Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics

Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics

Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics

Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics


Justice for All demonstrates that the Jewish Bible, by radically changing the course of ethical thought, came to exercise enormous influence on Jewish thought and law and also laid the basis for Christian ethics and the broader development of modern Western civilization.

Jeremiah Unterman shows us persuasively that the ethics of the Jewish Bible represent a significant moral advance over Ancient Near East cultures. Moreover, he elucidates how the Bible's unique conception of ethical monotheism, innovative understanding of covenantal law, and revolutionary messages from the prophets form the foundation of many Western civilization ideals. Justice for All connects these timeless biblical texts to the persistent themes of our times: immigration policy, forgiveness and reconciliation, care for the less privileged, and attaining hope for the future despite destruction and exile in this world.


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when I was a graduate student in the Bible Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, I became very excited about certain academic studies on biblical ethics that I was reading, as well as by certain courses I was attending which dealt with biblical teachings on morality. At the same time, I was disappointed that these studies were not being made available to the general public but were mostly hidden away in academic journals or dense books virtually inaccessible to all but university scholars. One day I approached a visiting professor from the University of California, Berkeley, Jacob Milgrom, who was writing some of these fascinating ethical studies, and confronted him on why he wasn’t translating them into reader-friendly language geared to the interested layperson. He responded, “You do it!”

Well, I was a bit taken aback. After all, I was a mere graduate student, and I didn’t feel worthy of that task. However, I kept the project in mind, maintained my enthusiasm for it, and never forgot about it. This book is my attempt to fulfill both my original wish and my teacher’s directive.

Why I felt that it was necessary to write this book, however, goes back to an earlier historical period. Once upon a time, indeed, until the nine-

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