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You Shall Not Boil a Kid in its Mother's Milk (Exod. 23:19b; Exod. 34:26b; Deut. 14:21b): A Figure of Speech?

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This is a new proposal as to the meaning and genesis of that classically enigmatic text, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk” (Exod. 23:19b; Exod. 34:26b Deut. 14:21b). The author, after surveying the many, disparate, and often ingenious suggestions that have been put forward over more than two millennia as to the meaning of the prohibition, turns to the context (in each case involving regulations about the bringing of firstfruits of the grain harvest) as the prime key to the interpretative puzzle. On this basis he hypothesizes that the expression “boil a kid in its mother's milk” was a figure of speech used by the Hebrews to refer to a common peasant farmer's tactic for resisting oppression: the practice of secretly making up a portion of the yearly rent obligation—when possible—with surplus grain from the previous year's harvest. Two ideas create the points of contact for the metaphor: (1) the idea of mixing of parent and child generations, and (2) the idea of going back to get a second contribution from the parent which has already paid its obligation by contributing its offspring. Exegetical and archaeological evidence is adduced in support of the proposal, together with evidence about the life cycle of metaphors in language and culture.

Affiliations: 1: Seminary of the Street, Oakland


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