The Authority of Law in the Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism

Tracing the Origins of Legal Obligation from Ezra to Qumran


In The Authority of Law in the Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism, Vroom identifies a development in the authority of written law that took place in early Judaism. Ever since Assyriologists began to recognize that the Mesopotamian law collections did not function as law codes do today—as a source of binding obligation—scholars have grappled with the question of when the Pentateuchal legal corpora came to be treated as legally binding. Vroom draws from legal theory to provide a theoretical framework for understanding the nature of legal authority, and develops a methodology for identifying instances in which legal texts were treated as binding law by ancient interpreters. This method is applied to a selection of legal-interpretive texts: Ezra-Nehemiah, Temple Scroll, the Qumran rule texts, and the Samaritan Pentateuch.
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Biographical Note

Jonathan Vroom, Ph.D. (2017) University of Toronto, is a Sessional Lecturer and Writing Instructor at the University of Toronto. He has published on Pentateuchal criticism and textual criticism in journals such as the Journal of Biblical Literature.

Table of contents


 1 Legal Obligation and the Ancient Near Eastern Law ‘Codes’
 2 Interpretation as the Key to Identifying Legal Obligation
 3 Legal Theory and the Problem of Conceptual Anachronism
 4 Overview of Chapters

PART 1: Theory and Method

1 Identifying Legal Obligation in Interpretive Sources
 1 Legal Obligation and the Nature of Law’s Authority
 2 The Rule of Law and Legal Interpretation
 3 Sabbath Interpretation as a Test Case
 4 Conclusion

2 History of Research and the Need for a Legal-Theoretical Approach
 1 Arguments for the Non-Binding Character of Ancient Near Eastern Law
 2 History of Scholarship and Conflicting Assumptions about Law
 3 Conclusion

3 Authority and Problem of Interpretation
 1 Defining Interpretation, Authority, and Scripture
 2 Authority and the Problem of Interpretation
 3 Authority Transfer and the Limits of Interpretation in Modern Law
 4 Authority and Interpretation in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism
 5 Interpretive Methods and Motives
 6 Conclusion

PART 2: Textual Analysis

4 Legal Interpretation in the Temple Scroll’s Yom Kippur Law
 1 An Overview of the Temple Scroll
 2 The Text of Temple Scroll 25:10–27:10
 3 Threats to the Rule of Law addressed in Temple Scroll’s Interpretive Rewriting
 4 Conclusion

5 Legal Innovation in the Samaritan Pentateuch’s Covenant Code
 1 The Provenance of the Samaritan Pentateuch’s Legal Innovations
 2 Correcting Threats to the Rule of Law in the Samaritan Pentateuch
 3 Further Considerations
 4 Conclusion

6 Legal Rewriting in the Qumran Penal Codes
 1 The Literary Relationship among the Rule Texts and the Problem of Their Genre
 2 Interpretive Rewriting in the Penal Codes
 3 The Genre of the Penal Codes and Historical Reconstruction
 4 Conclusion

7 The Authority of the Torah in the Ezra-Nehemiah Legal Narratives
 1 Preliminary Issue: Ezra’s Torah and Pentateuchal Law
 2 Community Response as Reflecting a Binding Attitude toward Law
 3 The Authority of the Torah versus Torah Experts in Yehud
 4 Conclusion

Conclusion 202
 1 Summary of Theory and Method
 2 Summary of Textual Analysis
 3 Between Authority and Interpretation in Ancient Law
 4 Mapping the Emergence of Legal Obligation in Early Judaism
 5 Looking Ahead


All interested in ancient Near Eastern law, history of legal thought, Pentateuchal law, the Torah in the Persian period, the Qumran rule texts, Temple Scroll, and the Samaritan Pentateuch


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