The scriptural laws dealing with widows, strangers, and orphans are conventionally viewed as rules meant to aid the plight of vulnerable persons in ancient Israelite society. In Justice Made LegalHarold V. Bennett challenges this perspective, arguing instead that key sanctions found in Deuteronomy were actually drafted by a powerful elite to enhance their own material condition and keep the peasantry down.Building his provocative case on a careful analysis of life in the ancient world and on his understanding of critical law theory, Bennett views Deuteronomic law through the eyes of the needy in Israelite society. His unique approach uncovers the previously neglected link between politico-economic interests and the formulation of law. The result is a new understanding of law in the Hebrew Bible and the ways it worked to support and maintain the dehumanization of widows, strangers, and orphans in the biblical community.This daring work is necessary reading for anyone interested in the Hebrew Bible, ancient history, or social justice issues.
Assistant professor of religion at Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia.
Journal of Jewish Studies
"From the beginning of the book it becomes clear that the use and discussion of critical legal theory is one of the strongest parts of the book, and is highly recommended for anybody working on the social background of biblical law."
Randall C. Bailey
"Bennett's use of critical theory to interpret laws in the Deuteronomic code has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of these texts. His 'reading from the underside' enables us to go beyond long-held 'covenantal readings' that normativize privilege, and it takes social-scientific criticism to the next logical level. A must-read for those interested in Pentateuchal studies."
Robert B. Coote
"Injustice Made Legal is a well-ordered attempt to identify the self-interest of those who promulgated the biblical laws sanctioning relief for widows, the fatherless, and aliens. Placing these laws in the context of an unvarnished social history of monarchic Israel and a sweeping analysis of the social context of law, this book offers a salutary reminder of what officialdom and its rules can look like from the vantage point of the most vulnerable of their supposed beneficiaries."
J. David Pleins
"Is the Bible really on the side of the poor? Drawing on advances in culture criticism, Harold Bennett's work rescues the widow, stranger, and orphan from the realm of cliche to reveal their plight as victims of 'concealed sociopolitical interests': they were exploited by the very people who claimed to be helping them. Asking what the overprivileged stood to gain from the drafting of Deuteronomy's laws concerning the poor, Bennett uncovers a web of deceit that ensnared the poor while benefiting an elite religious movement. His book challenges our worn-out assumptions about the Bible's advocacy for the widow, stranger, and orphan, exposing a world in which the poor were nothing more than exploited pawns in a high-stakes political game. Bennett convincingly argues that the biblical laws that appear to aid the poor actually intensified the very injustices that such laws were supposed to fix. This is a timely book whose contemporary relevance is painfully obvious in a world plagued by rampant poverty amid obscene accumulations of wealth."
Review of Biblical Literature
"The authors work makes a distinctive contribution to the study of widows, strangers, and orphans in biblical culture. His approaching the texts through a specifically legal theoretical framework throws new light on these much-studied texts."
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