Barmash, Pamela 1966-

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Barmash, Pamela 1966-


Born February 8, 1966. Education: Harvard University, Ph.D., 1999.


Office—Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures, Busch Bldg., Rm. 121, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130; Washington University in St. Louis, Program in Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies, Campus Box 1121, 1 Brookings Dr., St. Louis, MO 63130-4899. E-mail—[email protected]


Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, associate professor and director of Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies Program.


Lady Davis Fellow, City of Jerusalem, 2001; Rothschild Fellow, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2001-02; Institute for Advanced Study Fellow, Princeton University, 2008.


Homicide in the Biblical World, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2005.


University professor Pamela Barmash focuses her research on the history of law (including Hebrew and ancient law), the religion of the ancient Near East, and the history of scriptural and biblical interpretation. While on postdoctoral research as a Lady Davis Fellow in Jerusalem in 2001, Barmash revised her doctoral dissertation to create her first book, Homicide in the Biblical World. As Barmash noted on the Lady Davis Fellowship Trust Web site, "No place other than Israel and Jerusalem could have been so conducive to conducting my research." Writing in the Journal of Law & Religion, Beth Berkowitz remarked: "Blood vengeance, places of refuge, the law of talion: these are but some of the many facets of biblical homicide that Pamela Barmash explores in Homicide in the Biblical World." Berkowitz further commented that "Barmash's thesis is that the Bible's adjudication of homicide can tell us much about the world from which those texts emerged."

In seven chapters in the book, Barmash lays out a roadmap of biblical adjudication, beginning in the first chapter with the story of Cain and Abel as perhaps the primary biblical tale of homicide. Here, the author presents the major areas of concern in the biblical treatment of homicide, which Berkowitz explained as "ascertaining the motive of the killer, determining guilt, assigning punishment, and defining the consequences of spilled blood." In the next chapter, Barmash examines the practice of blood vengeance, in which a victim's family sought personal redress for the crime. The third chapter deals with the idea of refuge for killers whose crimes were not intentional. Then the next three chapters outline the legal remedies for homicide in the Bible, including the principle of an "eye for an eye," which leads directly to capital punishment. In the seventh chapter, Barmash compares various Near Eastern legal systems and their treatment of homicide. She concludes that biblical law was, in fact, different from that of other Near Eastern societies, particularly because of the difference in social/cultural conditions between Israel and Mesopotamia. As Catholic Biblical Quarterly contributor Robert Karl Gnuse explained: "While Mesopotamian (including Hittite) societies were urban, agrarian, centralized, densely populated, and bureaucratically run by kings and royal houses, Israelite society was pastoral, highland-oriented, decentralized, kinship-oriented, and mildly bureaucratic; royal houses were simply another ‘household’ placed upon preexisting clans and families."

"In light of the array of topics addressed, the various chapters of Barmash's book read less like a sustained argument than a series of studies," according to Berkowitz, "but what the book may lack in unity, it makes up for in comprehensiveness." The critic concluded: "By contextualizing the Bible's laws of homicide within biblical narrative, biblical society, and contemporary Near Eastern laws, [Barmash] provides a model for how the complexity of law can be richly appreciated." Other reviewers had similar praise for Homicide in the Biblical World. Gnuse, for example, asserted: "Many of her conclusions have been made before, but [Barmash] documents them in a fuller, more detailed fashion and sometimes seeks to nuance the arguments of those scholars who have preceded her. In short, this is a fine, scholarly work that addresses many interesting topics connected to laws concerning homicide." Less positive was the assessment of Church History reviewer Nicole Kelley, who wrote: "The monograph may have a limited attraction for a more general scholarly audience, in part because its writing style is dense, stiff, and often repetitive." Kelley, at the same time, had praise for Barmash's work: "The book is a solid contribution to scholarship. Its arguments are carefully constructed, soundly reasoned, and thoughtfully situated within the context of both classic and more contemporary academic discussions about homicide and the cultures of ancient Israel and the ancient Near East." Likewise, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament reviewer B.S. Jackson termed Homicide in the Biblical World a "valuable study," anticipating that "future students of this topic will … profit from this presentation."



Association for Jewish Studies Review, Volume 30, 2006, Bernard S. Jackson, review of Homicide in the Biblical World, pp. 435-437.

Catholic Biblical Quarterly, October, 2005, Robert Karl Gnuse, review of Homicide in the Biblical World, p. 671.

Church History, March, 2006, Nicole Kelley, review of Homicide in the Biblical World, p. 163.

Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, June, 2006, B.S. Jackson, review of Homicide in the Biblical World, p. 120.

Journal of Law & Religion, Volume 21, number 1, 2005-06, Beth Berkowitz, review of Homicide in the Biblical World, p. 185.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2006, review of Homicide in the Biblical World.


Lady Davis Fellowship Trust Web site, (April 12, 2008), brief author profile.

Review of Biblical Literature, (June 25, 2008), Assnat Bartor, review of Homicide in the Biblical World.

Washington University in St. Louis, Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures Department Web site, (April 12, 2008), faculty profile.

Washington University in St. Louis, Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies Program Web site, (April 12, 2008), "Director," author profile.