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Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible

Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible

Edited by: Michael D. Coogan
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011
eISBN: 9780199755417
The field of biblical studies is dynamic, with new discoveries, new methodologies, and new perspectives continually enhancing the interpretation of the Bible. There is thus a need for an up-to-date, comprehensive, authoritative, and balanced series of reference works for biblical scholars and students.
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible, published as a two-volume print work and made available digitally through Oxford’s Reference Library, is the first in this series of specialized reference works, each addressing a specific subfield within biblical studies. The series aims to produce high-level scholarly reference works that are accessible and in-depth, going beyond the basics to provide more specialized coverage.
Books of the Bible provides a single source for authoritative reference overviews of scholarship on some of the most important topics of study in the field of biblical studies. The Encyclopedia contains almost 120 in-depth entries, ranging in length from 500 to 10,000 words, on each of the canonical books of the Bible, major apocryphal books of the New and Old Testaments, important noncanonical texts, and thematic essays on topics such as canonicity, textual criticism, and translation.
Books of the Bible has extensive cross-references to other useful points of interest within the Encyclopedia, and comprehensive lists of abbreviations. Illustrations of various types supplement the text. Bibliographies for all entries further add to its usefulness.
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Manasseh, Prayer of
The Prayer of Manasseh is an early Jewish prayer of penitence that is attributed to the biblical figure of Manasseh, a wicked king of the southern kingdom of Judah who reigned after his righteous father Hezekiah in the seventh century b.c.e. Scholars have often classified it as pseudepigraphical, because of its attribution to a figure from the distant past.
The biblical basis for this prayer is found in 2 Chronicles 33:10–13. While Manasseh is depicted as an unrepentant evil king in 2 Kings, Chronicles portrays a change of heart motivated by his personal captivity in Babylon: “While he was in distress he… prayed to him, and God received his entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom.” Some speculate that Chronicles, unlike Kings, is attempting to explain how Manasseh could sustain lengthy rule and die peacefully, since these are signs of divine blessing that would not befit an impenitent evil king.
The Prayer of Manasseh supplies a text for the prayer mentioned in Chronicles. Its date of composition is difficult to determine based on its vague and sparse historical references and generic theological positions, but it may be conservatively placed between the completion of Chronicles (fourth century b.c.e.) and the Didascalia (third century c.e.). The prayer was likely produced within a context of nonbiblical Jewish traditions about Manasseh, which appear throughout rabbinical writings. The prayer itself is not in rabbinic literature, but was widely preserved in early Christian communities who seem to have adopted it as they did other hymns from Jewish sources. Most of its extant versions are Greek or Syriac, but the variations between them render the original language of composition uncertain.
This text primarily arises as either a catechetical illustration of God's mercy towards penitent sinners, or within a collection of prayers. Its earliest manuscript is part of the Didascalia, an early Syriac Christian work of the third century c.e. which falls into the former category. The fifth century c.e. Codex Alexandrinus, a Greek text of the Old and New Testaments, exemplifies the latter category, appending a prayer collection to the book of Psalms. Latin Bibles after the thirteenth century c.e. incorporate it immediately following Chronicles. A tenth century c.e. Hebrew version was found in the Cairo Genizah in a collection of six pseudepigraphic prayers and incantations. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, a fragment of a Hebrew prayer attributed to Manasseh was discovered (4Q381 33 8); while its text bears little similarity to the Greek/Syriac Prayer of Manasseh, it does testify to the ongoing Jewish tradition expanding on Chronicles' Manasseh narrative and the attribution of prayers to his name as early as the first century b.c.e.
The prayer bears likeness to other early confessional Jewish prayers (see Ps 51, Neh 9, Bar 1:15—3:8). It opens by invoking the God of the patriarchs in his infinite power (1–5) and mercy (6–8); Manasseh confesses his myriad sins that warrant just punishment (9–10) for which he repents (11–12) and petitions for mercy (13–14), promising to glorify God forever (15).
[See also 1 and 2 Chronicles and Prayers and Hymns.]
