Friday, February 20, 2009

Atheist Devotional Reflections on תּוֹרַת יְהוָה – Law of Witnesses

Pentateuchal jurisprudence is characterized by the inadmissibility of indirect or circumstantial evidence. That is, only direct evidence is permitted in legal matters, and this direct evidence is always in the form of two or more witnesses. Notice Deuteronomy 19:15:

One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth; at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established.

Clearly, punitive means can only be implemented in the presence direct evidence in the form of witnesses. Hence, any of the sins in the Pentateuch for which there are prescribed community punishments (e.g., Sabbath breaking, adultery, rape, murder, anal intercourse between men, etc.) can only acted against in the event that there are witnesses. Hence, if a murder is committed, the guilty party can only be punished by execution if she was seen committing the murder. If she is found with a "smoking gun" seconds after the crime, such evidence is inadmissible in a Pentateuchal court as indirect and circumstantial.

Rabbinic jurisprudence, building upon the inadmissibility of indirect evidence and the requirement for witnesses, develops extreme case laws as illustrations. In one Talmudic case, a murder is committed with a projectile weapon inside of a house. The supposed guilty party and the victim are in the house, and there are two people outside on opposite sides of the house. One of the outside people observes through a window the supposed murderer trigger the weapon in the direction of the victim. The other outside person observes the victim fall over and die after being impacted by the projectile. Neither observer sees the entire act with the guilty person triggering the weapon and the victim dying. The rabbis ubiquitously rule in this case that the supposed guilty party cannot be tried for murder because both her action and the death of the victim were not witnessed by two witnesses. This is an example of the developments of biblical jurisprudence.

As the scientific understanding of the human psyche has improved, it is well understood that events witnessed while under stress or while experiencing anxiety are quite unreliable. How often is a crime witnessed (e.g., hit-and-run accident) after which the observers' stories exhibit irreconcilable incongruence and extreme malleability? Modern courts now admit indirect evidence such as DNA, credit-card histories, Internet history, etc. to indict a criminal. Pentateuchal and deutero-Pauline jurisprudence (see I Timothy 5:19) do not allow such evidence under theocratic rule.

I recall discussing this with a Messianic lady while I was in the Messianic community while on a walk. For whatever reason, we were discussing rape and the biblical punishment for rape. I brought up the fact that a rape, in biblical law, would require two or more witnesses in order to be punishable. She objected to this requirement from every possible angle. What if there was DNA evidence to indict the guilty? What if the woman testified against the guilty as a sole witness? What if the guilty told someone about it after the fact? In every case this lady's sense of justice cried out against the limited horizons of biblical jurisprudence, finding justice only in a system that would allow indirect evidence and the testimony of one witness. This leads me to the next observation.

In my ongoing account of Pentateuchal ethical blunders, it will be noted that there are three instances in the Bible where non-witnessed based, indirect evidence is admitted to indict a "guilty" party. In all three instances it relates to female promiscuity with the same "evidence" having no relevance to the man. I find it ironic that the Israelites found loop-holes in the need for direct evidence and allowed indirect evidence in situations that relate to male control over female sexuality. I have already addressed one of these ethical blunders in my post on Numbers 5. Many biblical theists are not aware of this the biblical need for direct witnesses in order to indict the guilty. How odd, in my observations, that so many Christians are in support of the biblical death penalty but are unwilling to apply the biblical requirements for witnesses?

The biblical law of witnesses is another example of where biblical ethics are regressive and exhibit limited horizons. This is an example of where freedom from scriptures releases society into higher levels of justice and greater ethical accountability.


  1. What?!?!?!? The Bible didn't permit evidence such as DNA, credit-card histories, Internet history, etc. in the time of Moses?!?!?!? What if Moses were to have taken a picture on his Blackberry?

    It makes sense and seems to me why this requirement was given in the context of when it was given in history.

  2. Hello Zee,

    Naturally, credit-card histories, etc. were not admitted as evidence, but other indirect evidence was also denies in principle. And, the three examples of where indirect "evidence" was allowed, relate to the sexual behaviors of women, how convenient.

    [Psuedo] Paul in I Timothy 5:19 uses the law of witnesses as well. He applies it thus to "the church." The biblical economy does not allow indirect evidence. It is logically impossible and inappropriate to apply this standard to modern norms of justice, and that is my point. This is just another strike against the mundanity and limited horizons of biblical ethics.

  3. So you see it as a strike against Biblical ethics. I apply it to the context of where it was in history and find it very appropriate. The logic you apply is similar in my mind to the logic Christians apply to saying tattoos are a sin. Cute though.

  4. "What if Moses were to have taken a picture on his Blackberry?"


  5. Hello Zee,

    I can't accept such a contextualization of "God's ethics" since there are no biblically-provided transcendent ethics to replace them with.

  6. Scriptulicious, whatever works for you. Is there a Hebrew word for Blackberry or Iphone?

  7. I would like to give Biggums and others an opportunity to express their honest views without my “polarization” of the blog. I am very interested in learning of the views of those who have deconverted from Biblical faith and why. My participation seems to be a hindrance to freedom of expression and the tone this blog takes. Therefore, I will be silent for a season. I have lots to do in researching and preparing apologetics for the so-called discrepancies and “absurdities” in the Bible mentioned thus far. While refraining from posting, I will, however, be reading this blog with interest.

  8. "You are missing my point."

    No, I understand your point. I just don't agree with it. I think we both understand where the other is coming from.