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YHVH OUR . THE COVENANT O N MOUNT SINAI AND THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST FORM. The Historical and Biblical look into The Ancient Near Eastern World. Major types of Royal Covenants / Treaties in the Ancient Near East. Suzerian – Vassal Treaty Royal Land Grant Covenant Parity Covenants.

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yhvh our



major types of royal covenants treaties in the ancient near east
Major types of Royal Covenants / Treaties in the Ancient Near East
  • Suzerian – Vassal Treaty
  • Royal Land Grant Covenant
  • Parity Covenants
definitions for our study
Definitions for our study:

Suzerain – Sovereign or King

Vassal – Subjects or Servants

anet legal terms
  • FATHER – vassals call their suzerain (King)
  • SON –The King calls his vassals
  • ADOPTION –when a vassal king submits to the suzerain then the vassal kings people become adopted by the Suzerain
  • BROTHER –Term in Parity covenants
  • LOVE (Oheb)– Term of loyalty to the Suzerain
  • KNOW (Yada)- Term used by the King who sees the faithfulness of the vassal
  • Friend -Faithful, loyalty to the Suzerain
these suzerain vassal treaties open with two sections
These Suzerain/Vassal treaties open with two sections:

1) The identification of the Suzerain by his name and titles;

2) The historical survey of the Suzerain's dealings with the vassal. The purpose is to illustrate to the vassal how much the Suzerain has done to protect and establish the vassal who therefore owes submission and allegiance to the Suzerain. These two sections are referred to as the "Preamble."


3. Stipulations –

What the vassal is required to do is spelled out in principal and detail. This section is often concluded with the requirement that the vassal deposit his copy of the treaty in his temple, where he is to occasionally read and study it to refresh his memory concerning his duties.

4. The Blessings and Curses of the Suzerain –

If the stipulations are met by the vassal, he will receive the Suzerain's blessings, which are listed. If the vassal fails to meet the stipulations, he will receive the Suzerain's curses, which are also listed.



The Suzerain would keep one copy of the treaty and the vassal would keep one copy of the treaty. A number of ratifying ceremonies were used depending upon the era and culture. But the most widely used rite was that of cutting the bodies of animals in halves and placing them in two rows with enough space between for the two parties of the treaty to walk side by side. As they walked between the pieces, they were vowing to each other, "May what has happened to these animals, happen to me if I break this covenant with you."

suzerain treaties the covenant documents in the bible notes from lectures of dr meredith kline
"Suzerain Treaties & The Covenant Documents in the Bible“Notes from lectures of Dr. Meredith Kline,

Brief Summary of Suzerain Treaties:

In the Ancient Near East, treaties between kings was common. These were treaties drawn up among equals and mostly outlined agreements to honor each other's boundaries, to maintain trade relations, and return run-away slaves. These treaties are preserved in the Mari Tablets and in the Amarna texts. Also preserved in these collections are treaties drafted between a superior and his inferior. If the relationship was familial or friendly, the parties are referred to as "father" and "son." If the relationship is bereft of kindness and intimacy, the parties are referred to as "lord" and "servant," or "king" and "vassal," or "greater king" and "lesser king."

suzerain vassal conditional

A covenant regulating the relationship between a great king and one of his subject kings. The great king claimed absolute right of sovereignty, demanded total loyalty and service (the vassal must “love” his suzerain) and pledged protection of the subject’s realm and dynasty, conditional on the vassal’s faithfulness and loyalty to him. The vassal pledged absolute loyalty to his suzerain – whatever service his suzerain demanded - and exclusive reliance on the suzerain’s protection. Participants called each other “lord” and “servant” or “father” and “son.”

(cf. Joshua 9:6,8; Ezekiel 17:13-18; Hosea 12:1.)


The greater king is the suzerain and the lesser king is a prince, or a lesser lord in the service of the greater king.

The lesser lord is a representative of all the common people who are under the protection of the greater king. He enforces the treaty among the masses.


Revelation 1:

5 And from Yeshua the Messiah, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.


אדן אדון

'âdôn 'âdôn

aw-done', aw-done'

From an unused root (meaning to rule); sovereign, that is, controller (human or divine): - lord, master, owner. Compare also names beginning with “Adoni-”.





Present participle of G757; a first (in rank or power): - chief (ruler), magistrate, prince, ruler.

the legal context of deuteronomy
The Legal Context of Deuteronomy

De 1:1 These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah over against Suph, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab.

2 It is eleven days' [journey] from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to KadeshBarnea.

3 It happened in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that Yahweh had given him in commandment to them;

treaty between hattusilis and ramses ii


Treaty of Rea-masheshamai Amana, the great king, the king of the land of Egypt, the valiant, with Hattusilis, the great king of the Hatti land, his brother, for establishing [good] peace [and] good brotherhood [worthy of] great [king]ship between them forever.


