History of Marriage Law: Reading Group

Harvard Law School: HLS-2660-1

Fall 2014

Charles Donahue

Meeting Time: M 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM, WCC 3015

Professor Charles Donahue
1 classroom credit

The roots of western marriage law go back into the ancient world. Marriage was the subject of multiple and conflicting jurisdictions during the medieval and early modern periods (and, to some extent, even today). In each period pieces of the Judaeo-Christian tradition were combined with pieces of Roman law and customary law, and then recombined as a result of religious, social, and political changes.

A few years ago, I gave a seminar on this topic, in which we surveyed the entire topic. We began with the Hebrew Bible and ended with the European codifications of the nineteenth century, with a brief sequel that brought the story to the New World. It was fun, but it was too much. Nothing was covered really adequately, and the students were not really able to get into a period until they wrote papers. When it was all over, a number of the students said that they wished that we had spent more time on the Ancient World. How things got combined and recombined was clear enough. What was not clear was how it all started.

We have only half the amout of time that we had in the seminar. For this reason, I would suggest that we devote ourselves entirely to the Ancient World. What is outlined below does that (a bit of a stretch for the earliest English material on marriage). But I have material for the whole story. We could focus entirely on the Middle Ages or on the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. We'll have an organizational meeting in the first week of classes to decide what we are going to do. There follow six two-hour sessions designed to end early in November.





Mon., Sep. 8—Organizational Meeting. We’ll spend some time talking about the attached outline, which one wag has called “everything that Professor Donahue knows reduced to one page.” Then we will try to figure out how marriage fits into this periodization, and discuss how we might do it. What follows, as suggested above, deals almost entirely with the Ancient World, but I’m open to other suggestions. The referenced materials cover the entire chronological period from 1000BC to 1900AD.


Mon., Sep. 22—The Torah. Genesis 1–2; Genesis 24; Genesis 29–30; Exodus 22:16–17; Leviticus 18; Deuteronomy 22:13–28; Deuteronomy 24:1 5. (Materials, pp. 8–22.)


Mon., Sep. 29—The Writings. Ruth 3:1–4.13; Hosea 1–2; Psalm 128; Tobias 7:9–16. (Materials , pp. 8–22.)


Mon., Oct. 6—The New Testament. Mark 10:2–12; Luke 16:18; Matthew 5:31–32; Matthew 19:3–12; 1 Corinthians 7; Ephesians 5:21–6:9. (Materials , pp. 23–26.)


Mon., Oct. 20—Gaius, Institutes, bk. 1 (extracts); Justinian, Institutes, bk. 1 (extracts). (Materials , pp. 26–50.) (October 13 is a holiday.)


Mon., Oct. 27—Digest, 23.2; Code, 5.4. (Materials , pp. 26–50.)


Mon., Nov. 3—Aethelbert’s ‘Code’. (Materials , pp. 51–57.) What does it all add up to?



Please send comments to Rosemary Spang

URL: http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/cdonahue/courses/ReadingGrp/index.html
last modified: 08/25/14

© Charles Donahue, Jr. 2014