As I continue with Stephen Cook’s Reading Deuteronomy, I hate to repeat that I am not convinced of the hidden symmetry of the law code part of Deuteronomy and the Ten Commandments that Cook sees. But since that is the basis for Cook’s order, I point it out again.
He says that 23:19-24:7 expands upon the eighth commandment, the one against stealing. That section forbids loaning money at interest to fellow Israelites, allows a little gleaning of other people’s crops, has some convoluted regulations about marriage and remarriage, and calls for the death penalty for kidnapping and enslavement.
It is a grab bag of laws about money and property. You can even see some connection to money and property in the marriage and kidnapping laws. Cook justifies applying all this to the eighth commandment by saying that theft consists of using people for your own advantage. So all these laws apply to that.
This reminds me of the book by the late David Noel Freedman, The Nine Commandments. Published in 2000, this book tried to show that the whole primary history of Israel from Genesis through Kings reported Israel breaking the commandments in order one after another (well, he did have to tinker with their order some and eliminate one of them). It was a valuable book, but most did not see the intentional structure that Freedman saw.
Sometimes Freedman almost persuaded me. I mean the part of the story about David where most of his enemies end up dead and he takes Bathsheba from Uriah certainly fits the sixth and seventh commandments. But to make the whole thing work you have to shoehorn in some of the data. I am feeling the same way about Cook’s treatment of Deuteronomy.
The big problem for interpretation in this section is 24:1-4. If a man divorces a woman and she then remarries but ends up either divorced again or widowed, the first husband cannot remarry her. In fact, if he does it would somehow defile the land.
The most accepted interpretation of this is that the remarriage would make the interlude with the other man seem like just a fling. So it would be a kind of adultery.
But Cook is convinced that the canonical shape of Deuteronomy has this section dealing with theft, not adultery. He sees the previously given law about divorce in 22:13-19 as containing a tongue-in-cheek critique of the husband who would so frivolously divorce a wife. Thus, Cook thinks 24:1-4 is about a husband who has taken advantage of his wife. The marriage was all about getting his hands on the dowry. Now the woman’s father has given her a second dowry for a second marriage. So the first husband is after that too. Cook imagines that there may have also been a divorce settlement paid by the second husband. Now the first husband wants that too. He is trying to pile material gain upon material gain.
Admittedly this interpretation would make better sense of the idea that the remarriage would bring guilt upon the land. But I am wary of reading this much into the text.
Cook suspects that the kind of kidnapping that 24:7 is talking about is the seizing of family members by creditors as debt-slaves. This awful practice does seem to have occurred.
The fatherless child is snatched from the breast,
the infant of the poor is taken as a pledge (Job 24:9 NET Bible).