Seth L. Sanders
Associate Professor of Religion
Deuteronomy's use of Near Eastern treaty elements has become central to a new debate about the formation of the text. This paper points out anachronistic assumptions about Mesopotamian and Judahite scribal techniques shared by both sides of the debate, arguing that a more careful use of contemporary evidence may stimulate new models and solutions. The placement of treaty-curses with striking late Iron-Age cuneiform parallels at different compositional layers of Deuteronomy has made the question of the status of Dtr 13 and 28 important to any historical account of Deuteronomy’s formation. The crux is the debate about whether they are a) deliberate and subversive reuse of the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon, as Otto and now Levinson argue (or deliberate but not subversive, as Stackert argues) or b) unconscious uses of a common ANE or West Semitic treaty-curse tradition with no direct connection to VTE, as Morrow and now Crouch argue.
But a historical comparison of Mesopotamian scribal text-building techniques with parallel evidence attested in Judahite literature suggests that neither subversion nor independence are likely explanations.
The first-millennium cuneiform analog to canonization is serialization--the collection of culturally central texts of one genre into standardized, numbered series. VTE was never a canonical text—it was neither serialized nor standardized for scribal training. Instead, it was monumentalized. As the new evidence from Taynat shows, it was presented as a pragmatic ritual artifact independent of any textual collection. By contrast the Judahite analog was narrativization--the collection of culturally central texts of different genres into extended prose narratives, including the Deuteronomic history and the Priestly work (and perhaps E and the Covenant Code), each with embedded law collections and covenants. By contrast with Mesopotamian serialization (and the modern scholarly expectation of verbatim textual quotation) relevant inner-biblical strategies of narrativization do not typically work through the direct incorporation of prior texts but more fluidly, through allusion and complex citation.
Considering the empirical evidence for these three very different late Iron Age scribal text-building strategies gives us a more historical basis for interpreting the relationship between Dtr 13 and 28 with VTE. On the one hand the different Iron Age scribal text-building strategies explain why certain patterns expected by Morrow et al. failed to materialize. And on the other hand the expectations of extended verbatim duplication shared by Otto et al. are based on assumptions that the ancient scribal evidence tend to refute: treaty-curses were never treated as canonical, serialized textual material, but monumentalized in cuneiform and their elements narrativized in Judah.
S25-124 Israelite Religion in Its West Asian Environment
Monday, Nov 25
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 329 - Convention Center