David Daube twice presented the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh: first in 1962, and subsequently in 1964. The Deed and the Doer in the Bible consists of the ten lectures Daube delivered in 1962 (plus a supplementary chapter), prepared for publication by his longtime student Calum Carmichael (professor of comparative literature at Cornell University). Daube, who completed doctorates in both biblical law (Göttingen, 1932) and ancient Roman law (Cambridge, 1935), and who until his death in 1999 held emeritus professorships in law at both the University of Cambridge and the University of California, Berkeley, focused in these lectures on questions arising from the legal connections drawn between — as the title suggests — action (deed) and actor (doer) in the Bible.
In chapter one, Daube looks at causation in both direct and indirect forms, and, perhaps most intriguingly, the question of God’s role in the action of individuals. Chapter two focuses on questions of intent, particularly those arising from the fact that biblical sanctions often seem not to consider its presence (or lack thereof) as a significant factor. In chapter three, Daube turns his attention to the closely connected matters of error and ignorance. He first notes biblical distinctions between error and accident, and then contrasts ignorance based on a lack of information with ignorance based on a lack of knowledge. Next, chapter four discusses actions motivated or caused by different passions (e.g. drunkenness, jealousy). In chapter five, Daube explores the element of negligence, noting the particularly biblical questions arising from an actor’s negligence of the divine will. Chapter six contains a discussion of what Daube calls ‘intellectual authorship’ — in other words, the culpability of the instigator of a deed over against that of its actual perpetrator. In chapter seven, Daube analyzes attempt; that is, the stage between preparation and performance of a deed. He argues that biblical law has no such general concept, but seeks to draw forth insight from lexical analysis and the punishability of self-defense. Next, chapter eight considers collectives, the different ways in which the Bible attributes actions to groups, and the consequences of such communal responsibility. The place of women in biblical law, and especially the question of double standards in this connection, is discussed in chapter nine. In the last lecture, chapter ten, Daube turns his attention to different responses of the doer after the deed, using the New Testament example of Judas as a lengthy test case. Finally, in a supplementary chapter (not delivered as a Gifford lecture), Carmichael includes further written reflection by Daube on the question of deeds related to women, specifically analyzing the language of seduction and its connection to idolatry in the Old Testament.
Daube’s treatment of biblical law is meticulous, subtle, and undeniably thorough. Taken together, these lectures demonstrate the unity that holds together biblical notions of causality and responsibility, which, as Daube makes clear, are based in the Bible’s understanding of the created nature of human beings as relational, moral and cognitive.