Kline, vassal and suzerain treaties...thoughts

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by shackleton, Nov 13, 2008.

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  1. shackleton

    shackleton Puritan Board Junior

    I am curious what people think of the idea that Deuteronomy is similar to the Hittite treaties? This is a very interesting theory but is it likely

    Note: I am not talking about Kline's views on the Framework hypothesis or the Law just the Hittite treaties.
  2. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior


    Wish I had time to reply more fully to your question. Actually, I've had to leave several other discussions on the board because I've been teaching a Hebrew class this fall. But in short, I do believe that the structure of Deuteronomy roughly reflects the elements found in ancient Near Eastern treaties. There are differences. But the parallels are significant enough in my mind to justify the argument of Kline and others that the divine-human covenants of Scripture bear some degree of analogy to ANE suzerain-vassal treaties. For more on this subject, see George E. Mendenhall’s ground-breaking Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (Pittsburgh: The Biblical Colloquium, 1955), which was followed by other studies, including Meredith G. Kline, The Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1963); J. A. Thompson, The Ancient Near Eastern Treaties and the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1964); Kenneth Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1966), 90-102; Moshe Weinfeld, “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East,” in Journal of the American Oriental Society 90 (1970): 184-203; K. Baltzer, The Covenant Formulary, trans. David E. Green (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971); Dennis J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant: A Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental Documents and in the Old Testament (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1963); idem., Old Testament Covenant: A Survey of Current Opinions (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1972); F. Charles Fensham, “The Treaty Concept and the Covenant: Recent Findings,” Creator, Redeemer, and Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, ed. Howard Griffith and John R. Muether (Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press, 2000), 43-50. A few of these scholars (Weinfeld, McCarthy) try to link the Sinai covenant with later seventh-century B.C. neo-Assyrian treaties rather than the earlier Hittite treaties. But, as Kenneth Kitchen demonstrates, the parallels with second-millennium Hittite treaties are more convincing. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 283-307. Regarding the importance of these links, Kline observes, “It will emerge, we believe, that for purposes of reappraising the Old Testament canon, the most significant development in the last quarter-century has not been the Dead Sea scroll finds but discoveries made concerning the covenant of the Old Testament in the light of ancient Near Eastern treaty diplomacy.” The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1972), 25.

    Your servant,
  3. Grymir

    Grymir Puritan Board Graduate

    They are Copycats.
  4. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    Hi, Tim. Are you jesting? Actually, the scholars I've cited don't simply parrot one another. Their positions actually vary, and they sometimes criticize some of the conclusions of their peers. Nevertheless, they generally agree that the divine-human covenants in the OT bear a resemblance to the ANE treaties and royal grants.

    Your servant,
  5. shackleton

    shackleton Puritan Board Junior

    I have noticed that Kline's view of Deut. is beginning to show up in Study Bible's not traditionally reformed, the New Living Trans. Study Bible where Daniel Block does the notes on the Pentateuch. I think the Progressive Disp. view is using this, at least to a degree.
  6. Grymir

    Grymir Puritan Board Graduate

    Oh no. :oops: I didn't mean the writers were copycats, I meant that the ANE treaties and royal grants copied the biblical method way back when. Gods treaties predates theirs.
  7. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    I'm not surprised. I think his basic thesis has held up pretty well under plenty of close scrutiny. Some argue that the structure or form of Deuteronomy should be viewed more in terms of a kind of "sermon" or hortatory address. Perhaps Moses combined elements of a suzerain-vassal treaty and ancient hortatory address. In other words, he kind of "preached" the treaty to the Israelites. Whatever the case, the elements of a treaty are definitely present. If you can get your hands on Kenneth Kitchen's On the Reliability of the Old Testament, you'll find some helpful tables that compare the elements of Deuteronomy with other ANE suzerain-vassal treaties in both the 2nd and 1st millenniums.

