Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sentence Omitted

Our lives are so well organized that we expect public speakers and preachers and other people with whom we interact to also be organized. We also expect our sacred writings to be well organized. When we are told the presentation has three parts we expect there will be three parts.

The prophetic lawsuit was constructed to mirror the forms employed in secular law. It included the depiction of trial, the prosecutor’s speech and the judge’s speech. Each of these three parts was further subdivided. A prominent part of the judge’s speech was the declaration that the accused had no defense followed by the pronouncement of sentence.

Many summers ago I represented a young man in juvenile court. He was charged with throwing snowballs at passing automobiles. The judge called this juvenile case last, and after hearing a few comments from the police officer how dangerous the activity was, started yelling and screaming. During the judicial tirade, the courtroom started emptying and soon only the judge, the juvenile and I were left in the room.

Isaiah includes two prophetic lawsuits in Isa. 1:2-3 and 3:13-15 both of which omits the verdict. The judge’s final words were, “you are free to leave now.” There was no adjudication and no sentence but everyone, including the juvenile, knew the judge considered the juvenile to be guilty as charged. Nothing more needed to be said.

Kirsten Nielsen, Yahweh as Prosecutor and Judge, noted “the tendency to omit the verdict as a means of forcing the audience to draw their own conclusions. The uncompleted lawsuit demands its conclusion, and by the use of metaphor and the omission of defence the prophet indicates what the verdict must be. Moreover, by compelling the audience themselves to pass sentence, the prophet forces them to accept it as a just consequence of the given accusations.”

The prophetic lawsuit with sentence omitted has the same purpose as a juridical parable. The Parable of the Wicked Tenants appearing in the Gospel of Luke is a juridical parable. Designating the parable as a juridical parable makes sense only if the parable is directed at the chief priests. In fact, all three synoptic gospels report that the chief priests realized that Jesus had told the parable against them. A juridical parable can not be directed at the nation, only towards individuals, because the purpose of the juridical parable is to have the addressee recognize himself. Uriel Simon has explained: “The juridical parable is a disguised parable designed to overcome man's closeness to himself, enabling him to judge himself by the same yardstick that he applies to others.”

The prophetic lawsuit utilized by Micah initiated these thoughts. The first chapter of Micah begins like a prophetic lawsuit but is not considered as such by any of the commentaries. Perhaps sentence omitted ought to be considered in other situations where the audience is being asked to provide the missing element particularly where existing explanations are not satisfactory. This missing element may not always be the verdict.

“Sentence omitted” may be a biblical literary technique.

Copyrighted 2007


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