Right Wing Watch reports that perennial bigot Bryan Fischer, director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy at American Family Association (listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), is upset about the movement of Jared Loughner’s trial from Tuscon, AZ to San Diego, CA because changing venue is “contrary to biblical concepts of justice.”
Gosh, fortunately for us, we’re not subject to Bronze Age legal concepts. We have this little thing in America called the First Amendment.
Here is what Fischer had to say:
Innocent blood was shed in Tucson, and the public servants of Tucson should be entrusted with the responsibility and authority to execute justice on behalf of the victims and their families.
It is a perversion of justice to deprive this community of the ability to deal with the monstrous act of evil. The murders of six innocent people by the Marxist-loving, Hitler-loving, Bible-hating, atheistic pothead radical leftwinger Loughner is traumatic enough on a city. Now to be deprived of the authority to see for themselves that justice is done is a second injustice.
In the ancient civil code of Israel, the community in which the murder had been committed had the responsibility to carry out justice. The standards of evidence were very high – no one could be sentenced to death without the testimony of two or three eyewitnesses – but when the standard had been met, execution followed.
It’s worth nothing, by the way, that if biblical standards of evidence were still followed in America’s judicial system, as they once were, you would have only an infinitesimal chance of sending an innocent man to death row. Too many are sentenced to die or to long prison terms today based on the testimony of a single witness. That’s exactly how you get innocent people sent away for life. Once again, the Bible is the solution, not the problem.
The only exception was that when a man killed another man unintentionally – the death was accidental – he could flee for safety to a city of refuge until his trial was held. (It’s worthy of note that there was no system of incarceration in ancient Israel. A crime against property was taken care of through restitution plus a substantial penalty. A crime against life was taken care of through execution. Think of the money we could save if we returned to something approximating this simple but elegant system of justice.)
Though Fischer offers no evidence for his claims that Biblical justice is superior to modern criminal law, let’s not dismiss them out of hand but take a look at that legal system he is so eager to subject us to.
First, all the crimes for which the death penalty was enforced:
- Murder (Exodus 21:12) but if God “lets it happen” (accident) the killer goes free (21:13)
- Adultery Lev 20:10 (considered a violation of the covenant (Hos 2; 4-10; Jer 5:7-9, 7:9-16; 29:23) Galpaz-Feller: “The law in Deuteronomy 22:22-24 emphasizes the role of the public in carrying out the death sentence placed upon adulterers. The public holds itself responsible for the actions of the individual, and is therefore committed to the hands-on reinforcement of the covenant by actively excising evil from the community.”[i]
- Bestiality (Men: Leviticus 20:15; Women: Leviticus 20:16) The animal gets it too – that’ll teach the animal!
- Rape (Deuteronomy 22)
- Homosexual sex (Leviticus 18 and 20:13)
- Picking gathering wood on Saturday (Numbers 15:32-36) by stoning
- A betrothed woman who does not cry out while being raped (Deuteronomy 22:23-4) by stoning. In 22:25 it states that if the rape occurred in the country (since presumably there is no one to hear the woman scream) she is not put to death, only the man.
- The man who met raped the betrothed woman for violating another man’s wife (Deuteronomy 22:23-4) by stoning
- A woman who is found not to have been a virgin on the night of her wedding (Deuteronomy 22:13-22
- Worshiping other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-10 Exodus 22:20) by stoning
- Witchcraft/sorcery (Exodus 22:18)
- Being a medium or a spiritist (Leviticus 20:27) by stoning
- The daughter of a priest turning to prostitution (Leviticus 21:9) by fire
- Taking God’s name in vain or cursing God’s name (Leviticus 24:16)
- Attacking a parent physically ((Exodus 21:15)
- Cursing a parent (21:17; Leviticus 20:9-13; Mark 7:10)
- Kidnapping (Exodus 21:16)
And of course, we can’t forget that a woman who is a virgin but is not betrothed and who is raped by a man, must marry her rapist and he can never divorce her – the girl’s father gets 50 shekels out of the deal (Deuteronomy 22:28).
Needless to say, we don’t want to return to the Bronze Age or to Biblical law. Fischer’s ravings aside it was nothing to yearn for. There are some problems citizens of a modern liberal democracy might have some reservations about. If the above does not convince you, maybe the following tidbits will.
For example, Carol L. Meyers writes (Exodus, 2005:139), observes that Jewish law had a concept called “sacral-judicial”, that is, to “seek a word (or pronouncement) from God” which she says “refers to the manner in which priests, who had divinatory methods for securing divine rulings, handled difficult cases.” Though the Bible does not indicate the nature of these “difficult cases” she notes that “the extended narrative in Num 5:11-31 concerning the woman suspected of marital infidelity may provide some insight into how an impossible situation, with lack of witnesses or admissible evidence, is resolved by sacral procedures” and she mentions in this respect Exod 22:7-9 (cf. 22:10-11) as well, “in which coming before God is meant to assess the veracity of the defendant for which there are no witnesses.”
Martin Goodman (Rome and Jerusalem, 2007: 308) shows that contrary to Fischer’s claim that Old Testament law was 100% accurate in separating guilty from innocent, neither in Rome nor Jerusalem was “the existence of complex rules…enough to ensure that justice was done for individuals.”
One problem nearly everyone would notice at the outset is the absence of juries. We owe jury trials to ancient Pagan Greece and Rome, and also to the Germanic peoples of northern Europe. You won’t find juries and jury trials in ancient Israel, though of course you would be more than compensated by priests tossing dice to see if God thinks you’re guilty or not. That’s a lot of fun.
And equality for women? Yeah, not so much in this legal system. I mean, a father can sell his own daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7). Isn’t that nice? No more teenage temper tantrums around daddy! Take that, little girl!
Not only that, but Goodman also reminds us (313) that “According to both the Bible and the Mishnah, only testimonies from adult male Jews was acceptable…the restriction that in most cases witness by women, children, or slaves had to be ignored in a Jewish court, combined with the need for two adult male witnesses to agree for their testimony to be used, may often have made the Jewish criminal law unenforceable.”
That’s the kind of law we need, Bryan! The unenforceable kind! Yessir! And let’s ignore what the female witnesses of the shooting have to say.
Oh, and we can’t forget either all those nice floggings. As Goodman (316-17) points out, as well as monetary fines, flogging was inflicted for certain offenses. Ask Paul of Tarsus about those forty lashes save one (2 Corinthians 11:24).
This is an old song and dance for Fischer and we can’t expect him to miss an opportunity like this to spew some more hateful bile but neither should we ignore the opportunity to refute him with the solid facts he is unable to proffer. There is a reason Bronze Age law codes passed out of fashion in the modern liberal democracy and there is not a single compelling reason to go back to them. No system of law is ever perfect but I’ll take my chances with mine over some priests tossing dice and claiming to speak God’s will.
So let’s leave them where they belong, in books of mythology and history, and Bryan, well…just keep babbling. I’ll be here to set you straight. Consider it my contribution to public discourse. Really, I don’t mind.
[i] Pnina Galpaz-Feller, “Private Lives and Public Censure: Adultery in Ancient Egypt and Biblical Israel,” Vol. 67, No. 3 (Sep., 2004), pp. 152-161