The Hittite laws (Deuteronomy 21)

Many historians date Biblical law texts to fairly late in Israel’s history. Explicitly or implicitly, they view regulations such as those spelled out in Exodus or Deuteronomy as too complex and advanced to stem from such a “primitive” period as that of Moses and Joshua. As already discussed under Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 9, however, the discoveries of lengthy and detailed law codes from the ancient Near East would seem to belie this notion.

The Hittite laws have come to us in two versions, the first from the Old Kingdom (ca. 1600-1400 B.C.) and the second from the Middle Kingdom and Empire periods (ca. 1400-1200 B.C.). The second iteration parallels the first, being similar in order and content. Hittite laws deal with many of the same issues as their Biblical counterparts: quarrels resulting in maiming or unintended homicide (Exodus 21:12-27); marriages and dowries (Exodus 22:16-17); theft, especially of animals (Exodus 22:1-15); and incest and bestiality (Leviticus 18).

Of course, the specific stipulations of Biblical and Hittite laws are often quite different. For example, the Hittite New Kingdom law IV states that if a murdered man was found on another’s property, the owner was to forfeit his house, property and 6,040 shekels of silver. If the corps was located in an open field, a village within 4,8 km of the victim was to pay the fee. In Deuteronomy 21:1-9, on the other hand, i the body of a murdered victim was discovered in an open field, the elders of the nearest village were to make a sacrifice and swaer that they had no knowledge of the crime’s perpetrator(s). This would purge the village of any culpability, and no fee was involved.

Once again, Hittite law reveal that lengthy, complex law codes could and did exist in the mid-second millennium B.C., the implication being that Exodus and Deuteronomy may indeed be dated to this earlier period.


Ancient Near East

Law: Amoral and meant to insure the smooth running of society; offenses of the law were considered as offenses against civilization-

Law Collections: Propagandistic report to deity; a theoretical development of some of the forms justice might take.


Law: Meant to be a guide to godlikeness; offenses of the law were considered offenses against God.

Law Collections: Development of the forms morality or holiness would take; civil law tied to moral absolutes.

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