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Unit information: Jewish Law in 2018/19

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Unit name Jewish Law
Unit code LAWD30010
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Burnside
Open unit status Open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit explores the nature of early Jewish law, legal method and legal institutions by reference to their literary, social and theological context. Biblical legal and narrative texts will be analysed to appreciate how the concerns of early Jewish law are expressed and developed. The unit will also identify substantive and presentational differences between early Jewish law and modern legal concepts and legal assumptions.

Outline of course seminars:

  1. The Character of Biblical Law
  2. Law and Covenant
  3. Biblical Natural Law
  4. Divine and Human Justice
  5. Humanity and the Environment
  6. Land and Social Welfare
  7. Homicide
  8. Marriage and Divorce
  9. Sexual Offences
  10. The Trials of Jesus

Intended learning outcomes

Students should normally acquire the following by the end of the course:

(1) Familiarity with some of the early legal institutions of Jewish law;

(2) Ability to interpret early Jewish law in its Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context;

(3) Familiarity with claims made in biblical narratives about the nature of early Jewish law and legal method;

(4) Basic familiarity with the principal trends in modern scholarship on Jewish law;

(5) Enhanced ability to read biblical texts, both legal and narrative, and appreciate how their concerns are expressed; and

(6) Appreciate the substantive and presentational differences between early Jewish law and modern legal concepts and legal assumptions.

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through 10 one-hour lectures and 10 two-hour seminars.

Assessment Details

1 formative assessment: 1 x 1,000 coursework. Formative assessments do not count towards final mark and can be optional.

2 x summative assessments: 2 x 2,000 word coursework. Summative assessments do count towards final mark.

The assessments will assess all of the intended learning outcomes for this unit.

Reading and References

Key literature:

(1) Burnside, J. P. 2011. God, Justice and Society: Aspects of Law and Legality in the Bible. New York: OUP NY;

(2) Crüsemann, F. 1996. The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law. Edinburgh: T & T Clark;

(3) Jackson, Bernard S. 2006. Wisdom-Laws: A Study of the Mishpatim of Exodus 21:1-22:16. Oxford: OUP.

(4) The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law, ed. Brent A. Strawn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), vols. 1 and 2. Roth, M. T. 1997. Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. Atlanta: Scholars Press.