Sunday 29 July 2007

The Rebellious Son

This is part 4 of a series by Samuel Martin. This posting is taken from an appendix to the book Thy Rod and thy Staff. The website for further information is

Misunderstanding the harshness in Biblical Teachings

One of the recurring themes found in many articles and books written by psychologists or those in the children's rights/human rights community against smacking concerns some statements that are found in the Bible which seem very harsh on the surface. The fact is, there are some statements that are in the Bible, when looked at on the surface, one would come away with a very harsh, cold and unfeeling approach to life advocated by the writers of the Bible.

I could give many examples, but in this regard, I am going to focus just on one. The example is from the book of Deuteronomy chapter 21:18-21. It concerns the so-called "stubborn and rebellious" son. The text reads: "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of the city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear."

This text seems so clear and easy to understand. It is the death penalty without exception. Speaking about the above-mentioned text from the book of Deuteronomy, Dr. Philip Greven whose excellent work I have previously quoted in this volume, interpreted this text in the following way. "Other Old Testament texts lend additional support to the punishment and violence against children advocated in the name of King Solomon. … Thus, the price for filial disobedience is death." This is a common interpretation about the harshness of the legislation outlined in the book of Deuteronomy, but does it represent an accurate historical understanding of the application of the text itself?

Looking on the surface, this interpretation is exactly that related by the text itself. Moses comes across as a harsh, legalistic and brutal writer. But is this the truth? What is required of this text is some accurate interpretation. In this regard, I wish now to refer to the work of Rabbi Abraham Chill, whose excellent book has been quoted in other sections of this work. Rabbi Chill provides a thorough historical context for interpreting this text. This text cannot be interpreted without the assistance of outside authorized authorities. Rabbi Chill, who is himself a recognized authority of Jewish law, points to almost 20 different historical sources to assist him in understanding this passage. It is by referring to the intellectual giants of past scholarship that we can see the depth and breadth of opinion regarding this or any Biblical text. Rabbi Chill, a giant of Biblical scholarship, would not think for one moment of referring to this text in a historical vacuum and offer a face value estimation of its meaning.

There are two points about this text and about the death penalty in general, as it was understood in the Biblical and post-Biblical period. First, the death penalty was imposed only when the Temple in Jerusalem was in existence.

"Under Jewish Law capital punishment was imposed only when the Temple was still in existence, when the offerings were still brought to the altar, and when the Sanhedrin still sat in the Chamber of Hewn Stones (in the Temple). This means that no matter what this text says, following the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 by the Romans, this text has never even once been applied to anyone.

"Second, death sentences were not every day occurrences. We need not to rely on the images of colorful Hollywood films that perpetuate historical inaccuracies. We need to examine the historical documents to teach us what was indeed taking place based upon eyewitness testimony. Note the following: "the death sentence was imposed only after much investigation and deliberation on the part of the court of justice. The judges made every effort to avoid imposing capital punishment. Circumstantial evidence was not accepted in trials for a capital offence and once the defendant in the such a case had been acquitted, he could not be brought to trial again for the same offence, even if direct evidence had turned up in the meantime to prove his guilt."

It must be pointed out here that we are speaking about a Jewish cultural background. This quote refers to "judges," the Court of Justice," "defendants," and a "case." These terms must be understood as referring to courts that were in existence to adjudicate matters of law and in this case we are talking about matters of Jewish religious law. In addition, on reading this quote, some may be reminded of the concept of "double jeopardy" which is a component of our modern Western judicial systems. Jewish legal scholars have known about "double jeopardy" for over 2000 years and it was applied in ancient times.

We find other sources making even stronger cases against the death penalty. Note the following:

"Should the court find that the homicide was deliberate, sentence of death was passed; but there was great reluctance to resort to capital punishment and every endeavor was made to avoid it. Indeed, it was remarked: 'A Sanhedrin which executed a person once in seven years was called destructive. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said, 'Once in seventy years. Rabbi Tarphon and Rabbi Akiba said, If we were members of a Sanhedrin, never would a person be put to death.'" So, we see that the death penalty itself had very strict rules and regulations associated with it.

The Stubborn and Rebellious Son

Next, what constituted a "stubborn and rebellious son?" There is no age mentioned in the text, so who decides? Rabbi Chill shows that "who is considered a 'stubborn and rebellious son'? Any young man three months past bar mitzvah age…" This means that this punishment was never inflicted on anyone below the age of 13 years three months. So the concept of "son" required interpretation.

