Structures of Power: Law and Gender across the Ancient Near East and Beyond

March 6–7, 2015
The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
Organized by Ilan Peled,
Postdoctoral Scholar

The study of gender relations throughout the history of the ancient Near East is a rapidly developing subject, and several important works were conducted in this field in recent years. Its underlying theoretical framework seeks to evaluate the formation and interactions of social structures that frequently came in conflict with each other. As such, gender constructs utilized various mechanisms of social monitoring and control, and may be viewed as “structures of power”. The sphere of legislation and the enforcement of social norms through formal legal systems forms one of the most notable such structures of power.

This conference seeks to contribute new dimensions to the study of gender relations and law in the ancient world as a whole, and particularly in the ancient Near East. It will host a varied group of experts who will discuss the ancient Near Eastern cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Hatti, the classical world of Greece and Rome, ancient China, Zoroastrianism, and the monotheistic religions of Judaism and Islam. Four main themes will be addressed by the conference participants: “Formal Law and Informal Custom”, “Law, Religion and Cult”, “Law, Administration and Economy” and “Family, Kin-Relations and Marriage”. In the broader sense, the issue of cross-cultural parallels and particularities will stand at the center of the discussion. What was common to all cultures examined? What was unique to each of them? These questions, as well as many others, will be addressed by the conference participants, in establishing a broad conversation of law and gender in the ancient world.


  • Gary M. Beckman (University of Michigan)
  • Laura Culbertson (American Public University)
  • Tal Ilan (Freie Universität Berlin)
  • Janet H. Johnson (University of Chicago) (Respondant)
  • Thomas A. J. McGinn (Vanderbilt University)
  • Brian Muhs (University of Chicago)
  • Melinda G. Nelson-Hurst (Tulane University)
  • Ilan Peled (University of Chicago)
  • David S. Powers (Cornell University)
  • Karen Radner (University College London)
  • Martha T. Roth (University of Chicago) (Respondant)
  • Adele C. Scafuro (Brown University)
  • Edward L. Shaughnessy (University of Chicago)
  • Daniel Sheffield (Princeton University)
  • Laura A. Skosey (University of Chicago)
  • Cornelia Wunsch (University of London)

Participant Abstracts and Bios

Gary M. Beckman (University of Michigan)

Paper Title: "Females as Sources of Authority in Hittite Government and Religion"

Abstract: No one would doubt that the society of Late Bronze Age Hatti was patriarchal in nature, but the very nature of the reproduction of life in our world, requiring as it does the cooperation of male and female, assured for Hittite women essential spheres of activity and influence among humans. I will expand on this observation through a discussion of succession to kingship, life at the royal court, and the practice of magic.

Bio: Gary Beckman, since 1992 professor of Hittite and Mesopotamian Studies at the University of Michigan, has published widely on Hittite religion and on Hittite social organization and diplomacy. He also compiled two catalogues of the Old Babylonian cuneiform tablets held by the Yale Babylonian Collection. His most recent book is The Babilili-Ritual from Hattusa (2014). The focus of his current research is the reception and adaptation of Syro-Mesopotamian culture by the Hittites. He is completing an edition of the tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh recovered from the site of the Hittite capital.

Laura Culbertson (American Public University)

Paper Title: "Women and Dependents in the Ur III Urban Dispute System"

Abstract: Both state and society in the Ur III period (ca. 2100-2000 BC) have been described as patriarchal, and the legal language in the corpus of legal documents from this period, among other sources, presents a patriarchal view of society in many instances. This would suggest that women experienced restricted mobility and a scope of activity centered on patriarchal households. Old and new studies of economic and administrative documents indicated that despite the patriarchal character of Ur III society, women were not entirely restricted to households and they participated in what are sometimes thought of as male spheres, for example concerning various kinds of labor as shown recently by Bertrand Lafont. Drawing on administrative and legal documents, this paper investigates the activity of women and other actors in urban institutions of the Ur III state. Legal documents called ditilas record cases of disputes, representing moments when one’s status and place in society could change. The paper uses these and other administrative documents to investigate cases in which women and other actors participated in urban institutions and administrative structures beyond the assumed roles as confined to households, and also determines the limits of participation for various members of Ur III urban society. Additionally, the paper investigates records of disputes involving households with no patriarch to identify the degree of power held by female heads of households.

