At the Peter Wall Institute, Milstein turns to the murky origins of biblical and Near Eastern law, a body of perplexing precepts that continue to have reverberations today. Her project, titled Making a Case: The Emergent Legal Mind in the Ancient Near East (contracted with OUP) is bound to be of interest to anyone who is fascinated by legal history or intrigued by the roots of the modern legal imagination. Milstein aims to probe the rich collection of practical legal documents from Mesopotamia—available in the form of trial records, legal letters, “model court cases,” and more—to gain fresh insight into the emergence of biblical and Near Eastern law. Making a Case has benefitted from support from the Killam Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
In the ancient Near East, writing was a collective, anonymous enterprise. Scribes regularly modified received traditions, updating them to suit new contexts. As such, ancient Near Eastern texts often reflect multiple and competing perspectives. In order to understand these works, it is crucial to disentangle the diverse perspectives lodged within them and then situate these voices in relation to one another. Essentially, we must reconstruct the conversation that is embedded in the text. This challenge is at the heart of Sara Milstein’s scholarship.
In Tracking the Master Scribe: Revision through Introduction in Biblical and Mesopotamian Literature (OUP, 2016; American Schools of Oriental Research Frank Moore Cross Award in 2017), Milstein focuses on one of the most prominent methods within the scribal repertoire, what she calls “revision through introduction.” With this technique, scribes recast their received material by adding something new to the front. Milstein demonstrates how the recognition of revision through introduction at work enables us to interpret these reworked texts at multiple phases in their development, not just the final ones.