Friday, April 06, 2018

Review: Kitchen, Kenneth and Paul Lawrence 2013 Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East

Kitchen, Kenneth and Paul Lawrence

2013 Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East, 3 Volumes, Harrassowitz Verlag. Hardcover: 1641 pages, 8.5 x 11.5 inches, $386

Review by Joseph Abrahamson

Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East is a three volume set that is the culmination of work occupying the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of this century. Throughout this long period of research Kenneth Kitchen had published some of the results of his ongoing study previously in three other more popular style books. These older publications are:
  • 1966 Ancient Orient and Old Testament. London: Tyndale Press. Chicago: InterVarsity Press (touched on throughout but focused on in pp. 147-170).
  • 1977 The Bible In Its World. Exeter: Paternoster. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 1978. (throughout the work, but particularly pp. 79-86)
  • 2003 On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (particular focus on covenants in pp. 241-245, 274-307)
In Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East Kitchen and Lawrence have gathered together a comprehensive collection of 106 Ancient Near Eastern texts from 10 languages, presented them fully in romanized transcription and English translation (Volume I), “to which notes, maps and key-charts are added (Volume II), and a historical overall survey of the development and interrelations of these data in their societies (Voume III).” (Preface)

The texts under study are collections of “laws that govern life in a given community…, treaties that govern relations between such communities, and covenant used by or between individuals or them and groups or in dealings with deity.”(Preface)

Part 1: The Texts, 2 Excurses, 1086 pages
This volume consists of 106 separate textual records. There are 102 numbered entries of texts in transcription and translation organized chronologically. These items are collections of laws, treaties, and covenants from the Ancient Near East. Where collections of related texts exist or where copies of treaties exist in more than one language, these texts are included with their number but transcribed and translated separately as separate entries with alphabetical notion or bis. There are 13 of these texts noted.

Thus three different tablets in a collection of Sumerian Exercise law are included under
  • 11A-C Annexe 1: Laws in Exercise Tablets, A-C 
And two different language versions of a treaty are included under the same number:
  • 55A Suppiluliuma I, Hatti/Shattiwaza, Mitanni (Akkadian) 
  • 55B Suppiluliuma I, Hatti/Shattiwaza, Mitanni (Hittite)
Some texts are presented in English only. These texts are listed with the rest in the contents by order of their chronological context but are included in square brackets. These translations are included in Excursus I. The authors state that these “transliterations have been omitted, because they are superfluous (Demotic only useful for demotists; Greek, because well presented already) or for other reasons.” (Introduction p. IXX).

Some texts are not included either in transliteration or translation. These are also listed in the contents in order of their chronological context and marked by square brackets. These texts are discussed in Excursus II. They are placed there “either because they (i) do not belong within this work, or else (ii) they are not readily (or at all) available at present.” (ibid.)

The works in this volume are organized by era:

  • Texts from the 3rd Millennium BC
  • Early 2nd Millennium BC
  • Mid. 2nd Millennium BC
  • Late 2nd Millennium BC
  • Late 2nd/Early 1st Millennium BC
  • Early 1st Millennium BC
  • Excursus I Supplementary Repertoire of Texts in Translation
    • Late Second Millennium BC 
    • Mid.-Late 1st Millennium BC; 
  • Excursus II Notices of texts not belonging/reproduced within these Series.
Each item begins with a brief indication of its epoch. geographical location, date, description of the language, and a short bibliographical introduction. Each text is presented fully, with a transcription of the original text on the left-hand page and English translation on the facing right hand page. Notes on textual issues, context, and descriptions of the state of the tablets and text are found in volume 2. After the text and translations the authors present a diagrammatic summary of the form and contents of each item “as a textual key to the color-chart (‘Chromogram’) in Volume II, Part 3.” (Introduction IXX)

The authors have analyzed the texts “in terms of 15 possible components under 13 numeric heads” (Introduction XXII). These components are the explicit literary features evident in the texts. These literary features are clearly defined with demonstration of how they are understood from the texts. The literary features are defined and evaluated in the same way for all texts. The authors explain any difficulties in their notes. These literary features are represented in the textual keys at the end of each textual entry and also in the chromograms of Volume II, Part 3. This is an effort to make the literary features quickly visible and explicitly demonstrate structuring through the use of color.

