Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics (University of Nebraska Press/Jewish Publication Society), by Jeremiah Unterman
Some historians believe that in the 8th century BCE, a leap of consciousness occurred in many places across the world that encompassed a more inclusive social ethic. Jeremiah Unterman explores a particular (and enormously influential) facet of the phenomenon in Justice for All. The Israeli scholar addresses his arguments to a wider non-academic public as he compares and contrasts the ancient legends and law codes of the Near East with the Jewish canon that seemed to evolve from those sources.
Unterman finds marked improvements in the Jewish perspective, starting with the fine points of Mosaic law that led to a metaphysics of justice. In the Jewish scriptures, death was a penalty reserved only for murder; unlike neighboring peoples, crimes against property were not compensated with human life. While the ancient Jews were not a democracy, the language of the Torah describes a relationship where all were equal in God’s eyes. The “thou shalt nots” were balanced with commandments to respect the elderly, aid the impoverished and shelter the immigrants. Unterman is not the first to argue that the benefit of monotheism was its implication of oneness, including one standard of justice for all that influenced the founders of our republic.