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Sunday, April 11, 2010

How to treat aliens

I have been enjoying the Bible Search on-line tool from the American Bible Society, which allows me to search for a word in nine versions at once, then expand particular verses so that I can see what other translations do with it.

I recently searched for the word, alien, this way. I discovered that that word seems to be more common in the NIV than in other versions, which may use stranger, sojourner, foreigner, and outsider. I take it that each of these words refers to the same thing, namely a non-Israelite living in, or passing through, Israel. The Blueletter Bible indicates that the transliterated Hebrew word is ger.

I wish to quote some of those passages, using the ESV, which allows such extensive quotation on-line.

Exodus 22:21 gives the Israelites the approach that they were to use in dealing with aliens among them: 21 "You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. . . ." Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 10:19 and Leviticus 19:33-34 say the same thing. The Leviticus passage indicates that the Jews were to love aliens. I checked, and all nine versions use love. This is all the more remarkable, considering that, for the last part of their sojourn, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. The command sounds a lot like the Golden Rule.

Leviticus 17:10-16 demonstrates that there were guidelines for aliens, too. This passage says that they were, even though non-Jewish, expected to obey the restrictions on eating blood. There are other passages about the law and aliens. However, my main emphasis is on how the Israelites were to be generous to them.

The Jews were commanded to harvest their crops in such a manner that some would be left for the poor and aliens to pick up, in Leviticus 19:9-10. This is how Ruth, a non-Jew, got food for herself and her mother-in-law.

Do these laws of the ancient Jews have validity for today? Perhaps, perhaps not. But they indicate that some of us might consider whether our indignation at illegal aliens has Biblical justification. Perhaps there are implications for Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Thanks for reading.

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