This all may sound interesting, but many may say that this is still a harsh punishment even for a child who just turned thirteen? This may be but consider this. Rabbi Chill points out that the death penalty was not the first solution to a family choosing to apply this law to their child. "The first offence reported by the parents made the boy subject to flogging; if he repeated the offence and was again brought to the court by his parents he received the death penalty – execution by stoning." So, we can see that ancient Israelites were not taking their children out and stoning them to death every time a boy ate too much or drank some wine. There was strict due process involved and those accused of these crimes had legal rights before the law. When you look at it, early Jews were quite familiar with the modern concepts of human and children's rights. Much of what makes up our modern body of law today in this regard was known and practiced in ancient times.

Some might say that here we begin to see the harsh nature of this law after all. Not so fast! Rabbi Chill further adds that: "At least 23 members of the Sanhedrin had to be present when such an offender was tried. Not only that, if one of his parents was lame, blind or deaf, or if one of his parents was unwilling to have him brought to court, the offender was exempt from the death penalty. This meant, in effect, that the death penalty for a 'stubborn and rebellious son' was very rarely carried out."
An addition, regarding this point of the 23 judges, a majority was not sufficient to convict a person in a death penalty case. The judges had to have a majority with a minimum of two votes. This shows that such a case required a great deal of deliberation to judge the defendant guilty. We also find that the junior judges in such a case had to cast their votes first on the basis of their respective ages. The older judges voted last so their votes would not influence the opinion of the younger judges. By digging deeper into the history surrounding this text, we dispel the false notion that the ancient Hebrews were a brutal, violent, lawless society that stoned their children for the most minor of infractions. [This information should be a wake up call to those in the human rights community whose attacks on the Bible often focus on this and similar verses for their criticisms leveled at the Holy Scriptures.]

We also find that the child himself was not the only one on trial. The great medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides placed some of the blame for "stubborn and rebellious sons" squarely on the parents. "How does a son become 'stubborn and rebellious'? Through the fault of the parents who are too permissive and permit him to lead a life of irresponsibility." Parents who did not guide their children were a part of the problem and contributed to their children becoming "stubborn and rebellious." Two giants of Jewish scholarship further echo this idea. Rabbi Moses Al Sheikh said: "He explains why the Torah insists that parents personally bring their 'stubborn and rebellious son' to the court of justice. In this manner, he says, the parents acknowledge that they are to blame for the way in which their son has turned out. No child becomes intractable from one day to the next. The process begins when the child is at a very early age when many parents, unfortunately, tend to view such behavior as 'just a phase.' This is a mistaken notion, and the parents are now asked to face the fact that they failed their child when he was in the greatest need of their guidance."
Rabbi Ibn Ezra puts it a little bit stronger placing some of the blame on the parents: "He is not prepared to place the burden of responsibility entirely on the child. The son can be justifiably tried and punished for his behaviour only if the conduct of his parents themselves has been beyond reproach. If they did not provide a good example for him to emulate, they have no right to bring him to court for 'stubborn and rebellious' conduct." So what we find is that not only the son is on trial, the parents as well have to demonstrate that they did the right things. If not, no death penalty will ever be inflicted.

In closing this appendix, it has been my goal to broaden the understanding of this particular verse. I hope that this discussion has brought new perspectives to this particular verse. I hope that we will all look underneath the surface of what these texts say and get some other opinions into their meanings. By doing this, we follow the Biblical suggestion to get several witnesses in establishing a Biblical fact. This is the least we can do for the next generations ahead of us.


Anonymous said...

There is always something troubling about explaining a scary Bible text as:

Here is what it says...

However,we can't know what it means without opinions...

This is how it was understood...

Including this stuff that isn't mentioned...

Bringing us to the conclusion that it does not mean what it says...

And rarely happened...

" relax"

Nowhere in the OT, regarding children does there seem to exist anything in a graduated way of instruction. It goes from being rude to getting eaten by hungry bears real fast.

Of course, when we examine the story of the mocking of Elisha by kids who were making fun of his baldness and challenging him to "go up in the air" like the Elijah really doesn't mean that either. The bears were loosed only after the courts examined the words used, determined why Elisha was bald, talked with the kids parents about did they actually see Elijah fly off an leave Elisha and and what were they doing skipping Temple School in the first place?

