In this book, Salt Lake attorney James R. Baker attempts to bridge the considerable gap between general readers, who are vaguely acquainted with Old Testament narratives, and the specialized worlds of ancient law, biblical studies, and women’s studies. Utilizing the surviving legal codes from city-states in the Near East, c. 2200 B.C. to A.D. 200-600, and drawing on the work of modern biblical scholars, particularly Raymond Westbrook and Bernard Jackson, Baker retells the stories of various biblical characters in light of his reconstruction of the legal and social context of their times.
The stories of Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Joseph, David, Cain, and Abel are recounted in view of ancient laws governing herding and animal-keeping contracts. Events in the lives of Jacob, Leah, Rachel, and Rahab (the harlot of Jericho) are set against the laws of metronymic marriage, according to which the groom joined the household of his father-in-law. The stories of Rebekah, Sarai, Hagar, Michal, Bathsheba, and David’s daughter Tamar are explained in relation to ancient laws governing slavery, marriage, levirate marriage for the purpose of raising up sons for a deceased brother, and punishment of sexual activity outside of marriage. A discussion of ancient inheritance laws is the backdrop for the stories of Ruth and Naomi, Tamar and Judah, and the daughters of Lot. Activities of Dinah, Pharaoh’s daughter, Zipporah, and an unnamed concubine are treated in a concluding miscellany.