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Verbum et Ecclesia

versão On-line ISSN 2074-7705
versão impressa ISSN 1609-9982

Verbum Eccles. (Online) vol.34 no.2 Pretoria Jan. 2013




Deuteronomy 28 and Tell Tayinat



Hans U. SteymansI, II

IDepartement für Biblische Studiën, Université Miséricorde, Switzerland
IIDepartment of Old Testament Studies, University of Pretoria, South Africa





The discovery of Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty (EST) at Tell Tayinat confirms the Assyrian application of this text on western vassals and suggests that the oath tablet was given to Manasseh of Judah in 672 BC, the year in which the king of Assyria had all his empire and vassals swear an oath or treaty promising to adhere to the regulations set for his succession, and that this cuneiform tablet was set up for formal display somewhere inside the temple of Jerusalem. The finding of the Tell Tayinat tablet and its elaborate curses of §§ 53-55 that invoke deities from Palestine, back up the claim of the 1995 doctoral thesis of the author of this article that the impressive similarities between Deuteronomy 28:20-44 and curses from § 56 of the EST are due to direct borrowing from the EST. This implies that these Hebrew verses came to existence between 672 BC and 622 BC, the year in which a Torah scroll was found in the temple of Jerusalem, causing Josiah to swear a loyalty oath in the presence of Yhwh. This article aimed to highlight the similarities between EST § 56 and Deuteronomy 28 as regards syntax and vocabulary, interpret the previously unknown curses that astoundingly invoke deities from Palestine, and conclude with a hypothesis of the composition of the book of Deuteronomy.




Historical critical assessment makes prophets disappear. At the meeting of South African exegetes in 1993, Jurie le Roux reported on the discussion of Robert P. Carroll's commentary on Jeremiah. In Carroll's view, the historical Jeremiah is buried under many layers of interpretation and cannot be recovered anymore (Carroll 1986; Le Roux 1994:63). Le Roux (1994) asks:

Is it possible that Carroll's ideology prevented him from understanding the events of the sixth century BC? Is there really no link between a prophet and the book bearing his name? (p. 89)

In Karl-Friedrich Pohlmann's eyes, Ezekiel has vanished behind the several golah-oriented editorial layers, a prophetical book and a collection of dirges (Pohlmann 1996:27-41, 2008:96). For Pohlmann's doctoral student, Susanne Rudnig-Zelt, almost the complete book of Hosea stems from Persian times - the oldest layer being some sayings about the foulness of Epharim (Rudnig-Zelt 2006:257). Rainer Gregor Kratz leaves barely 14 verses spread over chapter 3 to 6 of Amos. The rest is editorial work, whose dating may be assigned to a period after 722 BC or even later ages (Kratz 2011:328, 324 n. 40). The prophets' disappearance is severe, because Deuteronomy 28 has been dated on an inner-biblical basis through links with Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos. What foothold for dating in the Pentateuch can prophetical works still give when exegetes like Caroll, Pohlmann and Rudnig-Zelt remove the origin of a prophetical book far from the lifetime of the eponymous prophet and push the dating of its composition downward through history to late Persian times? Some foothold for dating Deuteronomy 28 may be given by extra-biblical evidence.

Archaeologists make texts appear. In 2009, the Tayinat Archaeological Project discovered a new exemplar of Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty (EST ms T-1808) in the inner sanctum of Building XVI - a Neo-Assyrian temple at Tell Tayinat, ancient Unqi, capital of the Neo-Assyrian province of Kullania. Figure 1 depicts the very act of excavating this cuneiform tablet. This document was previously known from a group of at least eight tablets from Nimrud, ancient Calhu, which were sealed with three divine seals of the god Assur and found in the throne room of the temple of Nabü (Ezida). The treaty tablet from Tell Tayinat was displayed in antiquity in the temple's inner sanctum. It measures 40 cm x 26 cm and, like the Nimrud manuscripts, it must be rotated along its vertical axis in order to read the reverse. It is pierced through its horizontal axis so that it could be fixed by a stick that was pushed into the tablet's hole and hooked into a stand. The treaty partners are the anonymous governor (bël pahiti), 16 anonymous individuals designated by occupation and, finally, all inhabitants of the province subject to the governor (Lauinger 2012:87, 90). This find corroborates hypotheses about the influence of the EST on Deuteronomy 28. It dismisses Liverani's claim that the EST was only meant for Median bodyguards of the Assyrian court. It also dismisses the idea of an Aramaic translation of the EST used for Western vassals of Assyria. That the Assyrian royal chancellery produced an official Aramaic translation of the EST is unlikely due to the sophisticated rhetoric effectiveness of the language used in the Assyrian text. Word repetitions in multitudes of seven and eight render the EST a message appealing to god and man - a piece of art that only gods and well trained scribes could really appreciate (Steymans 2003).