What one will notice immediately is that law codes, treaties, and covenants in the Hebrew Bible are included as items within the data set for comparison and evaluation. The authors explain their method and historical justifications for transcribing the consonantal Hebrew Biblical texts (Introduction XXVf). For example, Genesis 21:29 is transcribed:
w-y’mr ’b(y)mlk ’l-’brhm:
m(h) hn(h) šb‘ kbśt (h)-’l(h), ’šr hṣbt l-bdn(h).
Thus, along with texts from the Early 2nd Millennium BC Kitchen and Lawrence include formal analysis of three treaties and two covenants in Genesis.
  • No. 30: Genesis 21:22-24 Treaty: Abraham with Abimelek a Gerar: Beersheba I
  • No. 31: Genesis 21:25-33 Treaty: Abraham with Abimelek at Gerar: Beersheba II
  • No. 32: Genesis 26:26-31 Treaty: Isaac with Abimelek at Gerar
  • No. 33: Genesis 31:44-54 Treaty: Jacob with Laban at Harran
  • No. 34: Genesis 9:8-17 Personal Covenant: YHWH with Noah 
  • No. 35: Genesis 15: 7-21 Personal Covenant: YHWH with Abraham.
These treaties are mostly dated according to biblical chronology, however the Noahic covenant is described as “traditionally c. *pre-19th” century. (p. 245)

In the group of Late 2nd/Early 1st Millennium texts the authors also include several covenants and one issue of trial law from the Hebrew Bible. These include:

  • No. 82, I: Exodus 20 - 25:9; 34:8-28; 35:1-19; Leviticus 11-15, 18-20, 24-27
    Covenant, I. YHWH and Israel (Moses at Mt. Sinai)
  • No. 82, II: Numbers 5:11-31 Trial of alleged marital infidelity by Ordeal
  • No. 83: Deuteronomy 1-32:47 Covenant, YHWH and Israel, II: Moses in Moab
  • No. 84: Joshua 24:1-28 Covenant, YHWH and Israel, III: Joshua at Shechem
  • No. 85, I: 1 Samuel 18:2-4 Personal Covenant: Jonathan and David
  • No. 85, II: 2 samuel 7:1-17 and parallel 1 Chronicles 17:1-15 
  • Personal Covenant: YHWH and David
Readers familiar with Kitchen’s other works will be aware that Kitchen dates the Exodus to the mid 13th century BC rather than following a biblical chronology placement at mid 15th century BC. Thus Nos. 82 to 84 are placed according to Kitchen’s late chronology.

Part 2: Text, Notes and Chromograms, 268 pages.
This volume is subdivided into three parts. Part 1 of this volume consists of the first eight chapters. These are the authors’ notes on the transcriptions and translations of the texts in volume one.

Part 2 of this volume is Chapter 9. This chapter includes a variety of indexes to the three volumes. These indexes include “Topics appearing in the Laws and Stipulations” a Statistical List of prices, fines, tribute, and etcs. An index to the statistical list by value, Near-Eastern currency/values and Graeco-Roman monetary notation. There is an index of deities named as witnesses and in the curses and blessings; a list of Blessings and Curses in Documents 1-106. This chapter closes with notes on the terminology used in Treaties, Laws and Covenants.

The final part of this volume consists of Maps and Chromograms. There are four maps. 1: Syro-Mesopotamian Place-names in the 3rd Millennium BC, 2: The Ancient Near East in the Early 2nd Millennium BC, 3: the Late 2nd Millennium BC, and 4: Near East and N. Araia End of 2nd and Early 1st Millennia BC.

