, but I suppose that finding any common ground where religion is concerned is a step in the right direction, or at least a good thing, lol.



posted on Feb, 1 2014 @ 03:03 AM
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reply to post by JiggyPotamus
 


Nice post jiggy and nice thread.
Social laws such as these were well described by the bible which I would think acted as a great guidance tool for a long time.
These types of laws hold as good today as back then, just they get more complicated!

Personnaly I think these are men's laws attributed to God, possibly guided by good but men's laws.
Gods law would is simpler for me: Be Good



posted on Feb, 1 2014 @ 11:26 AM
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JiggyPotamus
Nobody could expect the peoples of that time to suddenly switch their entire way of life to something like we are living today.

No, indeed. That's exactly the argument of this entire series (which is partly in answer to the "God must be evil if he allows these laws" line of argument).
I've been presenting the view that the Biblical God is a gradualist, moving his people along in slow stages, at the kind of speed they can cope with.
I've been comparing it with the careful and patient work of a teacher.
So I've been carrying two sets of thoughts at the same time;
On the one hand, these laws, being designed for a particular time and set of circumstances, are as good as could be expected for their time (and show some signs of improvement over the laws of contemporaries).
On the other hand, since these laws are designed for a particular time and set of circumstances, there is no reason why we should not move on from them later.



posted on Feb, 1 2014 @ 11:37 AM
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guidetube
Personnaly I think these are men's laws attributed to God, possibly guided by good but men's laws.
Gods law would is simpler for me: Be Good

That isn't all that far removed from the way I've been treating them (which is why I talk about God "endorsing" rather than "giving" these laws.
My premise is that human law is taken as the starting -point, and human law is then impoved. In essence, the improvements are taking the law in the direction of "be good".
The general principle is first taught by means of practical examples, and people can then extract the general principle later.
There was an example in my previous thread; there's an instruction in Deuteronomy that men should help out if one of their neighbours is having difficulties with his animals, even if that man is a personal enemy.
Obviously that foreshadows the "love your enemy" teaching of the New Testament.



posted on Feb, 1 2014 @ 04:48 PM
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This thread is one of a series which began with;

Settling your disputes



posted on Feb, 3 2014 @ 05:04 PM
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So we may think there’s room for improvement, but this God’s approach to the laws of his people, it seems, is to allow time to change things In a gradual way.


I am the son of two schoolteachers and the grandson of a third.
I may have mentioned this before.
This provides me with a very accessible analogy for the way God approaches the question of giving laws to the people of Israel.
He behaves like a teacher.

A good teacher is always conscious of the capabilities and limitations of his pupils, and he tries to give them teaching at the appropriate level.
He talks to them in terms which they will be able to understand, and sets out to improve their understanding in gradual ways.
If their reading abilities have taken them to the end of the first of the “Janet and John” books, then he offers them the second book.
If their mathematical skills have taken them as far as adding up and “taking away”, then he might begin showing them how to multiply and divide.
What he’s not going to do is start scribbling Einstein’s equations on the blackboard.
Teaching is not about “zapping” people with instantaneous advanced knowledge (except in science fiction stories).
It is the slow and patient work of gradual training.

We find a similar patience in the way the God of Israel deals with his people.
He finds them naturally loving their brothers and other kinsmen and encourages them to treat the rest of the nation in the same way.
However, they are not yet ready to extend the concept of “brothers” to the world at large, so that part of the training is postponed for a later stage.
So what we see in the laws of the Old Testament, and in the overall history of the Old Testament, is the slow and patient work of gradual training.
God does not “zap”. He teaches.

This has a bearing on the question of whether these laws can be changed.
We find in the classroom that lessons vary according to the age and circumstances of the pupils.
The books used in the infants’ class are not the books used in the university lecture hall.
In the same way, the guidance which God gives to his people might be expected to change according to the level of their understanding and the condition of their society.
And the fact that these laws are so closely bound up with the needs of a particular kind of society is another reason for regarding them as temporary.
They can only be “God’s laws”, if at all, for a period in Israel’s history, rather than for all time.
The details of the laws might be variable, as long as the principles which lay behind them, such as the protection of lives and property, were respected.
In other words, as Paul might put it, the letter of the Law would be less binding than the spirit of the Law.