These are the words of Rea-masheshamai Amana, the great king of the land of Egypt, the valiant of all lands, the son (5) of Min-mua-rea, the great king, the king of the land of Egypt, the valiant, the grandson of Minpakhta-rea,

the great king, the king of the land of Egypt, the valiant, (spoken) to Hattusilis, the great king, the king of the Hatti land, the valiant, the son of Mursilis, the great king, the king of the Hatti land, the valiant, the grandson of Suppiluliumas, the great king, the king of the Hatti land, the valiant.


One can also divide the revelation in this book according to the general arrangement of the typical form of a suzerain-vassal treaty that was common in the ancient Near East.

  • I. Preamble: Covenant mediator 1:1-5
  • II. Historical prologue: Covenant history 1:6—4:49
  • III. Stipulations: Covenant life chapters. 5—26
  • A. The Great Commandment chapters. 5—11
  • B. Ancillary commandments chapters. 12—26
  • IV. Sanctions: Covenant ratification chapters. 27—30
  • V. Dynastic disposition: Covenant continuity chapters. 31—34
i format
I. Format

The formats of the ancient treaties, particularly the Hittite treaties, have The basic elements characteristic of treaties as a genre include:

  • Introduction of the speaker (preamble)
  • Historical prologue
  • Stipulations
  • Statement concerning the document
  • Divine witnesses
  • Curses and blessings
1 introduction of the speaker preamble
1. Introduction of the SpeakerPreamble


Generally this identifies the author of the treaty, the suzerain. His various titles and attributes and, occasionally, genealogical data comprise this element. This section emphasizes the suzerain's greatness and his right to proclaim the treaty.

ancient near east occurrence
Ancient Near East Occurrence

(i) Preamble - the suzerain king introduces himself, and gives his titles:

"These are the words of the Sun Mursillis, the great king, the king of Hatti-land, the valiant, the favorite of the storm-god, the son of Suppiluliumas, the great king" (ANETp. 203)


Exodus 20:1;

Deuteronomy 1:1-5;

Joshua 24:1-2.

In all three cases YHWH is identified as the covenant's author and the suzerain who has a right to make certain demands.

2 historical prologue
2. Historical Prologue

2. Description.

This section reviews the relationship between the two parties prior to their entering into the present agreement. Frequent emphasis is placed on the kind acts of the suzerain on behalf of the vassal as well as on the suzerain's power. The vassal is expected, as a result, to be grateful in accepting the terms and fearful of violating them.

"Aziras, your grandfather, and Du-Teshub, your father remained loyal to me as their lord. ... Since your father had mentioned to me your name with great praise, I sought after you ... and put you in the place of your father" (ANET p. 203-4)


The historical prologue is readily recognizable in the biblical covenants. It is most limited in Exodus 20:2 but quite pronounced in Deuteronomy 1:6-3:29 and Joshua 24:2-13.

3 stipulations
3. Stipulations

3. Description.

First, This section states in detail the obligations imposed upon and accepted by the vassal. They include typically the prohibition of other foreign relationships outside the Hittite Empire.

Second, there is the prohibition of enmity against anything under the sovereignty of the great king. . .

Third, the vassal must answer any call to arms sent him by the king. . . .

Fourth, the vassal must hold lasting and unlimited trust in the king; he must not entertain malicious rumors that the king is acting disloyally toward the vassal, nor must he permit any evil words against the king, for this is the beginning of rebellion.

Fifth, the vassal must not give asylum to refugees, whatever their origin. Sixth, the vassal must appear before the Hittite king once a year, probably on the occasion of annual tribute.

Last, controversies between vassals are without exception to be submitted to the king for judgment


(iii) Obligations - usually placed on the vassal only:

prohibition on other treaties allegiance to suzerain can't attack other vassals suzerain to adjudicate between vassals in disputes vassals to appear regularly before suzerain with tribute.

"If anyone utters a word unfriendly to the king or the Hatti-land before you, Duppi-Teshub, you shall not withhold his name from the king" (ANET p. 204)



Likewise, if the biblical examples did not have stipulations, there would be very little basis for comparing them to the ancient treaties.

In Exodus-Leviticus, stipulations comprise the Decalogue, the covenant code, and the ritual instructions in Leviticus 1-25. In Deuteronomy, certainly chapters 12-26 are stipulations, and many find reason to include 4-11 also. In Joshua 24, verses 14-15 are the core of the stipulations, with 16-25 also containing the repetition of some of them.

4 statement concerning the document
4. Statement concerning the document
  • Description.

This clause provides for the periodic public reading of the treaty so that all may remember their obligations. It also occasionally spells out requirements for the storing of the document.

