Crusemann on the Am Ha-Aretz, Real Law, and Asylum

I’m continuing my way through Frank Crusemann’s The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law.  I have three items from today’s reading.

1. Crusemann highlights the role of the am ha-aretz (the people of the land) in promoting the Book of Deuteronomy.  In II Kings 21:24, the am ha-aretz set young Josiah on the throne of Judah, after conspirators had overthrown King Amon.  Until Josiah came of age, the am ha-aretz was in charge, and thus needed to develop a constitution.  That’s where the Book of Deuteronomy entered the picture.  The Book of Deuteronomy benefited landowners, of which the am ha-aretz largely consisted.  The centralization of worship at a central sanctuary meant that Judean landowners no longer had to give offerings to local shrines.  Deuteronomy also freed farmers from the “burden of two-thirds of the previous tithe-tax (Deut 14:22ff.)” (page 231).  Deuteronomy also advocated a severely limited monarchy and did not require compulsory labor (which took farmers from their fields).  Moreover, if a farmer “were forced to borrow because of sickness in the family, poor harvest, drought, warfare, legal problems or other factors, thus making him dependent on a stronger and wealthier neighbor, he no longer needed to pay interest upon the loan” (page 231).  And the Book of Deuteronomy was given an origin in the distant past to provide it with divine authority.

2.  As you can see in the first item, Crusemann holds that the Book of Deuteronomy was intended to be a functioning constitution for Judah.  Yesterday, if you read my post about Crusemann, you got a taste of Crusemann’s view on the Covenant Code: that it contained real laws that impacted real people (sometimes negatively).  There are scholars who argue that the Covenant Code and the Book of Deuteronomy are idealistic—not actual laws.  The implications of this argument could be that these codes were developed in exile—when Jews could develop an “ideal” constitution that wouldn’t relate to real life, since they were no longer the rulers or possessors of their own land—but there are scholars who believe that even the Code of Hammurabi was not a real law code that was applied in real life, for courts do not refer to its laws, the code is not comprehensive (it does not deal with marriage, for example), plus the king may have written it simply to convince the god that he was a just ruler. Against the argument that the Covenant Code was idealistic because it does not always prescribe a specific penalty for crimes, Crusemann responds that law-codes can contain apodictic laws, which do not mention penalties.

3.  I want to write about Crusemann’s argument on asylum on pages 174-177.  Essentially, Crusemann argues that the law of asylum in Exodus 21:13ff. places shrines under judicial authority.  People fled to shrines for asylum after committing crimes, but Exodus 21:13ff. says that the only ones who can take refuge there are those who killed someone accidentally—an act of God.  The judicial authorities made the determination as to whether the taking of life was intentional or unintentional, meaning that shrines no longer had absolute control over who could take asylum there.  According to Crusemann, “Ancient Near Eastern law had never articulated such a difference [between intentional and unintentional killing], and at best had only made rudimentary efforts” (page 175).  But the Greeks did make such a distinction in the seventh century B.C.E. (a century before the Covenant Code), for Draco’s reform sought to protect those who unintentionally killed someone from the victim’s next-of-kin.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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4 Responses to Crusemann on the Am Ha-Aretz, Real Law, and Asylum

  1. James, good luck on your comps and thank you for your many thought provoking posts.

    This is a little late, but I just wanted to comment that most of Crusemann’s reasons for thinking Deuteronomy arose in the regency of Josiah would also apply to the regency of Joash in 2 Kings 11. The people of the land also participated in the coup against Athaliah. They were influential during the regency of Joash. Jezabel and probably also Athaliah had introduced Phoenician land transfer attitudes (Jezabel’s offense at Naboth’s refusal to sell his inheritance). So the people of the land’s concerns would have been just as strong then. I’ve always been struck that 2 Kings 14:6 has Deuteronomy influencing royal policy at a time when Deuteronomy shouldn’t have existed if it was written in the time of Josiah, or even Hezekiah.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for the wish of luck! Those are good points. I can envision scholars saying that II Kings 14:6 is from the Deuteronomist—but whether they have anything more to support that than their view that it had to be composed in the time of Josiah, I don’t know.


  3. jamesbradfordpate says:

    P.S. I’ll be adding you to my blogroll soon, once I relearn how that’s done on WordPress. I would right now, but I’m studying for my comp, so I’ll probably do so on Wednesday or Thursday.


  4. Thanks.

    The phrase in 2 Kings 14:6: “the book of the Torah of Moses”, which occurs also in Jos. 8:31 and 23:6, probably is Deuteronomistic. My question, I guess, is whether the redactor had reason to think the Code of Deuteronomy really was that old so that Amaziah might have been influenced by it. Parts of the Code of Deuteronomy, like the laws for the tribal call up to war in chapter 20, do seem to be really old.


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