K:JNWTS 28/3 (December 2013): 26-31

Book Review

Kenneth A. Kitchen and Paul J. N. Lawrence, Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East. Part 1: The Texts. Part 2: Text, Notes and Chromograms. Part 3: Overall Historical Survey. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2012. 1642pp. Cloth. ISBN: 978-3-447-06726-3. $460.

Nearly sixty years ago, George E. Mendenhall contributed an article to the Biblical Archaeologist in which he drew upon Hittite treaties (and other ANE texts) in order to apply the genre to the covenants of the Bible. A year later, the article was published as a now famous booklet entitled Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (1955). Stimulated by the article, Kitchen imagined a comprehensive collection of primary documents from across the Ancient Near East (ANE) containing the three genres reflected in the title above. He labored on the project virtually single-handedly until 2003 when Lawrence joined in and split duties with him. That Godsend has sped the long awaited project to its completion with the magisterial results before us. The whole is dedicated worthily and poignantly to the late Donald J. Wiseman (1918-2010) whose friendship and evangelical scholarship has been an encouragement both to our authors and a generation of students of the OT.

What do we have in this massive set? There are 106 documents from ten languages comprising “laws that govern life in a given community”, “treaties that govern relations between such communities”, and “covenants used by or between individuals or them and groups or in dealings with deity” (Preface).  Each document is introduced by a full bibliography comprising: sources (various editiones principes, including where they were discovered); text editions and/or full translations; major extracts, studies, etc.

The Texts in Part 1 appear in descending chronological order from 2500 B.C. (Eannatum of Lagash—Old Sumerian document) to 600 B.C. (document #102, Neo-Babylonian Laws). Two excurses complete the first volume. Excursus I contains additional documents in English translation only—including Demotic texts and Hellenistic Greek texts (i.e., document #105, Hannibal of Carthage with Philip V of Macedon, 215 B.C.; and document #106, Julius Caesar with Lycia, 46 B.C.). Excursus II lists documents not included in our author’s compilation for reasons stated on p. 1082.

Each document in Part 1 is presented in parallel: the left page is an English transliteration of the original document; the facing page is an English translation in lines parallel to the primary document. All lines are numbered correspondingly on both pages for ease of reference. We have the full text and English translation of familiar documents, i.e., the laws of Hammurabi (1800/1700 B.C.), pp. 109-85; the oft-mentioned Hittite laws (1600/1500 B.C.), pp. 251-92; the covenants and laws of the OT (Exodus to Deuteronomy, mid- to late-2nd millennium B.C.), pp. 695-898; and these interleaved with less familiar documents. The whole majestic collection places before the English reader for the first time in one volume, the texts of the three genres of the ANE as they are known to date (April 2011—completion as noted on p. XVIII).

Hence, Part 1 contains “the most essential documents required for study of the history and interrelationships of treaties, law-collections and covenants in (basically) pre-classical Ancient Near Eastern antiquity. These are the indispensable basis for any serious study of the overall subject” (XIX).

Part 2 contains the attractive color charts (chromographs, pp. 253-68) by which the authors enable us to visualize the results of their work. As with the chronological order of Part 1 (Texts), so these charts move from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the 1st millennium B.C. (cf. also the summary in Part 1, pp. XXIII-XXV). The vocabulary here will be familiar to those initiated into ANE treaty and covenant terminology. Title/Preamble is gray on the chromogram. Prologue (Historical or otherwise) is orange. Stipulations or Laws are royal blue. Deposit of the document is lemon-yellow. Periodic Reading of the document is also lemon-yellow. Witnesses is purple. Blessings is green. Curses is crimson. Oaths is golden yellow. Solemn Ceremony is golden yellow as well. And Epilogue is brown. White is used for additional items (cf. the overall color key, Part 2, pp. 253-54). The concept of the chromogram is to compare and contrast the constitutive elements in the documents through history. For example, the treaty-law-covenant elements which are unique to the 2nd millennium B.C. may be contrasted with those same elements in 1st millennium B.C. treaty-law-covenant texts. This is a keystone of Kitchen’s apologetic for the Biblical covenants of the Mosaic era being compatible with the mode of 2nd millennium B.C. covenant and treaty documents.

