In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Chapter 5 The Laws of Biblical Israel Raymond Westbrook Laws and Law Codes The most famous law code associated with the Bible is the Ten Commandments , but the Torah (Pentateuch) contains many more commandments —613 in all, according to Rabbinic tradition. Like the Ten Commandments , most of them regulate relations between humans and God, for example dietary rules, rules of personal purity, sacrifices and dedications by individuals, or priestly duties and cultic rules regarding the community as a whole. Other rules in the Torah prescribe purely ethical behavior, like helping one’s neighbor, providing charity, or not oppressing the poor. Only about 60 provisions are what we would regard nowadays as law. They are rules that establish rights and duties as between individuals, with regard to marriage, inheritance, property, contract, crime and tort, etc. They cover disputes that can be tried in a human court and give solutions that are enforceable by the normal machinery of justice. These 60 laws are unevenly spread through the second to the fifth books of the Torah. They are embedded in three of the literary sources that scholars have identified in that segment of the Bible, which are thought to have been written at different times during the first millennium B.C.E. (although their exact dating is a matter of great dispute). Nearly half of the 60 laws are to be found in chapters 21 and 22 of Exodus , in a context usually associated with the Elohist (E) source. An equal number are found in the book of Deuteronomy, mostly concentrated in chapters 21 and 22, but with scattered examples from chapter 15 to chapter 25. Deuteronomy is considered to be an independent source. For the rest, a smattering of laws are found at various points in Leviticus, mostly 99 incidental to regulations regarding purity or priestly functions, and three laws are expounded at length in Numbers. The latter two books contain what is called the Priestly (P) source. The bulk of the laws in the Torah are thus concentrated in two main clusters. The first, in Exodus 21 and 22:1–16, is usually called the Mishpatim and is part of a larger unit referred to as the Covenant Code (Exod 20:22–23:33). It forms a solid block that is followed, after some transitional provisions (Exod 22:17–19), by a series of ethical rules, moral exhortations and cultic regulations. The second cluster, in Deuteronomy 21 and 22, has a central block that is divided by a group of ethical rules (Deut 22:1–12) and other provisions scattered among mostly ethical and exhortatory material . The pervasive moral rhetoric of Deuteronomy is attached even to everyday laws: for example, legal sanctions are adorned with admonishments such as “you will purge the evil from among you, and all Israel will hear and be afraid” (Deut 21:20). My concern to separate out laws from other normative or exhortatory material is not just the imposition of a modern category upon ancient sources. The laws already had a separate existence in antiquity. They represent a special type of literature that has remarkably close parallels among Israel’s neighbors, both in style and in content. Indeed, the parallels to an external source are the closest of any literary genre in the Bible. The external source in question is the so-called “law codes.” The most famous example is Codex Hammurabi (CH) from Babylonia of the eighteenth century B.C.E., but the texts of no fewer than ten other codes, in whole or part, have been recovered, widely scattered in time and space. Seven are from the Near East and are written in cuneiform script. Of these, two are in Sumerian, from the cities of Ur (Codex Urnamma—CU) and Isin (Codex Lipit-Ishtar—CL) in southern Mesopotamia dating to the twenty-first and nineteenth centuries respectively, one in Akkadian from Eshnunna (CE), a city to the north of Babylon and dated about thirty years earlier than CH, one from Assyria dating between the fourteenth and eleventh centuries (Middle Assyrian Laws—MAL) and one in Hittite from the Hittite capital Hattusha in Anatolia (Hittite Laws—HL) covering a slightly earlier time span. Finally, a small excerpt of a code comes from sixth-century Babylonia (Neo-Babylonian Laws—NBL).1 Outside the Near East we have in Greek an excerpt from the laws of Drakon, ruler of Athens in the seventh century, and a large code from Gortyn (Crete), dated to the sixth...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.