Bio: Laura Culbertson received her PhD from the University of Michigan and specializes in legal and economic documents of the Ur III period of Mesopotamian history. Her interests are ancient legal systems and social institutions in the Near East. Culbertson organized Slaves and Households in the Near East in 2011 in the OIS series, and has recently taught at Xavier University and American Public University.

Tal Ilan (Freie Universität Berlin)

Paper Title: "Women’s Archives from Elephantine and the Judean Desert: Law Codes and Archaeological Finds"

Abstract: In the year 2000 I published an article in which I argued that despite a 600-year separation between the finds from Elephantine and those of the Judean Desert, as regarding the necessary paperwork of a Jewish woman, not much had changed. For legal purposes that touch on her livelihood, property and personal status, she needed to have in her possession a marriage contract, a deed of gift and a deed of renunciation of claims on her property from other members of the family, possible heirs to a dead husband. This paper will pick up on where I left off then, and compare the evidence in these Jewish women’s archives with Jewish law codes from the Bible and the Mishnah, in order to clarify the theological motivations and ideologies that formulated models of gender regulation that these archives exemplify.

Bio: Tal Ilan has earned her PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1991. Since the fall of 2003 she is a Professor of Judaic Studies at the Institut für Judaistik, Freie Universtität, Berlin. Her most important publications are: Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Palestine: An Inquiry into Image and Status (Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 44, 1995), Mine and Yours are Hers: Retrieving Women's History from Rabbinic Literature (Arbeiten zur Geschichte des antiken Judentums und des Urchristentums 41, 1997), Integrating Jewish Women into Second Temple History (Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 76, 1999), Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I – Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE (Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 91); Part II – Palestine in Late Antiquity 200-650 (Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 148); Part III – The Western Diaspora 330 BCE-650 CE (Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 126); Part IV – The Eastern Diaspora 330 BCE-650 CE (Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 141), Silencing the Queen: The Literary Histories of Shelamzion and other Jewish Women (Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 115, 2006) and A Feminist Commentary to the Babylonian Talmud, Volume II.9: Massekhet Ta‘anit (2008).

Janet H. Johnson (University of Chicago)

Janet Johnson is a Respondant

Bio: Janet H. Johnson received her BA and PhD degrees in Egyptology from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) at the University of Chicago. She has been on the faculty of NELC and the Oriental Institute since 1971. She is the editor of the Oriental Institute’s Chicago Demotic Dictionary (2001–). She has published extensively on Egyptian grammar, including Demotic grammar. She has also published extensively on the legal and social roles of ancient Egyptian women based on materials dating from the Old Kingdom into the Roman period. She has tried to integrate our understanding of the very different, gender-based social roles and social expectations within Egyptian society with the very strong legal position of women in that same society.  

Thomas A. J. McGinn (Vanderbilt University)

Paper Title: "Roman Bigamy: The Impossible Sex Crime"

Abstract: The Romans took a dim view of the idea of being married – or engaged – to more than one person at the same time.  Their conception of marriage and engagement was rigorously monogamous, in broad terms like that of many other societies.  It contains a twist, however, in that for them it was literally impossible to be married or engaged to more than one partner simultaneously.  This was so in spite of, or perhaps better because of, the fact that no process requirements existed for either marriage or engagement, meaning that there was no need of registration or ceremony.
My first task is to define bigamy, both in general and in specifically Roman terms.  One consideration of importance is the question of gender symmetry in the treatment of offenders.  For reasons that are fully explained, the offense strictly consisted of what was technically attempted bigamy. This did not prevent the Romans from visiting serious sanctions on offenders, however, even as bigamy never became a criminal offense in itself. The paper considers the implications of bigamy for the ideals and law of Roman marriage.  It also explores the relationship of bigamy with what might be described as the related sex crimes of adultery (adulterium) and criminal fornication (stuprum), both of which were punished under the Augustan law of adultery, concluding with some reflections on the culturally specific nature of sex crimes in general.