This point has been a distinctive of his published works since it first appeared in 1966 (Ancient Orient and Old Testament) and most recently (and definitively, I might add) in On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2003[1]). Kitchen is not attempting to prove that Moses existed (though he does believe the Biblical Moses is historical—cf. his remarks in Part 3 of our current title, p. 136)—he is merely observing that the documents associated with the figure of the 2nd millennium B.C. Moses are authentic to the style of covenant-law-treaty genre from that era[2].

At the same time, Kitchen is equally clear in his anti-apologetic vis-à-vis the fabrications and deceit of the Wellhausen school, the advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis and the radical minimalists of the OT clique who maintain that covenant, law and treaty are late evolutions in Israelite religion, peculiar to 1st millennium B.C. treaties and covenants and hence impossible to a 2nd millennium B.C. milieu. Our present title is a massive endorsement of the 2nd millennium B.C. provenance of the Mosaic covenant and law on the basis of the analysis of primary documents—oodles of primary documents. And in the process, the numerous ANE treaty-law-covenant documents for the 1st millennium B.C. do not show the elements of the 2nd millennium B.C. documents—as the chronograms visually illustrate so clearly. Wellhausenism and its bastard children should be judged on the scientific study of primary documents. That theory found wanting (even base fallacy) should be interred in the graveyard of other so-called ‘scientific studies’ which are more propaganda grounded in reigning contextual and extra-Biblical philosophical views than objective data from authentic texts of the 2nd and 1st millennium B.C. One glance at the chromograms of the 2nd millennium B.C. Mosaic covenant (p. 263) as compared with 2nd millennium B.C. Assyrian and Hittite treaties (p. 262) indicates similarity of era. In turning the page (264) to 1st millennium documents, that 2nd millennium similarity evaporates as the elements and order of the 2nd millennium documents disappear in the uniformity of the 1st millennium B.C. custom. Specifically, Title/Preamble—Historical Prologue—Stipulations in 2nd millennium B.C. covenants has been replaced by Title/Preamble—Witnesses—Curses in 1st millennium B.C. documents. This is NOT apples and apples! There is no way the Mosaic covenant and law could be 1st millennium B.C. in origin except to those with hidden agendas who ignore the evidence of the primary documents. Such devotees of Wellhausen and the Documentary Hypothesis are not scholars; they are propagandists, either willfully or by default (i.e., out of ignorance, knowing no better because uncritical of the reigning presuppositions which dispose them against Mosaic origin).

Given the mass of information in these documents, what have our authors provided in order to access the data? Thankfully, there are several useful indexes—all within the pages of the second volume. There is a topical index (pp. 111-38) from “Abduction” to “Women”. Each entry provides reference to the particular document, the section of that document and a brief statement of the topic. There is also an exhaustive index of gods, goddesses and places where deities gather (pp. 193-208). Familiar names of the Mesopotamian pantheon appear: Ishtar, Sin (moon god), Enlil, Marduk, Ashur, etc., as well as those of Canaan—Baal and Astarte. There is also an alphabetical index of blessings and cursings (pp. 209-24) followed by explanatory notes. Here, the authors observe that the curse of exile is a generic and universal malediction in “almost all periods of ancient Near-Eastern history” (225). Thus, the higher critical argument that exile (either 8th century B.C. Israel or 6th century B.C. Judah) is inserted into OT documents ex eventu (“after the event”) is demonstrably false—an invention of those unaware or willfully ignorant of the pervasive curse of exile common to all law-treaty-covenant documents from 2000 B.C on (226).

In Part 3 (“Overall Historical Survey”), our authors weave together the documents with a narrative history of the three millennia from which the primary texts arise. The goal is the longue durée or “long-lasting” story of the ANE as it unfolds in our texts from 2500 B.C. to Julius Caesar. In their own words, a “true metanarrative” which accurately (in contrast with pejoratively, i.e., historical-critical) portrays law, treaty and covenant inside and outside the Biblical world.

