Special Topics/Cases

The intent in this section is to take a look at a number of Special Topics and Cases that perhaps demonstrate some of the processes and structures of the production of the OT. These are:

These issues will be representative of many, many other issues than can legitimately be raised in a course of this type, but will also demonstrate the essential reasonableness of traditional Judeo-Christian claims concerning the recording of God's word.

Hittite Treaty forms

We have already looked at this in detail several times, but it is worth summarizing again.

The ANE of the second millennium utilized a treaty form that has come to be called the Hittite vassal treaty. This treaty format had a VERY specific structure, with little or no variability in the order of those elements. It was pervasive in the ANE throughout the 2nd millennium, and an earlier form of it can be found in the 3rd millennium as well. But in the 1st millennium, treaty forms differed substantially from this format, and the general treaty form was essentially 'lost' to history until archeological discoveries in the last century.

The treaty form had the following components:

  1. Preamble ("These are the words...")
  2. Historical Prologue. (i.e. events leading to and forming the basis of the treaty)
  3. General Stipulations. (i.e. statement of substance concerning the future relationship, which (a) is intimately related to the antecedent history, and (b) summarizes the purpose of the specific stipulations)
  4. Specific Stipulations.
  5. Divine Witnesses. (i.e. various deities are called to witness the treaty)
  6. Blessings and Curses (i.e. relating respectively to the maintenance or breach of the covenant).

The significance of this form for our study is that the Mosaic covenant is stated in this treaty format. In all three public statements of the covenant (Ex 20-31; Deut 1-31; Joshua 24), ALL of these components are present, and occur in this basic order. For example, the entire book of Deut. is in this format. Consider the outline given by Craigie, NICOT, "Deuteronomy", p. 24:

  1. Preamble ("These are the words which Moses addressed to all Israel...") 1.1-.5
  2. Historical Prologue (1.6-4.49)
  3. General Stipulations (5-11)
  4. Specific Stipulations (12-26)
  5. Blessings and Curses (27-28)
  6. Witnesses. (30.19; 31.19; 32.1-43)

[Craigie also makes a reasonable case that this vassal treaty form was used in Egypt for foreign contract labor--something like the Hebrews had there...pp79-83.]

The main implications of this for our study are:

  1. The date of this material cannot be later than the 2nd millennium--which is the general traditional view.
  2. The essential unity of the material is also demonstrated by the strict adherence to the format of the treaty form. It would have been impossible for first-millennium redactors to have 'assembled' various bits of text together into a format that had disappeared centuries earlier.
  3. The Hebrew understanding of their relationship to God would have been very explicit with such a treaty form. In the exodus, they saw one God (YHWH) defeat another god (Pharaoh) and were offered a relationship with the victor (instead of being 'spoiled' with the vanquished). And if Craigie is correct in his understanding of the covenant form usage in Egypt, the Israelites would have understood their new relationship to YHWH to be one of SERVICE to a new king.


The "Travelogues" of the Book of Numbers

The Book of Numbers presents itself as a record of Israel's wanderings in the wilderness--from the Exodus to the preparation for entry at Jordan. One might question to what extent day-to-day record keeping was common on such journeys, esp. since most royal military campaigns ended up being inscribed on stone monuments.

We have a data point for this, however, in the "Annals of Thutmose III" (HI:ANET, pp. 234-238). These documents are carved on temple walls at Karnak and are the accounts of the Pharaoh's campaigns in Syria and Palestine (c. 1490-1436). There are several sets of these records, with differing levels of summarization, in other sites as well. The relevance to our study is that the Annals refer to a more detailed account of the campaigns which was contained on a leather scroll and lodged in the temple. (The scroll has been lost.) The leather scroll seems to have served as a portable, but fairly durable substance on which records could be made during the travels. It is certainly reasonable that Israel (who spent considerable time in Egypt!) could have employed a similar method.

Indeed, Numbers 33.1-2 records a SPECIFIC directive by the "new Pharaoh"--YAHWEH!--to record His 'travels':

Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. 2 At the LORD's command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages:

It was known that the Israelite leadership had writing materials--Moses was instructed in Ex 17.14:

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."

[It should also be mentioned that the correspondence between Moses and the un-cooperative leaders of Transjordan were standard 'messenger' formats for the time, and would have been kept in the leadership's archives for reasons of state.]

