To Kill & Take Posession

To Kill and Take Possession

To Kill and Take Possession

The stories in the Bible present some of the most memorable approaches to justice ever described. Legal scholar Daniel Friedmann presents an innovative exploration of the legal, moral, and political aspects of some of the best-known and dramatic biblical tales.From God's judgment on Adam and Eve, to David and Goliath's "Trial by Combat", to the issues of matrimony, adultery, and polygamy raised in the story of Abraham and Sarah, Friedmann presents compelling insights on a wide range of themes in biblical stories. The many issues he addresses include the transfer of trials from divine power to human beings; the status of women; marriage and divorce; maternity disputes; sterility and surrogate motherhood; mixed marriages; human sacrifice and the belief in its efficacy; the power and position of the monarchy and the succession to the throne; and the transformation in the role of the prophets.

Many of Friedmann's analyses include enlightening "Postscripts" and are accompanied by analogies to literary sources and to Greek and other mythologies, as well as subsequent historical events and current practices. In some cases he links biblical approaches to law to momentous judgments from the past fifty years, such as a legal dispute over ownership of Adolf Eichmann’s diaries, and a 1968 trial in Israel that raised centuries-old issues of religious and political identity through the complex question of "Who is a Jew?"

A bestseller in Israel, now translated into English, To Kill and Take Possession reveals how ancient attitudes have had continuing relevance throughout history and up to the present–perhaps more than ever in today's litigious society.


Danielle Rubenstein Professor of Comparative Law at Tel-Aviv University, Friedmann gives readers a fascinating look at the legal implications of various stories from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and thereby makes two valuable contributions. First, his close reading of the biblical text offers new insights into the stories involved. Second, he summarizes the legal implications of each story and then presents their various applications throughout history. A fascinating demonstration of his approach is offered in his close examination of the story of David and Bathsheba and the account of Ahab and Jezebel's murder of Naboth for the purpose of confiscating his vineyard. After presenting his analysis of these stories, Friedmann discusses the inherent legal principles and shows how they have influenced subsequent legal understandings. He ends the chapter with a fascinating discussion of the death of Adolf Eichmann and the attendant issue of whether his heirs should make a profit from his diaries. This book is highly recommended for larger public and academic libraries as an intriguing, authoritative discussion of several biblical stories and the legal implications that flow from them.

—Library Journal

“To Kill and Take Possession reveals that law operates on multiple levels in the Bible. The great law codes of the Torah treat law as a theological concept. They form an explanation for why Israel’s story ended in exile. But such written codification of law reveals little about how law operates in daily life. Functional law must be negotiated in and through stories. . . . Friedmann demonstrates that, after centuries of concentration on the law codes of the Torah in the Mishnaic and Talmudic traditions, the rise of modern Israel as a political state has returned attention to biblical narrative as a way of understanding how law is negotiated.

“This book ought to caution us against simplistic assumptions about the relationship between the making of laws and human behavior. The biblical stories are a powerful resource for understanding this relationship in its subtle complexities.”


“This book with the stories of the Hebrew Bible (or “Old Testament”) does not discuss the philological aspects of the text or its various literary genres. Nor does it seek to discover the ancient sources on which the Bible rests, and it makes no attempt to tackle the immensity of scholarly literature in these fields. The purpose of the book is to infer from the biblical stories the legal and moral concepts they reflect and the system of laws underlying them, which seems not to conform to many of the laws of the Pentateuch.

“Very little is known about the binding laws during biblical times. A few details about those laws and customs can be deduced from biblical stories, but, in many cases the conclusions are ambiguous, and we often grope in the dark and make suppositions. . . .The whole book represents an attempt, very interesting indeed, to analyze the biblical stories from this perspective.

“The book is easy to read and fascinating, including comparisons with Greek mythology, Scandinavian sagas, Roman law and the Code of Hammurabi. It is at the same time interesting to scholars and to the general public because it is written in a language that is simple and comprehensive.”