    Your servant,
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2008
  8. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    Tim, thanks for the clarification. Sorry I mistook your point. I'm in basic agreement with your point. Jeffrey Niehaus has just published a book entitled Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology (Kregel Academic, 2008) in which he addresses various parallels between the extra-biblical evidence of the ANE and the data of the OT. I think what he says about the various parallels in general may be applied more specifically to the parallels between the ANE treaties and the divine-human covenants of the OT. Niehaus writes,
    “First, the Old Testament preserves true and accurate accounts of major events (Creation, the Flood). Extrabiblical sources around the world also preserve the memory of such events in distorted forms.”
    “Second, the Old Testament uses literary and legal forms long current in the ancient Near East as vehicles of God’s special revelation. Poetic parallelism and the use of stock word pairs in poetry are examples of the former. Use of the second millennium international treaty form in the Pentateuch, and especially Deuteronomy, and of the ancient Near Eastern covenant lawsuit form in the Prophets are examples of the latter.”
    “Third, parallels between the supposed acts of pagan gods and the acts of God appear in the Old Testament and ancient Near East because God allowed concepts that are true of him and his ways to appear in the realm of common grace. The parallel between the temple-pattern revelation to Gudea of Lagash and the similar revelation to Moses, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter is an example.” (29).
    So, applied to the matter in discussion, the general concept of a "suzerain-vassal treaty" originated in the Garden of Eden where Yahweh-Elohim inaugerated his primordial covenant with his vice-regent, Adam. The basic concepts and elements entailed in this covenantal arrangement were preserved via human tradition and renewed via special revelation to Noah. Once again, the ideology was transmitted from Noah through his posterity to the various nations in the ANE. Of course, they corrupted some of this tradition. God selects Moses to mediate his covenant with Israel which employs some of the same literary forms reflected in the contemporay ANE treaties, making his covenant-relationship intelligible to the Israelite who lived in that cultural milieu, and which harks back to that original creation covenant God first made with Adam.

    BTW, I like the cigar. Is it Cuban?
  9. Grymir

    Grymir Puritan Board Graduate

    Probably not. My avatar is a picture of Rush Limbaugh. Here's a link to his recomendations - Rush's Cigar Recommendations

    BTW, nice post. I've always found the axiom "There's no religious thought or idea that was not taken from the Bible first" to be true. The treaty question fits into that too! People (libs) have always seemed to show how the Bible parallels what the people were doing to show how they (man) wrote the Bible by adapting the cultural stuff to religious thought. Instead of God writing the Bible the way is really is.
  10. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    Short answer, yes.

    I do not think that there remains any serious opposition to this idea within conservative evangelical scholarship.

    Tomorrow I will be traveling to attend a seminar with a newly minted reformed PhD. I read his dissertation (on Revelation) several times as one of his readers. One of the main themes was the treaty issue.

    I am no expert. But I have looked up all of the footnotes. And my opinion is that almost everyone agrees on this point.
  11. RTaron

    RTaron The Grandpa (Affectionately Called)

    So what if they are similar? What difference does it make?

    Darwin saw lots of similar features in different animals.

    What matters is the kind of conclusions men draw from these observations, doesn't it.
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    If Kline was right, would this be one theological advance that has occurred since the Reformation?
  13. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    Here are some practical ramifications as I see it:
    1) If Deuteronomy is structured after the pattern of a 2nd millennium Hittite treaty, then it was more likely written in the 2nd millennium, which supports the traditional view that Moses authored the book.

    2) Noting the resemblance between Deuteronomy (as well as Exodus 19-23; Joshua 24) and the ANE treaty helps us to better understand the nature of a divine-human covenant. The attempt to define a divine-human berit as simply an "oath-bound promise" is inadequate. In reality, the covenant God made with Israel involved not only a formal self-imposed obligation on God's part (i.e., a divine promise to fulfill the sanctions) but also divinely delineated obligations imposed on the Israelites in the form of laws or stipulations. Hence, Yahweh could declare to the Israelites,
    If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;
    One cannot "keep" another person's oath-bound promise. Nor can "covenant" be reduced to such ideas of "friendship" or "relationship," as some Reformed theologians have tried to do. Of course, these ideas are usually present in a covenant but are not the essense. Here's a definition I've put together in light of the parallels with ANE treaties and, more importantly, the data of the OT:
    The standard Hebrew term for “covenant” is berit. Its semantic range is multifaceted and somewhat flexible. Not surprisingly, it is challenging to find one definition that suits every context in which the term is found. At its most basic level, a berit. refers to a formal commitment or obligation that is self-imposed or imposed upon another party or parties. When the commitment or obligation is imposed upon another party, it assumes the form of law or commandment (Exod. 19:5; 24:3-8; Deut. 4:13; 33:9; Isa. 24:5; Psa. 50:16; 103:18). When the commitment or obligation is self-imposed, it takes the form of promise or threat, which is often solemnized with an oath (Gen. 15:17-18; 21:22-27; 26:28-30; Psa. 89:3,28,34) and sometimes accompanied by symbolic gestures or signs. The Bible contains examples of both parity and non-parity covenants. Some human covenants are made among parties that are more or less equals (Gen. 14:13; 31:44; 1 Sam. 20:14-17; 23:18; 1 Kgs. 5:12 [Heb. 26]; 15:19; Mal. 2:14). On the other hand, there are examples of human covenants involving a superior and inferior. In such cases, the superior usually imposes the terms of the covenant upon the inferior (Josh. 9:6; 1 Sam. 11:1; Ezek. 17:12-18; Jer. 34:8), though in a few cases the inferior may request the terms (1 Kgs. 15:19; 20:34; Hos. 12:1 [Heb. 2]).Obviously, the covenants between God and man are non-parity in nature.
    3) Noting the parallels between OT divine-human covenants and their ANE counterparts together with the ANE sacral kingship ideology (i.e., the monarch was viewed as the "image," "son," and vice-regent of his deity) that often accompanied the suzerain-vassal treaty helps us to interpret the data given the the Genesis creation account(s). As Yahweh-Elohim's image-son, Adam was created as a covenantal creature, as God's vice-regent and commissioned to administer the divine kingdom and extend its boundaries over the entire earth (Gen. 1:26-28).

