To date, early Christian sources have drawn the scholarly attention of theologians, scholars of biblical commentary, and historians, but not of legal historians, presumably because such sources do not offer sufficiently substantial material for legal historical research. Nevertheless, a few studies have blended legal history and late antique Christianity, and an analysis of these studies shows they are based on a “centralist,” or “formalist–positivist,” conceptualization of law.
In this paper I review the scholarship of legal traditions in the eastern Roman Empire— namely, Roman law and Greek legal traditions, the halakha in rabbinic literature, and the halakhic traditions in Qumranic literature and in the New Testament—and contextualize it within developments in legal theory and legal sociology and anthropology (that is, the rise of legal pluralism). This review shows that developments in legal theory, in legal sociology and anthropology, and in legal history of the late antique world are producing new paradigms and models in the study of late antique legal history. These new models, together with new methods in reading early Christian non-legal texts of the eastern Roman Empire, can be utilized in the study of early Christianity, thereby opening gateways to the study of its legal traditions and revealing independent legal traditions that have remained hidden to date.