Sara Milstein

Research Interests

  • Literary History of the Hebrew Bible
  • Biblical and Cuneiform Law
  • Writing and Scribal Culture in the Ancient Near East
  • Mesopotamian Literature


Making a Case: The Emergent Legal Mind in the Ancient Near East (contracted with Oxford University Press).
Scholars have long recognized that the highly specific laws in Near Eastern collections are not prescriptive but rather descriptive, i.e., they are rooted in actual events that were stripped of their particulars and generalized into law. Since then, however, little has been written on the sources behind these laws or on the processes of legal reasoning that led to their formation. In Making a Case, I aim to approach this gap from several novel angles. I survey four sets of “practical” legal documents from Mesopotamia that provide fresh insight into the nature of the disputes behind our earliest known law codes. I use knowledge of the Mesopotamian pedagogical genre of “model court cases” to propose a new theory for the origins of a set of biblical laws. And I demonstrate how inquiries into the history of a series of sexual assault laws in Deuteronomy can reveal surprising evidence of the legal imagination at work. The result is a project that is best described as an ode to the emergent legal mind in the ancient Near East.

Sara Milstein is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies (2012-) and a Wall Scholar of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (2018-2019). She is the author of Tracking the Master Scribe: Revision through Introduction in Biblical and Mesopotamian Literature (Oxford University Press), which earned the Frank Moore Cross Award from the American Schools of Oriental Research for Best Monograph in Hebrew Bible and/or Ancient Near Eastern Literature in 2017; and co-author with Daniel Fleming of The Buried Foundation of the Gilgamesh Epic: The Akkadian Huwawa Narrative (Brill). A graduate of Bates College (B.A. in English), City College of New York (M.A. in Secondary Education in English) and New York University (M.A./Ph.D. in Hebrew and Judaic Studies), she has been the recipient of fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012), the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture (2009-2010, 2012-2013), and the Killam Foundation (2017). In 2016, she was the recipient of the university-wide Killam Teaching Prize. Her current project, titled “Making a Case: The Emergent Near Eastern Legal Imagination,” is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and is contracted with Oxford University Press. She and her husband Aaron Rabinowitz have three children.


I am open to supervising any promising students in the areas of biblical studies and/or ancient Near Eastern studies more broadly. Please feel free to contact me directly through email if you would like to discuss the possibility of studying in our Department.



  • Prophecy and Kingship in Ancient Israel (RELG 305)
  • Elementary Biblical Hebrew (HEBR 305)
  • Sex, Lies, and Violence in the Hebrew Bible (RELG 307)
  • Eden to Exile: Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (RELG 209)
  • The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Modern Contexts (RELG 475/500)
  • Law in Ancient Iraq and Israel (RELG 500)
  • Elementary Biblical Hebrew (HEBR 101/102)
  • Intermediate Biblical Hebrew (HEBR 201/202)



  • Tracking the Master Scribe: Revision through Introduction in Biblical and Mesopotamian Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
  • Fleming, Daniel and Sara J. Milstein. The Buried Foundation of the Gilgamesh Epic: The Akkadian Huwawa Narrative, Cuneiform Monographs Series 39 (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010).
Journal Articles and Chapters
  • “Sleeping In(serted): Humor and Revision in the Adapa Mythic Tradition,” AfO 54 (forthcoming in 2020); 8,300 words.
  • “Will and (Old) Testament: Reconsidering the Roots of Deuteronomy 25,5-10,” in Writing, Rewriting and Overwriting in the books of Deuteronomy and of the Former Prophets: Essays in Honor of Cynthia Edenburg, eds. Thomas Römer, Ido Koch, and Omer Sergi, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium (Leuven: Peeters, 2019), 49–63.
  • “Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: The Independent Origins of Deut 22:25–27,” Journal of Biblical Literature 137.3 (2018): 625-643.
  • “Making a Case: The Repurposing of ‘Israelite Legal Fictions’ as Post-Deuteronomic Law,” Supplementation and the Study of the Hebrew Bible, ed. Saul Olyan and Jacob Wright (Providence: Brown Judaic Studies, 2017), 161-181.
  • “Outsourcing Gilgamesh,” in ed., Raymond Person and Robert Rezetko, Empirical Models Challenging Biblical Criticism  (Atlanta, Georgia: Society of Biblical Literature, 2016), 37-62.
  • “Saul the Levite and His Concubine: The ‘Allusive’ Quality of Judges 19,” Vetus Testamentum 66 (2016): 95-116.
  • “Insights into Editing from Mesopotamian Literature: Mirror or Mirage?” in ed., Reinhard Müller, Juha Pakkala, and Bas ter Haar Romeny, Insights into Editing in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology (Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 2016).
  • “The Origins of Adapa,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie 105.1 (2015): 30-41.
  • “The Magic of Adapa,” in ed., Paul Delnero and Jacob Lauinger, Texts and Contexts: Approaches to Textual Transmission in the Cuneiform World (Berlin, Walter de Gruyter, 2015).
  • “Delusions of Grandeur: Revision through Introduction in Judges 6-9,” in ed., John Greene, A Life in Parables and Poetry: Pedagogue, Poet, Scholar: Essays in Honor of Mishael Maswari Caspi (Berlin: Klaus-Schwarz Verlag, 2014), 210-239.
  • “‘Who Would Not Write?’ The Prophet as Yhwh’s Prey in Amos 3:3-8,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 75 (2013): 429-445.
  • “From Rambam to Richard Wright: Job, the Delayed Angel, and the Conception of Modern Midrashim,” in ed., Mishael Caspi, Why Hidest Thy Face: Job in Traditions and Literature (Berkeley, California: Bibal Press, 2002).
  • “Adapa,” in ed., Lisbeth Fried, Routledge Dictionary of Ancient Mediterranean Religions (New York: Routledge, 2015).
  • “Enkidu,” in ed., Lisbeth Fried, Routledge Dictionary of Ancient Mediterranean Religions (New York: Routledge, 2015).
  • “Gilgamesh,” in ed., Lisbeth Fried, Routledge Dictionary of Ancient Mediterranean Religions (New York: Routledge, 2015).




Winter 2020

RELG475B Topics in Religion - TPCS IN RELIGION Sections

Consult the course registration information each year for offered topics.

Winter 2020

RELG307 Sex, Lies, and Violence in the Hebrew Bible Sections

An exploration of the Bible's "dark side," with emphasis on texts that center on sex, deceit, and murder.

Winter 2020

RELG500B Topics in Biblical Studies - BIBLICAL STUDIES Sections

Studies in the history, literature, canon and text, and the religious thought of the Old and New Testaments. This includes the study of the cultural and religious milieu out of which these documents arose. Such studies require a competence in the canonical languages (Biblical Hebrew and/or Koine Greek), usually achieved by not less than two years of study.