SLHF Sumerian Laws Handbook of Forms
SVT Supplements of Vetus Testamentum
TCL Textes cunĀ“ iformes, MusĀ“ e du Louvre
TEO Henri de Genouillac, Textes economiques dā™Oumma de
lā™Ā“ poque dā™Our (TCL 5; Paris: Librairie Orientaliste/Paul
TUAT Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments
Ukg. Symbol for UruKAgina texts
VAT Symbol for tablets in the Vorderasiatische Teil der
Staatlichen Museen, Berlin
VT Vetus Testamentum
WMANT Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen
YBC Symbol for tablets in the Yale Babylonian Collection
ZA Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie
ZAW Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
ZSS Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung, Romanischen Abteilung
Symbols in Cuneiform Transliterations
 gaps or reconstructed text
<> scribal omissions
<< >> scribal superļ¬‚uity
x cuneiform sign that cannot be read
THIS STUDY has its origins in a doctoral dissertation I completed at Harvard
University. I would like to express my gratitude to my dissertation advisor,
Professor Peter B. Machinist, for his constant encouragement and kindness.
His meticulous reading and his generous and consistently good advice have
been indispensable to my work. He is a shining example of the best in schol-
arship and teaching.
Washington University in St. Louis granted a research leave in which
I was able to completely restructure this study and advance the argument
magnitudes further. Professor Shalom M. Paul, with his brilliant mastery
of biblical studies and Assyriology, provided inspiration and good counsel
during the difļ¬cult process of revision.
I would like to thank Harvard University and the National Foundation
for Jewish Culture for their support during my Ph.D. studies. I am grateful
for the support of Yad Hanadiv/Beracha Foundation and the Lady Davis
Fellowship Trust for funding a research leave at Hebrew University.
I would like to thank Rabbi Edward S. Romm for his technical assistance
during the preparation of the manuscript. I would also like to thank my
students Corey M. Helfand and Evan I. Weiner for checking the index for
Chapters of this manuscript were presented as lectures at Hebrew Uni-
versity, Bar-Ilan University, and the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, as
well as at a number of community forums. I am grateful for the questions
and comments of the listeners.
This study has been greatly improved by suggestions from Gary A.
Anderson and Charles Donahue, Jr. Avi Hurvitz and David Weisberg pro-
vided invaluable help.
Professor Gary Beckman generously provided assistance with the Hittite
Most of all, I would like to thank my parents, Sarah J. and Isadore
Barmash, for providing a home ļ¬lled with boundless love and encourage-
I BEGAN this project interested in the question of how much of biblical
law was transplanted from the law of the rest of the ancient Near East. It
swiftly became obvious to me that I had to expand the scope of the project
to examine the broader spectrum of procedures, institutions, and literary
forms connected with the adjudication of homicide in the Hebrew Bible and
its relationship to aspects of Israelite society and religion. It is among the
laws on homicide that the closest parallels between biblical law and ancient
Near Eastern law are evident, in the statutes on the ox that gored and fatal
assault on a pregnant woman, but a different picture comes into focus in the
complete process by which homicide was adjudicated. Indeed, what is most
noticeable is how little of the adjudication of homicide in the Hebrew Bible
is similar to that of ancient Near Eastern law.
It is essential to understand that the treatment of homicide in the Bible
is dependent on the institutions and conceptual underpinnings of biblical
society. Biblical law did not come into existence in a vacuum, and law in
general is part and parcel of a cultural system. Without such a holistic point
of view, law could very easily be taken out of its context and misunderstood.1
1 Shemaryahu Talmon, āThe ā˜Comparative Methodā™ in Biblical Interpretation ā“ Principles and
Problems,ā Congress Volume: Gottingen (SVT 29; Leiden: Brill, 1978), 320ā“356 (reprinted in
his Literary Studies in the Hebrew Bible: Form and Content [Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1993],
2 HOMICIDE IN THE BIBLICAL WORLD
The treatment of homicide in the Bible is directly linked to aspects of biblical
culture outside the legal sphere. Indeed, the contours of Israelite society
and religion generated speciļ¬c institutions and principles. This study will
highlight the relationship of biblical law to Israelite society and religion,
allowing us to see how the adjudication of homicide ļ¬t into the cultural
pattern of Israelite society.
Law in the Bible must be investigated in its own environment before
any meaningful or valid comparison can be made. Nonetheless, interpreting
biblical law in its ancient Near Eastern context is also essential. The Bible did
not come into existence in a vacuum. Biblical culture and society stemmed
from the cultures of the ancient Near East, especially that of Mesopotamia,
whose inļ¬‚uence is felt in almost every chapter of the Hebrew Bible.
