'Shall Not the Judge of the Earth Deal Justly?': Accountability, Compassion, and Judicial Authority in the Biblical Story of Sodom and Gomorrah
Timothy D. Lytton
Albany Law School
Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2002
In this Essay, I argue that the Biblical portrayal of God as a person, and, in particular, as a judge, offers an attractive model for human judicial authority. I examine Genesis 18:16-32, the story of Abraham's questioning of God's judgment concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, along with Rabbinic commentaries. The God who speaks with Abraham in these texts offers a model of legal authority that is engaged and responsive. Using God as a model, this Biblical passage and the Rabbinic commentaries that accompany it present accountability and compassion, rather than wisdom or power, as the preeminent judicial virtues and the foundation of judicial authority.
By portraying God as a person, bringing Him down to earth (as it were), the Bible helps us appreciate that God's actions can serve as a model for our own. In contrast to the conceptual analysis of God as omnipotent and omniscient, which sets Him up as a foil for human authority, the literary portrayal of God as a person highlights the ways in which we can be like Him. God's behavior during His encounter with Abraham in Genesis 18:16-32 models judicial virtues that we can emulate - virtues that lend legitimacy to human power.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 26
Keywords: Bible, Abraham, Sodom, Jurisprudence, Literature
JEL Classification: Z12Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: March 4, 2003 ; Last revised: November 27, 2013
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