The Chromograms make up the closing section of Part 3. These use color to indicate textual content of the various documents. Each document is represented by a vertical bar broken up into colored parts of size proportional to the amount of content each textual part takes of the particular document. Gray is used for Titles/Preambles, orange for Historical Prologue, royal blue for Stipulations, lemon for Depositions, purple for Witnesses, green for Blessings, crimson for Curses, golden-yellow for Oaths and Solemn Ceremonies, brown for Epilogue, white for Irregular Features and for Sanctions, and for Historical Report and/or Archaeological Flashback. An example is given at the beginning with explanations to aid the reader.

These Chromograms are indeed very helpful for visually representing the semantic structure of the documents. The Chromograms are presented in two groupings.

The first group of Chromograms present synchronic snapshots of treaty forms. A single page demonstrates each historical phase. For example, Phase I covers treaties from the 3rd Millennium BC. The page displays Eastern treaties on the left hand and Western Treaties on the right hand. This allows the reader to visualize the semantic organization of the treaties presented and to see the differences between regions. This first grouping covers each epochal phase from volume 1.

The second group of Chromograms present a diachronic view of treaty forms. The section is titled: “Summary Table of the Main Phases, c. 2500-40 BC.” On these two pages (which are, unfortunately, back-to-back, rather than facing each other) one can see the structural differences between document forms through the ages.

One notable observation here is that these Chromograms allow one to see how the structures of the Covenants and Treaties recorded in the Hebrew Bible compare both synchronically with their neighbors and diachronically through the Ancient Near East. I wish to give three examples of this usefulness.

First example: The formal structure of the Patriarchal Covenants (Nos 30-33) closely parallel closely parallel treaties from Mari, N. Syria, and Assur (Nos 20-29) from the early 2nd Millennium. This historical parallel fits with the chronology reported in the Hebrew Bible itself. The structures of these documents is also markedly different from those of other periods before and after.

Second example: There is only one close parallel in the Ancient Near East to the form of the Noahic Covenant (No 34) and that is an Old Babylonian tablet Sumu-numhim of Shadlash and Ammi-dushur of Nerebtum (No 18). The Babylonian text dates from c. 1800 BC. The structure is very simple, and there is one difference between them. The next time this form is used is by the Romans in 46 B.C (No 106).

Third example: The covenants and treaties in the Hebrew Bible which in biblical chronology would be placed at the beginning of the Exodus down to Joshua’s death (Biblical Chronology dates c. 1450-1390) are dated by Kitchen to the mid 13th century and later (1260-1210 BC). However, their Chromograms shows close structural affinity with two Hittite treaties from the end of the 15th century down to the early 14th century. The first is from Kizzuwatna and believed to be from Tudhaliya II and Sunassura (c. 1400 BC/1380 BC; No. 51). The second is a treaty between Suppiluliuma I of Hatti and Shattiwaza of Mitanni (mid 14th century; No 55A). This general Hittite treaty format stays in use through Hattusili III (d. 1237; No 71A). This would mean that by literary form Kitchen’s dates fall within the range of the data, but so also does the biblical chronology. Even though the biblical chronology is at the beginning of the range for the data, it is still within the range.

But the Chromograms show something more. The Chromogram for the Sinai Covenant and the Moab Covenant (p. 263) also shows structural affinity with the Laws of Lipit-Ishtar (c. 1930 BC; No 10) and the Laws of Hammurabi (c. 1800/1700 BC; No 14).

In terms of biblical chronology these earlier documents date from the time of Abraham down to when the Children of Israel went to live in Egypt under Joseph. The basic legal structure in these documents was adopted by the Hittites and kept in use until the close of the 13th century. But we never see this structure again in the Ancient Near East. 

Part 3: Overall Historical Survey, 288 pages
The third volume consists of seven chapters and one excursus. The volume has an index and three maps. In the first six chapters the authors present a survey, analysis, and summary of the documents pertaining to each period as defined in volume 1. The studies are comprehensive, but I will focus on just a couple of aspects where the Ancient Near Eastern Documentation relates to the texts in the Hebrew Bible.

