Slave Morality: Theological Perspectives on the Law of Moses. The fusion between the regulations for human relations and behavior on the one hand and worship of and belief in YHWH on the other is the most prominent feature of Biblical Law. The historical background and growth of this characteristic is here investigated and some of its theological implications are scrutinized. Beginning with the latter I take my starting point in the introduction to the Decalogue: “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exod 20:2) From this line six theological perspectives on the Law of Moses are highlighted. (1) “I am YHWH.” – The revelation. According to Israel’s theologians the Law is divine revelation: here humans meet the transcendent and immanent God. (2) “Your God.” – The election. The frame for the divine will is the mysterious choice of YHWH’s beloved people and the law is interpreted as the human response to this act of love. (3) Sinai. – The place. The Law of Moses is located in the desert, i.e. outside the state’s sphere and authority. Thus, Biblical Law is both before and above the state, Israelite or pagan. (4) “Out of the land of Egypt.” – The journey. The Law of Moses is proclaimed during a journey and the will of YHWH is thus not a static entity. As a guide the Law may inspire to moral judgment rather than to foster a moral security. (5) “Out of the house of slavery.” – The narrative. The various laws are interpreted from an historical experience: only those who do not forget the exodus from Egypt know that the Law means freedom. (6) “Out of the house of slavery.” – The liberation. The most vital theological angle is to be found in the understanding of Mosaic Law as a divine answer to human pain and cry for deliverance: “you shall act as one delivered from slavery.” In this respect the Law is a “slave morality” (F. Nietzsche), that is, the morality of delivered slaves. The Covenant Code (Exod 20:22-23:33) is the birth place of Biblical Law. Presumably this code was gradually composed in Judah at the end of the eight century or at the beginning of the seventh century BCE. During this period two central theological concepts were formed, probably by the same circles: the theology of history and covenant theology. Together with the earliest Biblical law code these twin concepts appear in a context that is strongly critical to the state, to power, and the power of the state. Characteristically, when the Law is proclaimed the Biblical traditions never mention a king or priest as the representative of Israel. Throughout the Law is mysteriously related to this mystical prophetic figure of the past and the desert, Moses (Exod 34:27; Deut 34:6).
Bibliographical noteThe information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: Centre for Theology and Religious Studies (015017000)
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Religious Studies
- Gamla testamentet
- Mose lag
- Israels Gud