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Ex Oriente Lex

, 288 pages
January 2015



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Ex Oriente Lex

Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law

Throughout the twelve essays that appear in Ex Oriente Lex, Raymond Westbrook convincingly argues that the influence of Mesopotamian legal traditions and thought did not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean, but rather had a profound impact on the early laws and legal developments of Greece and Rome as well. He presents readers with tantalizing fragments of early Greek or archaic Roman law which, when placed in the context of the broader Near Eastern tradition, suddenly acquire unexpected new meanings.

Before his untimely death in July 2009, Westbrook was regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient legal history. Although his main field was ancient Near Eastern law, he also made important contributions to the study of early Greek and Roman law. In his examination of the relationship between ancient Near Eastern and pre-classical Greek and Roman law, Westbrook sought to demonstrate that the connection between the two legal spheres was not merely theoretical but also concrete. The Near Eastern legal heritage had practical consequences that help us understand puzzling individual cases in the Greek and Roman traditions. His essays provide rich material for further reflection and interdisciplinary discussion about compelling similarities between legal cultures and the continuity of legal traditions over several millennia.

Aimed at classicists and ancient historians, as well as biblicists, Egyptologists, Assyriologists, and legal historians, this volume gathers many of Westbrook’s most important essays on the legal aspects of Near Eastern cultural influences on the Greco-Roman world, including one new, never-before-published piece. A preface by editors Deborah Lyons and Kurt Raaflaub details the importance of Westbrook’s work for the field of classics, while Sophie Démare-Lafont’s incisive introduction places Westbrook’s ideas within the wider context of ancient law.

Raymond Westbrook (1946–2009) was the W. W. Spence Professor of Semitic Languages at Johns Hopkins University. The editor of A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law, vols. I and II, he was the coeditor of Security for Debt in Ancient Near Eastern Law, Isaiah’s Vision of Peace in Biblical and Modern International Relations: Swords into Plowshares, and Amarna Diplomacy: The Beginnings of International Relations. Deborah Lyons is an associate professor of classics at Miami University. She is the author of Gender and Immortality: Heroines in Ancient Greek Myth and Culture and Dangerous Gifts: Gender and Exchange in Ancient Greece. Kurt Raaflaub is David Herlihy University Professor and professor emeritus of classics and history at Brown University. He is the author of The Discovery of Freedom in Ancient Greece, the editor of War and Peace in the Ancient World, and the coeditor of A Companion to Archaic Greece.

"The late Raymond Westbrook was an outstanding scholar of ancient Greek, Roman, and Near East civilization and law. This selection of his essays, originally published in widespread periodicals and Festschriften, is very well done. A desideratum for classicists and readers all over the world who are interested in the problems of ancient legal history."

"Both experts and non-experts in the study of the ancient world are indebted to the editors for this splendid edition of Raymond Westbrook’s papers. Westbrook is a master comparatist, and his work is a model for humanists and social scientists who seek to enhance their discovery procedures by combining internal analysis with comparative perspectives. By comparing Near Eastern legal traditions with the relevant evidence recorded in ancient Greek and Latin texts, Westbrook has profoundly changed how we look at ancient law."

"Individually and cumulatively (his) essays encourage a re-examination of shared cultural heritage often fiercely resisted by classicist."

"It is the singular admiration for his diagnostic skills which attracts readers of ancient Near Eastern law to his scholarship, and as a result he will not be forgotten..."