In their discussion of the Patriarchal Narratives the authors bring together the context of society as portrayed in Ancient Near Eastern documents. The authors focus on the evidence for “transhumant animal husbandry (as independent social units)”(p. 70) With respect to the societal organization of the Patriarchs in their narratives they find that the “transmitted picture in Genesis of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob practicing transhumant animal husbandry … is faithful to what we find in Canaan and far beyond, in the early 2nd millennium BC - and never again, in any later epoch.” (ibid) After listing the later period social contexts they state, “Thus, after c. 1550 BC, there was no later model from which our ‘patriarchal’ narratives could have been derived; they reflect well the typical ‘patchwork quilt’ phenomena of the first half of the 2nd millennium.”

This is also the case with the historical forms of their treaties transmitted down to us in the Hebrew Bible. The authors work through the treaties (Nos. 30-32) stating that examining the host “of other early-2nd-millennium features that clearly occur in the narratives of Genesis 11-50, then it can hardly be surprising to find that the patriarchs’ treaties also fit well into what is transparently their particular epoch on virtually all other grounds of legitimate comparison.” (p. 74)

The authors spend quite a bit of space with respect to the forms of covenant, treaty and law coming from the periods of Moses and Joshua (particularly Nos. 82-83). A principle question is who could have known these forms and transmitted them to the Israelites. “The only realistic conduit from court politics to a slave-group would be a rebel courtier in the Egyptian foreign office who cast his lot with them…[bringing with them] the cohesion and the binding covenant - of contemporary type!” (p. 136) The Biblical text names a person who fits these qualifications: Moses. Thus the “event and format must therefore have originated during the 13th century at the latest.” (ibid.) After analyzing the arrangement of the Sinai and Deuteronomic covenants (Nos. 82-83) the authors observe that significant relationships are also found with Lipit-Ishtar (No. 10), a text dating to the early 2nd millennium. Particularly with respect to two examples of case law “these two problems and their solutions in Numbers both find close and early precedents long before the Late Bronze age, never mind any later epoch.” (p. 142)

The authors also discuss the development of historical criticism and the theories of textual development and history these schools promoted (pp. 154-181). Here the authors go through many particulars claimed by historical critics as historical evidence for their theories of textual development. The authors show where these features of the Biblical Text are also found in both older and contemporary documents from the Ancient Near East. In this section the authors demonstrate that the Pentateuchal texts reflect the social and legal usages available to them in their time.

Thus, with regard to the issue of the date of the Exodus, while Kitchen and Lawrence place the date at 1260 BC for the latest possible date, the evidence they provide shows also that the early biblical chronology (c. 1450) fits well within the available data.


Back in 1977 Kitchen wrote “In order to prop up the old 19th-century view of the patriarchs as late fictions dreamt up 1000 years after the ‘patriarchal age’, they [historical critics] are driven to produce arguments at times so tortuous and convoluted as to stand almost self-condemned as spurious and far from even remotely proving their case.” (The Bible in Its World: The Bible & Archaeology Today, p. 58)

It is indeed difficult to accept the historical critics urgings to believe that their hypothetical editors in the 4th century BC were able to recreate faithfully the social customs as well as the legal, treaty, and covenant forms which were current in the periods of the Patriarchs and Moses. Especially through such convoluted processes as those the historical critics propose, particularly since there is no evidence that these particular forms were ever used again after the times of the Patriarchs and of Moses.

Back in 1966 Kitchen wrote about the historical critics, that their “approaches … rest much too heavily on preconceived theories imposed upon the Old Testament, instead of proceeding from an inductive and exhaustive survey of actual Ancient Oriental evidence for literary forms, methods and usages in the biblical East. For this fundamental reason, the results of these schools are suspect to a very large extent, and ultimately must be discarded in favor of new and properly based results securely founded on the maximum relevant comparative data with a more intelligent treatment of the Hebrew text in light of that material. We advocate not its [historical biblical interpretation] abolition, but its radical reconstruction, conditioned by the context of the biblical world instead of by Western philosophical schemes, medieval and Western literary categories, particularly of the eighteenth to twentieth centuries AD.” (Ancient Orient and the Old Testament, 137-138)

Kitchen and Lawrence have delivered. And they have delivered well.

Text Criticism News

Ancient History and Archaeology