“You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Wife”: A Study In Deuteronomic Domestic Ideology -- By: Daniel I. Block

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 53:3 (Sep 2010)
Article: “You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Wife”: A Study In Deuteronomic Domestic Ideology
Author: Daniel I. Block


“You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Wife”: A Study In Deuteronomic Domestic Ideology

Daniel I. Block

Daniel Block is Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, 501 College Ave., Wheaton, IL 60187.

I. Introduction

In 1990, the renowned Jewish scholar Moshe Greenberg published a short but insightful article that has not received the notice it deserves, “Biblical Reality toward Power: Ideal and Reality in Law and Prophets.”1 In this essay, Greenberg argues that the foundations of the social program of the Torah are clear: while all power belongs ultimately to God, he distributes the exercise of power to human agents—kings, judges, priests, elders, tribal chiefs—for the purpose of maintaining the moral order. Although the Torah calls on all to treat those in authority with due honor and respect,2 it is intentional in dispersing power among various members of society. In contrast to the neighboring nations, where absolute power tended to be concentrated in the hands of the king and his officials, the Torah not only prevents the accumulation and concentration of power in individuals, but also takes deliberate steps to rein in the abuse of power by those who sit in seats of authority. According to the Mosaic paradigm for kingship as spelled out in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, kings were not to exploit their offices for personal gain, measured in the accumulation of horses, wives, and wealth “for himself” (thrice in vv. 16-17). Indeed, the only activity in which the king was permitted to engage “for himself” was writing a copy of “this Torah.” This Torah was to be his constant companion; he was to read it all the days of his life “that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God, diligently observing all the words of this Torah and these statutes by doing them, in order that his heart

may not be lifted up above his fellow citizens and that he not turn aside from the Supreme Command, either to the right or to the left.”3

Elsewhere, by publicizing the standards for the administration of justice, the Torah reins in the power of those with legal authority.4 References to these standards are distributed among the various constitutional documents.

Exodus 23:6-9 (The Book of the Covenant):

You shall not pervert the justice due to your po...

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