Called by Stories

Biblical Sagas and Their Challenge for Law

Called by Stories

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: Published: June 2000

Author: Milner S. Ball

Law, Religious Studies

Distinguished legal scholar and Presbyterian minister Milner S. Ball examines great sagas and tales from the Bible for the light they shed on the practice of law and on the meaning of a life lived in the legal profession. Scholars and laypersons alike typically think of the law as a discipline dominated by reason and empirical methods. Ball shows that many of the dilemmas and decisions that legal professionals confront are more usefully approached through an experience of narrative in which we come to know ourselves and our actions through stories.
He begins with the story of Moses, who is obliged both to speak for God to the Hebrews and to advocate for the Hebrews before God. What, asks Ball, does Moses’s predicament say to lawyers professionally bound to zealous representation of only one client? In the story of Rachel, Ball finds insights that comprehend the role of tears and emotion in the judicial process. He relates these insights to specific contemporary situations, such as a plant closing and the subsequent movement of jobs to Mexico and legal disputes over the sovereignty of native Hawaiians. In a discussion of “The Gospel According to John,” Ball points out that the writer of this gospel is free simultaneously to be critical of law and to rely extensively on it. Ball uses this narrative to explore the boundaries of free will and independence in lawyering. By venturing into the world of powerful events and biblical characters, Ball enables readers to contest their own expectations and fundamental assumptions.
Employing legal theory, theology, and literary criticism, Called by Stories distills a wisdom in biblical texts that speaks specifically to the working life of legal professionals. As such, it will enrich lovers of narrative and poetry, ethicists, literary and biblical scholars, theologians, lawyers, law students, judges, and others who seek to discern deeper meanings in the texts that have shaped their lives.


Called by Stories challenges the way we see our lives, the way we see law, the way law is taught, and the way we practice law. . . . Professor Ball inspires us. . . .” — Douglas B. Ammar , Georgia Bar Journal

Called by Stories provides a provocative and original view of the biblical sagas and should be of interest to anyone who enjoys pondering ancient texts and exploring the power of words on the development of a belief system.” — Karen G. Seinfeld , Jurist

“Ball’s essays reflect a serious wish to bring religious commitment into a living relationship with legal practice . . . .” — P. Addinall , Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

“This is a wonderful book to read. . . . It is full of wonders and of wonder. The title and the profession of the author lead the reader to expect a carefully constructed argument about tightly defined terms. Instead, the reader observes a parade of surprises and is invited to join the parade. . . . This law professor is also a theologian of remarkable knowledge and skill. He believes that theological reflection and theological categories can be used effectively in understanding the role of law in the actual living of life. . . . The author is not the first to make this connection. His presentation may be, however, one of the most persuasive.” — James H. Burtness , Journal of Church and State

"[A] refreshing read that will lead most readers beyond accustomed interpretation of text or of life. . . . Ball brings passion, eloquence, and erudition that enhance the human and all those who care about the human. This is an important read!" — Walter Brueggemann , Theology Today

"[The law practices Ball describes] open the possibility of finding spiritual satisfaction in legal work for ‘sleeping well at night’ as one judge puts it, for resolving what Tikkun recently called ‘the crisis of meaning’ in our contemporary lives, for discovering the joy that comes from losing oneself in the service of something greater. . . . Ball employs not only theologlical argument, but also literary interpretation, journalistic reporting, a good deal of personal narrative, and simply moral reflection to engage the reader directly. . . . These meditations tell the story of one man’s intellectual attempt to make moral and religious sense of his own life, and the lives of some people he admires, in law. It is a story, and an intellectual journey, that is well conceived and well told. — Robin West , William & Mary Law Review

“Milner Ball has written a wonderful book, a sustained and fruitful meditation on the relation between fundamental biblical texts and possible meanings of the practice of law in modern America. He illuminates these crucial texts and the law itself in original, surprising, and highly persuasive ways. A truly impressive achievement.” — James Boyd White, author of Acts of Hope: The Creation of Authority in Literature, Law, and Politics

“Simply put, this book is extraordinary. Its author is a wordsmith of the very first order. He says strikingly original things about familiar old texts and acutely probes pressing contemporary issues. Milner Ball is deeply learned across traditional disciplinary lines, but he wears his learning lightly. A wise, clear, and funny conversationalist, he is also extraordinarily deep and inspiring.” — Aviam Soifer, author of Law and the Company We Keep

“This artful interweaving of literature and law evokes the power of biblical narrative to inform contemporary life. The result is a rich tapestry of words for sustained reflection and appropriation.” — Phyllis Trible, author of Rhetorical Criticism: Context, Method, and the Book of Jonah


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Milner S. Ball is both Harmon W. Caldwell Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Georgia School of Law and an ordained Presbyterian minister. He served as a judge on the International People’s Tribunal in Hawai’i in 1993 and was a founder of the annual Robert Cover Public Interest Law Retreat. A member of the Theological Anthropology Project at the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton, he is the author of many books, including The Promise of American Law, Lying Down Together, and The Word and the Law.

Table of Contents Back to Top

I. Moses

1. Law and the “Mouth” for God

2. Intercession

3. Counsel for the Situation

4. The Word in Moses’ Situation

5. The Risks

6. The Promise of Succession

7. The Promise of Justice

8. Psalm 114

II. The Encompassing Women

9. The Midwives

10. Socratic Midwifery That Isn’t

11. Socratic Midwifery That Is

12. Are You the Lawyers?

13. Miriam

14. Rachel

15. Jeremiah’s Rachel Poem

16. Law and Tears

17. The Womb of God and Tears

III. The Gospel According to John

18. The Jerusalem Trial

19. The Gospel Trail: A Divine Lawsuit

20. A Reversal and Appeal

21. The Power of the Word: Two Women

22. The Power of the Word: Moses and the Spirit

23. The Power of the Word: Disbelief

24. John’s Freedom from and for Law

25. Lawyer’s Independence





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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2524-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2501-7
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