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Review of Biblical Literature Blog

The Body as Property: Physical Disfigurement in Biblical Law
Jacobs, Sandra

London: Bloomsbury, 2014 pp. xvi + 260. $140.00

Series Information
Library of Biblical Studies/Old Testament Studies, 582
Edited by Claudia V. Camp and Andrew Mein


Description: This book indicates that physical disfigurement functioned in biblical law to verify legal property acquisition, when changes in the status of dependents were formalized. It is based on the reality the cuneiform script, in particular, was developed in Sumer and Mesopotamia for the purpose of record keeping: to provide legal proof of ownership where the inscription of a tablet evidenced the sale, or transfer, of property. Legitimate property acquisition was as important in biblical law, where physical disfigurements marked dependents, in a similar way that the veil or the head covering identified a wife or concubine in ancient Assyrian and Judean societies. This is primarily substantiated in the accounts of prescriptive disfigurements: namely circumcision and the piercing of a slave's ear, both of which were required only when a son, or slave, was acquired permanently. It is further argued that legal entitlement was relevant also to the punitive disfigurements recorded in Exodus 21:22-24, and Deuteronomy 25:11-12, where the physical violation of women was of concern solely as an infringement of male property rights.

Subjects: Bible, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Mishnah, Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature, Ancient Near East, Greco-Roman Literature, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, Literary Approaches, Dead Sea Scrolls

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Review by Ian Werrett
Published 2/15/2016
Citation: Ian Werrett, review of Sandra Jacobs, The Body as Property: Physical Disfigurement in Biblical Law, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2016).


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