    These are some of the practical implications.
  14. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    Hey, Perg. Good to hear from you. Yes, this would be in my opinion an advance or at least a refinement of our understanding of covenant theology. I'm sure there have been other advances too.
  15. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Two problems:

    (1.) Inspiration. To allow the treaty hypothesis one must assume a one sided-developmental view of inspiration, in which Israel incorporates the treaty structure as a means of expressing its faith in God. E.g., Craigie: "The Hebrews adapted the treaty form for their own use in order to express the nature of their relationship with God." This is out of accord with Scripture's self-authenticating witness: all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

    (2.) Canonicity. Kline maintains the treaty structure proves a Mosaic date for Deut., but Weinfeld can show closer affinities to the Assyrian first cent. treaty. This is the problem with making ANE contemporary literature the groundwork of the biblical text -- the biblical text ends up being remoulded and read as something it was never intended to be, and is a ready made weapon for attacking its divine and heavenly authority.
  16. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    Matthew, good to hear from you again. In response to your concerns:

    1) Inspiration does not necessitate that God is barred from utilizing literary genres known to his target audience. Indeed, the doctrine of perspecuity demands it. The legal corpora, wisdom literature, epistolary writings all find analogies with contemporary modes of thought. All reputable Bible scholars acknowledge this fact.

    2) Weinfeld's thesis has been refuted by Kenneth Kitchen in the book I recommended above. Have you read Kitchen's book? Have you looked at the tables comparing the elements of 3rd mill., 2nd mill., and 1st mill. treaties? I have read Mendenhall, Weinfeld, McCarthy, Baltzer, Kitchen, and others. Have you read all the literature I've cited above? If not, I suggest that you do before assuming that Weinfeld's conclusions overturn Kline's thesis.

    Perhaps you're uncomfortable with the ramifications of some modern OT research because it might require us to revise some 17th century thinking on such matters as covenant theology. I for one believe the parallels between the OT divine-human covenants and ANE treaty diplomacy actually supports most of the conclusions of 17th century covenant theology and deepens our understanding of the OT text. In any case, I don't believe the Puritans have the last word on everything. Nor am I in favor of ignoring archaeological data in seeking to understanding the Biblical text. Thankfully, later historical research overturned John Owen's thesis regarding Hebrew vowel pointing. I hope our esteem for Owen does not necessitate that we ignore such advances in our understanding of the Hebrew text. Owen was a great scholar but he did not have access to all the data available to 21st century scholars. Similarly, the Puritans did not have access to much of the literature of the ANE and thus were not aware of the literary parallels.

    Your servant,
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2008
  17. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The incorporation of a specific genre, or a type of literature, is not the same as allowing the content of the message to be shaped by the ANE background. The treaty thesis maintains that the biblical covenants are of a specific type requiring the biblical material to be understood after the manner conquering kings stipulated terms to a conquered people. I really only need to point to the self-authenticting nature of divine revelation to prove the thesis incompatible to the nature of Scripture. But further, Israel did not develop her faith in terms of the cultures which surrounded her, but was bound to adhere only to what God revealed to her. Again, Israel was to be a worshipping people, not vassals. Once more, God committed Himself to Israel in the same jealous relationship, hence giving rise to the predominant thought of "chesed." These elements make the treaty concept unworkable.