Bio: Thomas McGinn is professor of Classical studies at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of numerous articles on Roman law and social history.  His first book, Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome, was published by Oxford University Press in 1998.  He is co-author with Bruce Frier of A Casebook on Roman Family Law, published by Oxford University Press in 2004. His other books include The Economy of Prostitution in the Roman World:  A Study of  Social History and the Brothel, published by the University of Michigan Press in 2004, and Widows and Patriarchy:  Ancient and Modern, published by Duckworth in 2008. His most recent book is an edited collection of essays, Obligations in Roman Law:  Past, Present, and Future, published by the University of Michigan Press in 2012.

Brian Muhs (University of Chicago)

Paper Title: "Gender Relations in Legal Codes and Legal Practice in Ancient Egypt"

Abstract: Several ancient Egyptian texts describe procedures for disposing of property in the event of marriage, divorce or death. One can debate whether one should call these texts as legal manuals or legal codes, but in any case they appear to prescribe normative legal behaviors. These behaviors frequently differ according to gender. Other ancient Egyptian texts document the desired or actual disposition of property after marriage, divorce or death. Some of these texts display the same gender distinctions as the legal manuals or codes, but others make different distinctions, or none at all. The variety of dispositions raises the possibility that individuals negotiated between personal circumstances and perhaps even preferences as well as legal and social norms.

Bio: Brian Muhs is associate professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and the College at the University of Chicago. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996, and was lecturer at the Papyrological Institute of Leiden University from 1997 to 2011 before coming to Chicago. He has published two books on taxation in Ptolemaic Egypt, and is preparing a third book on the Ancient Egyptian economy.

Melinda G. Nelson-Hurst (Tulane University)

Paper Title: "Spheres of Economic and Administrative Control: Textual, Visual, and Archaeological Evidence for Female and Male Sealers"

Abstract: Officials with titles related to sealing goods featured in the administration of private estates in ancient Egypt from at least as early as the Old Kingdom.  By the time of the Middle Kingdom, positions such as treasurer (overseer of sealed items) would make their way into the central administration, with the treasurer possibly rivalling the vizier in his level of authority during this period.  At the same time, these positions continued to be an integral part of the administration of private estates as well.  While texts, private tomb decoration, and archaeological evidence in the form of seals and seal impressions from the Middle Kingdom attest to the presence of these officials, including some women with sealing duties, we know little of the specific responsibilities and sphere of influence of sealers and their supervisors.  This paper utilizes a combination of text labels and depictions of officials with sealing duties from private tombs and the seals and seal impressions that these officials left in the archaeological record in order to examine the extent of their economic and administrative roles.  Further, since a title need not represent a fixed set of duties from one individual to another, the paper also looks at whether roles appear the same or different between men and women.  By extension, this case study may also shed light on the spheres of influence of other female administrators during the Middle Kingdom.

Bio: Melinda Nelson-Hurst received her PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, with a specialization in Egyptology, from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests lie in the social history and archaeology of ancient Egypt, especially during the Middle Kingdom. In particular, Dr. Nelson-Hurst’s research has focused on families and their influence within the state administration, office acquisition, inheritance, and family members’ obligations to deceased relatives.  Since starting a new research project on the Egyptian Collection at Tulane University in 2012, her interests have expanded into Theban burials of the Third Intermediate Period and the modern history of the field of Egyptology and of Egyptian collections.  She has published articles and presented papers at international conferences on all of the above topics and is currently researching the administrative and economic roles of women in elite households during the Middle Kingdom.

Ilan Peled (University of Chicago)

Paper Title: "Gender and Sex Crimes in the Ancient Near East: Law and Custom"