We begin in 10,000 B.C. with increasingly complex pre-literate cultures (especially in Mesopotamia and beyond). These societies of families, farmers, villages and even cities required rulers and deities. That, in turn, required rules and agreements between groups. About 6500 B.C., stamp-seals began to appear for recording transactions and ownership. Then, about 3200 B.C., pictures were drawn to represent information on clay tablets. By 2900 B.C., phonetic values had been assigned to the pictures and wedge-like marks to these via early cuneiform. Hence, an emerging literate culture had existed for nearly 500 years prior to the first document in our collection—Eannutum of Lagash (2500 B.C.). Kitchen and Lawrence stress the significance of this paradigm: “we are not dealing with a bunch of simple and obscure primitives, but with people embedded in each case within long-developed, mature cultures” (Part 3, p. 3). So much for the popular 19th century canard that Biblical religion emerges in evolutionary style—from the primitive to the complex (with the further gratuitous presumption that the complex era matter is read back on to the primitive era so as to deceive the uninitiated via deliberate myths invented by the priest-caste, by and large).

Then, with the collapse of the IIIrd Dynasty of Ur, the influx of the Amorites and the emergence of the city-state of Assur ca. 2050 B.C., old Akkadian law texts appear as part of the governance of trade routes from Iran to Anatolia (Turkey) via Mesopotamia. The 19th to 17th centuries B.C. show competing dynasts in Babylon (especially Hammurabi) and Syria, with Mari in between. With Hammurabi’s destruction of Mari, Babylon becomes the hub of the historical wheel for nearly a thousand years. His famous code of laws extends legal stipulations to disparate petty mini-dynasties on the periphery of the Fertile Crescent (dynasties reflected in the clash detailed in Gen. 14). It is important to note the focus of the famous code: the family unit basic to human society. It is not the state nor the political hierarchy/bureaucracy which is featured. Truly a reminder that when the omni-incompetent state assumes the role of the family, society decays and civilization collapses—only barbarians flourish.

Comes now the mid-2nd millennium B.C. and the rise of the Bronze Age powers—Egypt, Mitanni (between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, east of Carchemish and west of Assur), Hittite (Anatolia)—together with the union of Assyria and Babylon. To regulate these interrelationships, treaties appear with the standard format of the era: title, prologue, stipulations, oaths and ceremonial ratification. Our authors take space to recount the accuracy of the Biblical account of the patriarchal era prior to 1550 B.C. (Part 3, pp. 69-71). There is nothing in the Scriptures which is not also reflected in the extra-Biblical documents contemporary with the patriarchal age. Again, “there was no later model from which our ‘patriarchal’ narratives could have been derived” (p. 70)—they are authentic records of their historical and cultural milieu. The Hittite laws and treaties follow, bringing us down to 1180 B.C. when the Hittite Empire collapsed under pressure from rising Assyria (east) and the invasion of the Sea Peoples (west).

We are next treated to an extensive discussion of the Mosaic law and covenant, illustrated with tables which outline the 2nd millennium B.C. genre of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy (pp. 133-34). Together with the notes on this material in Part 2 (pp. 71-84), our authors provide significant insights on the Biblical material (Part 3, pp. 117-213). Here we encounter their attempt to schematize the entire book of Deuteronomy as a covenant document, breaking the book chapter by chapter into the ANE covenantal paradigm. This is common to evangelical scholars (M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King; J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy, etc.), but it is a gratuitous exercise of imposing an ANE formula on an entire book of the Bible. Specifically, it makes the usual brief Historical Prologue (e.g., “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” Ex. 20:2) into a lengthy discourse (Dt. 1:6-3:29). In fact, Dt. 1:6-3:29 is a travel narrative; it is not a covenantal or treaty prologue. Enthusiasm for ANE parallels should halt at forcing the inspired text into a comparative-cultures straight-jacket! The structure of Deuteronomy is narrative-theological, in retrospect primarily, not treaty-covenantal (though the review of the Sinai covenant is present in the retrospective historical narrative review—i.e., covenant as retrospective narrative story even as the whole story unfolds from Egypt to the edge of the Jordan and the vista of journey’s end—the Promised Land).

