Recommend a Book on Law, Religion and Rule in Ancient Society?
January 7, 2016 3:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a somewhat academic book on the inter-relations in ancient societies between the functions (or functionaries) of religion, law, and the "state" (or rule). Particularly something covering Sumer (and Cuneiform Law) and delving into Judaic Law and Christian law would be good.

I'm currently finishing off 'The Creation of Inequality...' by Kent Flannery & Joyce Marcus, which has been rather good on sociological and archaeological detail. However, particularly in the section on Sumer it seems quite confused (or just inadequate for my purposes) on the relations between rulers, religious worship and legality.

I can handle a bit of academic jargon and have read a little Claude Levi-Strauss and things - so nothing too pop.
posted by mary8nne to Education (2 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Maine's "Ancient Law" is a foundational (though not necessarily completely accurate and definitely not up-to-date) text on law in ancient societies, though I don't think it covers very much Judaic or Christian (my impression is that it's a lot of Roman law and early English stuff).

Yoffee's "Myths of the Archaic State" has sections on Akkadian Law, Babylonian (Hammurabi's Code), and other ancient Mesopotamian law. I haven't read it, nor do I see it discussed very often, so I can't vouch for it being especially strong.

Another interesting and important read on the relation of religion, law, and rule is Hoebel's "Law of Primitive Man" - that doesn't talk about law in state societies, but rather that of small-scale societies, like the Eskimos, Cheyenne, and Trobriand Islanders. In one of the last chapters, he summarizes all of the literature out there, which is a treasure-trove of citations. I've read this one and suggest it - it's appealing in the same way that "Creation of Inequality" is, as just a treasure-trove of information on the topic from a huge variety of sources. Though it doesn't have Judaic, Christian, or Mesopotamian.

That's all I got for now.
(though also, if we're wandering farther and farther away from the law of state societies and are curious about that in small-scale groups, Pospisil's "Kapauku Papuans and their Law" and his "Anthropology of Law"; also Hoebel's "Cheyenne Law") (also, I remember there being a bibliography of Legal Anthropology published in Current Anthro [Nader et al., 1966], which is a great place to find ethnographic articles on law from all sorts of societies, especially small-scale and other sorts of societies that anthropologists were heading into - but I don't think too much on ancient state societies)
posted by mrmanvir at 5:19 AM on January 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have not yet read it myself, but if you want to go deeper into the Judaic side of things in the ancient world, Douglas Knight's Law, Power, and Justice in Ancient Israel seems ideal.

Using socio-anthropological theory and archaeological evidence, Knight argues that while the laws in the Hebrew Bible tend to reflect the interests of those in power, the majority of ancient Israelites--located in villages--developed their own unwritten customary laws to regulate behavior and resolve legal conflicts in their own communities. This book includes numerous examples from village, city, and cult.

I've liked other books in the Library of Ancient Israel series, and other works from Douglas Knight, so this seems like a pretty solid bet.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:07 AM on January 7, 2016

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