Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Biblical Law

Biblical Law

MONDAYS 3:00-6:00
MEL 383  

Course Description:

This seminar considers the nature and function of the Pentateuchal texts or legal collections that typically fall into the category of biblical law. In addition, the seminar examines the relationships among the collections. Current scholarly theories seek to answer a number of questions related to these topics. First, should we consider the statements contained in the biblical collections as actual laws that were enforced in ancient Israel and Judah or as items used more for the purpose of training scribes or simply advocating moral ideals? Second, how do these collections relate to the narratives concerning the formation of the covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites? Were they added after the completion of the narratives, or were they integral to the narrative in key respects? Third, how should we order the collections chronologically? The most controversial issue has to do with the relationship between the Deuteronomic Collection and the Holiness Source. Scholars differ vigorously regarding which collection predates the other. Finally, the course will also look at ancient Near Eastern law more broadly, the role of legal theory in interpreting biblical law, and texts outside the Pentateuch that are relevant to these issues.


Meet the Professor

Bruce Wells is Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas where he specializes in the study of the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. Wells earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University in 2003. For the next two years, he served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. From 2005–2018, Wells taught in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. During that time, he served for four years as Principal Investigator on the NEH-funded collaborative research project, “Neo-Babylonian Trial Procedure,” as a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich from 2008–2009, and as chair of the Biblical Law Section of the Society of Biblical Literature from 2011–2015. He is the author of The Law of Testimony in the Pentateuchal Codes (2004), co-author (with Raymond Westbrook) of Everyday Law in Biblical Israel (2009), and co-author (with F. Rachel Magdalene and Cornelia Wunsch) of Fault, Responsibility, and Administrative Law in Late Babylonian Legal Texts (forthcoming).


  •   Map
  • Middle Eastern Studies

    The University of Texas at Austin
    204 W 21st Street Stop F9400
    Calhoun Hall (CAL) 528
    Austin, TX 78712