And it may well be that the 'official' title for this travel-log was the "Book of the Wars of the Lord" (?)--cf. Num 21:13: "They set out from there and camped alongside the Arnon, which is in the desert extending into Amorite territory. The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 That is why the Book of the Wars of the LORD says: "... Waheb in Suphah and the ravines, the Arnon 15 and the slopes of the ravines that lead to the site of Ar and lie along the border of Moab."

The point is: that the wanderings material was recorded is entirely REASONABLE.

Israel's knowledge of Canaanite practices BEFORE the exodus

Certain sections of the Law PRESUPPOSE some knowledge of Canaanite religion and praxis (Deut 7:5; 12.1-4; Lev 18,19). Much of this information COULD have been 'new data' from God, of course, but the evidence indicates that the Israelites already knew EXACTLY what HE was forbidding! (In other words, nobody was asking "hey, what's He talking about--what's an Asherah pole?"). What data do we have that helps us formulate an understanding of how Israel had 'access' to data about Canaan?

All in all, the data seems to indicate not only EASY ACCESS for Israel to Canaanite religion and practices (before and during the Egyptian bondage), but surprisingly high affinity and indeed, USAGE of that system. This demonstrates that the knowledge of Canaanite practices that are contained in the Lev/Deut passages WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN 'novel' to Israel (and correspondingly, do not require a LATE DATE for the material--e.g. LONG AFTER they have settled in the land).

How did Moses get Balaam's prophecies for inclusion in Numbers?!

Balaam was an international prophet of high repute (as noted in the preceding lesson). And, as most important prophets his messages would be written down, esp. when delivered to/for royalty.

In Numbers 22-24 we have the account of Balaam's attempted cursing of Israel, in the context of compensation from Balak. Balak, king of Moab, is VERY concerned about Israel, having seen the defeat the Israelites handed to the Amorites. He and the Midianite elders travel to the Euphrates river to hire the 'prophetic gunslinger' of the East--to come 'curse Israel'. Balaam eventually goes with them, but upon seeing Israel, he issues a number of oracles BLESSING Israel--YHWH stops him from doing any damage. [Remember, that the prophecies of Israel's blessings would have no doubt been written down.] If the story had stopped there, all would have been well.

But Balaam still is out to help his 'benefactor', so he gives them the 'right' advice to defeat Israel: If Israel is 'made to sin' and alienates YHWH, they can then be easily defeated in battle! (Num 31.15-16). Numbers 25 records the sad story:

While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel joined in worshipping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them.
This surprise action on the part of Israel (right after YHWH had defeated the gods of the land!) shows us that something is odd in the text. The sexual immorality, in this Canaanite religious context, would have included ritual prostitution. Indeed, the act described in 25. 6--probably religious copulation at the Tent of Meeting!--is shocking in the context of the Mosaic Covenant.

How could this happen so easily? How could Israel be so easily enticed to co-worship with Moab?

I think the answer might be in 25:16-17: " The LORD said to Moses, "Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor."

Deception? What kind of deception would have worked?

What might have happened is this: Balaam takes his oracles and tells the Midianites/Moabites to approach Israel with them. They are to explain to Israel that YHWH has blessed them THRU MIDIAN and that a joint festival has been authorized by YHWH through Balaam. The presence of the tablets of the prophecies of Balaam (or at least copies) would have been the PROOF of the matter. They may have even pointed to the verses 24.8 (and contrasted themselves with the 'hostile' nations) and/or pointed to verse 24.9b (and said "we blessed you, now bless us!").

This seems to be the best way to explain the actions of Israel at this juncture, and the best explanation of the word 'deceive' in the passage.

The implications for OUR study are two-fold: (1) This deception and the immediate revelry that occurs makes the MOST sense if Israel already knows the religion praxis (like they obviously did at the Golden Calf event) and (2) It gives an interesting 'point of contact' with the written prophecies of Balaam--later to show up in Moses' hands. [But note, the prophecies of Balaam COULD JUST AS EASILY have been obtained when the prophet himself was killed by the Israelites in Numbers 31.8.]

The issue of 'borrowing' laws--did Moses somehow "copy" Hammurabi?

It has long been realized that the similarities between some of the Mosaic legislation and the Law Code of Hammurabi are striking. Hammi's law is dated around 1720 BC.--before the advent of Moses. There are those who suggest that the Law of Moses is actually a mild type of plagiarism (instead of a divinely-given law), and seek to assert substantial dependence of Moses on prior law collections.