The striking convergences and divergences in form and content between
biblical law and ancient Near Eastern law with regard to homicide in particu-
lar have profound implications. (The law from the ancient Near East appears
to be part of a common tradition, and since it is all written in cuneiform
script, whether in Sumerian, Akkadian, or Hittite, it is called ācuneiform
law.ā)2 Some scholars have focused on the question of how biblical writers
knew of cuneiform law. Raymond Westbrook suggests that biblical writ-
ers actually possessed copies of ancient Near Eastern laws: Cuneiform law
collections were literary works used as school texts in Canaanite scribal
workshops and, by implication, were used the same way during the Israelite
period.3 Reuven Yaron thinks that there was a common law throughout
the ancient Near East, including ancient Israel, law that was sporadically
put into writing, and that the similarities between biblical and cuneiform
law reļ¬‚ect this common law.4 Shalom M. Paul and J. J. Finkelstein argue
that biblical law and ancient Near Eastern law had a direct connection but
that the exact method of transmission cannot be ascertained.5 Other schol-
ars have focused on elucidating the guidelines by which cuneiform law was
reworked. Moshe Greenberg argues that a general legal/theological princi-
ple of biblical law that contradicted a general principle of cuneiform law
generated divergent law on the same subject despite biblical lawā™s basis in
11ā“49); David P. Wright, The Disposal of Impurity (SBLDS 101; Atlanta: Scholars Press,
2 The term ācuneiform lawā was coined by Paul Koschaker, āKeilschriftrecht,ā Zeitschrift der
Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 89 (1935), 26, and āForschungen und Ergebnisse in
den keilschriftlichen Rechtsquellen,ā ZSS 49 (1929), 188ā“189.
3 Raymond Westbrook, Studies in Biblical and Cuneiform Law (CahRB 26; Paris: J. Gabalda,
4 Reuven Yaron, The Laws of Eshnunna (revised edition: Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1988), 294ā“
5 Shalom M. Paul, Studies in the Book of the Covenant in the Light of Cuneiform and Biblical
Law (SVT 18; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970), 104ā“105; J. J. Finkelstein, The Ox That Gored (prepared
for publication by Maria deJ. Ellis; Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 71/2;
Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1981), 20.
cuneiform law.6 Finkelstein contends that theological differences account
for the disparate laws in the Bible regarding a case that was borrowed from
cuneiform law.7 A few have dissented from seeing a connection between
biblical law and cuneiform law: A. Van Selms claims that the differences
were too great, even in a case like the goring ox, and that the dependency of
biblical law on cuneiform law seems unlikely.8 Albrecht Alt holds that the
geographic distance between ancient Israel and Mesopotamia was simply too
great and that biblical law was based on Canaanite law, which is no longer
This study therefore operates on two levels: analyzing biblical law in
its own context and comparing biblical law to cuneiform law. This two-
front approach prevents the distortion of cultures, when the features and
signiļ¬cance of a parallel phenomenon are transferred from one to the other,
and allows for a more accurate assessment of cultural phenomena.10
A few words on the comparative method are in order. The comparative
method in general has beneļ¬ts and perils. It always walks the ļ¬ne line be-
tween a comparison of contrasts and a comparison of similarities. Indeed,
the pendulum of biblical studies has swung regularly from emphasizing the
continuity of the Hebrew Bible with the rest of the ancient Near East to
emphasizing the discontinuity of the Hebrew Bible with the rest of the an-
cient Near East and back again.11 This is partially because the comparative
method suffers from the danger of generalization in which uniqueness is lost.
First, arranging one set of data against another set may organize the compar-
ison so that there is a matching of components in a Procrustean bed, whether
or not there is a correspondence. A culture in its complete phenomenology
can easily be obscured. Second, combining what is in each set makes that set
appear monolithic. The comparative method, as it is used in biblical studies,
locates the Hebrew Bible on one side and everything from the rest of the
6 Moshe Greenberg, āSome Postulates of Biblical Criminal Law,ā in Jubilee Volume for Yehezkel
Kaufman (ed. Menahem Haran; Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1960), 20, 14ā“15 (reprinted in The
Jewish Expression [ed. Judah Goldin; New York: Bantam, 1968], 18ā“37). Bernard S. Jackson at-
tacks Greenbergā™s views in Essays in Jewish and Comparative Legal History (Studies in Judaism
in Late Antiquity 10; Leiden: Brill, 1975), 25ā“63. Greenberg replies to Jacksonā™s attack in āMore
Reļ¬‚ections on Biblical Criminal Law,ā Studies in Bible (ed. Sara Japhet; ScrHier 31; Jerusalem:
Magnes Press, 1986), 1ā“18.
