Lecture on Deuteronomy (part 3)

[This is part three of a lecture I gave at SBTS. Parts one and two are here and here.]

B. Claim #2: Deut is patterned after VTE in the first millennium.

It is now time to place Deuteronomy in its proper historical context. Earlier, I showed two charts, one of the structure of the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon and the other of the supposed verbal parallels between the curses of Deut 28 and the curses in VTE. It is time to place VTE in its proper context along with Deut and other treaties from the ancient world, but first let’s take a second look at those supposed parallels between Deut and VTE and then we will look at the structure of Hittite treaties (HT) which dates between 1400-1200 BC and then we will compare it to Deut and VTE.

1. Influences and Verbal Parallels in Deuteronomy. The problem with verbal parallels and positing that one document influences another is that it is very difficult to determine these connections with absolute certainty. Thus there is evidence that VTE and Deut share similar curses, but whether these prove that Deut is dependent on VTE or not, is usually dependent on the eye of the beholder. Frankena suggested that VTE’s concept of “wholehearted devotion” of the vassal to the king is good evidence that Deut is dependent on VTE. The problem with such a loose connection is that this idea of “whole hearted devotion” cannot be limited to VTE. I spent about 20 minutes reading through Hittite Treaties and I found at least three references in three different documents to the expectation of “wholehearted loyalty” to the King so there may even be more of these types of references [Loyalty in HT: Beckman, p. 55 “wholeheartedly”, 27-28, 105 “wholeheartedly”; 164-5, “wholeheartedly”]. Here is a citation in the context of loyalty from a HT from 1250 BC, “And if someone brings difficulties upon My Majesty, or upon the sons, grandsons, or progeny of My Majesty, and you, Shaushga-muwa, together with your wives, your sons, your infantry, and your chariots, do not help wholeheartedly, and are not ready to die for him, together with [your] wives and your sons—this shall be placed under oath for you.” Thus the idea of “whole-hearted” devotion is found in earlier treaties than VTE.

Without doubt, the most intriguing argument along these lines is the parallel between the curses in Deut and the curses in VTE. We granted the parallels between these two documents, but we did not grant that Deut is therefore dependent on VTE. The existence of parallels alone does not prove dependency, especially in this case. Kenneth Kitchen has placed this discussion in the proper historical perspective (there are references to overheads here, which I could not put in the post, sorry). First of all it is important to notice that Kitchen and Frankena do not agree on the exact number of parallels. This kind of disagreement is common to these types of studies since we are not working with exact verbal parallels. Thus Frankena concluded that of the 25 curses in Deut 28 VTE has 12 parallels with them. In contrast, Kitchen sees only 7 parallels between Deut and VTE. I did the study independently of Kitchen and found the first two parallels of Frankena questionable as well. The number of parallels, then, is between 7 and 12. These parallels still do not reflect that Deut is dependent on VTE necessarily since the two documents have the curses in different orders and it is important to notice the gaps between the parallel in Deut and VTE. For example Deut 28:34-52 has no parallel with VTE. Second, it is clear that Deut would have to insert verse 25-26 in between verses 29 and 30 in order to keep to the sequence in VTE. Third, Kitchen also compares the curses in Deut with the curses in other documents and he concludes that Deut has 15 links with the documents of the early 2nd millennium and 6 links with the documents of the late 2nd millennium.  Therefore Deut has 21 links with 2nd millennium documents compared to roughly 7-12 links with VTE and 6 more with other Assyrian documents. Thus it is possible to argue that Deut is dependent on VTE for its curses, but it seems more probable that the evidence indicates that Deut and VTE both draw from the same pool of traditional curse topics and formulae that had long existed and grown up through the centuries, of which we see only glimpses now.

