The treaty of Suppiluliumas (Deuteronomy 11)

For much of the second half of the second millennium B.C., the dominant power in central Anatolia (modern Turkey) was the Hittite Empire. Among the greatest Hittite kings was Suppiluliumas I, who reigned from approximately 1380-1346 B.C. Suppilumiumas extended Hittite power to thev southeast into Syria, where he struggled for supremecy against Egypt, Assyria and Mitanni. Aziru, king of the Syrian state of Amurru, recognizing that Hittite power was on the rise, broke his treaty with Egypt and submitted to Suppiluliumas.

One Hittite and six Akkadian copies of a treaty between Suppiluliumas and Aziru exists; all are fragmentary, but by comparing them scholars have been able to reconstruct a fairly complete version. The treaty required that Aziru submit to and support Suppiluliumas, who in turn was to protect Aziru. This covenat is broadly similar in outline to Deuteronomy, which is also a treaty between a suzerain (Yahweh) and a vassal (Israel). This treaty, therefore, provides a specific point of comparison to the covenant text that we call Deuteronomy.

The Suppiluliumas treaty begins with a preamble and a statement about the main objective of the treaty – that Aziru offer uncompromised devotion to Suppiluliumas (cf. Deuteronomy 1:1-5 and Deuteronomy 5-6). The sistorical background follows (cf. Deuteronomy 1:6-4:49). The treaty then delineates specific stipulations relating to military and extradition obligations (cf. Deuteronomy 7-26).

At that point the Suppiluliumas treaty calls on all gods and godesses as witnesses and pronounces both curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience. Deuteronomy 27-30 also pronounces curses and blessings, but Deuteronomy 30:19 calls upon heaven and earth, not on lesser gods, as witnesses.

The importance of these parallels can hardly be overstated. As pointed out in the more general article “The date of Deuteronomy” under Deuteronomy 3, they indicate once again that Deuteronomy is remarkably similar in form and content to second millennium B.C. Hittite treaties and should for that reason most likely be dated early rather than late. They also help us to understand the literary context for Deuteronomy.

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