A FARMS-sponsored conference held at BYU on Saturday, 24 February, highlighted research on legal aspects in the Book of Mormon. Titled Hebrew Law in the Book of Mormon, the day-long conference was the first ever on this topic. As such, the event was both a culmination and a beginning, marking two decades of research as well as pointing the way for further inquiry into a profitable subfield of Book of Mormon studies.
Attended by some 350 people, the event was a fitting tribute to the late Hebrew University professor Zeev Falk, whose book Hebrew Law in Biblical Times (1964) has remained a favorite textbook among students of biblical law even though it has been out of print for many years. The conference coincided with the release of a new edition of the book, copub lished by BYU Press and Eisenbrauns.
The conference featured 16 presentations and a panel discussion. Following are some of the highlights.
After opening remarks by Daniel C. Peterson, the first session focused on Falks life and work. John W. Welch, Robert K. Thomas Professor of Law at BYU and conference or ganizer, commented on the new edi tion of Falks book. He praised Falk for balancing faith and relevance with tradition and sound re search in an area where scholars disagree on the unique ness of He brew law, some seeing it as originating in the Tal mud and others seeing it as the product of ancient surrounding cultures. Setting the tone for the rest of the day, Welch concluded, The more we know about Hebrew law, the more we know about the Book of Mormon. Douglas Parker, a retired BYU law professor, also shared reminiscences of his association with Falk, describing him as a deeply spiritual and gifted teacher who radiated a zest for learning and life.
Noel B. Reynolds, BYU professor of political science and associate academic vice president, likened the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi to Moses. He ex plained that Lehis final address to his people in 2 Nephi 1 invokes 13 Mosaic themes (e.g., a promised land and a chosen people). Such close parallels suggest that Lehi was familiar with Moses final address recorded in Deuteronomy and that he alluded to it in his own final words in order to help his rebellious sons accept his pro phetic leadership. In similar fashion, BYU law student Drew Briney related many as pects of Nephite law to possible precedents uniquely found in Deuteronomy.
James R. Moss, a California attorney, discussed allusions to Mosaic concepts of slavery and debt ser vitude in King Benjamins speech. No ting that Ben jamin relieved his people of a tax burden that might have fed debt servitude, Moss saw images of that idea in Benjamins focus on unprofitable servants and beg gars. In this view, God is seen as the creditor and his children are at his mercy as debtors. King Benjamin does not explicitly link re demption to debt slavery, but the link is there, Moss said. Donald W. Parry, BYU associate professor of Hebrew language and literature, noted that Ben jamin conveyed strong images of Old World slavery culture by equating service to man with service to God. He explained that in the Old Testament the con cept of service means temple service and that, significantly, the temple was the setting for Benjamins address.
In the first afternoon session, John Welch discus sed the slayings of Laban and Ammoron. The slaying of Laban was not a case of culpable homicide and thus lay outside the bounds of ancient definitions of deliberate, punishable murder on several grounds, he said, referencing the Code of Hammurabi, Hittite law, and Hebrew law. The slaying of Ammoron was prob lematic, Welch said, because Teancum used treach ery (killed deliberately) and was not led by the Lord. Ra ther, he went forth in his anger (Alma 62:36) to slay Ammoron, a motivating emotion prohibited by Num bers 35:22. Alison V. P. Coutts, director of publications for the Institute, then addressed the legal concept of refuge. In the Nephites acceptance of the Ammonite refugees, she sees strong evidence that the Nephites followed the Mosaic stipulations for asylum.
Stephen D. Ricks, BYU professor of Hebrew and Semitic languages, described the key elements of oaths in the Old Testament and noted their remarkable cor respondence to oath formulations in the Book of Mormon. The covenantal aspect of oaths in the Book of Mormon helps Latter-day Saints understand their role as latter-day Israel, he said.
In the last session, independent researcher Carol P. Bradley spoke on family law and women. She noted that although Israelite law was harsh on women, its rules were a vestige of earlier tradition and were often not applied, while other social norms in Lehis day operated in favor of women. You cannot define He brew society by legal aspects only, she said. Women were still au to nomous and important. Hebrew men had complete control over their children, but not over their wives, Bradley said, a fact mirrored in the Book of Mormon when Lehi rebukes Laman and Lemuel, but not Sariah, for murmuring. She concluded that equality reverberates throughout the Book of Mor mon and that women of those times were devalued only among apostate groups.
Other speakers during the day included Claire Foley, Gregory R. Knight, Hannah Clayson Smith, Eric Vernon, and David W. Warby. All presented interesting findings. The papers from this con fer ence, along with many others on law in the Book of Mormon, are being prepared for publication in due course.