“Israel’s Laws And Legal Precedents” -- By: Harold M. Wiener

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 065:257 (Jan 1908)
Article: “Israel’s Laws And Legal Precedents”
Author: Harold M. Wiener

“Israel’s Laws And Legal Precedents”1

Harold M. Wiener


Under the title of “Israel’s Laws and Legal Precedents,” Dr. Charles Foster Kent, Woolsey Professor of Biblical Literature in Yale University, has published a portly volume setting forth the views of the Wellhausen school on the origin of the Pentateuchal legislation. The size and character of the work are such that it can hardly be allowed to pass unnoticed in this Review, but the task of dealing with it is of such a nature that brevity is unfortunately out of the question.

Although he has made himself responsible for a big book on Israelitish law, Dr. Kent, like the other members of his school, is entirely devoid of any tincture of legal knowledge or training. He cannot distinguish a freeman from a slave, a house from an altar, rape from seduction, a yearly tax from a single ransom for souls. He has no acquaintance with legal literature. He does not even know the meanings of the ordinary English legal terms that he uses. He resembles his friends, too, in another matter. No reliance at all can be placed on any statement made by him. His representations may in any particular case turn out to be true or they may be false: but there is no a priori probability one way or the other:

indeed, from our study of the work, we are not certain that we ought not to go further, and say that the false statements on matters of fact probably greatly outnumber those that are true. Perhaps some instances of this should be given at once. On page 10 we read the following amazing sentence: “The Old Testament itself, as is well known, does not directly attribute to Moses the literary authorship of even a majority of its laws/’ This statement is of course false on the face of it: so Dr. Kent pauses to the extent of a semicolon, and then proceeds to contradict it thus: “the passages that place them in his mouth belong to the later editorial framework of the legal books.” Now, first, “the later editorial framework,” if any, is part of the Old Testament; but, secondly, it is not true that the passages in question all belong to what Dr. Kent regards as “later editorial framework.” Take, for instance, Deuteronomy 12. Such passages as “to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes,” etc., “for ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance,” “thither shall ye bring all that I command you,” and so on, indicate the literary authorship attributed as clearly as possible. And Dr. Kent himself says as much a few pages later when treating of Deuteronom...

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