Of course, I'm only kidding, but why can't we just say once in awhile that the Bible is not a book about how to be with your children. Instead of trying to explain how the scary parts aren't all that scary and we can "relax"...few were executed, just drop the concept of the book being all that helpful.

Since the "nation" of Israel in the OT was one big crazy army (according to the text which doesn't really mean that in that way...:) "climbing through the windows leap, each unharmed," constantly blowing the horns of Zion and chopping down all in their way, because God told them angry could a parent get at a kid that was a bit too cheeky as teen? A little sass and cheek might save his life in the wars to come when the Priests declare the season for war has now begun once again..."just as Eden was shall become a wilderness that's desolate....smmmmmmmmile brethren!"


Anonymous said...

There is rebellion and there is rebellion: The type of rebellion described in the Bible has nothing to do with modern life.

Generally, these days, rebellion has everything to do with teens coming to the epiphany that what adults have told them are lies -- or at least suspicious enough to be questioned.

As teens in the Worldwide Church of God under Herbert Armstrong, there should appropriately have been rebellion. Herbert Armstrong was a false prophet. He was immoral. In fact, if he had been caught with his daughter in the 1930s, he would have been convicted as an incestuous pedophile and would have suffered as the lowest of the low in prison until more righteous criminals finally did him in.

Teenagers at AC should have been much more rebellious and resisted the date rape by GTA of AC coeds. Instead, most of them rolled over and submitted like little submissive lambs and others even married the young women knowingly and submitted themselves to GTA being over them.

There were plenty of people who knew. They should have Shanghaied Herbert Armstrong, GTA and the rest of the conspirators, made them walk the plank and burned Ambassador College to the ground -- afterward to grind the ashes to fine dust, covered the entire with salt and boulders. Maybe a little plaque: "Warning -- contaminated zone: Do not enter".

In fact, teens today have no gumption. They should go to Edmonds, Oklahoma and wipe Ambassador University from the map and key hole the Flurries for their promotion of loathsome Idolatry. David Pack's domain needs to be removed. Roderick Meredith's ministry needs to come to an end in a lengthy siege for his part in his blasphemous partakings.

Where are the Macabees when you need them?

If rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, then we need a whole lot more righteous warlocks.

Anonymous said...

sooooo do you feel about things?

Anonymous said...

How'd this topic go from interesting comments to more ranting? I believe we pretty much have the the WCG thing figured out and can move on from preaching to the choir.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the comment about rebellion is on spot. The entire topic originating through Samuel Martin came from Herbert Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God and Garner Ted Armstrong. #4 in the series is all about rebellion in relationship to child rearing. The WCG was forever bad mouthing "rebellious teenagers" [even when I was one in the Sixties] and being quite open about it.

My previous posting is about the ever present double standard held by religion in general and the Armstrongists in particular in association with this very topic.

The truth is that teens are often rebellious because elders have lied to them. The lies are covered up by using bogus authority. In the case of religion, the authority is the authority of the Almighty God. It isn't really, it's just cult leaders running around with man made religions attempting to do crowd control. When the truth comes out and the troops become rebellious, crowd control must turn naturally to damage control.

No, the WCG thing hasn't been figured out yet. If it had, we wouldn't have forums like this: "Ambassador Watch" -- or did you miss that?

People are still trying to find their pace after following the terrible advice of narcissists about child rearing -- people who don't have one shred of real understanding of nurturing children. They glom on to the Bible and find Scriptures to support their perverted evil obsessions.

The aftermath is some pretty mucked up kids who spend a life time trying to compensate for a totally lost childhood which never existed. It could never exist. The parents diverted all their resources away from the children to give everything they could to Herbert Armstrong and his cash machine. Children didn't really matter: They were just collateral damage. They were, that is, until somebody wised up and realized that if they didn't get the children in some sort of YOU program, the existence of the church would be threatened and the ability to remain elite within a caste system more rigid than the Hindus would be forever lost.

I say that rebellion against evil is a good thing. The dissenters make for a stronger association if their objections are valid. As with all heartless emotionless petty cults desiring nothing but honor and attention for their leader in a sick dysfunctional environment, any visionary calling for change is reduced to a mere rebellious troublemaker.

So here's the deal: Such organizations should either be transformed or completely obliterated. Any faction in society which violates civil rights and basic humanity -- particularly toward children -- are obsolete.

If it turns out that the Bible really represents the extreme dichotomy of either inspiring children to be blind pharisees of the next generation or to be whapped, beaten, smacked mercilessly as being rebellious, then the Scripture is also quite obsolete, leaving nothing to posterity.

