Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 16 (2016) - Review

Tsai, Daisy Yulin, Human Rights in Deuteronomy with Special Focus on Slave Laws (BZAW, 464; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014). Pp. xvi + 244. Hardcover. US$154.00. ISBN 978-3-11-036320-3.

Human Rights in Deuteronomy with a Special Focus on Slave Laws compares the slave laws of the law corpora in the Hebrew Bible with those of the ANE law corpora. Slave laws in the Hebrew Bible display a “strong humanitarian overtone” that is missing in ANE law corpora (p. 2). This book also investigates the theology and the worldview that underlie these differences.

Chapter 1 introduces the topic and outlines the method with which the author will pursue her investigation. Deuteronomy's humanitarian ethics and their relation to the love of God is her central concern. The author's method reflects Dale Patrick's plea that scholarship move beyond form criticism and composition history to examine law as a comprehensive and coherent system.[1] The author outlines the path of revision of the laws of release most commonly adopted by historical critical scholars: Exod 21 Deut 15 Jer 34 Lev 25. However, the author signals that she intends to engage only minimally in critical discussions, focusing instead on the function and purpose of the laws and on the theology that undergirds them. Methodologically, Tsai offers a “text oriented reading” (p. 10) that is integrative, including giving attention to redaction, canonical shaping, classification of legal patterns, comparative investigation, legal sociology, and rhetorical analysis. Tsai projects three points of significance for her research: first, it seeks to understand the “values and the interests that the biblical laws aim to promote and protect” (p. 24); second, it probes the relationship between God's law and God's love; third, it intervenes in the dialogue within the humanities upon the question: do human rights need God?

An exegesis of the two slave laws of Deuteronomy (15:12–18; 23:16–17) comprises chapter 2. The textual separation of these two laws is explained via the chiastic structuring of the law corpus (following Crüsemann and Oosthusizen[2]). A valuable discussion of the motifs of land and of blessing follows. Tsai observes that, “the land functions as a symbol of divine care, rather than merely a free gift from God” (p. 36). In an analysis of 15:12–18, the author challenges Chirichigno's conclusion that the niphal יִמָּכֵר in Deut 15:12 identifies the one being sold as a slave as a dependent.[3] The niphal may be rendered reflexively, with the sense that the paterfamilias is sold into slavery (pp. 48–49). The strength of the analysis of 15:12–28 is in its unfolding the charged theology of the text. The author interprets 23:16–17 as referring to a foreign slave: such people may dwell in whatever place that they desire within Israel. Motive clauses are helpfully analyzed and compared to similar clauses throughout Deuteronomy. The three primary features of these motive clauses are: 1) Yahweh is the key actor; 2) these clauses contain wisdom or truth that captures the hearers' attention; and 3) patterning within motive clauses links similar laws together (pp. 53–58).

Chapter 3 offers a comparative study of Deut 15:12–18; Exod 21:2–11; and Lev 25:39–55. This is a comparative study rather than an investigation of textual redaction. The author addresses five issues. First, the second-person-singular address of Deut 15:12–18 is analyzed rhetorically. While the second-person-singular address may refer to all Israel, it addresses in particular the creditor or the person with significant power in a relationship (pp. 69–76). Second, using a narrative reading of law, an approach pioneered by Assnat Bartor, the author observes that Exod 21:2–11 and Deut 15:12–18 share similar humanitarian goals.[4] The enslaved person's feelings and desires are voiced in order to arouse empathy and compassion (pp. 76–79). Third, the author differentiates between the marital sale of a daughter in Exod 21:7–11 and the manumission laws regarding Hebrew male and female slaves in Deut 15:12–18. Fourth, the author illustrates the importance of viewing a law as a whole via an analysis of the law concerning manumission and marriage (Exod 21:3–6; pp. 90–97). Fifth, a method of control for comparing laws is suggested that uses three categories, namely topic, issue, and situation (this approach will be pursued in the next chapter). The chapter ends with an examination of Lev 25:39–55. Provisions for land redemption and a spirit of generosity aim to ensure that no person should be enslaved until the year of Jubilee (p. 99). This chapter succeeds in resolving some tensions between laws that may appear on the surface of the text. However, in ignoring the process of legal revision the author has bypassed an avenue that would have given insight into the distinctive goals of each composition.

A comparison of the treatment of slavery in the biblical law corpora and in the ANE corpora is the focus of chapter 4. The chapter commences with a description of slavery in the ANE, using the work of Westbrook, Gelb, and others. Slavery in the ANE could take many different shapes, and the concept is somewhat inscrutable. For example, the distinction between chattel and debt slavery is not as clear as is often supposed. The concept of a “slave system” helpfully reflects the complexity of ancient slavery (following Lago and Katsari).[5] This chapter also probes the causes of slavery. The dominance of large households and their need for agricultural labor was the catalyst for the bondage of a large proportion of the population in unfree and in semi-free arrangements. In the neo-Sumerian period, especially, widows sold their children into slavery (p. 120). While contractual provisions for redemption were common, there remain very few documentary examples of a slave redeeming him/herself (p. 122). A brief examination of the grouping of laws in ANE and in the biblical corpora follows. This section offers scholars a useful summary of the legal and social issues surrounding slavery in the ANE.