  • Charlesworth, James H. “Prayer of Manasseh.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 625–637. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1985. Horst, Pieter W. van der and Judith H. Newman. Early Jewish Prayers in Greek. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008.
Lisa Cleath

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and EthicsThe Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Ethics

Edited by: Robert L. Brawley
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015
Print ISBN-13: 9780199829910
Over 180 entries
This encyclopedia explores the intersection between biblical sources and ethical issues, both historical and modern, through extensive analytical and constructive treatments of a wide range of topics by leading biblical scholars and ethicists. Combining traditional theoretical frameworks, such as comparative religion, with more recent approaches (postmodern, queer and gender theory, etc.), the encyclopedia provides a landmark reference overview of everything from ethics in books of the Bible to modern movements and hot-button issues, such as capital punishment, bioethics, and abortion.
Entries range in length from 1,000 to 7,000 words. With bibliographic references and suggestions for further reading, each entry provides a thorough introduction to the topic that will be of use to scholars and students alike. Given its contemporary resonance and detailed summary of current scholarship, this work offers a comprehensive, interdisciplinary starting point for research.
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The Bible does not refer to the kidnapping of people for ransom or the advancement of a political cause. It does, however, address the scourge of kidnapping free persons in order to enslave them, a practice that occurred throughout antiquity. The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, which specifically condemns the kidnapping of fellow Israelites, also narrates the kidnappings of women and children for reasons other than enslavement, while the New Testament list kidnappers among the worst of sinners.
References to Kidnapping in Antiquity.
Kidnapping was a recurring concern in antiquity, as is clear from even a cursory overview of its extant laws, literature, and moral teachings. The laws of the ancient Near East are in broad agreement with those of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the condemnation of kidnapping (e.g., the Code of Hammurabi §14) but not necessarily in the prescribed punishment; the Hittite Code (§§ 19–24), for example, did not regard kidnapping as a capital crime. Plato in his Republic 1.344b depicts kidnapping as a wrongdoing for which the perpetrator should be severely punished. In ancient Greco-Roman novels (e.g., The Golden Ass, An Ephesian Tale) the seizure and sale of free persons, typically young men and women of noble birth, was a standard plot element expressing the deep-seated fear of the freeborn to be subjugated to slavery against their will. Kidnapping, as conducted by the Sicarii in order to obtain hostages as leverage for the release of their captured members, is reported by Josephus (A.J. 20.208–210), while Philo (Spec. Laws 4.13, 19) considered kidnappers the worst of thieves, as they steal the most excellent thing (humans) that exists upon the earth, and therefore deserving death as punishment.
In late antiquity, Augustine (Ep. 10*.5) claimed that kidnappings were happening on such a massive scale in North Africa that it had decimated the population of free people. The significance of kidnappings in antiquity leading to enslavement is, however, not in the total number of occurrences (its contribution to the general slave population compared to prisoners of war was as a rule modest), but in the anxiety it caused over the maintenance of the boundary between free persons and slaves. Being kidnapped personified the deepest fear of free persons that they would be involuntarily and violently reduced to the status of a slave, whose body belonged to another. It is this fear, and not a universal condemnation of slavery as institution, that led to the broad condemnation of the kidnapping of free persons in antiquity (Glancy, 2006, p. 72).
Kidnapping in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.
The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament has various references to the kidnapping of Israelites in its legal codes and historical writings.
The kidnapping of Joseph.
The narration of the enslavement of Joseph in Genesis 37:22–28 is the most extensive depiction of a kidnapping in the Bible. By kidnapping and selling Joseph to traveling traders, his brothers asserted ownership rights over the life and freedom of their brother that did not belong to them. They would thus have been liable for kidnapping according to Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7, as in both biblical laws the verbs gnb (“to steal”) and mkr (“to sell”) are used together, while Genesis 37:27–28 refers to Joseph as being “sold” (mkr) and 40:15 to being “stolen” (gnb). Although the brothers do not receive the stipulated death penalty, their act is strongly denounced by themselves in Genesis 50:17 as a “crime” (pèšac—a breach of law or trust), “sin” (ḥaṭṭāt—a transgression against another person), and “evil” (rācâ—a hurt, injury or evil deed).