It has been my privilege several times to attend the Propent seminars, organised by Jurie le Roux, at Hammanskraal near Pretoria. It is with pleasant memories of stimulating discussions with South African, Dutch, Belgian and German colleagues gathered there that I contribute this evaluation of the impact of the EST manuscript from Tell Tayinat on hypotheses about the origins of Deuteronomy to his Festschrift.

Direct borrowing from the EST in order to create Deuteronomy 28:20-44, the oldest layer of the chapter, implies that these Hebrew verses came into existence between 672 BC, the year when Esarhaddon had all his empire and vassals swear a loyalty oath or treaty (the Assyrian term of this sort of text being adê) to adhere to the regulation for his succession and 622 BC, the year when a Torah scroll was found in the temple of Jerusalem causing Josiah to swear a loyalty oath in the presence of Yhwh. Such an anchor for the dating of a Biblical text does not correspond with those scholars who want Deuteronomy to stem from the lifetime of Moses, that is, the second millennium BC (eds. Kitchen & Lawrence 2012:121-125, 143-145, 197f., 228-233), and those who want covenant theology and Deuteronomy to stem from the exilic times, following Wellhausen (Koch 2008). Bernard M. Levinson and Jeffrey Stackert present the history of this debate (Levinson & Stackert 2012). There is no need to repeat it here. Proposals that the impressive similarities between Deuteronomy and the EST are not due to borrowing from the EST, but from any other Assyrian oath or treaty that was kept in Jerusalem (Radner 2006), were brought forward before the tablet had been found in Tell Tayinat. The discovery of the EST at Tell Tayinat confirms the Assyrian enforcement of this text on western vassals, and the site of its finding suggests that the oath tablet was set up for formal display inside the temple of Jerusalem (cf. Levinson & Stackert ibid:132). Scribes working in the administration of state and temple must have passed by the cuneiform tablet every day, and some of them were certainly able to read Assyrian cuneiform script.

Firstly, this article will summarise what Esarhaddon's Succession Treaties are. Secondly, it will highlight the sophisticated structure of this Assyrian legal document that is woven together by internal links of topics and headwords, which might have caught the eye of erudite Judean scribes who studied the way the cuneiform text was composed. Thirdly, it will deal with the invocation of deities from Palestine in §§ 54 and 54B that were damaged or missing in the manuscripts from Calhu, but come to the fore in the manuscript from Tell Tayinat. Thereafter, the common sequence of topics in Deuteronomy 28:20-44 and EST § 56 will be presented. Finally, the excavation data from Calhu and Tell Tayinat will be used in order to develop a thesis about the treaties' presence in the sanctuaries of Bethel and Jerusalem, and a sketch of the steps by which the whole book of Deuteronomy came into being will be offered.


Esarhaddon's Succession Treaties

These documents regulate the transition of Esarhaddon's rule over the Assyrian empire to Ashurbanibal and Shamash-shum-ukin. Though the latter one was designated to become king of Babylonia, Ashurbanibal should inherit the lion's share of the empire. Manasseh, as a tribute payer and as military ally to Esarhaddon, swore several oaths of loyalty - amongst them the EST (Radner 2006; Levinson & Stackert 2012:132).

The tablets of the EST were extraordinary due to several aspects. They were rather large, written like modern texts in such a way that the tablet had to be turned like a page, in order for the reverse to be read. On most cuneiform tablets, the scribe just continued writing when he reached the bottom of the obverse thus inscribing the lower edge and the reverse in a way that makes the script go from bottom to top on the reverse side if one turned it like a piece of paper. This difference in writing and the horizontal piercing of the tablet proves that the document was on display and not stored in an archive. Three seals of Assur depict the images of deities. Hence, the tablet is an idol, a sort of icon (cf. EST § 35; Steymans 2003). By the act of sealing, the oath tablets were elevated to the status of tablets of destinies (Lauinger 2012:87).

