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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Law Enforcement and Administration

The tight-knit village society of ancient Israel was much more law-abiding than today's urban jungles. There were no police and no professional judges at the local level. So when an offence was committed or a dispute arose, it was the responsibility of the aggrieved party or his family to bring the issue to the local elders. These elders were the senior men of the families in each locality. They gathered in a square at the city gate to hear the evidence and pronounce sentence. It was then usually the responsibility of the plaintiff's family to enforce judgment (e.g. Deut. 21: 18–21). Punishment of religious offences could involve the whole community (Josh. 7: 25). If someone was unable to enforce justice himself, he could appeal to the king (1 Kgs. 3: 16–28).

The OT presupposes a supreme judge in every era. Moses, Joshua, and Samuel are all portrayed as fulfilling this role before it was taken over by the king (Exod. 18: 16; Josh. 7: 16–25; 1 Sam. 7: 16–17). However, the texts do also seem to envisage that specially appointed judges and priests will judge some cases (Deut. 17: 8–13), and Jehoshaphat is said to have established a supreme court with the high priest presiding over religious cases and a chief from Judah judging secular issues (2 Chr. 19 : 8–11). Cases that were too difficult for local village courts to resolve were passed on to the supreme court (Deut. 17: 8).

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