Abstract: In this paper I examine the relations between two spheres: that of formal law, and that of everyday social conduct. The prism through which these spheres will be examined is that of sexual offenses, and the place of gender within these offenses. What did the laws decry, and what actually happened in practice? Do we find correlations between the spheres of law and custom, or were the laws merely theoretical, ideal, directives, that had very little to do with people’s everyday lives? The scope of this presentation is limited to the cuneiform world – Mesopotamia and Hatti – while ancient Egypt remains outside of this discussion. The sexual offenses to be discussed are adultery and rape, incest, bestiality and homosexual intercourse. As will be demonstrated, each one of these behaviors was considered illicit – if at all – due to rather different reasons. The very matter of being considered illicit, however, is far from being unequivocal, at least in some of the cases. In the ancient Near East, as law codices from Mesopotamia, Hatti and the Bible demonstrate, socially acceptable sexual relations were restricted to two partners of the opposing sex who were married to one another. Any deviation from this pattern was illicit. What distinguished between the labeling of the illicit act as “rape” or “adultery” was the consent of the woman involved. The background of the illegality, however, was socio-economic rather than moral: women were subject to a male authoritative figure, either their father or husband. Rape and adultery, therefore, constituted a violation on the right of property of the dominant male figure. Incest was only referred to in the code of Hammurabi and in the Hittite laws, while bestiality was only addressed by the latter, and homosexuality was utterly ignored by the ancient Near Eastern codices. All these behaviors were prohibited in the Bible, and punishable by death. However, we do have some evidence pertaining to these acts from outside the laws. The comparison between what the law decreed, or its silence on the matter, and the extra-legislative sources referring to these issues, is intriguing, and forms the focal point of the discussion.

Bio: Ilan Peled has earned his BA and MA degrees from Tel-Aviv University (archaeology and ancient Near Eastern cultures), and his PhD from Bar-Ilan University (Hebrew and Semitic languages). Prior to having been appointed a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, he was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations) and New York University (Hebrew and Judaic Studies), and a Postdoctoral Fellow at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Institute of Archaeology). He has a background in archaeology, anthropology and sociology, and was trained in the fields of Hittitology and Assyriology. His research interests and publications focus on sexuality and gender in the ancient Near East, but also include social and cross-cultural perspectives of religion, cult, ritual practices and jurisdiction throughout the ancient Near East.

David S. Powers (Cornell University)

Paper Title: "From Nuzi to Medina: Q. 4:12b Revisited"

Abstract: The opening clause of Q. 4:12b is notoriously difficult. The verse is traditionally read: wa-in kāna rajulun yūrathu kalālatan aw imraʾatun. And it is traditionally understood as meaning: “If a man dies in a state of having neither parents nor children as heirs--or woman [dies in such a state] …. ” If one ignores the syntax of the traditional reading, the phrase “kalāla aw imraʾa” bears a curious resemblance to the ṭuppi mārtūti u kallatūti, a tablet of adoption in daughtership and daughter-in-lawship, produced in Nuzi in the middle of the second millennium BCE. The possibility of a connection between the Akkadian and Arabic formulations finds support in Bibliotheque Nationale de France Arabe 328, an early Qurʾan manuscript written in the Hijazi-style script. Naked-eye examination of folio 10b strongly suggests that someone erased one of the words in Q. 4:12b and then re-wrote it, changing the consonantal skeleton by adding an extra lām. It appears that the original spelling of the word in question was not kalāla but *kalla, a word otherwise unknown in Arabic but which shares the same root, morphology and, perhaps, meaning as its Semitic cognates, all of which signify bride or daughter-in-law. If so, then the original reading of the opening clause of 4:12b would have been: wa-in kāna rajulun yūrithu kalālatan aw imraʾatan. The proposed reading not only eliminates all of the grammatical difficulties associated with the traditional reading, but also dramatically transforms the meaning of this verse, as I will explain in my presentation.

Bio: David S. Powers is professor of Islamic studies at Cornell University. His research focuses on the rise of Islam and the history of Islamic law. Powers is editor-in-chief of the journal Islamic Law and Society and author of Studies in Qur'an and Hadith: The Formation of the Islamic Law of Inheritance (University of California Press, 1986); Law, Society, and Culture in the Maghrib, 1300-1500 (Cambridge University Press, 2002); Muhammad is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); and Zayd (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).

Karen Radner (University College London)

Paper Title: "Eunuchs in the Neo-Assyrian Empire"

Abstract: Men’s prowess in the ancient world was frequently associated with sexual virility. Castration, however, altered the male person’s biology to the extent that it did not match his original sex anymore, thus causing a conflict between his gender and sexual images. Eunuchs were prominent figures in the imperial administration and at court in the Neo-Assyrian Empire. How would these men, considered physically flawed and therefore barred from certain contexts, gain social acceptance? Moreover, eunuchs led the army in battle. How would their soldiers accept their authority, given their allegedly flawed manliness? This case demonstrates the complexity of conflicting social conventions, as manifested in the operation of ancient bureaucracies.

