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The Long View: From Hammurabi to the Bible to the Rabbis

Pages 171 - 178


Saint Joseph's University

1 See, e.g., E. Otto, Das Deuteronomium im Pentateuch und Hexateuch: Studien zur Literatur-geschichte von Pentateuch und Hexateuch im Lichte des Deuteronomiumrahmens (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000); M. Weinfeld, The Place of the Law in the Religion of Early Israel (Leiden: Brill, 2004); and J. Stackert, Rewriting the Torah: Literary Revision in Deuteronomy and the Holiness Legislation (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007).

2 S. Greengus, Laws in the Bible and in Early Rabbinic Collections: The Legal Legacy of the Ancient Near East (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011).

3 S. Greengus, Laws in the Bible, 1. In this article, I use the term “cuneiform law” to identify the data provided by law codes and legal documents of practice written in a cuneiform script. I am omitting from the discussion what might be called the Aramaic legal tradition; on this tradition, see A. Gross, Continuity and Innovation in the Aramaic Legal Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 2008). Such omission is compensated in part by the many points of correspondence between that tradition and the biblical and cuneiform traditions.

4 For a summary of this debate, see B. Wells, “Law and Practice,” in D. C. Snell, ed., A Companion to the Ancient Near East (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), 188–189.

5 See the brief overview of what I see as the three major approaches to this issue—the evolutionary model, the literary model, and the diffusion model—in R. Westbrook and B. Wells, Everyday Law in Biblical Israel: An Introduction (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 23–25.

6 Greengus, Laws in the Bible, 4.

7 D. Knight, Law, Power, and Justice in Ancient Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011), 21.

8 There are other, more minor disagreements that I have with some of Greengus's conclusions. One quibble is with his assumption that a guilty verdict in a river ordeal was always signaled by the drowning of the one undergoing the ordeal. As I understand it, the river ordeal was used in some property disputes, especially in Elam, and the person convicted by the ordeal could be pulled out of the river while still alive and punished with a fine; see, e.g., G. Cardascia, “L'ordalie fluviale dans la Mésopotamie ancienne,” Méditerranées 3 (1995): 269–88.

9 On this question, see B. Wells, “What Is Biblical Law? Pentateuchal Rules and Near Eastern Practice,” CBQ 70 (2008): 223–243.

10 He may be on surer footing when he identifies a contradiction between the law that stands behind the narratives and the law that is stated in the codes. Any of the latter that contradict the former might indeed be innovative. The same would be true with contradictions among the biblical codes themselves. Greengus's best example of such a contradiction is the elimination of compensation as a punishment for homicide by the priestly text in Numbers 35 (Laws in the Bible, 158).

11 S. Greengus, Laws in the Bible, 40. Divorce documents are indeed rare. I know of at least two Persian-period divorce documents from Mesopotamia. They are published as no. 8 and no. 9 in C. Wunsch, Urkunden zum Ehe-, Vermögens- und Erbrecht (Dresden: ISLET, 2003).

12 S. Greengus, Laws in the Bible, 91.

13 S. Greengus claims that many of the innovations he identifies resulted from what he calls “a great religious ‘awakening’” in the post-exilic period (Laws in the Bible, 284–287, quote on 284).

14 S. Greengus, Laws in the Bible, 123–126.

15 D. Knight, Law, Power, and Justice, 195–197.

16 See R. Westbrook, “Slave and Master in the Ancient Near East,” Chicago-Kent Law Review 70 (1995): 1631–1676; reprinted in Vol. 1 of B. Wells and F. R. Magdalene, eds., Law from the Tigris to the Tiber: The Writings of Raymond Westbrook (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009), 161–216.

17 S. Greengus, Laws in the Bible, 33–34.

18 It is possible that this first stage should be broken into two separate stages. Greengus suggests that the repetition of an incest law in other biblical texts could well be a sign that it was a new development. The prohibition on sex with a paternal half-sister is one such law (mentioned in Leviticus 18 and 20 and in Deuteronomy 27). The most repeated incest law, however, has to do with one's stepmother (mentioned in Leviticus 18 and 20 and in Deuteronomy 23 and 27). Perhaps the first stage, then, included only one's mother, sister, and daughter. The second stage would have dealt with one's stepmother, sister-in-law (the wife of one's brother), and daughter-in-law. Such an understanding of the stages would correspond to the stages that appear to lie behind the incest laws in Hittite society. For those stages, see below.

19 The only two older codes with incest laws are the Laws of Hammurabi and the Hittite Laws. Knight does not seem to be aware of the latter when he states: “The only other list is from the eighteenth-century Code of Hammurabi, which specifies five forbidden liaisons” (Law, Power, and Society, 138).

20 S. Greengus (Laws in the Bible, 30–32) cites Old Babylonian evidence that marrying the sister of one's wife was permitted: Zimri-lim gave two of his daughters in marriage to the same man (citing, among other items, J.-M. Durand, “Trois études sur Mari,” MARI 3 [1984]: 162–180); he also cites a text from Emar (from D. Arnaud, Recherches au pays d'Aštata, Emar VI, Vol. 3: Textes sumériens et accadiens [Paris: Éditions Recherches sur les civilisations, 1986], no. 124), in which a man marries a woman and her daughter.

21 One can see a progression among the stages with respect to women who fall in some way into the category of “sister.” A full sister (a daughter of one's own mother and father) is declared off-limits in the first stage; a half-sister (a daughter of one's own father but not one's own mother) is declared off-limits in the second stage; and a stepsister (a daughter of one's stepmother and thus not of one's own mother and father) is declared off-limits in the third stage.

22 D. T. Stewart, “Ancient Sexual Laws: Text and Intertext of the Biblical Holiness Code and Hittite Law” (Ph.D. diss.; University of California, Berkeley, 2000), 311–327.

23 Stewart, “Ancient Sexual Laws,” 325.

24 See Table 1 for a schematic representation of the stages of development that I have described. I am not arguing that incest law developed in a strictly linear fashion defined by these stages but, rather, that these stages provide an approximate understanding of the general trajectory of the development.

25 S. Greengus, “Filling Gaps: Laws Found in Babylonia and in the Mishna but Absent in the Hebrew Bible,” Maarav 7 (1991): 149–171.

26 S. Greengus, Laws in the Bible, 114.

27 S. Greengus, Laws in the Bible, 136.

28 The text of chapter 20 says that one “should not take (lqḥ)” one's sister-in-law. Presumably, this means not to marry her, whereas the text of chapter 18 forbids the uncovering of her “nakedness.” I do not know whether the difference in terminology implies a significant difference in meaning.

29 The punishment varies based on whether one's son has had sex with her already or not.


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