Biblical Law in Greco-Roman Attire: The Case of Levirate Marriage in Late Antique Christian Legal Traditions

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Abstract

What happened to biblical law when transferred into late antique Christianity? How can answering this question provide a paradigm that helps us understand the rise and development of late antique Christian legal traditions? In the first centuries of the Common Era, the Christian legal tradition began to evolve in Roman, Greek, rabbinic, and biblical contexts. Focusing on the biblical institution of levirate marriage, this article offers a paradigm that elucidates how Christians might have adopted, adapted, and sometimes rejected their legal heritage; it may illuminate the overall development of Christian legal discourse. Following a short survey of the rabbinic adaptation of biblical levirate marriage and the Roman and Christian rulings regarding this practice, I analyze the Christian exegetical and theological discourse on levirate marriage, focusing on the acceptance or rejection of levirate marriage as a whole and adaptations to the biblical institution. This analysis demonstrates the disparity between the rabbinic discourse, the Christian and Roman rulings, and the theological and exegetical discourse. It shows how Christians remodeled their biblical heritage according to Greek and Roman legal concepts, namely the Roman adoption and the Greek epiklerate, and treated it as part of inheritance law and child-parent relationships, whereas the rabbis used different adaptations and treated it as part of matrimonial law and sexual relationships. This discussion therefore recontextualizes the legal discourse, positioning the Christian approach to levirate marriage as a complex case of legal transplant and adaptation of a legal heritage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-164
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Law and Religion
Volume34
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2019

Keywords

  • Christian legal traditions
  • Greek legal traditions
  • Roman law
  • Talmud
  • adoption
  • epiklerate
  • halakha
  • legal transplants
  • levirate marriage

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