Bio: Karen Radner is professor of ancient Near Eastern history at University College London. She has published extensively on the Neo-Assyrian Empire’s political, social, legal, administrative and cultural history. Her last book is Ancient Assyria: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Martha T. Roth (University of Chicago)

Martha Roth is a Respondant

Bio: Martha T. Roth is Dean of Humanities and the Chauncey S. Boucher Distinguished Service Professor of Assyriology. She is the Editor-in-Charge of the 26-volume Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, the first volume of which was published in 1956; the last volume was published in 2010. She served as Deputy Provost for Research and Education from 2004 to 2007. Roth researches and publishes on the legal and social history of the ancient Near East. Her primary interests are on family law and on women’s legal and social issues, and on the compilation and transmission law norms. Among her monographic publications are The Series An-ta-gal = Saqu, Materials for the Sumerian Lexicon 17 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1985); Babylonian Marriage Agreements, 7th–3rd Centuries B.C., Alter Orient und Altes Testament 222 (Kevelaer: Butzon und Bercker, 1989); and Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, SBL Writings from the Ancient World (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995; 2nd edition 1997; 2nd rev. edition 2000). Currently she is working on a project on Mesopotamian law cases.

Adele C. Scafuro (Brown University)

Paper Title: "Greek Sexual Offences and Their Remedies: Honor and the Primacy of Family Preservation"

Abstract: The evidence for sexual offences in the Greek world is disparate: a systematic presentation of such offences in the legal code of one city (Gortyn), and then, for another city (Athens), paraphrases of laws and sometimes quotation (frequently inauthentic) mostly from forensic speeches and Aristotles’ Constitution of the Athenians, and additionally from historical sources. From other cities there is a hotch-potch of anecdotal literary material often reporting extra-judicial remedies (e.g., in Pisidia, an adulterer was led around the city on a donkey, FGrHist 90 F 103); and from the Egyptian chora, there are marriage contracts, as early as the late fourth century (Mitteis Chrestomathie 283) in which conventional clauses prohibit the new husband, inter alia, from introducing another woman for the purpose of insulting his wife (ἐφ’ ὕβρει) and also from creating children with another woman. While the anecdotal material is of interest as showing the variety of extra-judicial remedies in different cities in the Greek world for adultery, there is more to learn—not only about sexual offences but also about the relationship of laws among the different Greek cities (the old wasp’s nest: is there such a thing as ‘Greek law’?)—from focusing on the evidence of Gortyn and Athens. Apples and oranges, to be sure: for Gortyn, we have all the regulations and penalties for rape and adultery committed between persons of the same status and between persons of different status (Col. II 2-45), but nothing of the way those laws may have been carried out, no outside perspective that might allow a picture of the relation between law on stone and law in action to emerge; and for Athens, we have no systematic articulation of the laws, but plentiful depictions of remedies, both judicial and extra-judicial. However, by looking at what might justifiably be seen, here and there, as differences between the regulations of the two cities, I argue that both systems nevertheless look to private adjudication, and the ideological end of adjudication is family preservation and the wealth that may go along with that.

Bio: Adele Scafuro is professor of Classics at Brown University where she has taught since 1983. She has been a recipient of numerous awards, was Whitehead Visiting Professor at the American School of Classical Studies (2004-05) and has been an International Scholar at the Leopold Wenger-Institut für antike Rechtsgeschichte und Papyrusforschung in Munich (2003-04) and in the Dept. of Philology/Classical Studies at the University of Crete, Rethymnon (May-Oct 1997). She is the author and editor of books and essays in the fields of Greek (especially Athenian) and Roman law, Greek (especially Athenian) epigraphy, and Greek and Roman drama. She is series editor (on the Greek side) for Brill Studies in Greek and Roman Epigraphy. She is currently finishing a book on political trials in Athens. Scafuro is a frequent visitor to Athens and has served on the Managing Committee of the American School of Classical Studies since 1997.

Edward L. Shaughnessy (University of Chicago)

Paper Title: "The Mother or the Royal Court: Which Is the Authority?"