This brings us to the 1st millennium B.C. and the dominance of the Levant by Assyria (900-612 B.C.) and the Neo-Babylonian (612-539 B.C.) Empires. The distinctive style of these post-1000 B.C. treaties, laws and covenants is detailed on pages 218-42 (cf. the chromographs in Part 2, pp. 264-66). The dissimilarity of these documents from 2nd millennium B.C. texts is readily apparent to the eye. Once more, the texts of the Mosaic era do not match this 1st millennium milieu; they belong to the 2nd millennium B.C. world.

Chapter 7 of this volume ties up the whole work with a fitting “Concluding Overall Perspectives: Contexts and Concepts” (243-66). This is followed by an excursus on apodictic and casuistic law (267-76): “not a usage restricted to the Hebrew Bible . . . Thus, the use of apodictic ‘basic laws’ (our modern ‘ten commandments’ section) . . . followed by a run of casuistic laws in more detail . . . is a commonplace of the 14th-13th centuries—not some oddity unique to the biblical texts” (256).

This final chapter also contains a superb 2-page précis of higher critical asininity (pp. 260-61). Beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries, gurus of the nascent Documentary Hypothesis (i.e., the reconstruction/reinvention of the Pentateuch from “eurocentric” ideology and that, read back on to and in to the Biblical text! So much for the lie of the “Bible without presuppositions”), our authors review the alleged scientific source-criticism (JEDP) noting its rise alongside the rise of Darwinian evolution. K. H. Graf (1815-1869) and Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) applied cultural Darwinianism to Israelite religion as “king-pins” to a J (YHWH = Jehovah) strata, merged with an E (Elohim = God) strata, integrated with a D (Deuteronomist) book fabricated by 7th century B.C. Josianic priests (621 B.C.) to include the hoary mythical ‘Moses’; this whole conglomeration is completed with the addition of a P (Priestly) document native to the Persian and Hellenistic exilic interface. And yet, this theory (which is true myth) continues to dominate the so-called scientific and historical-critical study of Genesis through Deuteronomy. But our authors observe: “On behalf of scientific accuracy . . . these matters . . . and elaborate theories so baldly summarized in the preceding three paragraphs enjoy no tangible or visible means of support. Not in any library, archive, or ancient text-field (like, e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls) has any copy or MS ever been found, of any separated form of documents J, E, or P, (or D, other than the canonical Deuteronomy). They are all without exception (and remarkable to have to relate), ‘dream-children’, born exclusively out of the versatile minds and imaginations of the  . . . ‘critics’ in whose learned volumes they are . . . elaborated. These ‘documents’ and their variants have no other physical existence, outside of the pages of their creators . . .” (260). These myth-makers are erstwhile scholarly wizards materializing the “phantoms” of their imagination by which to bewitch and seduce gullible students, pastors, church folk and publishing houses. “[I]t is with embarrassment and some distaste, that we have in effect to declare that ‘the emperor has no clothes’ . . .” (261). Indeed, as this magisterial compilation evidences, three millennia of concrete and objective documents—real scientific facts!—demolish late 1st millennium B.C. dates for the documents of the Pentateuch. The whole façade should collapse in view of the facts—not theories!—save for the willful ignorance, crass dishonesty and philosophical hidden agendas which prop up a whole industry devoted to intellectual blinders (“Nothing to see here! Kitchen and Lawrence? Move on! Move on with J. Van Seters, T. L. Thompson, J.-L. Ska, R. Whybray, J. Blenkinsopp and a host of others.”).

