Difference between revisions of "Does the stoning of the blasphemer in Leviticus 24 show that merely hearing can make someone a probative witness?"

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Revision as of 09:30, 16 May 2021

Answered Questions

14 “Bring him who cursed out of the camp; and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. Leviticus 24:14WEB

The "ones having heard" are witnessing to the high-handedness of the blasphemy. The focus of phrase "having heard" is not on the fact of "hearing" to the exclusion of seeing. The focus is upon the primarily auditory nature of the crime. The blasphemy must, at a minimum, be heard by two probative witnesses in order to merit the civil death penalty (Deut. 19:15).

It is important, of course, for the due diligence of the legal investigation, that those who only hear (but do not see or recognize the person of the blasphemer beyond a reasonable doubt) are allowed to testify, confirming that the content of the speech was blasphemous. But only those who both heard -- and positively, beyond a reasonable doubt, identified the blasphemer -- could be probative, stone-throwing witnesses.

The laying on of hands is an active performance of the witnessing function. The persons who both heard and knew who blasphemed are performatively testifying: "this man upon whom I lay my hands is the man who blasphemed. I am certain beyond a reasonable doubt." This act of "performative witness" also allowed any false witnesses to be clearly identified by everyone, if the accusation should later prove false.

There is some ambiguity around the meaning of the people's laying their hands on the head of the culprit. One explanation is that since the blasphemer, along with those who overheard the blasphemy, becomes defiled, it is the duty of the latter to put the culprit to death, so the death will make atonement for the guilt of both parties (Wenham 1979: 311; Rooker 2000: 297) . However, this seems to read too much into the rite. Rather than seeing the ideas of transference of guilt or identification behind the rite, it is preferable to see that the idea is one of testifying under divine authority: by laying their hands on the offender, the people testify before the Lord that they are witnesses of his blasphemy. Such a meaning of the hand-leaning rite is also found when Moses lays his hands on the head of Joshua (Num 27: 18, 23 ).[1]

  1. Kiuchi, Leviticus, 440