Bar-Ilan University 's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Emor 5765/ May 14, 2005

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan , Israel . A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University 's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University . Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il

 

 

 

The Blasphemer and Goliath:

A Comparative Analysis

 

 

  Dr. Amichai Nachshon

 

Department of Basic Jewish Studies and Ashkelon College

 

Parashat Emor concludes with the story of the man who cursed the Almighty and what punishment was meted out for such a person (Lev. 24:10-14, 23).   The incident began with a quarrel that took place within the Israelite camp between a half-Israelite [1] and another Israelite.  In the course of the quarrel the half-Israelite spoke unbefittingly towards G-d:  “The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name [Heb. va-yikkov] [2] in blasphemy” (Lev. 24:11).  From the reaction of the Torah in the course of the story, we learn that offending G- d’s honor is a sin that bears the death penalty:   “Anyone who blasphemes his G-d shall bear his guilt; if he also pronounces the name Lord, he shall be put to death” (Lev. 24:15-16).  This law applies to all of Israel, “stranger or citizen” alike (loc. sit.).

Now this prohibition, which in our case is addressed to Israelite society, was perceived in biblical narratives and prophetic works to be a universal law, also to be enforced on Israel’s non-Jewish enemies.  For example, “Thus said the Lord:  Because the Arameans have said, ‘The Lord is a G-d of mountains, but He is not a   G-d of lowlands,’ I will deliver that great host into your hands” (I Kings 20:28); “Through your envoys you have blasphemed my Lord, … I will place My hook in your nose” (II Kings 19:23, 28; Isa. 37:24, 29).   In these instances the kings of Aram and Ashur held the Lord in contempt, and He condemned them for this, causing them to be defeated in a humiliating manner. [3]

Halakhic literature also extends the prohibition against holding the Lord in contempt to a broader audience. A halakhic homily on the story of the blasphemer that appears in the Babylonian Talmud (Hagigah 11b) interprets the repetition of the word ish (Lev. 24:15; rendered in the English simply as “anyone”) “to include non-Jews.”   This prohibition against “blessing the Lord” (a euphemism) is included in the seven commandments required of the descendants of Noah and applies to all human beings (Maimonides, Hilkhot Melakhim, 9.1).

This idea is emphasized most strongly in the story of David’s battle with Goliath (I Sam. 17:45-47).   David said to Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the G-d of the ranks of Israel, whom you have defied”. [4]   These words express a world outlook in which a contest is waged not only between two individuals but between the Lord and those of His enemies who defy Him.  According to the story, David fought in order to defeat Goliath because Goliath was guilty of defying the Lord, “that dares defy the ranks of the living G-d” (17:26, 36).

Beyond this basic similarity between the two narratives, there are four other parallels, literary and substantive, between the story of the blasphemer (Lev. 24:10-14, 23) and parts of the story of the struggle between David and Goliath the Philistine (I Sam. 17:1-11, 43-49).

  1. In both narratives, the action of the blasphemer is preceded by the Hebrew verb y- tz-a, to come out or step forward (Lev. 24:10; I Sam. 17:4).  This initial focus in the narrative exposition on the character who steps forward at the beginning of the story makes it clear to the reader that this is the main character.
  2. In both stories, the act of defying G-d happens in the course of a struggle.   In our Parasha, the blasphemer was having a fight with an Israelite – “a fight broke out in the camp” (Lev. 24:10); in the story of David and Goliath, the Philistine sought to take on one of Israel’s heroes in personal combat – “Choose one of your men and let him come down against me.   If he bests me in combat...” (I Sam. 17:8-9).  During the fight, the act of defying G-d took place.
  3. Both narratives use the expression k-l-l E-lohav (cursed his G-d).  In the law concerning the blasphemer it says, “anyone who blasphemes his G-d” (Lev. 24:15, and in the story of David’s battle with Goliath it says, “the Philistine cursed David by his gods” [5] (I Sam. 17:43).
  4. Both blasphemers were killed by stones (Lev. 24:14, 23; I Sam. 17:49-50).   In telling of Goliath’s slaying, the narrative emphasizes that he was killed with a stone:   “he took out a stone and slung it.   It struck the Philistine in the forehead; the stone sank into his forehead...   Thus David bested the Philistine with sling and stone; he struck him down and killed him.   David had no sword” (I Sam. 17:49-50).

