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Publication - Professor Jonathan Burnside

    Write That They May Judge?

    Applying written law in biblical Israel


    Burnside, J, 2019, ‘Write That They May Judge?: Applying written law in biblical Israel’. in: Daniel Block (eds) Write That They May Read: Studies in Literacy and Textualization in the Ancient Near East and in the Hebrew Scriptures: Essays in Honor of Professor Alan R. Millard .


    The prevalence of writing, and written law, in biblical Israel is an important research question to which Alan Millard has devoted considerable attention. But since writing restructures consciousness – regardless of how widespread written texts themselves may have been – we must identify the cognitive structures that are appropriate for making sense of written law in biblical Israel. This is important because biblical scholars tend, mistakenly, to project modern cognitive presuppositions about how to read and interpret written law. These result in what may be termed ‘legislative’ or ‘semantic’ readings of biblical law. Bernard Jackson has successfully critiqued such misreadings of the Mishpatim (or ‘Covenant Code’; Exod. 21:1-22:16) and this chapter builds on Jackson’s critique by identifying similar misreadings of biblical law in other legal collections. These include the case of the rebellious son (Deut 21:18-21); cases of altar asylum (Exod 21:13-14; 1 Kgs 1:50-53 and 1 Kgs 2:28-34) and the food laws of Lev 11:3-23 and Deut 14:3-20). In each case, ‘legislative’ readings are challenged by an alternative, narrative, approach which, it is argued, enables us to read the laws correctly. The chapter further contributes to our understanding of the issues around writing in biblical Israel by exploring how the written laws themselves contain evidence of oral residue. Although biblical law is presented for us, as readers, exclusively in written form, it retains marks of its interaction with an oral-based culture.

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