Abstract: This paper offers a presentation of a series of three bronze inscriptions that report on an inter-lineage lawsuit in which both men and women figure prominently. Two of the inscribed bronze vessels, which date to 823 and 822 BC, have been known for more than a century. In 2006, another two vessels, both bearing an identical inscription, were excavated in Fufeng county, Shaanxi; their inscription fits neatly between the two long known inscriptions and helps to explain the relationships among the people mentioned in them. The inscriptions concern a land dispute within two lineages of a single family, the mother of which serves as the final authority within the family. Her judgment is eventually ratified by the royal court. These inscriptions should rank as some of the earliest evidence in China for familial dynamics and kin relations.

Bio: Edward L. Shaughnessy is Creel Distinguished Service Professor of Early China in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations of the University of Chicago. His research focuses on the literary creations of Bronze Age China, both in the received tradition and also unearthed documents. His most recent book is Unearthing the Changes: Recently Discovered Manuscripts of the Yi Jing (I Ching) and Related Texts (Columbia U. Press, 2014).

Daniel Sheffield (Princeton University)

Paper Title: "Zarathustra’s Wives: The Question of Polygamy in Zoroastrian Legal Practice"

Abstract: Though the subject of controversy in modern times, Late Antique Zoroastrian jurists deemed the practice of marrying multiple spouses to be legally permissible in specified cases, basing their argument on traditions that Zarathustra had three wives. In this talk, I sketch out a history of the legal position of second wives and their children in Zoroastrian legal history from Pahlavi, New Persian, and Gujarati sources to argue that Zoroastrian jurists interpreted traditions relating to the life of Zarathustra as exemplars which constituted a source of Zoroastrian personal law.

Bio: Daniel Sheffield is a Link-Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Princeton University Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, and Lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, where he specialized in Iranian and Persian Studies. He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled Cosmopolitan Zarathustras: Religion, Translation, and Prophethood in Iran and South Asia, which tells the story of the Zoroastrian communities of Iran and South Asia. He is also preparing for publication a critical edition and translation of the oldest Zoroastrian composition in Classical Persian, the 13th-century Book of Zarathustra (Zarātushtnāma), along with its 17th-century Gujarati adaptation. Daniel’s recent and forthcoming articles appear in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism, On the Wonders of Land and Sea: Persianate Travel Writing, the Bulletin of the Asia InstituteArabica, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. He is the editor of There's No Tapping Around Philology: A Festschrift Celebrating Wheeler M. Thackston Jr.'s 70th Birthday (with Alireza Korangy). He is currently pursuing research on a second book project, entitled On Translation and Toleration: Materialist and Hermetic Thought in Safavid Iran and Mughal India

Laura A. Skosey (University of Chicago)

Paper Title: "The Female and the State in Early Chinese Law"

Abstract: Records of the role of women in early Chinese law are, as one might expect, rather limited. However, the female contributions to the state cannot be underestimated, nor can the perceived impact that the feminine might have on reforming the legal system. After first noting the economic benefit provided by females in the Qin and Han periods, this paper then focuses on the "Xíng fǎ zhì" 刑法志 of the Hàn shū 汉书 (written by Bān Gù 班固 ca. 80 CE), suggesting the text ought to be read not simply as a historical narrative, but also as a piece of narrative jurisprudence. Narrative jurisprudence, one of many facets of the law-and-literature movement, offers a humanistic approach to legal criticism. It is argued that because law so strongly colors our sense of morality, it is impossible to criticize law on moral grounds. However, through literature, the narrative voice provides a means to convey subjective feeling and thus induce empathy, thereby changing our moral beliefs and hence, our beliefs about the way law is and should be.  I believe that although written two thousand years before the founding of this scholarly discipline, the Hàn shū "Xíng fǎ zhì" is an example of just such a "literary indictment of legal injustice" as expressed significantly through the voice of, by all accounts, one very insignificant female.

Bio: Laura Skosey is a lecturer in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and periodically offers a course on early Chinese legal history in the Law School. She also serves as the Executive Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Chicago, and on the team of the Vice President of Global Engagement. Skosey received her B.A. from the Department of East Asian Studies at New York University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. Past academic appointments include lecturer positions at Michigan State University, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, and Morgan Park Academy. Skosey is interested in the legal systems and legal traditions of Han and pre-Han China, especially as depicted in paleographic documents.

