It’s hard not to notice that the last chapter in the portion that precedes this week, Kedoshim, concerns a stoning and the last chapter in this week’s portion, Emor, does as well. This signals me to an organizational scheme that doesn’t quite correspond to this week’s portion.
Structure communicates meaning, particularly in the relationship between the parts of the structure. As someone once said, the parts of a house may have little significance as isolated items, but in a built house, the relationship of each part to any other signifies something. While this portion is a work in progress, I notice the following structure when I include the stoning at the end of Kedoshim:
1a – Stoning (seed to Molech, ghosts, familiar spirits, sexual immorality – blood is upon them, so land doesn’t cast you out) – 20:2, 27
2a – Priests (no death contact or mourning rituals, no contact with sexual immorality, no blemishes) – 21:1 – 21:24
3a – Holy things (priests cannot approach or eat holy things when they are impure, others never) – 22:1 – 22:16
** – Offerings (No blemishes, no foreigners, sacrificial animals must be older than 7 days) – 22:17 – 22:33
3b – Holy times (Shavuot 7 weeks + 1 day – 7 lambs; Rosh Hashana 7th mo. 1st da.; Yom Kippur 7th mo. 10th da.; Sukkot 7th mo. 15th da. – 1st fruits 7 days) – 23:1 – 23:43
2b – Priests (Kindle perpetual light, set Shabbat (7th da.) cakes in order, eat priestly food) – 24:1 – 24:9
1b – Stoning (Blasphemer, Law of Retaliation, same law for stranger & home born) – 24:10 – 24:23
I’ll elaborate a little on the elements of this structure. Stonings bracket the section, referring to presence in the land — when the most recent focus of the text was the desert encampment.
“The people of the land shall stone him with stones…” (עַם הָאָרֶץ, יִרְגְּמֻהוּ בָאָבֶן) and “…so the land doesn’t vomit you out…” (וְלֹא-תָקִיא אֶתְכֶם, הָאָרֶץ). The other end of the bracket, the stoning for the blasphemer, also refers, somewhat more obliquely, to the land: “…’Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the home-born…'” (מִשְׁפַּט אֶחָד יִהְיֶה לָכֶם, כַּגֵּר כָּאֶזְרָח יִהְיֶה).
The number 7 also plays prominently in this segment, beginning with the center of the chiasm and continuing through 3b and 2b. We know the number play is intentional since only two of three pilgrimage festivals are mentioned. Passover, the third, isn’t mentioned because it’s in the first month so wouldn’t add to the scheme. The number seven generally signals creation — either the stories and their associated themes or the created world.
Priests form parallel components with what priests must not do if they are to maintain their purity in 2a and what they must do as their sacred duties forever in 2b. Finally in 3a and 3b, we have holy things and holy times.
While stonings for giving “seed” to another god and blasphemy envelope the chiasm, offerings serve as the centerpiece of it and of service to G-d in the land. The land itself becomes part of the dramatic interaction, vomiting out its inhabitants who give to Molech what is due to G-d.
This structure reveals a relationship between G-d, creation and humanity on one level and on another, more specific, level between G-d, the land of Israel and the Israelites. All are actors in a drama, essentially another creation story, that elaborates these relationships. On the borders of the creation story is the ever-present possibility of a roll back of creation similar to the one portrayed in the Ten Plagues that befell the Egyptians.
Jewish Virtual Library has this to say about stoning:
“Many of the crimes for which any biblical punishment is prescribed carry the death penalty. The three methods of executing criminals found in the Bible are stoning, burning, and hanging.
“Stoning was the instinctive, violent expression of popular wrath (Ex. 17:4, 8:22; Num. 14:10; I Sam. 30:6; I Kings 12:18; II Chron. 10:18), and is often expressly prescribed as a mode of execution (Lev. 20:2, 27, 24:16; Num. 15:35; Deut. 13:11, 17:5, 21:21, 22:21, et al.). As the survival of vindicta publica, it was and remained characterized by the active participation of the whole populace (Lev. 24:16; Num. 15:35; Deut. 17:7; et al.) – all the people had to pelt the guilty one with stones until he died. Stonings were presumably the standard form of judicial execution in biblical times (Lev. 24:23; Num. 15:36; I Kings 21:13; II Chron. 24:21).”
Accordingly I understand the two stonings that bracket this material as public acts to avert catastrophe for the entire community. Giving seed to Molech, chasing after ghosts and familiar spirits, certain kinds of sexual immorality, and blaspheming are crimes against the body of Israel and will result in their being “vomited” from the land, essentially a roll back of creation for the whole Israelite community.
In this way, the section elaborates familiar Torah themes (creating a world and rolling back creation) applied specifically to the Israelites in the land of Israel.
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