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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

John Selden's works on Jewish topics are on Google Books

A few months ago I quoted an article about John Selden, pre-eminent 17th century English jurist and scholar, showing that he derived most of his ideas of natural law from the Talmudic formulations of the Seven Noahide Laws:
John Selden was in his day perhaps the most important political and legal theorist in England (“the law-book of the judges of England,” as the poet Ben Jonson called him). Yet Selden chose to publish most of his ideas in the form of a series of massive commentaries on the social and political ideas of the Talmud. Selden’s works sought to retrieve the political thought of the rabbis and apply them to pressing questions of early modern political theory such as the concept of a national tradition, the proper relationship between church and state, the theory of marriage contracts (especially pressing as Protestants broke with Catholic traditions on the subject), and much else. In particular, Selden’s The Law of Nature seeks to develop a political theory capable of undergirding the ongoing refusal of the English to abandon their national system of law, the Common Law, in favor of the putatively universal Roman Law being aggressively promoted on the Continent. Relying on the Jewish legal system as a prototype, and on rabbinic political theories as a crucial ally, Selden seeks to show that only a world constituted of independent nations, each with its own particular legal tradition, can be the basis for mankind’s search for that which is ultimately just and true. The rabbinic “Laws of the Sons of Noah,” which serve as the Talmudic version of a universal natural law, are taken by Selden to be the best approximation of a natural law available to mankind.
It turns out that his major works are available on Google Books, in their original printed forms - in Latin.

Here is the frontispiece for "The Law of Nature," or more accurately, "De jure naturali et gentium, juxta disciplinam Ebræorum," showing the Noahide laws being taught to the world (the lectern is labeled "Laws of the Sons of Noah" in Hebrew):


Indeed, the book liberally quotes from an astonishing array of Talmudic sources as well as later Jewish commentaries, lots of Maimonides, and even Kabbalistic sources.

Google Books has full copies of his works on the Sanhedrin, on Jewish laws of marriage and divorce, and many others.

I wish I knew Latin. I also wish I knew as much about Jewish law as Selden evidently did.