—Association of Jewish Libraries

“This is a wide-ranging, erudite and enjoyable book, which will certainly appeal to any lawyer with an interest in the Bible.”

—Law Quarterly Review

“Friedmann makes many insightful comments upon the details of the stories he examines. The book is a treat for anyone who appreciates the insightful analysis of narrative.”

—The Reformed Theological Review

“The author, it should be noted, is primarily a lawyer rather than a biblical scholar. This allows for a number of refreshing insights but limits his use of previous biblical scholarship. . . In addition to its legal analysis, the book’s strengths reside in its ample use of non-biblical material. The author is well-versed in Jewish tradition, classical and medieval literature, as well as modern Israeli, European, and American law. Many of the parallels cited are new and enlightening. For those who wish to know more about the law that lies behind many of the stories in the Old Testament, this book provides much to ponder.”


“Friedmann is not a biblical scholar. He is a professor of law and Dean of the Law School of Tel-Aviv University. It is from the perspective of jurisprudence that he examines some of the legal, moral, and political aspects of several biblical stories such as Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter, the rise of the house of David, and Ezra’s expulsion of foreign wives. He claims that the legal and moral practices reflected in many of the biblical narratives do not conform to the precepts found in the laws of the Pentateuch, and he seeks to discover what this might mean. In his examination, he draws on legal philosophy and practice, both ancient and modern. He does not limit himself to the biblical context, but shows how the application of legal precedent found there has often influenced decisions down through history. This easily read book will find an audience within biblical circles as well as the general public.”

—The Bible Today

“Highly distinguished in the field of law in Israel, the US, and England, Friedmann brings his brilliance to the forefront in this unique examination of the biblical text and its parallels with world literature and contemporary legislation. Focusing on familiar texts related to legal and moral responsibility, kingship and prophecy, and family and matrimony, Friedmann analyzes, through the les of a lawyer-professor, discrepancies in the text in relation to the Pentateuchal law system and the earlier Noahide law (as described in the Talmud). His keen insights provide viable explanations for discrepancies, e.g., the influences that reflect the historical period of a specific text. Most noteworthy are parallels with rabbinic and world literature (past and present) that reflect a sense of ‘judicial development’ in the biblical text. The dynamics of this work are likewise demonstrated in the correlations between the legal/moral aspects of the biblical texts and contemporary legislative decisions in Israel and the US. Comparable to Alan M. Dershowitz’s The Genesis of Justice (2000), this book will appeal to readers interested in law and morality in the Bible, world literature, and contemporary legislation. Summing up: Highly recommended. General readers: lower-level undergraduates through faculty.

—Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

“I would have no reservations using [To Kill and Take Possession] in a seminar format with seminary students, for the book is well-suited for such a usage. The chapters are of manageable length for discussion, very readable, and thought provoking. . . . The book concludes with helpful indices of Names and Sources and of Ancient Sources. Overall, I found the work most intriguing, and I recommend the book most highly to anyone, scholar or layperson, interested in social and legal issues in the Old Testament World.”

—Review and Expositor

“There is much in this work of great value. It is a treasure trove for pastors seeking illustrations, for lecturers wishing to include fascinating anecdotes in their classroom presentations. And especially for undergraduate students who wish further discussion of contemporary implications of many of the stories of the Bible. Of particular interest in Friedmann’s book is his commentary on the fascinating fact that the stories and narratives of the Bible often exhibit a moral attitude at variance with the laws of Moses. The author’s legal acumen is particularly evident in his ability to tease out the detailed implications of this interesting aspect of the literature of the Hebrew Bible.”

—The Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"[T]he strengths of this work well outweigh its weaknesses. The fresh insights brought about by the legal analysis of the biblical narratives alone make it worth reading. Add Friedmann’s intriguing application of the legal principles found in the narratives to more recent Western law and it is easy to understand why the Hebrew edition of this book was a bestseller in Israel.

—Review of Biblical Literature

“[To Kill and Take Possession] is most useful and interesting for students not only of legal history, but of comparative law, religion and the law, and jurisprudence.”

—Law and History Review

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