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Spring 2024 Seminar

Concepts of Divine Law in Historical Perspective

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

This course explores the radically divergent notions of “divine law” that emerged from biblical Israel on the one hand and Greco-Roman antiquity on the other, the cognitive dissonance that their historical encounter engendered, and the attempts by later Jewish and Christian thinkers (in late antiquity and the medieval and modern periods) as well as contemporary secular thinkers, to negotiate their competing claims. Topics include: dueling conceptions of the attributes and nature of divine law vs. human law; the relation of divine law (either revealed biblical law or natural law) to positive law; implications for the basis of law’s authority and its claim to our fidelity; law as a religious expression vs. law as a debasement of the divine-human relationship; law as a concession to human weakness vs. law as a realization of human potential; the impact of historically theological debates over law’s spirit vs. law’s letter on contemporary, secular legal arguments concerning the nature and value of law and the source of its authority. Readings are drawn from Philo, Paul, the Talmud, Augustine, Maimonides, Aquinas, Luther, Mendelssohn, Buber, Soloveitchik, Niebuhr, Leibowitz, Dworkin, and Hart.