(iv) Deposit of the treaty document, usually in the sanctuary:

"A duplicate of this treaty has been deposited before the sun-goddess of Arinna. ... In the Mitanni land, a duplicate has been deposited before Teshub. ... At regular intervals they shall read it in the presence of the king of the Mitanni land and in the presence of the sons of the Hurri land" (ANET p. 205)



Exodus 25:16 (cf. Deut. 10:1-5) speaks of the tablets being deposited in the ark, but this does not have the appearance of a separate clause dictating the proper handling of the document.


Exodus 32:

15 ¶ And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.

16 And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.


Deuteronomy 31:10-13 includes instructions from Moses that the Law be read every seven years at the Feast of Booths. This also seems to be in an epilogue section apart from the covenant document.

In Deuteronomy 27:2-3 (a section most like a document clause), the people, just prior to hearing the blessings and curses, are commanded to set up stones when they arrive in the Promised Land and to write the Law on them. This is carried out in Joshua 8:30-32. Joshua 24:26 is the document clause in that covenant and again involves the writing of the words in a book and depositing them by a large stone.

5 divine witnesses
5. Divine witnesses

Usually the gods of the two nations:

"We have called the gods to be present, to listen, and to serve as witnesses: the sungoddess

of Arinna ... the sun-god, the lord of heaven, the storm god, the lord of the Hatti-land ... the mountains, the rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, heaven and earth, the winds and clouds" (ANET p. 205-6)

  • Description

In this section it is generally the gods who are called to witness the agreement that is being made. Gods of both parties are included, and it is intended that the gods would be the ones who would enforce the terms of the treaty if need arose. Mendenhall points out that there are also instances of the "Mountains, rivers, springs, sea, heaven and earth, the wind and the clouds" all being called to witness



The witness section of the Deuteronomy Covenant is the most evident. In Deuteronomy 31 the Lord instructs Moses to compose a song and teach it to the Israelites so that it may function as a witness (Deut. 31:19-22). Also in that chapter the Book of the Law as well as the heavens and earth are identified as witnesses (31:26-28). The Song of Moses, which is recorded for us in Deuteronomy 32, fits into the witness category, for it affirms YHWH's ability to enforce the terms of the covenant.


Of particular significance are verses 39-43, in which YHWH takes an oath to exact vengeance on behalf of his people. In Joshua 24:22 the people are called to be witnesses against themselves, and as in Deuteronomy 32, their witness status is established by entering into an oath. Joshua 24:27 also indicates that the stone by which the Law was deposited would act as a witness against the people. There does not appear to be a witness clause in Exodus-Leviticus. Matthew 5:17-19

6 curses and blessings
6. Curses and blessings
  • Description.

This section entails not the specifics of what the suzerain will do in the event of either faithfulness to or violation of the treaty, but rather, the actions of the gods either for or against the vassal.

Blessings and curses if the vassal obeys or disobeys:

"Should Duppi-Teshub not honor these words of the treaty and oath, may these gods of the oath destroy Duppi-Teshub together with his person, his wife, his son, his grandson, his house, his land. ... But if he honors these words ... may these gods of the oath protect him with his person, his wife, his son, his grandson, his house and his country" (ANET p. 205)


Ancient Near East Occurrence.

Curses are a standard feature of treaties irrespective of time or location. Blessings are not so prevalent. As mentioned above, the curse sections in the treaties from Assyria and Syria are much more extensive than the short, formulaic curses characteristic of the Hittite treaties. McCarthy comments about the curse section in the Assyrian treaties: "It is long, emphatic, colorful, of a spirit far different from the sober Hittite tradition.“

  • Old Testament Occurrence.

In the Exodus-Leviticus complex, the blessings and curses come respectively in Leviticus 26:1-13 and 14-33. In Deuteronomy, the well-known blessings and curses are found in chapter 28, with blessings occupying verses 1-14 and the longer curses section in verses 15-68. Joshua 24 is the least distinctive in this section. Blessings must be inferred from the text, and the only curse is very briefly stated in verse 20.

the legal introduction to the book of deuteronomy
The Legal introduction to the book of Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy 1:3

It happened in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that Yahweh had given him in commandment to them;

*Yahweh the Great King

*Moses the Vassal King

suzerain vassal language in the book of revelation
Suzerain Vassal language in the book of Revelation

Revelation 1:1

This is the Revelation of Yeshua the Messiah, which YHVH gave him (Yeshua) to show to his servants (Israel) the things which must happen soon, which he sent and made known by his angel to his servant, John,


Deuteronomy 1–3

in the

Context of the Hittite Treaty Tradition

as moshe weinfeld notes
As Moshe Weinfeld notes

The sovereign in these treaties urges the vassal to take possession of the land as a gift: “See, I gave you the Zippašla mountain land, occupy it.” 9

This command resonates with Deut 1:8, 21: “See, I have given over the land to you, go and inherit it.”

