||"dawnbreak in the west"|
Thursday, December 29, 2005
The basis for Western codes of law
The Qur'an uses as its moral basis, in part, a section in the Surah of the Sons of Israel, 17:22-39 if memory serves, which its bracketing verses label "the Wisdom". This in turn is a revision of the Ten Commandments as written in the Book of Deuteronomy in the Torah. That, literary critics tell us, could be based on similar commandments in the Book of Exodus. There is yet another version in Leviticus.
But all of these Jewish and Arabic Books of Law derive from a Near Eastern tradition of lawgiving which, claimed its Near Eastern authors, derived from the gods. And it wasn't just the Jews and Arabs who were People of the Book when it came to legal ethics. The same held true of the Greeks and Romans, and while they were pagan too.
No serious scholar would claim that the Greek lawgivers Lycurgus and Draco in Sparta and Athens (respectively) derived their written codes from the Jews, much less the Hijazi Arabs. If you could have asked these Greeks, their response may well have been "what in Hades are Jews?!" The Romans, too, had their Twelve Tables code, which (Livy tells us) was written in an ancient Italic precursor to Latin which few could still read as of Caesar's day. This code in turn was likely derived from Greek and Etruscan precursors, with a dash of Phoenicia.
These sixth-century BC Mediterranean codes could have been a corruption of Deuteronomy (probable date of authorship: mid 600s BC). But this is unlikely, given that nothing of Deuteronomy survives in any of them.
I accept that the Roman Empire and its successor states did adopt the Bible, and its Ten Commandments in particular, as a basis for its codes of law. I am thinking here of the Theodosian, Visigothic, and Justinianic codes. However, the history of it all leaves us with two choices. Either the Ten Commandments influenced pagan Greek and Roman law; or else the Greeks and Romans, having become Christian and having accepted the Jewish Torah, already had a tradition of legal code and discovered that the Jews also had one and accepted it from there.
That last is most likely. It turns out there is a long literature in Christian apologetic which claims that pagan practice was a Praeparatio Evangelica - that is, a run-up to the Gospel. Eusebius wrote just one example of the genre. Much of it was preserved by the early Church and all of it is bogus.
Claims that our system of law is based on the Ten Commandments are, therefore, naught but Christian apologetic, however long its pedigree. Our system of law was not based on the Old Testament. It was instead based on Near Eastern legal ethics, from which the Ten Commandments were a parallel, not preparatory, development.
And yeah, it upsets me when I see such arguments dragged out in the present day. We should know better and, I strongly suspect, most 10C proponents do know better but pretend otherwise. The Ten Commandments have no place in a secular court, unless bracketed by pagan Greek and Roman parallels.
I have a theory as to why it is so important for some elements to post them anyway, but this is outside the scope of this post.
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