The remainder of the chapter compares slave laws in the biblical and ANE law corpora according to category, providing a valuable resource for further research. The first category concerns escaped slaves. Protection for a runaway slave is found in Deuteronomy alone (Deut 23:16–17). Ancient Near Eastern law corpora instead protect the rights of the slave owner. They stipulate punishment for harboring a runaway slave, rewards for their return, and limitations upon a slave crossing through the city gate (pp. 132–135). Slave purchase and management is a second category. This breaks up into subcategories: the discipline of a rebellious slave, unlawfully taking possession of a slave, protection of a slave purchaser's right, violations against another person's slave property rights and punishments, marital issues related to a slave, adoption related to a slave woman, and special cases of slave release (pp. 135–149). The grouping of slave laws in the Laws of Hammurabi suggests that slave sale is conceived of in terms of business regulation in this corpus (p. 149). A minor concern to protect the residual rights of slaves in ANE corpora is observed (pp. 146, 148). A third category distinguishes between debt servitude, human distraint, and human pledge in biblical and ANE laws (pp. 149–55). Tsai's conclusion that the biblical laws provide no basis for a human anti-cretic pledge contrasts to the recent analysis by Bruce Wells of Lev 25:23–55.[6] The distinctive treatment of slavery in the biblical law corpora is explained in two ways: the law corpora of the HB have different situations and different legal issues in view. Additionally, the slave laws of the HB display a humanitarian spirit that is also embedded in theology. Israel's distinctive theology is the basis upon which the valuation of a slave as property is rejected (pp. 156–58).

Chapter 5 probes into the philosophical roots of the biblical slave laws. Following J. J. Finkelstein's analysis of cosmology in the HB and the ANE, the author discerns a distinctive approach to persons in the biblical law corpora.[7] Next, the author uses Paul G. Hiebert's study, Transforming Worldviews, observing, “the dominant worldview in cultures is shaped greatly by power and the social dynamics of the community” (pp. 170–71, citing Hiebert[8]). The biblical laws, rather than serving the interests of consolidated power, are based upon Yahweh's redemption of Israel and upon the covenant. Finally, interacting with Evan Fox-Decent's study,[9] the author concludes that Israel's law corpora were concerned to shape morality in a way that the ANE corpora were not.

Appendix A, “A Compilation of Biblical and Cuneiform Law Collections,” provides a very useful list of topics that are covered in the three biblical law collections and in the six cuneiform legal collections—133 topics in total. References are provided for every occurrence of each concept in the law codes (see p. 128).

Appendix B, “Biblical and ANE Laws Related to Slave Issues,” lists and categorizes laws relating to slaves, both biblical and ANE. Three categories are used, which are each broken down into further sub-categories: “Slave Escape,” “Slave Purchase and Management,” and “Debt-Servitude and other Forms of Human Bondage.” Again, this list is a very helpful reference tool (see p. 132).

The strength of the book is the comparative study between slave laws in the biblical corpora and in the ANE corpora, which also adopts a method of control for comparing these laws. The author highlights the distinctive humanitarian ethic of the biblical slave laws via careful analysis, providing guidance within a scholarly discourse where conclusions are often drawn without the careful comparative work evident here. The author's investigation into the roots of the distinctive humanitarian ethic of the biblical laws in worldview and cosmology is also a valuable contribution, based as it is upon close comparative work. Nonetheless, chapters 2 and 3, concerning exegesis and comparative study of the biblical slave laws, contribute little to the scholarship overall. The author would have done well to condense this material into one chapter in order to free up space for further comparative analysis with ANE texts. Also, the exegesis of the Hebrew text, which ideally would help to clarify the legal intention and the function of the biblical laws, is inadequate. Nonetheless, Tsai has achieved her aim of comparing the slave laws of the law corpora in the HB with those of the ANE law corpora, and she has produced a valuable resource for further research in doing so.

Mark R. Glanville, Trinity College, Bristol

[1] Dale Patrick, “Studying Biblical Law as a Humanities,” Semeia 45 (1989), 17. reference

[2] Frank Crüsemann, The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law (trans. Allan. W. Mahnke; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 206–7; Martin J. Oosthuizen, “Deuteronomy 15:1–18 in Socio-Rhetorical Perspective,” ZABR 3 (1997), 64–91. reference

[3] Gregory C. Chirichigno, Debt-Slavery in Isarel and the Ancient Near East (JSOTS, 141; Sheffield: JSOT, 1993), 200–217, 272–78. reference

[4] Assnat Bartor, Reading Law as Narrative: A Study in the Casuistic Laws of the Pentateuch (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010). reference

[5] Enrico Dal Lago and Constantina Katsari, “The Study of Ancient and Modern Slave Systems: Setting an Agenda for Comparison,” in Slave Systems: Ancient and Modern (ed. Enrico Dal Lago and Constantina Katsari; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 3–31; cited on p. 114. reference

[6] Bruce Wells, “The Quasi-Alien in Leviticus 25,” in The Foreigner and the Law: Perspectives from the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (ed. Reinhard Achenbach, Rainer Albertz, and Jakob Wöhrle; BZABR, 16; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2011), 135–156. reference

[7] J. J. Finkelstein, The Ox That Gored (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1981). reference

[8] Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 15. reference

[9] Evan Fox-Decent, “Is the Rule of Law Really Indifferent to Human Rights,” Law and Philosophy 27 (2008), 533–81. reference