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European Sources of Human Dignity

A Commented Anthology

Mette Lebech

This anthology brings together texts of significance for the conceptualisation of human dignity as a constitutional principle in Europe from the earliest evidence until 1965. It divides into four parts, respectively presenting the ancient, the medieval, the early modern and the modern sources. As far as human dignity is a constitutional principle, its history follows closely that of the constitution of states. However, various traditions of human dignity, understanding it to rely on features unrelated to the state, combine in the background to reflect the substance of the idea. The introductions to texts, chapters and parts narrates this history in relation to the texts presented to reflect it. The aim is to provide for scholars and students of law, philosophy, political science and theology a collection of texts documenting the history of the concept of human dignity that is sufficiently comprehensive to contextualise the various understandings of it. A structured bibliography accompanies the work.

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Chapter 3. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Biblical Heritage


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The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Βiblical Heritage

The state of Israel has, like (other?) European nation states adopting constitutions after the Second World War, adopted human dignity as a principle in one of its basic laws (Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty), but only quite recently (1992). This situated the State of Israel within the human rights tradition, at a time when its credibility within the UN was challenged by the Palestinian question. The laws appear in an official English translation, according to which the Hebrew term translated by human dignity is כבוד האדם (kvod ha-Adam), the same expression which was used to translate Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on Human Dignity into Hebrew in 1990. The Hebrew Wikipedia article (accessed August 2018) on human dignity indeed begins with the sentence:

כבוד האדם הוא ערך המתייחס אל תכונתו הייחודית של האדם כאדם; הוא משווה .משמעות מוסרית לעצם היות האדם אנושי

It translates, in Jeremy Corley’s words, as follows: ‘The glory of humanity [= human dignity] is the value relating to the specific quality of the human being [or humanity] as a human being [or as humanity]. It equates the ethical significance to the actual essence of the human being.’

‘Kvod ha-Adam’ is not the only expression used by modern speakers of Hebrew to translate human dignity. Hershey Friedman, for example, writes an article on ‘human dignity and the Jewish tradition’, taking human dignity to translate ‘kvod habriot’ (2008). Fred Morgan states that ‘the word kavod is used in a number of compounds found throughout Jewish literature,...

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