In view of the similarities between the two stories one could say that in the eyes of the author of the David and Goliath narrative, David meted out to his enemy the appropriate punishment as dictated in Leviticus:  he treated him as one should treat a person who has cursed the Name of G-d.

The didactic message of the story is that anyone who dares curse the G-d of Israel will not be exonerated; the law for him is identical to the law for the Israelite blasphemer, and this comparison was already made by Midrash Tanhuma, Va-Yigash 8:  “One finds that whoever blasphemes is liable to death, as it is said, ‘if he has thus pronounced the Name, he shall be put to death” (Lev. 24:16), and that wicked man [Goliath] had been cursing for forty days (I Sam. 17:16).”

Another way of looking at the two stories is that the story of David’s battle with Goliath gives a new interpretation to the incident of the blasphemer, extending the law which is found in Leviticus and enforcing it also on Israel’s enemies. [6]

                                                                                                                                          



[1] “One whose mother was Israelite and whose father was Egyptian” (Lev. 24:10).   There is a tendency in Scripture to be welcoming to non-Jews (gerim, or resident strangers).  They are to be treated “as one of your citizens” (Lev. 19:34), it is one’s duty to befriend them (Deut. 10:19), one is forbidden to exploit or oppress them (Ex. 22:10, 23:9, Deut. 24:17, 27:19, Jer. 7:6, Ezek. 22:7, Zech. 7:10, Mal. 3:5), they are to be helped out in time of need (Lev. 19:10, Deut. 14:28-29, and elsewhere), they are to share in our day of rest (Ex. 20:10, 23:12, Deut. 5:14), and in our rejoicing (Deut. 16:11, 26:11).   Part of this attitude toward them is the emphasis place on their participating in observing the laws of the Torah.   For example, the laws of Passover (Ex. 12:49, Num. 9:14), the laws concerning libations and burnt offerings (Num. 15:15-16), and the laws of sin-offerings (Num. 15:29).  There are two passages in Scripture (Num. 15:26, Josh. 8:35) that ascribe to the resident stranger an obligation to uphold all the commandments of the Torah.

[2] The root n-k-b [related to k-b-b] means to curse or hold in contempt, as in “Come, curse me Jacob, come, tell Israel’s doom!  How can I damn [Heb. ekov] whom G-d has not damned, how doom when the Lord has not doomed?” (Num. 23:7-8).  [The root n-k-b also occurs in the sense of stating explicitly.  This seems to be the meaning taken by the translators in the New JPS Bible (translator’s note).]

[3] This subject is treated at great length in my doctoral dissertation, “G- d’s Demands of the Gentiles in the Historiographic and Prophetic Literature”, Bar Ilan University, 2003, pp. 140-155.

[4] The Hebrew heruf means voicing words of defiance and contempt.  According to the biblical narrative, Goliath boasted, “I herewith defy [Heb. herafti] the ranks of Israel” (I Sam. 17:10).

[5] In the name of the gods of the Philistine Goliath.  This is how the phrase is interpreted by M. Z. Segal, Sifre Shemuel, Jerusalem 1956, p. 145, and S. Bar-Ephrat, Shemuel Alef (Mikra le-Yisrael), Jerusalem 1996, p. 232.  Even though the word Elohav (his G-d) in the story of the blasphemer refers to the Lord and in the David and Goliath story it refers to the gods of the Philistines, nevertheless the use of the same word indicates literary similarity.

[6] For more material on explaining one biblical text by another, termed inner-biblical interpretation, see Y. Zakovitz, Parshanut Pnim Mikra’it, Jerusalem 1992.  He relates to legal   interpretations in other biblical legal codes (pp. 97-102), but he does not relate specifically   to this law of the blasphemer.