Constructing Justice: The Selective Use of Scripture in Formulating Early Jewish Accounts of the Courts

David C. Flatto*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Elaborate depictions of the court system in Second Temple and rabbinic literature signify its centrality for the Jewish legal tradition. Rather than offering positivistic descriptions, these representations are better thought of as templates of how to organize justice. While historically less informative, they are vivid expressions of the early Jewish legal imagination and its fascinating fixation on the architecture of justice. A measure of the ahistoric quality of early accounts of judicial administration is their considerable exegetical strata. This article surveys how four seminal Second Temple and rabbinic works constructed accounts of the judiciary on the foundation of Scripture. The variances among them unfold from decisive hermeneutical choices, beginning with the threshold question of which among several, internally inconsistent, biblical sources to select as a base text. What animates these various choices, in turn, are competing conceptions of the origin and nature of legal authority within a religious tradition that enshrines the role of law.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)488-515
Number of pages28
JournalHarvard Theological Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2018 President and Fellows of Harvard College.


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