Back to the roots of ethics: reciprocity in Biblical Hebrew


For Confucius, reciprocity (shù) summarizes all ethical principles; to Hobbes, it is a corollary of love, while for Sartre, the two exclude each other. Whether viewed positively or not, reciprocity is a fundamental aspect of human nature and has shaped our civilization from its earliest stages. This project will investigate the concept of reciprocity in the Hebrew Bible (i.e., Christianity’s Old Testament). A thorough analysis will not only contribute to biblical studies, it will also teach us much about ourselves: even in today’s secularizing society, our ethics reflect values that originate in the Ancient Near East. Going back to the ‘roots’ of reciprocity lets us reevaluate our own culture in a time of increasing individualization.
Since the main material from Old Testament times is textual, we will study the ways reciprocal situations are described in Ancient Hebrew. There is a strong theoretical and empirical basis for this approach: because of the prevalence of reciprocal situations in human society, languages employ fundamentally different strategies to describe reciprocal events. Recent studies suggest these strategies reflect cultural distinctions. The different ways of Ancient Hebrew to describe reciprocal events have hitherto not been investigated. Distinguishing between them requires a more fine-grained semantic interpretation to bridge the gap between the original speakers and modern readers.
Furthermore, as we argue below, a precise analysis of Hebrew reciprocal constructions will also prove valuable for comparative linguistic studies. With this project we thus aim to make a contribution to linguistics, biblical interpretation, and comparative cultural and religious studies.





Prof. dr. H. Gzella

Verbonden aan

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leids Instituut voor Regiostudies (LIAS)


01/09/2019 tot 31/08/2024