Cornelia Wunsch (University of London)

Paper Title: "Law of Inheritance and How to Circumvent It: Devolution of Property in the Female Line According to Neo-Babylonian Evidence"

Abstract: Cuneiform records  from private archive  dated to the period of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the early Achaemenid rulers (6th and 5th centuries BC) suggest that women in Babylonia had in principle full legal capacity despite the fact that the strictly patriarchal rules of inheritance limited their chances of acquiring property or being able to dispose of it. Neither as daughters nor as wives did women have a right of inheritance. Even if a woman received a dowry on marriage, it was not managed by her, but was handed over to her husband or his father. At the same time, the documents reveal that by no means infrequently ways were sought to avoid the strictly patrilineal rules of inheritance, either to ensure for female members of the family a certain degree of economic independence or to “divert” property into other branches of the family. The legal instruments for this purpose were – in contrast to other societies – already an integral part of the system: gift, bequest, and supplements to the dowry. This paper looks into the mechanism on the basis of authentic cases that reveal the donor’s intentions as well as the feasibility and the donee’s standing in court.

Bio: Cornelia Wunsch studied Regionalwissenschaften-Altertumswissenschaften Westasiens at Humboldt-University in (East) Berlin, Diplom-Assyriologe (academic teachers: Manfred Müller, Joachim Oelsner, Hans Neumann, Horst Klengel, Evelyn Klengel, Helmut Freydank). PhD at Hamurg University, Fachbereich Orientalistik (Brigitte Groneberg). Extended research visits at different cuneiform collections (BM, Yale, VAM etc.) resulted in several published volumes. Positions or grants at Barcelona, Perth (Australia), Heidelberg, Kansas City, Tübingen, London, Berlin. Most recently: M4Human grant of Gerda Henkel Foundation and ERC commission; research associate, SOAS, London and wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter, VAM, Berlin. Publications include four books, four edited volumes, and forty articles.


Friday, March 6, 2015

9:00-9:30: Introduction

Opening remarks by Chris Woods
Introduction by Ilan Peled

9:30-12:00: Session 1: Formal Law & Informal Custom

Brian Muhs: “Gender Relations in Legal Codes and Legal Practice in Ancient Egypt”
Ilan Peled: “Gender and Sex Crimes in the Ancient Near East: Law and Custom”
10:15-10:45: Coffee Break
Adele Scafuro: “Greek Sexual Offences and their Remedies: Honor and the Primacy of Family Preservation”
Thomas McGinn: “Roman Bigamy: The Impossible Sex Crime”

12:00-2:00: Lunch

2:00-3:00: Session 2: Law, Religion & Cult

Gary Beckman: “Females as Sources of Authority in Hittite Government and Religion”
Tal Ilan: “Women’s Archives from Elephantine and the Judean Desert: Law Codes and Archaeological Finds”
3:00-3:30: Coffee Break

03:30-05:30: Session 3: Law, Administration & Economy

Laura Culbertson: “Women and Dependents in the Ur III Urban Dispute System”
Melinda Nelson-Hurst: “Spheres of Economic and Administrative Control: Textual, Visual, and Archaeological Evidence for Female and Male Sealers”
Karen Radner: “Eunuchs in the Neo-Assyrian Empire”
Laura Skosey: “The Female and the State in Early Chinese Law”

05:30-06:30: Reception

Saturday, March 7, 2015

9:00-11:00: Session 4: Family, Kin-Relations and Marriage

Edward Shaughnessy: “The Mother or the Royal Court: Which is the Authority?”
Cornelia Wunsch: “Law of Inheritance and How to Circumvent It: Devolution of Property in the Female Line according to Neo-Babylonian Evidence”
David S. Powers: “From Nuzi to Medina: Q. 4:12b Revisited”
Daniel Sheffield: “Zarathustra’s Wives: The Question of Polygamy in Zoroastrian Legal Practice”
11:00-11:30: Coffee Break

11:30-12:30: Respondents: Janet H. Johnson & Martha T. Roth

12:30-01:30: Concluding Session


Ilan Peled