Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Personhood in the Bible

When do you achieve personhood? Many Christians (but certainly not all) say a fertilised human egg is a person, and use this to argue against abortion.

Putting this in perspective, up to 75% of fertilised eggs - or "people" as these Christians call them - never make it to term; many never even get embedded in the womb. I am not talking about abortion, but nature taking its course. That means that for the 130 million people born each year, there are nearly 400 million "people" who die before they are even born. And if Christianity is right, this is a system God has engineered.

God is causing 75 "people" to die before they were even born every minute!

Of course, Christians argue God slaughtering million, billions even is perfectly moral - they have to to excuse the genocides like the Flood. I disagree.

What the Bible actually say

Let us see what the Biblical situation really is.

Exodus 21:22 “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm,[d] then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

If the woman miscarries, the man gets fined. If the woman is herself harmed, then the man pays, life for life, etc. The implication is that the unborn child is not considered a human, and so does not warrant the man paying the "price" he would otherwise.

Christianity has (again) distorted the Bible to mean something it does not (in fairness, the mistranslation actually predates Christianity, and is found in the LXX). They read it as meaning harm to the unborn. But see what Hebrew-speaking commentators make of this verse:

Intentional abortion is not mentioned directly in the Bible, but a case of accidental abortion is discussed in Exodus 21:22‑23, where Scripture states: “When men fight and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other misfortune ensues, the one responsible shall be fined as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on judges’ reckoning. But if other misfortune ensues, the penalty shall be life for life.”
The famous medieval biblical commentator Solomon ben Isaac, known as Rashi, interprets “no other misfortune” to mean no fatal injury to the woman following her miscarriage. In that case, the attacker pays only financial compensation for having unintentionally caused the miscarriage, no differently than if he had accidentally injured the woman elsewhere on her body. Most other Jewish Bible commentators, including Moses Nachmanides (Ramban), Abraham Ibn Ezra, Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael (Malbim), Baruch Malawi Epstein (Torah Temimah), Samson Raphael Hirsch, Joseph Hertz, and others, agree with Rashi’s interpretation. We can thus conclude that when the mother is otherwise unharmed following trauma to her abdomen during which the fetus is lost, the only rabbinic concern is to have the one responsible pay damages to the woman and her husband for the loss of the fetus.

The school of thought it represents he calls the Alexandrian school, as opposed to the Palestinian - that is, the talmudic [and thus Jewish] - view set forth above. The word in question is ason, rendered here as "harm"; hence," if [there be] harm, then shalt thou give life for life." The Greek renders ason as form, yielding something like: "If [there be] form, then shalt thou give life for life." The "life for life" clause is thus applied to fetus instead of mother and a distinction is made - as Augustine will formulate it - between embryo informatus and embryo formatus.

Thirty days after birth

So when is personhood? The Bible actually says at less than a month old, a baby has no worth:

Leviticus 27:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, 3 then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels[a] of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. 5 If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 6 If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels
In Judaism in Jesus' time a baby was not considered a person until it was a month old:

We do not mourn for fetuses, and anything which does not live for 30 days, we do not mourn for it.
- Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourning 1:6

The infant, for 30 days, even including the full 30th day (if it dies), we do not mourn for it.
- Shulhan Arukh Yoreh De’ah 374:8

Quotes from here.

This is evident in the Bible - when the males are counted, only those over 1 month old are included:

Numbers 3:15 “List the sons of Levi, by fathers' houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list.”
It is clear that in Biblical times personhood was from 30 dates after birth. Given high rates of infant mortality, this was probably a very practical position. A lot of babies would die before that time, and a custom that accepted that would make the loss of an unborn or new born baby easier to cope with.

Here we see another example of Christians ignoring what the Bible actually says to promote their ideologies.

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