Date of Award

Spring 5-13-2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

MA Jewish-Christian Studies

Department

Religion

Advisor

Lawerence Frizzell, D.PhI.

Committee Member

David Bossman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Alan Brill, Ph.D.

Keywords

Covenant, Law, Deuteronomy, Ancient Isreal, Hammurabi, Social justice

Abstract

“Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways. (Psalm 119: 1 – 3)

All through the ages, law and justice has been a condition for a smooth, egalitarian and peaceful society. A society devoid of law and justice is not only unthinkable but a bedlam of chaos, anarchy and disorder. No wonder the ancient Greek philosopher and sage, Aristotle said, “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” Generally speaking, law moves those who are subject to it to act aright. It belongs to the law to command and to forbid. Law is a rule and measure of acts, whereby man is induced to act or is restrained from acting: for “lex” [law] is derived from “ligare” [to bind], because it binds one to act.

Justice is a concept that applies only to other-directed human actions. The question of justice and injustice only arises when there are multiple individuals and some practical considerations regarding their situations and or interactions with one another. In one sense, it is a concrete, objective, and recognizable principle (i.e., respect for individual rights) that provide the foundation for a free society

According to Jochen Boecher in his book, The Administration of Justice in the Old Testament, “There is neither doubt nor dispute among scholars over the enormous importance of law in ancient Israel. The law influenced the life and thought of Old Testament man to an amazing extent. The consequence of this is that even the theological concepts of the Old Testament were essentially molded by Israel’s thinking on the Law.” (27)

The concept of covenant is at the basis of ancient Israelite law and justice. The Israelites had to keep this covenant by obeying the laws of God in order to enjoy the blessings attached to them. In the context of the ancient Israelite law and justice, the Law is not merely a binding force but a loving guide offered by God to his people.

Just as a parent provides guidance for a child, so the Lord provides guidance for Israel. This guidance is loving and protective, even if at times it may be strict and even difficult (Deuteronomy 8:1 – 5); because this guidance is an expression of God’s benevolence, it is gracious. Similarly, just as a child experiences delight in following a parent’s guidance, so Israel may experience delight in following the Lord’s guidance (Psalm 19:8). Thus, both the giving and the receiving of the Torah are gestures of love and joy.

Jewish tradition has a festival called “simhat torah”, which means “rejoicing over Torah”. In this festival, the participants parade around the synagogue holding the sacred scroll of the Torah over their heads dancing and singing for joy. This festival, which continues to this day, has its roots in the Deuteronomic understanding of God’s will for Israel. At the beginning and at the end of law code ( Deut.12:7,12,18; and 26:11, respectively ) as well as in between ( 14:26;16:11,14 ), Israel is told to “ rejoice “ or “ celebrate.” While the gift of a bounteous land and its harvests is sometimes the immediate cause for celebration (14:26; 16:11, 14), in the end, Israel is also called to “rejoice in all the good which the Lord your God has given to you” (26:11RSV). For Deuteronomy, this gift of grace also includes the law itself.

The giving of the law is an expression of God’s love; thus, obedience to the law is a joyful act of love in response.

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