Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Crimes, Torts, and Genesis

I am writing this with no legal background or experience whatsoever, so take these thoughts with a grain of salt.

In Genesis 20, Abraham whores out his wife Sarah (again!) to King Abimelech. God confronts Abimelech and declares that his punishment for adultery shall be death. Abimelech responds:

Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, "Lord, will You slay a nation, even though blameless? Did he not himself say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she (herself said, 'He is my brother ' In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this."

Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man's wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours."

Abimelech is hopping mad that Abraham has led him into this disaster, but realizing where the law lands, he offer restitution:

Abimelech said, "Behold, my land is before you; settle wherever you please."

To Sarah he said, "Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver; behold, it is your vindication before all who are with you, and before all men you are cleared."

Abimelech has successfully argued with God that he has committed not a crime, but a tort. The difference that he appears to be establishing is one of intentionality. This difference, in my glances around the Internet, does not seem to be one rigidly extant in U.S. law.

It is, however a difference present in Mosaic Law, as Exodus 22:1-15 expounds upon different penalties for property loss, weighted by intentionality and negligence.

Image: King Abimelech Restores Sarah to Her Husband, Frans Geubels. (Tapestry, c.1560-1570, Dayton Art Institute).


Dan Trabue said...

Ya know, I've always wondered why God punished Abimelech? Abraham was the one who lied, pimping his wife to save his own skin! What's up with that?

Stresspenguin said...

Here's my two cents (probably more like two pennies and a nickel):

Abraham is not very good at being righteous. He's not very faithful either (he doesn't operate based on promises). However, Abraham is obedient (does what he is immediately told) to a fault.

When I read the Abram/Abraham story, I see God trying to show Abraham how to be faithful and righteous; to trust God and to do the right things because they're right. Other than a few instances, Abraham fails on both counts. For Abraham, it's easier to just do as he's told in the moment.

The sad thing is, Abraham knows what righteousness is. He knows when he stands up to God at Sodom and Gomorrah. Unfortunately, he stumbles/forgets/wusses-out when it comes to dismissing Hagar and Ishmael and sacrificing Isaac. I think that God expected Abraham to stand up again for righteousness sake in these instances, and in Isaac's case, he fails one last time. God keeps his promise to Abraham, but doesn't speak to him again.

So it goes with us. I think that we'd much rather be obedient, because its much easier than being faithful or righteous.

John said...

In the Abemilech episodes, it seems to me that Abraham exploits his status as God's chosen one for selfish gain.

It's a good thing that God was patient with him. And us.