Deuteronomy and the covenant treaty form (Deuteronomy 1)

International treaties drafted between suzerains (overlords) and vassals (subject people) during the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C. closely parallel the structure of the book of Deuteronomy. The best preserved examples of these treaties come from the Hittites, but treaties from Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt demonstrate that a similar form was commonly used. The suzerain-vassal form of treaty also defined the relationship of God (suzerain) to His people (vassals), as evidence in the overall form, as well as the content, of Deuteronomy.

The Hittite treaties of the fourteenth throughout the thirteenth century B.C. differ somewhat from the later Assyrian treaties of the eight through seventh centuries B.C. In these later treaties the historical prologue and the blessings disappear, a greater emphasis is placed on the curses and the order of elements is more variable.

Deuteronomy’s closer connection to the earlier treaties confirms that this book was written during the Mosaic period, not in Israel’s late monarchic period (late seventh century B.C.), as many scholars contend. Furthermore, Deuteronomy’s close correspondence of form to these earlier treaties strongly suggests that the book should be considered an essential literary unit rather than a later composite of materials from various sources.

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