Many legal systems have foundational stories about their provenance, serving to heighten the stature and authority of the normative order. Yet, these primary myths are often complicated by secondary ones that describe later climactic moments. A prevalent plot of this latter kind involves a defiant political actor who contests the jurisdiction of the courts and relates the legal order's response to this daunting challenge. The crucible of struggle forges a formidable legal institution that can withstand assault or a weaker one that limply survives.
Such stories captivate the collective legal imagination of a paideic community, a process first analyzed by the late Robert Cover. Hence they are preserved, told, and retold. However, the morals of secondary stories are more variable. Precisely because they examine moments of disturbance and conflict their implications are frequently in dispute. Thus, the very act of narration aims to amplify core truths implicit in these tales and announce their essential lessons.
The narrative history of the epic “trial of the Judean king” among Jews in antiquity and late antiquity affords a striking instance of this phenomenon. Making a lasting impression on the Jewish legal imagination of this period, the trial's impact and perpetual legacy are nevertheless highly contested. While the enduring lesson of the trial revolves around the relationship between law and power, what that legacy is depends entirely on the way the tale of the trial is told and, perhaps more importantly, retold.