Raymond Westbrook, the W.W. Spence Professor of Semitic Languages and professor of Near Eastern studies at the Johns Hopkins University, died on July 23, 2009, after a long battle with cancer. He was 62.
Westbrook was a leading expert in Near Eastern legal traditions as well as Classical Greek and Roman law. His recent BAR article, “Good as His Word” (BAR 35:03), set the Jacob narrative from Genesis in the broader context of Ancient Near Eastern law, contractual practices and ethical behavior to illuminate the Biblical text.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in law from Oxford University and a master’s in law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before pursuing a doctorate in Assyriology from Yale University. Inspired by his rich legal background, he sought to bring modern political scientists and legal historians together with colleagues in Ancient Near Eastern studies through a number of scholarly conferences. He also encouraged dialogue between classicists and Ancient Near Eastern specialists to learn more about their respective legal traditions.
Westbrook taught for three years at the Hebrew University before becoming a professor at Johns Hopkins in 1987. He continued teaching until his death. His most recent book (together with Bruce Wells), Everyday Law in Biblical Israel: An Introduction (Westminster John Knox Press), was published posthumously at the end of August.