The Semantics Of יצא In Exodus 21:22: Reassessing The Variables That Determine Meaning -- By: John Makujina

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 23:3 (NA 2013)
Article: The Semantics Of יצא In Exodus 21:22: Reassessing The Variables That Determine Meaning
Author: John Makujina


The Semantics Of יצא In Exodus 21:22:
Reassessing The Variables That Determine Meaning

John Makujina

Erskine College

Most expositors have understood ויצאו ילדיה, “and her children come out,” in Exod 21:22, as a reference to miscarriage, while a much smaller percentage argue for a viable premature birth. This essay examines the semantics of יצא afresh and offers a set of parameters and conditions necessary for each perspective on the meaning of יצא to succeed. Although taking exception with arguments from both sides, I, nevertheless, favor the premature birth position. This is because the Pentateuch betrays a proclivity for using יצא in vivid nativity scenes, where accompanying modifiers apply to the child and contribute to a detailed description of its delivery. If Exod 21:22 is included within this set, then “there is no harm” would serve as the modifier that specifies the condition of the child at birth. Moreover, the common judgment that the ancient Israelite would not expect an infant to survive under such conditions is undermined by high-risk but successful births in the Pentateuch and the OT. Secondary philological matters are then discussed, after which I conclude that the premature birth position has greater potential for realization than previously estimated and merits more serious consideration by OT scholarship.

Key Words: semantics, miscarriage, premature birth, twin births, Exod 21:22, ,יצא שׁכל

Exodus 21:22-23 has received considerable attention within recent decades for its potential in determining the value of the fetus in the Bible. Pivotal to the question of personhood has been whether the verb יצא, “come/go out,” signifies a miscarriage or premature birth: “When men fight and strike a pregnant woman and her children come out [ויצאו ילדיה], but there is no harm, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband imposes upon him and he shall pay through judges. But if there is harm, you shall give life for life.”1

The majority of scholars have taken the position that a miscarriage is in view, largely on the basis of ANE parallels, the interpretive tradition, and medical data.<...

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