Michael Walzer


Notice the plural form: it is not only that the bible contains many laws, but also and more importantly that it contains three different legal codes. The many laws are easy to understand, and it is equally easy to understand the popular wish that the yoke of the covenant be less onerous. An old folktale claims that on the day after the Sinai revelation, the Israelites rose early and marched at double speed away from the mountain so that they would not be given any more laws. This did them no good. Through history the laws kept piling up-not, however in the form of explicit additions and revisions to the covenant code, Exodus 20-23, but in the form of two new codes: the holiness code of Leviticus and the Deuteronomic code. Each of these is described as if it too had been delivered at Sinai, and yet no sustained or systematic effort is made, early or late, not even at the time of canonization, to harmonize Leviticus and Deuteronomy with Exodus. The three codes are significantly different in the range of social activities that they cover, the style in which they are written, and the substantive rules they establish. Yet all of them are divinely commanded by the same God. There has not been a succession of gods, each with his own law, as in other countries of the ancient Near East there was a succession of kings promulgating new and different legal codes, the most recent one replacing the one before. How can difference be explained when a single divine lawgiver rules eternally?