Book Review: Studies In Biblical Law

Studies In Biblical Law, by Harold M. Wiener

A good study in biblical law is hard to find, so when I find one I can wholeheartedly recommend, it is well worth letting that be known at the outset.  This is a book on the law that one can recommend, because it does something unusual when it comes to books written by scholars of the law and that is to take the law seriously on its own terms and to seek to understand it accordingly in the context of the times and people it was written to as well as to its contemporary relevance.  The fact that this is unusual is a rather sad statement on the state of affairs in biblical scholarship, but all the same this is a short book whose approach to the law is well-thought out and thought-provoking when it comes to pondering the approach that we view to law and what context we bring to it.  The author notes certain qualities that exist in biblical law that demonstrate the essential unity of the Bible as well as its antiquity, and also point out to the way that the Bible and its approach to law relates to contemporary legal concerns as well as other legal systems in the ancient world.

This book is a bit more than 100 pages and is divided into six chapters, one of which is divided into numerous subsections.  The book begins with a discussion of the field of biblical studies and in particular the view of the law (1), and this gives him a chance to demonstrate his knowledge of the theories and ideas that were popular at the time the book was written (and which remain popular among those who are biblically illiterate).  After that the author spends some time talking about the pillar-covenant and token-covenant (2), including oaths, some legal terminology, the pillar-covenant in ancient biblical history, the Sinai covenant, Deuteronomy, the token-covenant, as well as the prophets of Isaiah and Jeremiah.  The author explores some proofs of the antiquity of the law (3) and also discusses some interesting parallels between biblical law and other legal traditions (4).  After that the author discusses the interrelation of the legal passages with others that demonstrate their context (5) and finally ends with a discussion of the spirit of the biblical legislation (6).  The book then ends with two indices that discuss texts and subjects, at which point the book ends.

In understanding the law, it is worthwhile to examine the way that the law works to try to influence the behavior of people, and how it is that the law frequently springs from the unwritten traditions and ways of the people.  There are limits to the way that a law can shape people, and some of those limits come from the prejudices and thinking of the people who are themselves seeking to create laws or who will be judged by them.  The author makes a strong case for the worth of the jubilee law in being a way to protect the holdings of small farmers from would-be wealthy agricultural elites, and postulates, with some reason, that the law was one of the things that kept the ordinary Israelite farmer from being at the low level that the Roman plebian found himself in, even if the prophets do convey a sense that some social injustice and exploitation was going on, even if not quite to the level that the Romans had to deal with.  The book gives a lot of bang for its buck and manages to make documentary hypotheses look ridiculous, and that is a high points in its favor.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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