The condemnation of kidnapping by the law.
Kidnapping (expressed by the Hebrew root gnb) is clearly distinguished in the Hebrew Bible from the practice of taking prisoners as war booty or from being led into exile. While Israelites are allowed to take women and children as slaves from vanquished opponents (Deut 20:10–14), and slavery was allowed and regulated by biblical law (Exod 21:20–21, 26–27), their identity as a nation of slaves freed by God to serve God (cf. Exod 20:1) meant that kidnapping a fellow Israelite for the purpose of selling him or her into slavery was considered a capital offense as is explicitly stated in Deuteronomy 24:7 and implicitly in Exodus 21:16. While enslaving free persons against their will was seen as a serious social infraction in the ancient world, deserving the severest of punishment, in ancient Israel it also meant the total disregard of their covenantal status as belonging to a nation freed from slavery by God.
Exodus 21:16 is part of a cluster of four laws (21:12–17) with a similar form (an action stated as a particle that is to be punished by death) that address the negation of a person by murder, kidnapping, or cursing. While Exodus 21:16 does not distinguish between an Israelite and a foreigner, or someone sold into slavery abroad or in their own land, the context denotes an Israelite being kidnapped. The awkward syntax of the law that results in the apparent contradiction between selling, yet possessing, a kidnapped victim (“Whoever steals a human and sells him or is found in his hand shall be put to death” [Exod 21:16, lit.]) is probably due to the original law against the kidnapping and selling of persons being extended to clarify that the punishment of death was to be administrated even if the victim was no longer in the possession of the kidnapper (Dozeman, 2009, pp. 532–533). The antecedent of “his hand” is also uncertain as it could refer to the seller or buyer of the enslaved Israelite. The claim that it refers to both makes legal sense, but is linguistically awkward. Most likely the reference is to the seller who should receive the death penalty even if the sale of the kidnapped victim has not been finalized. Unlike in the case of a stolen animal, where the punishment is less if the animal has not yet been slaughtered or sold (Exod 22:1 [Heb 21:37 and 22:3]), it makes no difference to the punishment of the kidnapper whether the kidnapped person has already been sold.
It has been suggested by the rabbis (e.g., Rashi on Exod 20:13) and in the modern scholarship (e.g., Alt, 1953, pp. 333–340) that the eighth commandment of the Decalogue (Exod 20:13 // Deut 5:19) specifically refers to kidnapping. There is, however, no compelling evidence for this interpretation of the apodictic commandment against stealing. The reference to kidnapping in Exodus 21:16 should, therefore, rather be understood as a particularized case of the eighth commandment without thereby implying that it is merely a restatement, or slight expansion thereof, as if the true intention of Exodus 20:13 is the outlawing of kidnapping (Stuart, 2006, p. 488). No crime against property is penalized by death in Exodus, while the emphasis on human sanctity is clear in the list of capital crimes in Exodus 21:12–17 that are all committed against persons. It is thus the disregard of human sanctity by kidnappers, and not the theft of property, that necessitates the death penalty.
Deuteronomy 24:7 refers explicitly to the stealing of a person by a fellow Israelite and the treatment of him or her as mere merchandise that could be used or sold for profit. The kidnapping of an Israelite is treated as the most serious instance of stealing in Deuteronomy as it is the only case of stealing incurring the death penalty. Unlike its parallel in Exodus 21:16, the casuistically formulated law here explicitly forbids any Israelite from kidnapping, enslaving, or selling a fellow Israelite. The kidnapping of Israelites in order to sell them to non-Israelites is viewed as murder deserving of the death penalty because, although the victims are not literally killed by their kidnapper, they are effectively cut off from the love and will of God as expressed in the covenant and are thus socially killed.
Sanctioned kidnappings in the Hebrew Bible.
