Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

Jonathan D. Safren yon_saf at
Sat Jan 26 04:29:13 EST 2002

Re: Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..Dear Liz,

Rolf Furuli wrote:
Some years ago we read the laws of Hammurapi in class and it bacame evident for the students how different these are from the laws in the Pentateuch, even though there are similarities as well. So it seems to me that there generally is a clear quality difference between the Hebrew documents of the Tanach and other documents of antiquity. 
Liz Fried asked:
OK What differences do you see here?

Since I'm getting ready to teach all these subjects in a few weeks, I'd like to know.

[JDS] I'm teaching a seminar on the Development of Hebrew Law from its ANE antecedents through the development of halakhah and down to Conservative and Reform responsa.
I agree with Rolf that there is a qualitative difference between the ANE law codes and the Pentateuchal law corpi, but not necessarily in the way he understands it.

First of all, the biblcal law corpi weren't meant to be law codes as such. They function as stipulations within the various conceptions of the Divine suzerainty treaty with Israel. This explains the presence of both apodictic formulation, which we find in ANE suzerainty treaties - along with casuistic formulation - but not in ANE law codes. This also explains the presence of cultic-religious laws, absent in ANE law codes. In the Israelite law corpi, they function as methods of expressing loyalty to the Divine sovereign.
As for the ANE codes, they serve to demonstrate the justness of the monarch (cf. the intro. and conclusion to CH). \legal-administrative documents from the same places and periods demonstrate that the actual legal practices were different.

Secondly, the concept of the lawgiver is different. In CH or Ur-Nammu, the king is not the lawgiver. In the Pentateuch, God is the lawgiver, by virtue of his being suzerain and imposing a suzerainty treaty on his Israelite vassals (remember, they are called "servants").

Thirdly, the whole moral framework is different. In the ANE, life and limb was not a supreme value, but measurable in terms of money and social standing. In the Bible, life is of supreme value, not to be measured in money, because Man was created in God's image (Gen. 1; 9). Therefore, in CH, murder is not always punished by death; it depends on social status. InIsrael murder is always punished by death. In the ANE codes, theft may sometimes be punishable by death. In the Bible it never is. Property is only property.
Thus, in the Bible we have "an eye for an eye", while in CH we have monetary compensation. The reason the Rabbis substituted a fine for physical maiming was humane and not financial: What can be gained by maiming another human being? How will the offender be able to support his family? Same with the  death penalty. Executing a human being is murder too, in its fashion. Therefore the Rabbis made it almost impossible to execute anyone.
My case rests here.
Jonathan D. Safren
Dept. of Biblical Studies
Beit Berl College

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