    Not that I need to read all the lit. in order to discern when the spirit of a thesis is out of accord with the nature of divine revelation, but yes, apart from Baltzer I have read the standard material advocating and opposing the treaty thesis. And as one becomes aware who reads this material, there is no single thesis put forward by these authors: Mendenhall doesn't apply it to Deut., and McCarthy still allows for a late date. They also put forward different models, some only allowing for a theological concept; others, like Kline, make it comprehensive; still others insist on a cultic emphasis. Then there are the diverse conclusions which are drawn from these models.

    I have stated why I am uncomfortable with the so-called research, and it has nothing to do with covenant theology. Even if this ANE imposition were accepted, the scholars all recognise that the biblical writers have adjusted it to suit distinct ideas about God which the suzerain-vassal relationship cannot accommodate. This being the case, the ANE lit. cannot be informatory as to the nature of Israel's covenant, but at best could only help to explain certain literary structures.
  18. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    My Thanks are out for the day Matthew but I'd like to re-state what I've said before. Grymir made this observation. I don't doubt there may be parallels in the ANE treaties to the way God Covenanted with man.

    The real question here is "Who is copying who?"

    If, as you say Bob, God's Covenants with men go back to the garden then why doesn't Scripture itself enough to give us the shape for how these Covenants are addressed?

    Before you answer that question, let me make sure I frame the concern properly.

    Assume, as I do, that the Hittite treaties were written based on the light of nature that the Hittites had and the "spiritual memory" of their ancestors Noah, Adam, etc. Perhaps they even have some stories or see the way the Israelites worship their God or have heard some of their oral tradition.

    Now, if they form treaties, what makes us think that the shape and language of those treaties accurately reflects the nature and substance of Biblical treaties? I mean, really, fundamental to Reformed theology and how Calvin represents what kind of knowledge man has in his fallen condition is that his reason is darkened to spiritual matters. So the Hittites write an ANE treaty, we see similarities and then we cast the shadow of how we see the ANE treaties operating on to the Scriptures?

    Maybe I'm crazy but, even with the parallels, why do we have any confidence that the ANE treaties got it right? It seems inconceivable that we would use the treaties of fallen men to re-shape Covenant theology according to how they understood the Covenants to operate. If the Hittites were copying their understanding of revelation then why isn't our understanding of special revelation with respect to the Covenants superior to theirs?

    Hence, I find the treaties interesting and don't doubt the similarities but it's sort of like the sun, a tree, and a shadow. The sun casts light on a tree and we can see the tree clearly but it also casts a shadow behind it. I see the tree as the Covenant and the shadow being the ANE treaties. What I see Klineans doing is looking at the shadow that fallen men understood and using it to describe the tree. Meanwhile, we have the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to lead us into all Truth and I trust the apprehension of the Covenant of Grace from a Saint in the 17th Century more than I trust the contemporary understanding of the Covenant by a Hittite at the time of Moses.
  19. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    Several years ago I heard a sermon where the PCA intern off handedly said that scholars agree that Psalm 29 was a hymn to Ba'al that David plagiarized. The idea is expressed here

    Psalm 29: Give Yahweh, O Gods, Give Yahweh Praise. « ReligionThink

    Notice the part "almost all scholars agree"

    But in a case like this, "scholars" are a tiny group of specialists who tend to quote each other. It's not the same situation where you have an overwhelming consensus among learned people. It's not anything at all like the consensus that the air we breath is mostly nitrogen.

    I admire Rev. W for his reading of the matter, which is very helpful. There's only so much time in the day, so summaries and important quotes like what he gave are very helpful. But another point he made
    struck home with me.

    Sometime basic logic is enough to see the the whole forest when others are looking at a few individual trees. Like the similarities between Psalm 29 and similar hymns to Ba'al, even a child can see that until all data is received we can't say which one proceeded the other. And how much data do we have? 1/1000th of one percent? Less?

    That's not how science works.

    With no significant amount of data available why leave the beaten path? Why chuck the idea that Israel and now the church are Christ's bride rather than conquered subjects?

    Another quote given by Rev. W. is very telling

    This man claims that the Bible wasn't given by God, but written by a primitive desert people influenced by superior cultures. But at least he's honest. All the others supporting these treaty theory are doing the same thing. Taking pot shots at inspiration and historical accuracy, just like Kline's idiotic Framework Hypothesis.

