6 Controversial Bible Verses the Skeptics Love to Hate—Part 2


In my last article I wrote about some Bible passages that skeptics love to criticize:

Here are a few more, with my explanations:

1. Does God really command mutilation? (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

Here Moses tells us that if two men are fighting, and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by seizing the other man's genitals, then "you shall cut off her hand, your eye shall not pity her" (New King James Version). Other English translations (KJV, NASB, etc.) say pretty much the same thing. Pretty severe, isn't it?

In the ancient Middle East it was very common among other nations to mutilate an offender for what we would consider petty crimes (see the Code of Hammurabi). However, in the Law of Moses, this would be the only case in which God commands the amputation of a part of the body as punishment—if that is what it is really saying. But let's take a closer look.

As Dr. Paul Copan points out in his excellent book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (pp 121-122), the normal Hebrew word for hand is yad. However, that is not the word used when the text refers to the woman's "hand." In verse 12 it says that they shall cut off her kaph. Different word. Kaph can mean the palm of the hand or any rounded concave area such as the arch of a foot, the hip socket (Genesis 32:26, 32) or even the groin. In fact, in the Song of Songs (5:5 and 4:12) in a rather sensuous love poem, kaph refers to the "handles" of "the locked garden" (a metaphor for the bride's pelvic area).

Also, the word for "cut off" (qatsas) in Deuteronomy 25:12 is not in the intensive piel stem in Hebrew. Whenever it is in this milder qal stem (as it is here) it is translated as "clip" or "shave" (as in Jeremiah 9:26; 25:23; 49:32). What is going on here is a humiliating punishment for a humiliating punishment. The Law required not that the woman's hand is cut off, but rather that her pelvic area (kaph) be shaved (qatsas). This punishment, as humiliating as it was, was nothing as severe as the mutilating punishments of the Assyrians and Babylonians.