7 Finkelstein, The Ox That Gored, 5.
8 A. Van Selms, āThe Goring Ox in Babylonian and Biblical Law,ā ArOr 18 (1950), 321ā“330.
9 Albrecht Alt, āThe Origins of Israelite Law,ā in Essays on Old Testament History and Relig-
ion (trans. R. A. Wilson; Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1968 ), 124ā“126.
10 Richard G. Fox, Urban Anthropology: Cities in Their Cultural Settings (Englewood Cliffs,
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1977), 4; William W. Hallo, āBiblical History in Its Near Eastern
Setting: The Contextual Approach,ā in Scripture in Context: Essays on the Comparative Method
(Pittsburgh: The Pickwick Press, 1980), 1ā“26.
11 Cf. Meir Malul, The Comparative Method in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical Legal Studies
(AOAT 227; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1990), 13ā“78.
4 HOMICIDE IN THE BIBLICAL WORLD
ancient Near East on the other. The Hebrew Bible becomes uniform, as does
all the rest of the ancient Near East. One might well imagine a different
focus: The Neo-Assyrian or Hittite texts could occupy center stage, with ev-
ery other source from the rest of the ancient Near East (including the Hebrew
Bible) assembled in comparison and analyzed in a comparative light.
Furthermore, the time span from which the cuneiform texts originate is
broad, from the Neo-Sumerian period (twenty-ļ¬rst century b.c.e.) to the end
of the Neo-Assyrian period (seventh century b.c.e). They stem from a wide
geographical sphere encompassing the entire ancient Near East, including
Egypt, Ugarit, the Hittite empire, Assyria, Babylonia, and Sumer.12 They are
written in Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite. Despite this diversity, there is
much uniformity across these cultures in the realm of law, but any analysis of
such greatly diverse material must avoid blurring differences and be sensitive
to the variations between cultures. It is also essential to be wary of importing
alien categories on ancient Near Eastern cultures, a warning to be heeded
ever since Benno Landsberger defended the āconceptual autonomy of the
This study has attempted to bypass these pitfalls in two ways: 1) by
utilizing all the textual sources that these cultures offer in order to present the
treatment of homicide in each culture in its fullness; and 2) by being conscious
of the variety within each set of data as a corrective to the polarization
inherent in the comparative method. This study will treat the cuneiform
material as a whole only when it is warranted and will emphasize where the
cuneiform material does not cohere. As we will see, Assyrian law differs at
times from the rest of Mesopotamian law, and the adjudication of homicide
as reļ¬‚ected in legal records occasionally diverges from law collections.
Generally, studies of biblical law and cuneiform law have been conļ¬ned
to formal collections of statutes, but in this study, I will make use of a broader
repertoire. First, in addition to the formal collections of law in the Bible, I will
treat narrative texts touching on homicide because these texts can shed light
on legal matters by providing evidence for elements essential to legal practice
omitted in legal texts.14 They can provide insight into the social setting in
which law was used. Narratives can be used as a means of accessing key
aspects in law not necessarily included in legal texts. They can identify what
are felt to be the inadequacies of a legal system. They can provide insight
into how the law appears to operate in actuality, whether well or poorly, and
how law relates to general concepts of law and government. They can reveal
12 There is only a single document from Egypt on homicide, and it is in fact Babylonian in origin.
This text, EA 8, addresses the murder of the Babylonian kingā™s merchants by Egyptian vassals
and does not treat homicide internal to Egyptian society.
13 Benno Landsberger, The Conceptual Autonomy of the Babylonian World (1924; reprint,
MANE 1/4; Malibu: Undena, 1976).
14 For a fuller discussion of this methodology, see my article āThe Narrative Quandary: Cases
of Law in Literature,ā VT 54 (2004), 1ā“16.
the inherent ļ¬‚aws of a legal system, unanticipated in statutes. Narrative texts
are, therefore, critical to the study of biblical law, and their absence from
previous studies is a lacuna this study hopes to remedy.
Second, in contrast to many other studies, attention will also be paid to
the legal records from the ancient Near East as well as to the formal legal
collections. The former include records in a variety of forms from actual
legal cases and treaties covering cases that might arise in the future. The