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Photo of Tobias Scheunchen

Tobias is an Associate Research Fellow at Yale Law School and a final year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He was an IvyPlus Exchange Scholar at Princeton during the 2021–2022 academic year. His current book project, Dispensing Justice in Byzantine and Early Islamic Egypt (600–800), is a social and material history of Byzantine and Islamic law and the dispensation of justice in Egypt. Drawing on hundreds of Arabic, Greek, and Coptic papyri, Dispensing Justice examines arbitration and mediation practices as sites for the transfer of cultural, legal, and scribal knowledge from the Byzantine into the Islamic period, arguing that ordinary Egyptians had specific expectations about legal procedure, witness testimony, and the function of legal documents and that these expectations structured their interactions with governors, administrators, and officials working in the service of the Arab state. The book challenges existing notions of Arab Muslim political authority in this period by showing that the consolidation of Islamic institutions of justice required that high-level Arab Muslim officials yield to and imitate the scribal, legal, and administrative conventions the Coptic Christian populace was attuned to. Dispensing Justice charts the history of late antique justice over the longue durée of the seventh and eighth centuries, shifting focus from formal courts and judges to how ordinary Muslims, Christians, and Jews brought their legal disputes before an expanding patchwork of charismatic local officials in the Egyptian countryside (bishops, monks, and pagarchs) and tracing how personal circumstances, local conditions, and changing political structures affected people’s legal strategies and individual calculations. 

His next book project has grown out of archival research he undertook at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt. The project focuses on the wealth of unstudied Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk administrative documents sent to the monastery by the Arab state administration in Cairo, monastic settlements, account books, and monastic internal documents to tell the long history of the monastery's role as a social, political, and judicial powerbroker in the Sinai across more than a millennium of Muslim and non-Muslim polities ruling over Egypt.

Tobias is more broadly interested in Islamic and Byzantine legal institutions, arbitration, ritual law, Arabic papyrology, manuscript studies, and the transmission of legal knowledge in Islamicate history. He previously earned a Master of Legal Studies from the University of Chicago Law School and a Master of Arts in Islamic Studies from the American University of Beirut. He has extensively studied Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Syriac, as well as a bit of Attic Greek. Tobias’s work has appeared, among others, in the Harvard Journal of Islamic Law, the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts, the Journal of Religion, and Gorgias Press.

Picture of a building near Mt. Sinai
Photo an Arabic papyrus
Cover of Cosmology, Law, and Elites

Publications

Cosmology, Law, and Elites in Late Antiquity: Marriage and Slavery in Zoroastrianism, Eastern Christianity, and Islam

Arbeitsmaterialien zum Orient, 32, Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2019. [MA Thesis]

Can elites use cosmological imagery to sanction marital and slavery practices for their political aspirations? Can interactions between Late Antique legal systems be thought beyond borrowings? This work studies legal writings from the Zoroastrian, East Syrian, and Islamic traditions arguing that Late Antique matrimonial and slavery practices were significantly informed by cosmological imagery and repeatedly brought in line with the elites' political aspirations. It suggests that these legal traditions should be thought in a shared epistemic framework to account for the changes and meaningfulness of legal concepts and institutions and cannot simply be reduced to a narrative of borrowings. Instead, this book shows that interactions between Late Antique legal systems were more complex and characterized by patterns of negotiation and competition mirroring the various entanglements of the Late Antique citizen's life.

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