Israelite Covenants Understood in the Light of Ancient Near East Covenants, Part II -- By: René A. López

Journal: Conservative Theological Journal
Volume: CTJ 08:25 (Dec 2004)
Article: Israelite Covenants Understood in the Light of Ancient Near East Covenants, Part II
Author: René A. López


Israelite Covenants Understood in the Light of Ancient Near East Covenants, Part II

René A. López

Doctoral Candidate
Dallas Theological Seminary

Editor’s Note: A similar article by the same author appears in the Chafer Theological Journal Vol. 9, No. 2, 2003 and Vol. 10, No. 1, 2004.

Introduction to Part Two

In the first part of this article, the following conclusions were reached regarding the concept of the covenant: (1) Foundationally, berith (“covenant”) signifies a binding agreement between two parties. (2) The basic form of ancient Near Eastern covenants consists of six elements, which will be developed in this article in more detail. (3) The function of berith is basically that of an oath, commitment, or bond between two parties. (4) There existed two types of covenants in Israel, as well as in the ancient Near East. The promissory covenants bound the suzerain (master) to the vassal (servant) unconditionally. The obligatory covenants, also known as the suzerainty treaties, bound the vassal (servant) to be faithfully obedient to the suzerain (master). The historical implications of the similarities and differences between Israelite covenants and ancient Near Eastern covenants will be developed below.

The Parity as it is Related to the Obligatory Covenant

There are many other references to covenants1 of different sorts

in ancient Near East and the Scriptures. However, under the obligatory covenant there is yet another type called parity treaty. In a parity treaty “both parties are bound to obey identical stipulations,” while in the “suzerainty treaties. .. only the inferior [as already mentioned] is bound by an oath - the vassal is obligated to obey the commands stipulated by the Hittite king.”2

Besides both parties binding themselves to stipulations, both parties “commit themselves by oath to the covenant,”3 as opposed to other covenants that are contingent on a unilateral response either from the suzerainty or the vassal. Mendenhall thinks that parity treaties can be “further subdivided as it was done by Thucydides long ago, into two classes: those in which specific obligations are imposed, and those which impose no obligation but to preserve the peace between two parties.”4 Several examples of the latter type of covenant are seen between Abraham and Abimelech (21:21–32), and Isaac wi...

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