A Comparison of Ancient Near Eastern Law Collections Prior to the First Millennium BC
Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2008 pp. x + 283. $115.00
Near Eastern Studies, 10
Description: The book sets out to compare the pre-first millennium BC law collections of the ancient Near East; more specifically: Mesopotamia, Egypt and Hatti. This is done in the context of debates surrounding the comparative method more generally, and ancient Near Eastern law and literary culture more specifically. The thesis primarily aims at highlighting and explaining consistent differences in both the framing and content of the various law collections. The differences between collections are placed in the broader background of the worldview and political make-up of the societies and individuals that created them, and their historical context. This has yielded a number of interesting results, e.g. Mesopotamian law collections do not explicitly acknowledge changes within the law (correlating with an idea in Mesopotamia that the correct ways of doing things were handed from gods to men in the beginning) whereas the Hittite law collection does (correlating with the Hittite tendency to acknowledge change in their history writing in order to teach lessons). These differences correlate with the contrasting ruling systems of the two cultures (Mesopotamia tending towards a more centralised society).
The comparisons demonstrate that the ancient Near East did not contain a uniform culture. They also call into question the oft stated ďtruismĒ that the various collections freely borrowed material from each other. While there is much congruity in terms of topics covered (especially amongst the southern Mesopotamian collections), there is very little compelling evidence for specific instances of literary borrowing amongst the laws themselves.
Subjects: Ancient Near East, Literature
Review by Anselm Hagedorn
Citation: Anselm Hagedorn, review of Samuel Jackson, A Comparison of Ancient Near Eastern Law Collections Prior to the First Millennium BC, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2010).
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