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  • Reading Law as Narrative: A Study in the Casuistic Laws of the Pentateuch
  • Bernard S. Jackson
Reading Law as Narrative: A Study in the Casuistic Laws of the Pentateuch, by Assnat Bartor. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010. 219 pp. $27.95.

The relationship between law and narrative in the Hebrew Bible has become a popular, multi-faceted area of study in recent decades, and the present book, which originates in a Tel-Aviv doctorate, makes a distinctive and valuable contribution (albeit one rather narrower in scope than the publisher's description on the back cover).

The author is both a Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Tel-Aviv University and a criminal attorney; she takes her inspiration from the "Law and Literature" [End Page 212] movement in modern jurisprudence. But her focus is relatively narrow: not every law is susceptible to a narrative reading; rather she seeks to survey the "miniature stories" represented by the "casuistic laws" of the Pentateuch (broadly defined), where (typically) the "if " clause indicates "an event ... that results in damage to another person and [better: or?] changes the prevailing state of affairs," while the "then" clause prescribes "an action . . . that is designed to restore equilibrium, as far as possible." This suggests that the narrative elements reside in the content of the laws. However, the author's primary contribution resides elsewhere.

Chapter One distinguishes "frame stories" from "embedded stories." The frame stories are those of the anonymous narrator, who may embed stories of the (legal activity of) named characters (including God and Moses as legislators), which may themselves tell (legal) stories regarding characters. As Bartor observes, this structure stems from the theological outlook of the author, and though she makes little attempt to engage with biblical theology, many of her analyses are of considerable theological interest.

Chapter Two considers the Lawgiver as (embedded) Narrator. The object here is not so much to analyze the respective roles of God and Moses (a task particularly important for Deuteronomy) but rather to discover the literary characteristics which distinguish the narrators of the "Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 20:19-23:19), Deuteronomy, and the Priestly legislation (distinguishing for some purposes the "Holiness Code" of Leviticus 17-26). The characteristics Bartor studies are "participation" in the content of the laws narrated and the "perceptibility" of the legislator through signs of his own attitudes to the laws described (e.g., through the use of motive clauses and emotive language). The incidence of such "perceptibility," she maintains, is in fact so pervasive that she has to restrict herself to examples.

In discussing "participation," the author adopts different criteria in her account of the different sources. In the Book of the Covenant participation is manifest through the (occasional) use of first and second person forms, though this conclusion is perhaps debatable, given the relatively small length of the Book of the Covenant. When the author turns to Deuteronomy, she looks at the incidence of "the intensive and varied modes of integration of the addressee [including the "external addressee," the reader], and the repeated reference to the act of legislation" (p. 35, emphasis in original). This integration serves to emphasize the relationship between lawgiver and addressee.

In her analysis of "perceptibility" (pp. 59-84), Bartor is more systematic, comparing the same features over the different corpora. Her manifestations of perceptibility include motive clauses and the use of emotive language (such as the aswn of Exod. 21:22-23), both found already in the Book of the Covenant [End Page 213] but greatly magnified in Deuteronomy (e.g., in the use of to'evah, p. 81), which is essentially hortatory. By contrast, the Priestly lawgiver is characterized by "a guiding hand that organizes, defines, categorizes, or summarizes contents"; like Deuteronomy, the approach is didactic, but directed to a "professional-academic" rather than a popular audience (pp. 77-78). None of these general depictions of the major corpora are entirely new, but the author's examples are well taken.

Chapter Three is devoted to Representations of Speech in the laws. Examples of direct speech are classified as "(1) verba solemnia, a formal declaration accompanied by a ceremonial action with legal implications [e.g. Exod. 21...


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