The Spirit of Biblical Law
In this study of the nature and sources of biblical law, Calum Carmichael focuses on the intimate and little-appreciated relationship between two components of the Bible, namely that the legal material represents a form of commentary or extended exposition of...
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In this study of the nature and sources of biblical law, Calum Carmichael focuses on the intimate and little-appreciated relationship between two components of the Bible, namely that the legal material represents a form of commentary or extended exposition of the narratives.
After introducing his central views and how they depart from the mainstream, Carmichael addresses the Priestly material in Leviticus, exploring, for example, the theme of incest and the Bible. Subsequent chapters cover such fundamental topics of biblical law as the Decalogue; the formula "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth"; and the theme of life and death. In each instance, parallels are drawn between specific laws and narratives. Finally, Carmichael traces the influence of the narratives of David's adultery and Saul's suicide on the development of related laws.
Approaching his topic from the basic premise that any society's laws do not necessarily relate to its practical problems, Carmichael challenges the long prevailing view that the body of biblical laws and ethical rules grew up in piecemeal fashion over many centuries, in reaction to specific social problems as they arose. Rather, the laws are a work of historical reconstruction, redacted during one relatively concentrated period by Deuteronomic and Priestly lawgivers. Conflating past, present, and future, these redactors embedded the codes of law in the narratives to make what was for them an orderly presentation of the historical life of ancient Israel. This approach, says Carmichael, was driven by needs we can never fully appreciate and underpinned by a very different conception of what constitutes historical knowledge. Only when we relinquish modern notions of historical writing can we comprehend the enormous sophistication of the biblical authors' project.
Calum Carmichael is a professor of comparative literature and an adjunct professor of law at Cornell University.