Saturday 31 March 2012

Jonathan Burnside on the Spirit of Biblical Law

Jonathan Burnside, ‘The Spirit of Biblical Law’, Oxford Journal of Law and Religion (2012).

Jonathan Burnside, author of a large volume on law in the Bible published last year, has a forthcoming article on the law in the Bible in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion. It’s currently freely available here as an ‘advanced access’ piece.

Here is the abstract:

‘The Bible – paradoxically – has been deeply influential on Western civilization, including law, yet our assumptions are deeply hostile to its having any influence in the modern world at all. This article subverts the view that there is nothing we can learn from biblical law. Instead, it suggests that it is possible to speak of ‘the spirit of biblical law’. This means seeing biblical law as more than just an object of textual critique. Biblical law can be caricatured in a number of ways; however, this is an inadequate way of reading the subject. We need to recover the spirit of biblical law by looking at a number of its substantive areas, including: property and money; economic organization; race relations and immigration; the role, nature and accountability of Government; family structure; our relationship with the environment and the pursuit of justice. As we do so, we discover that the spirit of biblical law has an ethos which is worth exploring as an imaginative and moral resource.’

And here are the main points about the ‘spirit of biblical law’ explored as the article unfolds:

• Personal and family rootedness – to build strong communities

• The use of money and the structure of financial institutions – to foster healthy commercial and social relations

• A shared culture – to encourage inclusion and cohesion

• The wide distribution of political power – to promote accountability and community development

• Family networks – for the love, support and welfare of the individual

• Our relationship with the environment – to limit our take

• Justice and reconciliation – as the basis for achieving peace and social harmony

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