Stoning the Blasphemer: A Biblical Tale with a Message of Inclusiveness

May 12, 2017 | Adriane Leveen
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At the very end of this week’s Torah reading of Emor, we find a brief narrative passage (Leviticus 24:10-23) that seems oddly placed amid laws concerning holidays and sabbatical years and regulations pertaining to priests and the Tabernacle. The story involves a man, the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father, who gets into a fistfight with “a certain Israelite” and then invokes God’s ineffable name in cursing his opponent. When Moses hears of this he has the son of the Egyptian father incarcerated and awaits divine instruction. God explains that the punishment for blasphemy is death by stoning, and the people duly inflict this punishment on the blasphemer. In attempting to read the episode in context, Adriane Leveen finds a surprising message:

[One] key theme in this episode that connects it to [the previous chapters] is that of the ger, or stranger, [generally understood to be a non-Israelite who comes to live among the Israelites]. The term ger appears twice in this passage . . . : “The entire assembly shall stone [the blasphemer]; the ger and the citizen alike. . . . One rule shall be for you; the ger and the citizen alike.”

In general, the latter half of Leviticus has a lot to say about the ger and the remarkable attempt to integrate [strangers] partially into Israelite society by obligating them to observe some commandments and granting them certain benefits. Thus, they are explicitly included in rules of Yom Kippur and sacrifice and exhorted to keep God’s laws. They are allowed to gather fruit fallen from a vine and to glean the edges of fields along with the Israelite poor. Lest readers fail to grasp the implication of these insistent rules, Leviticus 19:33-34 states: “And if a ger sojourns with you in your land, do not wrong him; like a citizen among you shall be the ger to you . . .”.

The inclusion of the ger [in the passage on blasphemy] highlights what could be called the negative side of this equation. The ger is to be punished for violating the sanctity of Israel’s God just as an Israelite would be.


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