posted on Feb, 4 2014 @ 02:32 AM
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@ DISRAELI.... Good thread. The Biblical laws were written for an ancient generation, but we see in it patterns that can be re-interpreted to fit our own, as you stated in different words. The laws served 3 purposes... Obedience to God, justice and taking care of the poor. For example, the law against using false weights can be interpreted today as ''don't cheat''. The law to leave the boundaries of the field for the poor can be interpreted today as ''think of the poor''.. Akin to giving a fraction of your wealth to the poor. Todays society makes no room for the poor, who are pretty much voiceless and powerless (except during election time, of course).



posted on Feb, 4 2014 @ 02:44 AM
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sk0rpi0n
@ DISRAELI.... Good thread. The Biblical laws were written for an ancient generation, but we see in it patterns that can be re-interpreted to fit our own, as you stated in different words. The laws served 3 purposes... Obedience to God, justice and taking care of the poor. For example, the law against using false weights can be interpreted today as ''don't cheat''. The law to leave the boundaries of the field for the poor can be interpreted today as ''think of the poor''.. Akin to giving a fraction of your wealth to the poor. Todays society makes no room for the poor, who are pretty much voiceless and powerless (except during election time, of course).
yes, we have laws against cheating in our modern societies... But they are only enforced when somebody ''cheats'' and gets caught. However, God's law holds that, a businessman is not to cheat in the first place. A religious society as a whole, stresses on moral behavior from everybody.
edit on 4-2-2014 by sk0rpi0n because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 4 2014 @ 04:48 AM
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reply to post by sk0rpi0n
 

Yes, you see what I'm getting at.
The good that is in these laws justifies having them.
The fact that the details are suited to a particular time and place justifies moving on from them later.



posted on Feb, 4 2014 @ 06:40 AM
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reply to post by sk0rpi0n
 

PS False weights and the treatment of the poor both come up in later threads in this series.



posted on Feb, 4 2014 @ 05:26 PM
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DISRAELI
For comparison, these laws are to be found in the Code of Hammurabi.

I've also discovered an interesting parallel in Roman law, in a law attributed to the king Numa Pompilius.

5. – Legislation about the boundaries of landed property : Having ordered each one to draw a line around his own landed property and to set stones on the boundaries, he consecrated the stones to Jupiter Terminus. ... But he ordained by law that if anyone destroyed or displaced the boundaries the person who had done this should be dedicated as a sacrifice to the god.

This looks like a stronger penalty than "cursing", which leaves God to provide the penalty himself.

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edit on 4-2-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 6 2014 @ 05:10 PM
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For information;
The next thread in this series will be on the subject of dangerous bulls.



posted on Feb, 7 2014 @ 02:32 PM
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guidetube
reply to post by JiggyPotamus
 


Nice post jiggy and nice thread.
Social laws such as these were well described by the bible which I would think acted as a great guidance tool for a long time.
These types of laws hold as good today as back then, just they get more complicated!

Personnaly I think these are men's laws attributed to God, possibly guided by good but men's laws.
Gods law would is simpler for me: Be Good







And you could be absolutely right, that these are manmade laws attributed to God. It is possible. I just don't like seeing those who dismiss the Bible altogether because they think that such "outdated" or strange sounding laws must mean that God isn't real, because God would never create such a law. And I have heard that argument in the past. So I just don't believe that we can say for sure that the Bible's teachings were or were not divinely inspired. It comes down to faith, like the religious have been saying all along. And the religious word "faith" is the same as the word "belief." Anyway, thanks for the reply, and I liked your post as well, especially considering you were right in saying that some of these laws have not changed. They are essentially the same thing, albeit sometimes in different forms.



posted on Feb, 7 2014 @ 03:48 PM
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JiggyPotamus
I just don't like seeing those who dismiss the Bible altogether because they think that such "outdated" or strange sounding laws must mean that God isn't real, because God would never create such a law. And I have heard that argument in the past.

Yes, the argument normally appears on ATS in the aggressive form "Any God who produces bad laws like this must be bad", so that's the version I'm trying to pre-empt in this series.



posted on May, 3 2014 @ 10:30 AM
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The Index thread for this series can now be found at the following location;

Your patient teacher





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