By Raymond Westbrook, Gary M. Beckman
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Extra info for A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (Handbook of Oriental Studies; Handbuch der Orientalistik)
6 Transactional Records The overwhelming mass of legal sources consists of records of legal transactions—contracts, testaments, grants, treaties, etc. Most of these are in Sumerian or Akkadian from Mesopotamia and Syria, but a sprinkling of documents is found in other languages and scripts, such as hieratic, Demotic, and Aramaic. On the one hand, these documents are a highly credible source of evidence about the law; they are a contemporary record of the law in practice, untrammeled by any literary or ideological distortions.
All three sources break the identity of the human victim down into the same set of further variants; whether the victim is a man, a son, or a slave. They also share the use of the same legal distinction: between an owner who was warned by the local authorities of his ox’s propensity to gore and one who was not. 4 The common features of these codes mark them as originating in the sphere of Mesopotamian science. The method of Mesopotamian scientiﬁc inquiry was to compile lists. We have seen above the use of this technique for lexical purposes and its application to legal words and phrases.
Where it obliges generally to acts or forbearances of a class, a command is a law or rule. 11 The ancient Near Eastern orders are ad hoc commands, mostly concerning the rights of individuals, or temporary expedients to meet 11 Austin, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (1832), 25–26. The example given by Austin is of great relevance: “If Parliament prohibited simply the exportation of corn, either for a given period or indeﬁnitely, it would establish a law or rule: a kind or sort of acts being determined by the command, and acts of that kind or sort being generally forbidden.
A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law (Handbook of Oriental Studies; Handbuch der Orientalistik) by Raymond Westbrook, Gary M. Beckman