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How God Became a Lawgiver: The Place of the Torah in Ancient Near Eastern Legal History

Objective

The Torah’s notion of divine law fundamentally transforms the nature of law found in its ancient Near Eastern context. Typically kings—not gods—took on the role of the promulgation of laws. The Torah’s conception of God as lawgiver emerged gradually through historical processes, rather than constituting the bedrock of the Bible’s literary and legal history. And, while scholars have long recognized the uniqueness of the Torah’s conception, its early historical development has received little attention. Only tangential analysis exists on the forces surrounding the genesis of the Torah’s notion of divine laws within ancient Near Eastern legal history or its impact on religion and politics in the early historical contexts of ancient Israel and Judah.
This project therefore aims: 1) to explicate the anchoring of law in the religious ether of the Ancient Near East; 2) to elucidate for the first time the intellectual processes in ancient Israel and Judah that led to the notion of divine laws and God as lawgiver, drawing comparisons with other legal understandings and practices from the ancient Near East; 3) to assess the socio-political and religious impact of this notion with ancient Judaism through the Hellenistic Period; and 4) to contextualize this development in the ancient world in comparison to parallel developments in Greek polities.
The project’s innovative potential lies in: 1) the evaluation of the divine laws as a historical phenomenon; 2) the neglected effort to understand their intellectual genesis and early development in a reciprocal relation to their socio-political context; 3) the cross-cultural analysis of ancient Israel and Judah and its neighbouring cultures in this regard; and 4) the application of a longue durée and realgeschichtliche perspective to largely literary and philological disciplines. These investigations offer a new paradigm for elucidating the webs connecting divinity, law, and socio-political developments in the first millennium BCE.

Call for proposal

ERC-2018-ADG
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Host institution

UNIVERSITAT ZURICH
Address
Ramistrasse 71
8006 Zurich
Switzerland
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 2 500 000

Beneficiaries (1)

UNIVERSITAT ZURICH
Switzerland
EU contribution
€ 2 500 000
Address
Ramistrasse 71
8006 Zurich
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments