Workshop: 28 June 2019, University of Amsterdam


Friday, 28 June 2019, 9:30-17:00

University of Amsterdam

P.C. Hoofthuis, Spuistraat 134, lecture hall 1.05

Organized by Ilan Peled and Irene Zwiep

(For further details please contact Ilan Peled:










09:30-10:00: Gathering, coffee

10:00-10:15: Opening words (Irene Zwiep)


10:15-12:00: Session 1, Ancient Near Eastern and Christian Law

Chair: Karel van der Toorn

Sophie Démare-Lafont (key-note speaker, Université Paris II – Panthéon-Assas / Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, PSL):

“Gods as Judges: The Making of Law in the Ancient Near East”

Ilan Peled (University of Amsterdam):

A Deo Lex? Law and Religion in Ancient Near Eastern Legislation”

Jan Hallebeek (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam):

“Church Asylum in Late Antiquity: Concession by the Emperor or Competence of the Church?”


12:00-13:30: Lunch break


13:30-15:00: Session 2, Biblical and Jewish Law

Chair: Irene Zwiep

Jacques van Ruiten (University of Groningen):

“Legal Material in the Book of Jubilees

Margaretha Folmer (Leiden University / Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam):

“The Divorce Motif in Jewish Magical Texts from Late Antiquity”

Leo Mock (Tilburg University):

“The Rabbis and Idolatry”


15:00-15:30: Coffee


15:30-16:30: Session 3, Islamic law

Chair: Robbert Woltering

Nicolet Boekhoff-van der Voort (Radboud University Nijmegen):

“The Impact of Imitation: The Development of the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad as the Second Source of Islamic Jurisprudence”

Jelle Bruning (Leiden University):

“Compensating for the Illegal Sale of a Slave: A Socio-Historical Approach to Early-Islamic Laws on Sale”


16:30-16:45: Concluding words (Ilan Peled)







Gods as Judges: The Making of Law in the Ancient Near East

Sophie Démare-Lafont

(Université Paris II – Panthéon-Assas / Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, PSL)

Ancient Near Eastern gods played a prominent role in the legal life, in their function of judges of almost all matters. They were seen as the natural judges of humankind, as shown by some allegoric episodes recorded in the narratives, and by the rituals that frame the relationship between men and gods in the context of a trial. Prosecution and punishment of other gods’ misdeeds also occurred in attendance of a divine court. In the realm of human justice, the numerous occurrences of oaths, and the less numerous but still significant references to ordeals, testify to the position of the gods as supreme judges. And finally, the Bible provides examples of God as a lawgiver through the mechanism of rescript, echoing the same royal prerogative known in Mesopotamia. The paper will review these various expressions of the religiosity of law in the Ancient Near East.

A Deo Lex? Law and Religion in Ancient Near Eastern Legislation

Ilan Peled (University of Amsterdam)

A deo rex, a rege lex. “From god, the king; from the king, the law.” In the ancient world monarchs were usually perceived as ruling under the auspices of the gods. Law, however, was usually perceived as decreed by the ruler. But what about “a deo lex”? In the ancient Near East (ca. 3,000–330 BCE), official law and organized religion did not usually intermingle. When they did, they compensated for one another, filling the gaps caused by the limitations of each other. In my presentation I will survey the relationship between these two major systems, as reflected in the different ancient Near Eastern law collections. I will focus on two opposing aspects: cases in which religion regulated law, and those in which law regulated religion.

Church Asylum in Late Antiquity: Concession by the Emperor or competence of the Church?

Jan Hallebeek (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

In early modern times it was questioned whether Church Asylum in late Antiquity was a privilege conceded by the Emperor or a competence of the Church. The paper analyses a number of imperial constitutions, compiled in the Codex Theodosianus (438 AD), dealing with Church Asylum. Moreover, it discusses what early modern canonists derived from these texts, as well from some decisions of early Councils. Could these texts indeed support the opinion that Church Asylum must have had a secular origin and that the Church had endorsed such an origin?

