Law and Literature: Jewish and Christian Models

Pólemos: Journal of Law, Literature and Culture (Berlin: De Gruyter), Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 263-280, 2012

Posted: 10 Nov 2012

See all articles by Nahel N. Asfour

Nahel N. Asfour

University of Vienna - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 11, 2012


Law and literature is the study of the utilities of the reciprocal ties between the two domains. Classic approaches divide the field into two main patterns of study. One is the literary approach to law, i.e. the study of law as literature, which primarily implements literary theory and criticism in legal texts. The second is law in literature, which investigates literary expressions of law and the various ways law is depicted in literature.

Of late, a new paradigm labeled “literature alongside law” has been suggested. This paradigm neither puts the emphasis on one field nor utilizes one for the service of the other. Rather, it investigates both fields, viewed one beside the other, as interwoven cultural expressions of a complex fabric of the human condition. This duality exposes the various ties infrequently noted within the confines of the former classic approaches. This paradigm is closely tied and evoked by an old yet interesting source of scholarly inspiration: the Jewish rabbinic combination of Halacha and Aggadah. They can be appreciated as the religious parallel model of their paradigm and of contemporary law and literature scholarship as a whole.

Halacha is the body of religious legal norms and bending interpretations as expounded by Jewish Rabbis. Aggadah is the body of narratives, stories, myths, advice, morals and parables transmitted traditionally alongside Halacha. Rabbis, as the early scholars of law and literature, pondered the nature of this duality and the prospective worth of its inseparability. In comparison, Christianity and Canon law seem to reject this model and any equal treatment of literature alongside law in its central works. Due to various historical and theological reasons, this duality was denounced. While the Jewish model has been widely investigated, no similar attempts have been made as regards the Christian model.

This paper seeks to present these two religious models within the confines of law and literature scholarship, to compare both and, especially, to ponder possible meanings for the repulsing tension amid law and literature in the Christian model. The article concludes that law and literature is a two-sided coin, much like the two religious models. One seeks better truth in the constant dialogue of law and literature. The other preserves its truth in the polar and repulsing tension of law and literature. These two models ought to be equally valued for law and literature scholarship.

Keywords: law and literature, Halacha and Aggadah, law and narrative, literature alongside law

Suggested Citation

Asfour, Nahel N., Law and Literature: Jewish and Christian Models (September 11, 2012). Pólemos: Journal of Law, Literature and Culture (Berlin: De Gruyter), Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 263-280, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Nahel N. Asfour (Contact Author)

University of Vienna - Faculty of Law ( email )

Schottenbastei 10-16
Vienna, A-1010

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