Law and religion

Bruce Wells, Noah Bickart, Donald Davis, Edward Harris, Caroline Humfress, Geoffrey MacCormack, Robin Osborne, Katelijn Vandorpe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In most ancient cultures, what we now call religion was interwoven throughout all aspects of life and did not always form a discrete cultural domain. Nevertheless, its principal symbols and traditions can be sufficiently distinguished to allow for a fruitful examination of the relationship of law and religion in antiquity. This chapter pursues that endeavour, with particular attention to instances when the sources at our disposal indicate, explicitly or implicitly, that law was relying on religious ideas to achieve legal ends. The chapter considers the role of religion in legitimizing law, in public law and governance, in legal transactions and proceedings, and in the determination and punishment of wrongdoing. It ultimately seeks to add clarity and specificity to the scholarly description of how law and religion interacted in the ancient world.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCambridge comparative history of ancient law
EditorsCaroline Humfress, David Ibbetson, Patrick Olivelle
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages72
ISBN (Electronic)9781009452243
ISBN (Print)9781107035164
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • Divine kingship
  • Truth and justice
  • Holy days and festivals
  • Divination
  • Oracles and ordeals
  • Priests and priesthood
  • Apostasy and Blasphemy
  • Purity and pollution
  • Sorcery and magic


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