Legal Material in the Book of Jubilees

Jacques van Ruiten (University of Groningen)

The book of Jubilees (2nd cent. BCE) is presented as a revelation received by Moses at Mount Sinai, but it actually consists of a rewriting and interpretation of the biblical narrative (Genesis 1 – Exodus 19; 24). The material is mostly presented in the same sequential order, and nearly all passages can be discerned in the new composition. However, there are many differences between the older scriptural text and the version incorporated into the new composition. The narratives are enclosed in a chronological framework of jubilees, weeks and years, and several of the narratives are rewritten on a story level. In this paper, I will focus on one of the most important characteristics of Jubilees, namely the addition of legal passages, which are often based upon the laws of the Pentateuchal legal corpora. The addition of laws in Jubilees prior to the Sinaitic revelation can be related to the election of Israel from the dawn of creation. In his method of reconciling the patriarchal stories and the Sinaitic laws, the author of Jubilees sometimes runs into difficulties. The discrepancies and contradictions within the book are related to the fact that the earlier and authoritative text constrained the rewriter to a considerable degree.

The Divorce Motif in Jewish Magical Texts from Late Antiquity

Margaretha Folmer (Leiden University / Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

The motif of marriage and divorce between humans and demons is a frequent motif in Jewish magical texts and tales from the post-biblical period onwards. In this lecture I will discuss the function of the divorce motif in ancient Jewish texts, with a focus on the so-called magical bowls written in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic (middle of the first millennium C.E.).

The Rabbis and Idolatry

Leo Mock (Tilburg University)

In the Bible idolatry is clearly an issue: the Book of Deuteronomy strongly condemns it and commands to destroy all idols and their symbols, while the Book of Genesis seems to have a (slightly) different approach. The Prophets seem to adopt a more ethical-moral condemnation of idolatry. The Rabbis saw themselves confronted with a new situation: living among a Greco-Roman world whose paganism was more sophisticated than that of the surrounding nations in biblical times. Besides this difference paganism had a strong influence in the Land of Israel itself through Greco-Roman occupation and the presence of non-Jewish inhabitants in Rabbinic times. In my presentation I will focus on the way in which the Rabbis defined idol worship and invented means to deal with it.

The Impact of Imitation: The Development of the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad as the Second Source of Islamic Jurisprudence

Nicolet Boekhoff-van der Voort (Radboud University Nijmegen)

The sayings, actions and tacit approval (sunna) of the prophet Muhammad, is for Muslims an important source of information for Islam and for Shari`a, the Islamic law. More difficult to determine is when this practice started. The classical Islamic view is that sunna as a source of Islam was introduced by Muhammad and through a continuous process of transmission and imitation implemented and executed by the following generations. Another view has that Muhammad’s sunna as a source of Islam was introduced at least two centuries later.

            The sunna of Muhammad is contained within the Hadith, the Islamic tradition material. Sometimes this sunna derives from traditions or parts of traditions that are present in works that are not aimed primarily at jurisprudence but deal with the life of Muhammad: Sira­-works (biographies of the prophet Muhammad) or the sira-material in the description of the prophet’s life in historical works. It seems therefore that sira-material influenced legal material. But what about the other way round? Did the legal material also influence the sira-material? If the sunna of Muhammad was accepted as the second source within Islamic jurisprudence at an early stage, we can expect that it contains traces of that concept of sunna. In my presentation, I will focus on the impact of the legal concept of the sunna of Muhammad on sira– and historical works from the first three centuries of Islam. We will see which concepts of sunna are mentioned and thereby perhaps shed some light on the development of the prophetic sunna in the first centuries of Islam.

Compensating for the Illegal Sale of a Slave: A Socio-Historical Approach to Early-Islamic Laws on Sale

Jelle Bruning (Leiden University)

In their chapters on sales, Muslim jurists from the late-8th century CE and later often used the sale of a slave to illustrate the laws they prescribed. As a result, much is known about Islamic laws on slave trade. Much less known is how these laws related to legal practice, especially in the first centuries of Islam, for which documentation is relatively rare when compared to later periods. This presentation focuses on an Arabic papyrus from that early period in the history of Islam. It gives unparalleled insight into the actual organisation of slave trade. Interestingly, it shows its author’s concern for abiding to laws on slave trade. At the same time, it documents that these laws were not always followed. The presentation analyses the various opinions held by jurists on the papyrus’ subject and discusses what original documents can tell us of how Muslims practiced Islamic law.