The foundation for all scholarly study in biblical law is the shared assumption that the Covenant Code, as contained in Exodus 20:23-22:33 is the oldest code of laws in the Hebrew Bible, and that all other laws are later revisions of that code. In A Law Book for the Diaspora, John Van Seters strikes at that foundation. He argues that those laws in the Covenant Code that are similar to Deuteronomy and the Holiness Code are in fact later than both of these, dependent on them as sources, and therefore cannot be taken as the foundation of Hebrew Law. After setting forth his radical hypothesis, Van Seters proceeds to offer a vigorous defense of it by means of a detailed and systematic comparison of the Covenant Code and the other biblical legal codes. He shows that his chronology provides an entirely new understanding of the laws. Instead of fundamental laws for Israelite society, he argues, the Covenant Code must be placed in the context of the Babylonian exile.
In this context they become diaspora laws with minimal cultic requirements, strong humanitarian concerns that include social contact with those outside the Jewish community, and little in the way of independent political structures. They are not village laws or primitive religious laws but laws for a semi-autonomous community within the larger imperial rule. The effect of this reading is to challenge not only the traditional dating of law codes in the Hebrew Bible, but also the conventional understanding of the history of ancient Israel. A persuasive presentation of a controversial thesis, A Law Book for the Diaspora will have a dramatic and far-reaching impact on the study of Hebrew Law. No student of the Hebrew Bible can afford to ignore it.