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The Hidden Laws: Matrimonial Law in Non-Legal Eastern Christian Sources

Final Report Summary - HIDDENLAW (The Hidden Laws: Matrimonial Law in Non-Legal Eastern Christian Sources)

Project Objectives:
An official ruling does not always translate into practice, as legislation does not necessarily become the norm. Analyzing the gap between the official and the norm provides a lens for understanding processes of influence, impact and change, of polemic and discourse, and of power and authority. This project focuses on matrimonial law in non-legal Christian literature from the Eastern Roman Empire in comparison to Christian, Roman and Jewish legal literature, from the fourth to the sixth centuries CE. Its objectives are to describe matrimonial practices and laws of Christians living in the Eastern Roman Empire according to non-legal sources, to reveal the origin and sources of influence of these practices and law, to draw conclusions about the relations between Christians, Romans and Jews, and the different legal concepts circulating about law, power and authority, and lastly, to develop a new method in the study of early Christian legal traditions.
In order to achieve these goals, we are compiling a database of non-legal late-antique Christian sources which preserve information about legal thought and practice, and studying them in light of Jewish and Roman legal literature. This comparison will shed light on the origin of Christian legal practice and its sources of influence, on the possible relations between Christians, Romans and Jews in late-antiquity, and on the different legal concepts and attitudes concerning law, power and authority.

Work Performed and Main Results:
The work performed in this project includes:
1. Developing an online database of Syriac and Greek Christian non-legal texts of the fourth and fifth century. The database is to be found at It is constantly growing and will serve not only this project but future research as well. To date, the database includes compositions of: Basil of Caesarea, Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyrillona (and Ps. Cyrillona), Diodore of Tarsus, Eusebius of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Rabbula.
2. Research on adoption, betrothal and levirate marriage in the early Church. The research on betrothal has shown Ephrem’s lack of knowledge in the Greek language, yet his acquainted with theological and exegetical statements that draw from Greek and Latin. This distinction is significant for understanding the relation between legal statements and theological statements in the Syriac Christian sources. The study was published in The Journal of Early Christian Studies. The research on adoption has shown the wide acquaintance with legal claims regarding the adoption of Jesus and his Davidic lineage, and shed light on the relation between Roman legal traditions and Christian theological discourse. This study will be published at my forthcoming book. The study of levirate marriage has shown that Christians, while accepting the biblical description of levirate marriage, model it according to Greco-Roman legal concepts, including adoption and the epiklerate, and without any acknowledgement of parallel developments in rabbinic literature. This research is to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
3. Analysis of the state of research in the study of late antique legal history and the reasons for which the study of late antique Christianity does not address questions of law and legal thought, and a suggestion of a new paradigm and new methods to the study of late antique Christian legal traditions. This study is to be published in Studies in Late Antiquity.

During first three years of the project I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Martin Buber society of fellows at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At the third year of this project I was offered a position at Tel Aviv University at the department of Jewish History and the Faculty of Law. As part of the application process I presented my database and the research of the Hidden Law project. Currently I am a visiting faculty, and I am expected to become full faculty, in a tenure-track position, this spring.