Feb 19, 2010

Abortion in the Old Testament

Many mistakenly believe that abortion is not mentioned in the Old Testament (TaNaK), though scholars admit to two "vague" passages, but with a little investigation it becomes clearer that the Old Testament is in line with the earliest Christian teachings against abortion.

Genesis 9:6, is typically rendered as “Whoso sheddeth the blood of man, by (or through) man (shofekh dam ha' adam ba'adam) shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. Since this passage can also be rendered "Whoso sheddeth the blood of man in man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man”, the Talmud records the exposition of Rabbi Ishmael:

Rabbi Ishmael, writing in the Mishna, the Oral Torah, says “He who spills the blood of man in man shall his blood be spilled”. “What is 'man in man”? This is the foetus.” (Sanhedrin57b). This was written in the first Century. Some would argue that because Judaeism is a religion with a strong oral tradition, the Mishna is more important that Scripture because it explains how to interprete Scripture, and in this case the interpretation is that abortion is murder. The Talmud, which Christians appear to have heard of, is a commentary on the Mishna. Wikipedia says that the Mishna “comprises” the Talmud.

The second abortion verse has a literal Translation for Exodus21:22-23, found today only in the King James Bible, renders the verse thus:  "If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart [from her] (ye'led yat'sa), and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges [determine]. 23 And if [any] harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for …"

The literal translation of the Hebrew ye'led yat'sa, puts the emphasis on the baby. If No harm comes to the baby, then only a fine will be imposed for causing a premature birth. To use other than a literal translation requires some interpretation, and it seems the interpretation in other Bibles is inconsistent with the understanding of the day, and the understanding of history, that abortion is a capital offense in Scripture as well as Tradition.

Newer Bibles render "so that her fruit depart [from her]" as "so that she miscarry" of "so that she has a miscarriage" but this requires an interpretation that the fruit departing is dead, not alive (premature birth).  This skews the whole passage towards the mother, if the mother is not harmed, then a fine, but if the mother is harmed, then an eye for an eye.  In effect, forget about the baby, a baby is of no consequence, or at minimum a caused miscarriage is not murder, only the loss of property.

This interpretation of miscarriage is inconsistent with all other Jewish and Christian denunciations of abortion, and the following facts underscore this:

The Greek Septuagint translation of the Bible renders verse 23 as "But if it be formed, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye," effectively turning the focus to the baby. Scholars defending abortion dismiss this as a mistake.

The Latin Vulgate renders ye'led yat'sa as abortivum quidem fecerit in Latin, in English “create, bring into existence abortifacient, that which caused abortion; contraceptive; premature birth; abortion; miscarriage.” The tendency to choose the word miscarriage is not clear from the literal translation, and as stated before, inconsistent with all other teachings on abortion in the Jedeo Christian Heritage.

When you adjust your interpretation of these two scriptural passages, the view that abortion is murder comes into focus, and more importantly, this view is consistent with the following Jewish teachings:

Tosafot teaches that the majority of abortions are “a moral offense.” (Sanhedrin59a, Chullin 33a)

Zohar teaches in Shemat 3b, abortion “drives away the Shekhina (G_d's presence) from the world...For these abominations the Spirit of Holiness weeps.”

Rabbi Meir Simchah taught that abortion was punishable by “death at the hands of heaven” (Meshekh Chokhnash)

This is why the Didache, the earliest Christian catechism from around 80AD taught that “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten”

1 comment :

JayG said...

Later Jewish authorities, such as Moses Mamonides (Rambam) wrote that there could be an exception to abortion if the mother life were threatened, a self-defense argument. But he still taught that abortion was morally wrong, and it was murder else there would be no need to an exception for self defense.