2. Structure of Hittite treaty form from 1400-1200. These treaties are dated approximately but with reasonable certainty. We also know that this treaty form is not in use after 1200, thus if Deut is found to be in agreement with it, then one should accept that Deut arose from this time period and not the later period, but the evidence must decide for us.

a. Preamble: Identifies the Hittite King who wrote the Covenant.

b. Historical Prologue: Summarized the previous relationship between the suzerain and the vassal in order to cause the vassal to have gratitude and exclusive loyalty towards the suzerain.

c. Stipulations: Dependent on the Historical Prologue and details the responsibilities of the vassal.

d. Deposition/Document Clause: Specifies that the treaty document be placed in the temple of the vassal’s deity and be read repeatedly in public so that the people would be aware of the terms of the covenant on a regular basis.

e. Witnesses: In the old Hittite covenants the appeal to Witnesses clause consisted of a long list of gods of both the Hittites and the vassal.  The function of these gods was strictly covenant enforcement, meaning they did more than simply observe the transaction between the Hittites and the vassal.

f. Curses: Curses were meted out for disregard for or direct violation of the stipulations of the treaty.

g. Blessings: The blessings were expressions of the protective benevolence toward the vassal, if he kept the terms of the covenant.

3. The Structure of Deuteronomy.

a. Preamble (1:1-5)

b. Historical Prologue (1:6-4:43)

c. Stipulations

1. General Stipulation (4:44-11:32)

2. Specific Stipulations (12:1-26:19)

d. Deposition/Document Clause (27:1-10; 31:9, 24-26). [Admittedly, scholars who see Deut patterned after HT disagree on the exact place of this clause in Deut., but that this clause exists in Deut seems to be beyond dispute. The caveat applies to the Witnesses clause below]

e. Appeal to Witness (27:11-26; 31:26, 31:19-22; 32:1)

f. Blessings (28:1-14)

g. Curses (28:15-68)

4. A Comparison of Hittite Treaties (HT) (1400-1200), New-Assyrian (NA) (900-650), and Deut. This comparison requires a couple of observations.

a. First, the differences between HT and NA are massive. NA does not have a Historical Introduction, Deposition clause, Reading clause, and Blessings to match the curses, yet Deut has all of these components. I suggest, therefore, that Deut shares the form of a Hittite treaty, which is dated to the second millennium with certainty and not to the first millennium, and therefore Deut is to be dated to the 2nd millennium.

b. Second, it is clear that HT has a strict order: curses and then blessings, and yet Deut deviates from this order by placing blessings and then curses. It seems that Deut has also borrowed from earlier treaties and law codes which have blessings and then curses (e.g. the Code of Hammurabi). Significantly, these documents also have many more curses than blessings, which also accords with Deut. Deut, then, is not strictly a treaty nor is it strictly a law code, but it borrows from each of these forms. Thus in the words of Kenneth Kitchen, “Deuteronomy represents a confluence of these two, producing a further facet in group relationships, namely, social-political-religious covenant. Law, treaty, and covenant in this context are three parts of a triptych. Law regulates relations between members of a group within the group. Treaty regulates relations between members of two groups politically distinct (or, with vassals, originally so). Covenant in our context regulates relations between a group and its ruling deity. It is thus “religious” in serving its deity through worship; social in that the mandatory content of the covenant is rules for practical living (law); and political in that the deity has the role of exclusive sovereign over the group. The confluence shows up in three details in particular. First, the overall framework format and main range of contents is drawn from the treaty format of the fourteenth/thirteenth centuries; second, the law content of the stipulations derives from law, not treaty, and the Sinai covenant’s use of short blessings plus longer curses (not the roughly equal curses and blessings of the Hittites) goes back to the older Law collections’ usage; third, use of interim epilogues before these final sanctions likewise goes back to the older law collections, not treaty” (Kitchen, 289).

The implications of reading Deut as a covenant of this nature will be demonstrated below, but it is sufficient to say at this time that I’m not going to interpret the form of Deut as a polemic against the ruling Assyrian government. Deut is the renewal and then also the addendum of the covenant that YHWH made with Israel at Sinai.

[Part 4 will interact with the issue of predictive prophecy in Deut.]


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