Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Deuteronomy: Chapter 24

What do you remember 
what forget?
Things left behind, 
things contained. 
Sometimes there is no way back.

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter connects to the previous one through the leitmotif of the "coming sun"--a focus on a specific unit of time, a cut off point within infinity. If in the previous chapter, sunset allows those "outside" to re-enter sacred space, here "the day" serves to delimit social responsibilities: workers must be paid before the end of day; "pledges" that were confiscated must be returned before nightfall.
These limitations are thematic. Even the consequence of sin becomes limited here, prescribed to the  individual's boundaries-- "fathers shall not die for children, and children shall not die for fathers: each man shall die y his own sin" (24:16). The chapter closes with a series of limitations on property rights: one cannot return to gather forgotten grain, or pick over trees for leftover grapes and olives. There are no rights of possession for things left behind: they become common property, to be left for the "stranger, the fatherless and the widow."
The inability to return for what was lost creates a chiastic structure with the opening of the chapter, which prohibits a man to remarry his divorced wife after she has married another. One cannot return for an ex-wife, as one cannot return for lost grain (continuing the misogynistic bent of Deuteronomy, where women exist as aspects of men's property, to be "taken" and "sent").

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