The Mosaic Covenant Against Its Environment -- By: David W. Baker

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 20:0 (NA 1988)
Article: The Mosaic Covenant Against Its Environment
Author: David W. Baker

The Mosaic Covenant Against Its Environment

David W. Baker

Dr. Baker is Associate Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at ATS.

We are all aware from our own personal experience the truth of the words of John Donne found in his Devotions when he observed that “No man is an island, entire of itself.” As no man can be completely alone, unaffected by others, so no nation is completely isolated. All are children of their environment, affected by the beliefs, morality and literature of their neighbours. Israel of the Bible is no different. Even in the matter of the special covenant relationship with God which separated her as a nation from among her neighbours, even here, in a situation which made her unique in her world, there was considerable influence from her contemporaries on the form and content of this relationship.

We will start this paper by looking at several of the similarities between the Israelite covenant documents and those of the peoples to her north, south, and east. This is an area of study which has become increasingly recognized and publicized in the last fifty years, and consequently many will be aware of it (see McCarthy 1978). Therefore, these similarities will not take all of our time. We will also attempt to explore at least one aspect of Israel’s convenant which is different from those of the same period, an aspect which makes Israel truly unique.

Fifty five years ago, Victor Korosec published a seminal and far-reaching study of the Hittite treaties or covenants from the second millennium BCE (Korosec 1931). These were legal agreements reached between the Hittite rulers and other leaders of that period. Subsequent study has found that these were probably influenced by earlier Mesopotamian and Syrian prototypes, so that the common designation ‘Hittite’ as describing their ultimate origin is a misnomer, though I will use it here (McCarthy 1978:29–36).

Korosec found the treaties to fall into two categories. Parity treaties were effected between two parties on equal-footing relationship between two relative equals such as Hatti and Mitanni or Kizuwatna, or between two such powers as Hatti and the Egyptians under Ramses II. These treaties shared common elements, including the self-laudatory titles of each party, the history of the relationships between the two parties, an affirmation of brotherhood, a list of terms, which were the real reason for the treaty in the first place, and a list of divine witnesses, consisting of the chief deities of each side who would be responsible

for bringing about the blessings or curses called down upon the party who kept or abrogated the covenant.

During the time of ...

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