The political and legal uses of scripture

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter

4 Scopus citations


The Pentateuch, the five books at the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, was the first text to be treated as scripture in ancient Judaism. Though debate continues regarding whether and the extent to which all or part of Deuteronomy had normative authority in late seventh-century Judah, there is much evidence that by the fifth or fourth century bce, the Pentateuch functioned essentially as scripture. The traditional name of this collection, the Torah (‘instruction’ or ‘law’), implies the normative textuality that has distinguished it and subsequent scriptures (the Christian Bible, the Qur’ān, etc.) from other important texts in western religious and cultural traditions. The Torah’s precedence as scripture raises the question of how and why it accumulated such unique authority. The question of the origin of scripture is not just a question of canonisation, of which books became authoritative when and under what circumstances. It is also a question of social function, of what practices, beliefs and social situations motivated elevating the Torah to such normative status. Addressing the social function of scriptures requires consideration of the political interests behind their publication and ongoing use, and it may also involve their role as law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe New Cambridge History of the Bible
Subtitle of host publicationFrom the Beginnings to 600
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781139033671
ISBN (Print)9780521859387
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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