In view of such a superb compilation, insightful notes, excellent indexes and a helpful historical overview and synthesis, it would seem to be nit-picking to register a caveat. But as I have expressed my disagreement before with Kitchen[3] on the date of the Exodus (cf. my review in footnote 1 above), I repeat myself here. 1 Kings 6:1 places the date of the Exodus from Egypt under the historical (not mythical) Moses at 1447/46 B.C. (971/970 B.C.—date of Solomon’s accession. His 4th year is 967/966 B.C. Add 480 years = 1446/47 B.C.). This so-called early date of the Exodus is rejected by Kitchen and a host of others. Kitchen’s capable and learned defense of the late date of the Exodus is anchored in the name Raamses (i.e., Ramesside/19th Dynasty, 1295-1190 B.C.). Hence, Kitchen and other late daters prefer an Exodus date after 1290 B.C. In the title under review, our authors suggest that those favoring the early date of the mid-15th century belong to “‘fundamentalist’ schools . . . of a rigidly literal interpretation of 1 Kings 6:1” (p. 264). In a marvelous 3-volume compilation of primary documents, with repeated appeal to the “texts”, this remark is less than gentlemanly with regard to numerous scholars and friends of Kitchen and Lawrence who anchor their early date commitment not in some Neanderthal exegesis, but in the inspired text. It is therefore surprising to learn that responsible conservative scholars including John Bimson, William Shea, Leon Wood, Douglas Petrovich, Bryant Wood, Eugene Merrill, Gleason Archer, E. J. Young and many others, the undersigned included, are regarded by our learned authors as shackled by a ‘fundamentalist’ mentality and not by the testimony of the Biblical text.

Our authors’s statement neglects to mention the passage from the inspired Word of God in Judges 11:26 where Jephthah notes that in his day the age of the Judges and the occupation of the Transjordan had reached “three hundred years” duration.[4] Do the math! If the Exodus is 1290 B.C., then 40 years wandering brings us to 1250 B.C for crossing over Jordan. Allow ca. 15 years for the conquest under Joshua and we are at 1235 B.C. King Saul dates from 1050 to 1010 B.C.  (Acts 13:21 puts his reign at 40 years). Samuel precedes him having been designated by divine call from the time he was a child, likely ca. 1090 B.C. 1250 to 1050 B.C. is NOT 300 years; it does not comport with the statement in Judges 11:26 that the era of the Judges and the occupation of the Transjordan is at least 300 years in duration. The only date of the Exodus which allows the 300 years as cited is the date confirmed by 1 Kings 6:1. 1447/46 B.C less 40 years wandering = 1407/06 B.C. 15 years for the conquest brings us to 1392/91 B.C. Now take the 300 years in question and we are at 1092/91 B.C.—precisely the suggested date for the call of Samuel. In other words, the whole testimony of the OT to the date of the Exodus, the wandering in the wilderness, the conquest of Canaan, the era of the Judges, the age of Samuel and the rise of the monarchy requires the 480 years noted in 1 Kings 6:1. This is not “rigidly literal” interpretation. It is the plain meaning of two texts which cannot be dismissed with pejoratives (“fundamentalist”, “rigidly literal”, “bluster”). Kitchen and Lawrence have the right to their opinion, but have they not slipped (perhaps unwittingly) into ridicule with unfair comments about those who disagree with them and yet have made a whole and consistent Biblical case (from the texts, Kitchen and Lawrence!—from the texts! Remember your very own clarion cry throughout this massive 3-volume set) for the early date of the Exodus and the three-century period of the Judges and beyond?

My caveat does not qualify my praise and thanks for this wonderful contribution. Neglect of these documents by liberal and conservative scholars alike will be a litmus test—real scholarship or propaganda?

—James T. Dennison, Jr.

[1] Cf. this author’s review of the book here: http://www.kerux.com/kerux/doc/2002A6.asp.

[2] Lawrence takes the same approach in his The Books of Moses Revisited (2011)—“The evidence that we have considered clearly points to the Late Second Millennium BC as the period when the first five books of the Bible were written. So I contend that it is also time to reinstate Moses as the ‘author,’ or, in the case of Genesis, as the ‘compiler’” (p. 128).

[3] In the beautiful 2006 Atlas Lawrence compiled for IVP, he provided a balanced explanation of both the early and late dates (pp. 36-37); cf. the review here: http://www.kerux.com/kerux/doc/2202R1.asp.  Does this set (and these comments) suggest a departure from that more even-handed approach?

[4] Kitchen dismisses this comment as “bluster”, On the Reliability of the OT, 308. Alas, Jephthah is as fundamentalistically literal as the rigid conservatives whom Kitchen and Lawrence dismiss. Is this not a repetition of becoming what the higher critics are: blinder-wearers unmoved by any facts inconvenient to their pet theories—the very thing which 1642 pages has been attempting to disprove?