Sunday, 21 August 2011

Old Testament law codes and Israelite society

Scholars speak of four extended law codes in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament):

• The Covenant Code - Exodus 20-23
• The Holiness Code - Leviticus 17-26
• The Deuteronomic Code - Deuteronomy 12-16
• The Priestly Code - various parts of Leviticus and the rest of the Torah

In this post, I want to summarise what these codes tell us about early Israelite society.


• Yahweh was the god of Israel, who had brought his people out of slavery in Egypt.  There were prohibitions on worshipping other gods.
• Yahweh was worshipped at altars and with sacrifices of agricultural produce.
• Male Israelites were circumcised.
• There was a priesthood of Yahweh, together with a class of Levites.
• There were dietary laws, ritual purity rules, and a taboo on blood.
• The Sabbath was kept.
• Religious festivals included the festivals of Passover, Tabernacles, Unleavened Bread and the Day of Atonement. 


• Society was agricultural in character.
• Society was patriarchal.  Some special provision was made for widows and orphans.
• Slavery existed as an institution.
• Adultery was prohibited, but there are indications that polygamy was permitted.
• Resident aliens were regarded as having a lower status than Israelites, but had some legal protection.
• There was a system of judges and courts.  The principle of "an eye for an eye" was applied, and the death penalty was in use, stoning being one method of execution.
• The Jubilee was observed.