    But I don't need to, in this case, write them off as false teacher only on account of my orthodox Christian faith. In this case I can write them off as people who have either never been trained in basic logic or are very well aware that they are bypassing basic logic to poke at our faith.
  20. A5pointer

    A5pointer Puritan Board Sophomore

    Rev. Winzer. Let me clarify my post that I think was misunderstood due to pithiness. Are you saying literary analysis has no place in hermeneutics? Are we to overlay systematic approaches as our only tool?
  21. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    I just returned from a conference with a friend who has just recieved his PhD (Aberdeen) in NT.

    His Thesis was that the structure is found in the 7 letters in Rev. Very interesting topic & one of the lectures this weekend dealt that topic.

    His view, as I understand it is that this is a "hard-wired" part of the human condition & that is why it keeps poping up in so many contexts.

    Anyway, Paternoster is publishing the dissertation so you all can read it for yourself.
  22. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Right. That's what I think too but the problem with our "hard wiring" in the Scriptures is that our fallen condition causes us to have no fruition in spiritual matters.

    Again, why do we trust the Hittites' "copycat" to tell us something about God's Covenant other than they know a good thing when they see it?

    I asked the question in another thread: would anyone think that if they read publications by the Republic of Korea's Marine Corps that it would shed light on U.S. Marine Corps' doctrine. The ROK Marines copy us all the time but there are distinctively ROK influences in the way they do things that would lead you astray if you tried to make sense of USMC pubs by using their pubs as a "Rosetta Stone".
  23. shackleton

    shackleton Puritan Board Junior

    This seems to be along the same line as the liberals on the History Channel saying that most of what is in the bible is copied from the surrounding countries, creation stories, flood stories etc. but why could it not have been that if they all descended from Noah after the flood they would have been taught these things and over the years the truth was lost because when separated from God the truth became fuzzy. They do not represent the righteous branch that God is preserving.

    In other words, these were things that were know to all but have been distorted. They share a commonality because they share that similar source but they are copies or distortions of God's truth not the other way around.
  24. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I noted in the first paragraph of the post that genre or literary styles are discernible in scripture, but literary structure is a different matter to importing message-content from the cultures within which the biblical penmen operated. Suppose we accept that the treaty models have found their way into the structure of Exod. 20ff. and Deut. as a whole; the most it could demonstrate is the broader connection which unites smaller literary units; one cannot conclude from such structures that the literature aims to teach this or that particular theme, because one must determine theme on the basis of content, not structure. Of course, once the treaty-form has been limited to a mere structural influence, it will lose its appeal to those who love to find things in the Bible which are not there, and biblical studies will be able to move on to the wholesome method of examining the text as we have it rather than as the scholar would like it to be.

    Concerning systematic approaches, they are unavoidable. As Vos points out, the only difference between biblical theology and dogmatic theology is the organising centre of the material -- biblical theology providing an historical arrangement whereas dogmatic theology focusses on doctrinal connections; in both cases there is an unavoidable abstracting and systematising of the material. The same applies to discerning literary structure and arrangement in the biblical material. The organising centre is a presupposition the reader brings to the text, not one which the text has explicitly announced.
  25. kceaster

    kceaster Puritan Board Junior

    If we go down the path of this sort of thinking, it seems to me that we're trying to use a flashlight to find the sun. True biblical scholarship can open a window to let in the light, but "secular" scholarship tries to illumine traditional viewpoints with its own light - and that is backwards thinking. Such is the attempt to shed light on the Genesis narrative, the movings of Israel and their theocracy, etc, so that we can understand why they did what they did. There is no doubt that God uses secondary causes to bring about what is in this world. But to assume that those secondary causes are merely the machinations of man, which God "sanctifies" for His purposes, is a very dangerous concept.

    This is little more than taking the arguments of the enemy as common ground by which to explain spiritual truths to fleshly men. In the end, we will lose this argument by the discoveries of the enemy, which cannot be disproven, over against the biblical arguments, which must be understood by faith and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Of which, we must admit that biblical truth sheds light on history, rather than history shedding any light on biblical truth.

    In Christ,

  26. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

  27. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Also, the book referred to on these posts -- "Admonition and Curse" by Noel Weeks -- is a thorough scholarly examination of the subject.
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