Ancient Legal Systems

Catalog Search > Humanities & Social Sciences > 41.394

Note: This course is not available for the current semester.

Course No: 41.394; Last Offered: No Data;

Course Description

This course will examine some of the most important sources for our knowledge of ancient legal systems, including basic texts of religious law in the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. After introducing the historical and social background of these texts, our main goal will be to develop an appreciation for how they function as legal codes or systems of law. We will discuss primary sources, beginning with portions of the Hebrew Bible, Dante's Inferno, and the Hindu Laws of Manu, as well as secondary interpretations, such as those of Sir Henry Maine, ?mile Durkheim, Michel Foucault, and Mary Douglas. Modern theories of law, including Jeremy Bentham's theory of punishment and J. L. Austin's theory of the performative nature of legal and other types of language, will be addressed in light of our examination of ancient legal systems. Discussion will focus on the following topics: the relationships among law, religion, ritual, and magic; law as a form of social organization and control; theories and depictions of punishment and retribution; the poetic structure of legal language; and the purpose and function of a legal system. No prior knowledge of the subject is required, and all texts will be available in English.

Prerequisites & Notes

  • Prerequisites:
  • Special Notes:

Questions About This Course?

Contact the Advising Center at 978-934-2474 or

Use the Back button in your browser to go back to search results.