Thursday, December 15, 2016

Another SBL review of Hayes, What’s Divine About Divine Law?

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Divine Law: Nominalist/Realist or Rational/Irrational? (Jonathan Klawans, ).
“In 2016, the History of Rabbinic Literature SBL section hosted a review panel of Dr. Christine Hayes’ book, What’s Divine About Divine Law? Dr. Jonathan Klawans continues the forum in its new home at AJR.”

Chris Hayes’s book is a path-breaking, wide-ranging, exhaustive study of a topic of crucial importance for Jewish studies in particular, and for legal/philosophical studies in a broader sense. The reader of the volume is enriched by learning a great deal about legal philosophy, as well as biblical, Greek, and rabbinic understandings of law. The greatest strength of the book is its clever and convincing trace of certain threads from the Greeks, through Philo and Paul, with rabbis then charting their own course in reaction: the distinctiveness of which in the ancient world has been heretofore under-appreciated. Hayes convincingly establishes that the rabbinic discourse on law is self-consciously distinct, moving in the opposite direction from a great deal of prior Jewish literature (to say nothing of Greco-Roman). It does this by denying that divine law is rational, true, fixed, natural and/or unchanging—all the things that properly characterize a divine/natural law from a Greco-Roman perspective.

I could go on saying nice things… but what’s the point of that? Let me proceed from here by highlighting two distinctions used in the book, one of which may be over-used and the other under-used. The over-used dichotomy is between nominalist and realist approaches to law; the under-used dichotomy is between rational and irrational laws. After discussing these two matters a bit, I’d like to think more about those efforts to reduce “the Law” to one or two principles—usually rational ones.

Another review in the same session by Beth Berkowitz was published by AJR and was noted here. And follow the links there for earlier posts on Hayes's book.