Monday, March 14, 2011

Tsedeq Righteousness in the Pentateuch

The noun צדק, normally translated into English as righteousness, occurs twelve times in the Pentateuch. All but one of these instances of צדק occur in legal material.

The first use of צדק occurs in Lev 19:15: “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness (צדק) shall you judge your neighbor.” Here צדק is portrayed as the right standard of legal judgment. Judging with צדק contrasts with doing עול in judgment. עול is wrongdoing or unrighteousness. צדק can denote, therefore, what is legally right or correct. It was the legal standard of justice that God required the judiciary of Israel to uphold in their courts of law.

The idea of צדק as a right standard in legal judgments is also found in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses uses the language of judging righteousness to describe the key task of the judiciary: “And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously (צדק) between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him’” (Deut 1:16). He also uses the language of judging a judgment of righteousness: “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that Yahweh your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment (משׁפט־צדק)” (Deut 16:18). Judging a righteous judgment involves not taking bribes to pervert the course of justice (Deut 16:19). Given that צדק can express a right standard in legal judgments, the word justice can be an adequate translation into English: “Justice (צדק), justice (צדק), you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that Yahweh your God is giving you” (Deut 16:20).

צדק was also to characterize business transactions, and particularly weights and measures: “You shall have just (צדק) balances, just (צדק) weights, a just (צדק) ephah, and a just (צדק) hin” (Lev 19:36). צדק here denotes the quality of that which is right or correct. This idea also occurs in Deuteronomy: “A full and correct (צדק) weight you shall have, a full and correct (צדק) measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you” (Deut 25:15). Like in Deut 16:20, the length of Israel’s inhabitation of the promised land is linked with the presence or absence of צדק in Israel.

The only other mention of צדק in the Pentateuch occurs in the expression sacrifices of righteousness (זבחי צדק) in Deut 33:19. In his final blessing of the people, Moses blesses Zebulun and Issachar, and says: “They shall call peoples to the mountain; there they will offer sacrifices of righteousness; for they will suck the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand.” If this is a reference to the calling of the Gentiles, then perhaps what is in mind is that the Gentiles would come to offer right sacrifices to God (as opposed to illegitimate ones offered to false gods). The phrase זבחי צדק also occurs in Ps 4:6; 51:21, where the expression seems to incorporate not only the idea that the sacrifices are rightly offered (i.e., offered in accordance with the law of the one true God), but possibly also the broader idea that they function to restore people to a right standing before God in terms of the covenant.

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