*9 Albrecht Goetze, Madduwattaš, MVAG 32:1 (1928), lines 19, 43–44; quoted in Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, 72.


In CTH 92, the Hittite king declares to his vassal that his own grandfather had written out the borders of the vassal kingdom, an act that was taken to be constitutive of the borders of that territory: “My grandfather . . . Wrote a treaty tablet for him. He wrote out the borders of the land of Amurru of his ancestors and gave it (the tablet) to him.”

Treaty between H attušili III and Bentešina of Amurru (CTH 92 [Emmanuel Laroche,

Catalogue des textes Hittites (Paris: Klincksieck, 1971)] obv. 5–6), translated in Gary Beckman, Hittite Diplomatic Texts (2nd ed.; SBLWAW 7; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), 101; hereafter HDT.


King Šuppiluliuma I of Hatti delimits his own empire, saying,

“The Euphrates [is my frontier(?)]. In my rear I established Mount Lebanon as my frontier”

(CTH 51 §10 translated in HDT, 45). Cf. the highly similar language in Deut 1:7.

deuteronomy 1
Deuteronomy 1

7 turn, and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and to all [the places] near there, in the Arabah, in the hill country, and in the lowland, and in the South, and by the seashore, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.

8 Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their seed after them.


In several Hittite treaties the king delineates the vassal’s territory and stresses that the latter is to avoid confrontation with other neighboring vassals of the Hittite king.


Deuteronomy 2:

4 Command you the people, saying, You are to pass through the border of your brothers the children of Esau, who dwell in Seir; and they will be afraid of you: take good heed to yourselves therefore;

5 don't contend with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on; because I have given Mount Seir to Esau for a possession.

Deuteronomy 2:

9 Yahweh said to me, Don't bother Moab, neither contend with them in battle; for I will not give you of his land for a possession; because I have given Ar to the children of Lot for a possession.


Deuteronomy 2:

18 You are this day to pass over Ar, the border of Moab:

19 and when you come near over against the children of Ammon, don't bother them, nor contend with them; for I will not give you of the land of the children of Ammon for a possession; because I have given it to the children of Lot for a possession.


Sometimes the Hittite king would grant a territory to a vassal who had a history of rebellious behavior toward the Hittite throne. Power politics of the region during the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries b.c.e. were such that allegiances between states were in constant flux. Even if the ruler of such a state had reneged on his earlier vassalage, the Hittite kings frequently sought to reestablish ties when it was politically expedient to do so.

When a once-rebellious king agreed again to accept submission, the prologue of the treaty would enumerate the seditious acts of the vassal, underscoring the debt of gratitude now owed the Hittite king for his beneficence.*13 The historical introduction of Deuteronomy 1–3 not only underscores the grant of the land to the Israelites but also stresses that they are hardly deserving of such grace, having reneged on their vassalage to the Lord. They rebelled against him at Qadesh when they refused to fight for the land following the report of the spies (1:26), and then again, when they embarked on a campaign against the Lord’s wishes (1:43).

*13 Cf. CTH 66, Treaty between Muršili II of H atti and Niqempa of Ugarit (HDT, 64–68); CTH 68, Treaty between Muršili II of H atti and Kupanta-Kurunta of Mira Kuwaliya (HDT, 74–81); CTH 92, Treaty between H attušili III of H atti and Bentešina of Amurru (HDT, 100–102);


De 1:26

Yet you wouldn't go up, but rebelled against the commandment of Yahweh your God:

De 1:

42 Yahweh said to me, Tell them, Don't go up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest you be struck before your enemies.

43 So I spoke to you, and you didn't listen; but you rebelled against the commandment of Yahweh, and were presumptuous, and went up into the hill country.



Baltzer, K. The Covenant Formulary. Oxford, 1971.

Craigie, P. C. The book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, 1976, 20-44.

Frankena, R. "The Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon and the Dating of Deuteronomy.“ In OTS, 14, (1965), 122-54.

Kalluveettil, Paul. Declaration and Covenant. Rome, 1982.

Kitchen, Kenneth. Ancient Orient and Old Testament. Downers Grove, 1966, 90-102.

McCarthy, D. J. Old Testament Covenant. Atlanta, 1972. Treaty and Covenant. Rome, 1978.

Mendenhall, George. "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition" in Biblical Archaeologist Reader 3, Ed. E. F. Campbell and D. N. Freedman. New York, 1970, 25-53. de Vaux, Roland. The Early History of Israel. Philadelphia, 1978, 439ff.

Weinfeld, Moshe. "Covenant Terminology in the Ancient Near East and Its Influence on the West." JAOS 93 (1973): 190-99.

"Berith." In Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Vol. 2. Ed. G. J.

Botterweckand H. Ringgren. Grand Rapids, 1975, 253-79. Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School. Oxford, 1972, 59-157.