Were the principles of the Mosaic Law actually applied in settling everyday legal disputes in ancient Israel?
AT TIMES, yes. Consider one example. Deuteronomy 24:14, 15 states: “You must not defraud a hired worker who is in need and poor, whether one of your brothers or a foreign resident in your land . . . Otherwise, he will cry out to Jehovah against you, and you will be guilty of sin.”
The record of a plea in such a case dated to the seventh century B.C.E. It was found near Ashdod. Possibly penned for a field worker who allegedly failed to deliver a set quota of grain, this document, written on a pottery shard, says: “After your servant [the petitioner] had finished storing the harvest a few days ago, Hoshayahu son of Shobay came and took your servant’s garment. . . . All my companions who were harvesting with me in the heat of the sun will testify . . . that what I have said is true. I am innocent of any offense. . . . If the governor does not consider it his obligation to have your servant’s garment sent back, do it out of pity! You must not remain silent when your servant is without his garment.”
This plea “speaks to us of more than just the desperation of a labourer to get back [his garment],” says historian Simon Schama. “It also presupposes that the petitioner knew something about the biblical law code, especially the injunctions in Leviticus and Deuteronomy against harsh treatment of the poor.”