In January, Oxford University Press will release “The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law” edited by Brent Strawn (Emory University). The publisher’s description follows:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law (OEBL) provides the most up-to-date and extensive treatment of the Bible and law yet attempted, both updating and expanding the scope of previous scholarship in the field. In comprehensive overviews, scholars at the forefront of biblical studies and law address three foci: biblical law itself–its nature, collections, and genres; the ancient contexts of biblical law, throughout the ancient Mediterranean (ancient Near Eastern, Greco-Roman, and Early Jewish); and the afterlife and influence of biblical law in antiquity and in modern jurisprudence around the world. Essays include treatments of the Book of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, Greek Law, and the Laws of Hammurapi, but also testimony and witness, property, ritual, rhetoric, gender, and sexual legislation.
Here’s a very interesting article just published by Jonathan Burnside (Bristol), The Spirit of Biblical Law. The abstract follows:
The Bible—paradoxically—has been deeply influential on Western civilization, including law, yet our assumptions are deeply hostile to its having any influence in the modern world at all. This article subverts the view that there is nothing we can learn from biblical law. Instead, it suggests that it is possible to speak of ‘the spirit of biblical law’. This means seeing biblical law as more than just an object of textual critique. Biblical law can be caricatured in a number of ways; however, this is an inadequate way of reading the subject. We need to recover the spirit of biblical law by looking at a number of its substantive areas, including: property and money; economic organization; race relations and immigration; the role, nature and accountability of Government; family structure; our relationship with the environment and the pursuit of justice. As we do so, we discover that the spirit of biblical law has an ethos which is worth exploring as an imaginative and moral resource.
Scholars debate the extent to which contemporary ideas about legal equality derive from religious, as opposed to Enlightenment, thought. In a new book, Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought (OUP 2011), Joshua Berman (Bar-Ilan University) argues that Bible, specifically the Pentateuch, provides the earliest theory on record for an egalitarian society. Along the way, Berman compares Biblical constitutionalism with Montesquieu’s version. A description follows. — MLM
In Created Equal, Joshua Berman engages the text of the Hebrew Bible from a novel perspective, considering it as a document of social and political thought. He proposes that the Pentateuch can be read as the earliest prescription on record for the establishment of an egalitarian polity. What emerges is the blueprint for a society that would stand in stark contrast to the surrounding cultures of the ancient Near East — Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and the Hittite Empire – in which the hierarchical structure of the polity was centered on the figure of the king and his retinue. Berman shows that an egalitarian ideal is articulated in comprehensive fashion in the Pentateuch and is expressed in its theology, politics, economics, use of technologies of communication, and in its narrative literature. Throughout, he invokes parallels from the modern period as heuristic devices to illuminate ancient developments. Thus, for example, the constitutional principles in the Book of Deuteronomy are examined in the light of those espoused by Montesquieu, and the rise of the novel in 18th-century England serves to illuminate the advent of new modes of storytelling in biblical narrative.