In contrast to the laws contained in the Pentateuch, Judges 21:19–22 contains a command of the elders of Israel sanctioning the kidnapping of young women as brides for the decimated tribe of Benjamin. The kidnapping of the women of Shiloh is not narrated in Judges 21 as a justification for a general practice of kidnapping potential brides, but rather as an illustration of how, with the annihilation of Jebesh-gilead, women were obtained as the spoils of war in order to safeguard the survival of the tribe of Benjamin. While narrowly focused on the legalistic and technical obedience of certain laws (cf. Judg 21:1) they transgressed the faithfulness and love that under gird them. In terms of the conclusion of the book of Judges, the kidnapping at Shiloh illustrated how everyone in Israel had done what was acceptable in their own eyes.
One Kings 3:16–27 also refers to a kidnapping that is not explicitly condemned and for which no punishment is prescribed. The anecdote about two mothers who appear before Solomon after one had switched her dead baby for the other woman’s live one serves as an illustration of Solomon’s wisdom. It does not pass judgment on the crime or prescribe punishment of the guilty party, who had kidnapped the child and committed perjury in the court of the king.
Kidnapping in the New Testament.
The New Testament follows the Old Testament by condemning kidnapping in regard to slavery, without explicitly condoning or condemning the existing institution of slavery that was prevalent in the New Testament period (cf. Eph 6:5–9; Col 3:22—4:1; 1 Tim 6:1–2; Tit 2:9–10). The practice of kidnapping is, however, explicitly condemned.
The condemnation of kidnappers in 1 Timothy.
The condemnation of kidnapping is presupposed in the vice list of 1 Timothy 1:8–10. In the list the author, in his argument that the law is intrinsically good if implemented as intended by God, refers to a number of lawbreakers for whom the law is meant. Four pairs of extreme lawbreakers, followed by a series of six other examples and a general category of transgressors, are mentioned. The list in 1 Timothy closely parallels the crime catalog of Pollux (Onom. 6:151) as they both place kidnappers among murderers, the sexually immoral, parricides, matricides, and the impious (Harrill, 2006, p. 121). In the vice list of 1 Timothy 1:8–10, the fourth individual term explicitly refers to kidnappers (or slave traders). This is the only occurrence of andrapodistēs in the New Testament and denotes those engaged in the kidnapping of free people in order to sell them into slavery. According to the pattern of presenting the worst cases of Decalogue violations in the list of vices, kidnapping corresponds to the broad apodictic commandment that condemns all forms of stealing (Exod 20:15) and its specific application to the kidnapping of people in Exodus 21:16. The reference to kidnappers active in the community is probably to be understood as a metaphorical term used to vilify rival teachers (1 Tim 1:6) in Ephesus by associating them with a stereotype of the most despised persons in the Greco-Roman world (the kidnappers of free persons) (Harrill, p. 139). Although there is no compelling evidence that the kidnapping of others actually occurred in the Ephesian church, it should be noted that Augustine in the fifth century did lament the involvement of church members in the kidnapping of others (Ep. 10*).
Although slavery was an accepted institution in antiquity, those who kidnapped the freeborn were despised by all societies as they ignored the crucial distinction between freeborn persons and those enslaved to others. The legal code of the Hebrew Bible considered kidnapping a capital crime not only because it threatened the liberty of Israelites, but also because it disregarded the sanctity of human life and negated the covenantal identity of Israel as a nation of slaves freed by God to serve him and no human masters. The New Testament refers to kidnappers as an example of the worst transgressors of the law that God had given and as a stereotype of those considered by Greco-Roman society to be deprived of all virtue.
[See also Covenant; Life; Slavery; Stealing; and War.]
  • Alt, Albrecht. Kleine Schriften zur Geschichte des Volkes Israel. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1953.
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  • Daube, David. Studies in Biblical Law. New York: KTAV, 1969.
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  • Dozeman, Thomas B. Exodus. Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009.
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  • Glancy, Jennifer A. Slavery in Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006.
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  • Harrill, James Albert. Slaves in the New Testament: Literary, Social, and Moral Dimensions. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006.
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  • Jackson, Bernard S. Wisdom-Laws: A Study of the Mishpatim of Exodus 21:1–22:16. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.
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  • Stuart, Douglas K. Exodus. New American Bible Commentary. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Reference, 2006.
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Marius J. Nel


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