There are a number of points to be made here, although MOST of the issue of borrowing will be in the NEXT SECTION--specifically ON the subject of 'borrowing'.

  1. Most parallels between Moses and Hammy are about crimes that we would expect to find legislation on IN MOST SOCIETIES (e.g. social crimes--murder, rape, kidnapping, adultery, eye-for-an-eye). And given, that the 'prior laws' in Hammi, that are cited as precursors to Moses' laws, show up THEMSELVES in OTHER legal codes, demonstrates that SIMILARITY does NOT entail 'derivation'. (In other words, the laws in Hammi ALSO occur in OTHER law codes that are in the same time period.)
  2. Some of the laws in the Mosaic period have counterparts in the pre-Hammi Patriarchal period (e.g. Levirate relationships--Gen 38.8 on levirate family relationships). So some of the laws may have come INTO Egypt with Israel.
  3. The DIFFERENCES in the laws, however, are most striking, esp. between Israel (e.g. Moses) and Babylonia (i.e. Hammurapi). The strongest difference is in the relative worth of human life. A comparison of the two legal collections shows that the H-code has a much higher severity for property-offenses, whereas the M-code has a much higher severity for homicide. (but more on this later)
  4. And, of course, many of the cultic laws were ANTI-laws, aimed AGAINST the religion of Canaan--cf. esp. Lev 18,19. (Not so in the other law-collections.)

[It is very curious that we have no surviving legal codes from Egypt. It has been traditionally said that since the "pharaoh was god, no laws were written down--his word was law". But, quite frankly, I don't see how this could provide an adequate legal system for a nation of the size, scope, and complexity of Egypt of that time. There MUST have been some legal codes, dealing with partnerships, inheritance, etc--but we have not found any so far!]

The various legal codes of the ANE would probably have been accessible to Egypt, and in some cases, before the Israelites went into Egypt (Hittite laws). The periods in which Moses lived were considered to be the most 'cosmopolitan' in Egypt's history (Kitchen).

There is nothing in the text or historical context to require these laws to be late.

The Atrahasis theme

We have already examined the Atrahasis epic structure and seen the deliberate parallels AND departures from the motifs in that epic. By way of remembrance, the author of Genesis used the overall Atrahasis epic structure (common throughout the ANE in the Middle Bronze Era--Patriarchal Period) as the backdrop, against which he placed some POINTED changes to the epic. In other words, where the epic said overpopulation was the problem, the Genesis author said the opposite--human life was good and we were TOLD to 'be fruitful and multiply'.

Against a backdrop of familiarity with these epics, these small changes would have STUCK OUT in severe relief! [A modern day example, from the US: If I took the National Anthem, which most of us have repeated several times a week for years and decades on end, and changed ONE phrase ("under God" to "instead of God"), a hearer would respond instantly--and understand sharply the point I would be making. So it would be with the EPIC form--one change in content would be an amazingly clear message.]

Now, the significance of this issue to our current study is this--whoever wrote this Genesis piece (and maybe even the Pentateuch, since it can be shown to show the same structure--cf. Kikawada and Quinn, Before Abraham Was, pp. 122-125) wrote it to an audience who was either 1) VERY familiar with this epic mythology; 2) ABOUT to confront this epic mythology in a fresh exchange; or 3) both.

I submit that the intended audience was pre-Conquest Israel. They would have been familiar with the epic from the Patriarchal traditions (it DID form a substrate to many, many of the ANE religions--including the Canaanite traditions!), and were about to confront it AFRESH upon entering the land for the conquest. It would make PERFECT PEDAGOGICAL sense for someone to cast their history, their values, and even their covenant treaty forms(!) into this structure--for ease of memory and for shock effect.


Who could do this? Who might have the literary skill? Who might have had access to actual copies of those epics, available perhaps in royal libraries? Who might have had enough concern for the people of Israel to create such a masterpiece of teaching, memory, vividness? Who might have had access to writing materials and assistants? And who might have experienced an attempt at Atrahasis-type 'population control' first-hand (say in a basket of reeds in a river) , with the passion that such a memory might create to instill these counter-values in the people? And who, upon learning of the child sacrifice of the Canaanites, might have seen the evil-but-logically-consistent-fruit of the worldview in these epics--Molech--and decided to hit the issue head-on?

You can probably tell my guess ;>)

Moses. All the skills, training, opportunity, and necessary interest and commitment to create such a document converge in him. 

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