Anonymous said...

This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

The issue of the Scripture is the son is a drunk and glutton. That could be expanded to criminal acts as well, such as murder, cat burglary, bank heists and battery. Maybe the death penalty for drunkenness and gluttony was harsh but if you are talking about the survival of an entire society....

Unfortunately, those religious drunks and gluttons become end time apostles these days.

Anonymous said...

"This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard."

Maybe he was a gentle soul and hated hacking men, women, children and babies apart for God. So he drank and ate too much because there were no video games to deny the reality of his Israelite culture.

Maybe he had been abused by one or more of the Levitical priests, didn't tell mom and dad but drank and ate too much for comfort.

Maybe he was a vegan at heart and hated the smell of thousands of animal sacrifices in the air.

Maybe his parents spent too much on sacrfices as instructed by the goofy Levites and Temple worship and he never got to go anywhere.

Maybe his dad offered to sacrfice the first thing that walked thru the door to YHVH and it was his little sister.

Maybe he liked a pretty little ..bite, ..ite or ..tite of somekind who explained why his religion was bunk and he loved her for delivering him, but had no way out.

Maybe he was way ahead of his time and realized that someday Karen Armstrong, Elaine Pagels and many others would be correct about the real origins of the jealous god of his ancestors who punished three and four generations ahead just to cover all the bases.

Sometimes that stuff makes you nibble and drink too much...:)

Anonymous said...

someone said: "Maybe the death penalty for drunkenness and gluttony was harsh but if you are talking about the survival of an entire society...."

Wow..just think how different this planet would be if Israelite society, cultic practices, imagined history and ner do well daughter religions had been nipped in the bud.

Anonymous said...

How sad that these days some of these kids grew up and houses divided over the changes parent/grandparents rebelled.

Anonymous said...

someone said: "Maybe the death penalty for drunkenness and gluttony was harsh but if you are talking about the survival of an entire society...."

Wow..just think how different this planet would be if Israelite society, cultic practices, imagined history and ner do well daughter religions had been nipped in the bud.

Yes, possibly a society which became obsolete at Mount Sinai. But by judicious application of various executions of children that were drunkards and gluttons, the society survived thanks to Moses' instruction.

No. Wait.

Sometimes ironic satire does not translate well to an electronic medium.

To be clear here, the Israelites may have actually had one or stonings and that was it. After that, zip, zilch, nada. If you note that the Israelites didn't even keep up with circumcision during their forty years of wandering and had to have a do over for their first passover after the wilderness, you have to believe that the Israelites of old, just as boomers of today had their say, listened politely [or in raw terror] and went their ways, never to even remember what they were taught.

The Israelites didn't have a personal copy of the book of the Law back then. At best they might have had the ten Commandments. They didn't follow this crap and it is evident they did not from the record of the Old Testament. They didn't have Gideons putting scrolls of Scripture into drawers of hotel rooms.

It would be easy to miss Ephesians 6:4, "And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" and the places the Epistles address the brethren as "Dear Children".

See, the word "nurture" in reference to children is in the Bible. Armstrongists just chose to ignore the fact and made a travesty of Christianity by taking the new wine of the Holy Spirit from the New Testament and putting it into the old toner wine skin of the Old Testament. Or maybe it's the other way around. Anyway, the crap is out of the bag by now.

We should take the Armstrongists to the woodshed for a good whipping with a stripped sapling and not spare them because of their crying.

Doug Ward said...

Another thing to keep in mind here: With the exception of first-degree murder, the death penalty was the MAXIMUM penalty for capital crimes in the Torah. I base this on Num. 35:31, which says that for first-degree murder, simply fining the offender would not suffice. This implies that charging a fine WAS a possible penalty for other capital crimes.

I don't know of any actual examples of someone being put to death for being a rebellious son.

Anonymous said...

"Another thing to keep in mind here: With the exception of first-degree murder, the death penalty was the MAXIMUM penalty for capital crimes in the Torah."

Well yes, I suppose that would be the maximum penalty one could get. :)

However, most Christians find that their priesthood has gone one better and bequethed them a maximum death sentence where you never really die or burn up.

I guess this is where grace shows it's power over law :) You gotta love the Priestcrafters...

Anonymous said...

Gavin, I did not realise your Bible was in such bad repair.You have been tithing too heavily, that is obvious.

Put your next lot of tithes towards a decent King James.