The structure of Esarhaddon's Succession Treaties

The language of Esarhaddon's Succession Treaties is poetic prose. The distribution of words shows that the stipulations are carefully structured. Certain topics appear and reappear consciously distributed throughout the text (Steymans 2000).

A curse as long as the curse of the great gods of heaven and earth in § 56 is unique in the Ancient Near East (ANE). The almost identical sequence of topics in both § 56 and Deuteronomy 28:20-44 is also unique (Steymans 1995). The following § 57 is the oath, which the takers of the oath had to proclaim. The verb forms are in the first person plural, pointing to the collective character of subjects under Esarhaddon's rule. They swear loyalty using a collective 'we'. In line 502 of § 57, the oath contains the expression 'speaking treason' (Semitic root s.r.r.): 'We will neither listen nor conceal incitement to assassinate nor listen to those who spread rumours of any evil thing, which is neither good or seemly and disloyal' (l. 501: sa amat sal.hul la la banitu l. 502: dabab surrate la kinate). A similar expression occurs in line 108 of § 10: 'You will not listen to, or conceal any word which is improper or unsuitable concerning Ashurbanipal' (abutu la la sig5-tu la banitu). § 10 has been discovered to be a parallel to Deuteronomy 13:2-6 in line 116f., mentioning prophets as rebels by Paul-Eugen Dion (Dion 1991). In addition, § 12 demands lynching, as does Deuteronomy 13:10. Combining the observations made by Dion and Steymans on the dependence of parts of Deuteronomy 13 and 28 on the EST, Eckart Otto argued that the author of the first edition of Deuteronomy conceived it as a loyalty oath to Yhwh (Otto 1999, 2002). Christoph Koch, an adherent of the exilic dating of any covenant theology, tried hard to dismiss the idea of direct borrowing from the EST. However, he was honest enough to admit that the parallel of dabab surrate (§ 57 l. 502 from sartu, pl. sarratu or surratu) and dibbër sarah (Dt 13:6 from the root s.r.h, a byform of s.r.r), as well as the identical sequence of curse topics in EST §§ 39-42 and Deuteronomy 28:25-34* witness to Assyrian influence (Koch 2008:244, 316).

In Jerusalem, the oath in § 57 must have been the best-known part of the treaty, since Manasseh proclaimed it during the oath taking ceremony to which he was summoned in Niniveh, together with high ranking officials of the Assyrian empire and other vassals. During the treaty ceremony, an Assyrian scribe must have proclaimed § 57 phrase by phrase, and the oath-takers repeated it together in the Assyrian language. Esarhaddon certainly made sure that the foreign affiants knew what they pledged to fulfil. This paragraph was translated into Hebrew at a certain point. It is arguable that the Judean scribes interested in Assyrian legal texts would first focus on § 57, the oath sworn by their monarch. Their interest would also be focused on the curses that precede and follow the oath, and thus wander to § 56: the curse of the great gods of heaven and earth. Their eyes would also wander to certain parts of the stipulations linked with the oath through common headwords. Table 1 presents some of the links that are woven into the Assyrian text. Parallel passages in Deuteronomy are given as well.

The repetition of headwords connects certain paragraphs of the EST. The most relevant parts for all vassals were the 'first commandment' in § 4 and the oath in § 57. The Assyrian official who monitored the local Judean administration probably made sure that the oath was recited and translated publicly in Jerusalem according to some stipulations of the treaty.

The curse section of the exemplar from Tell Tayinat

The manuscript of the EST from Tell Tayinat preserves two additional curses, that Jacob Lauinger named §§ 54A and B. The first one invokes the pair Adad and Sala of Kurba'il and the second one invokes the goddess Sarrat-Ekron, the Lady of Ekron (Lauinger 2012:90f.). In addition, the curse section from Tell Tayinat enables the completion of § 54, which was so damaged in the Nimrud manuscripts that it was unknown, except for the deity invoked. It has become clear now that §§ 54-55 geographically point to regions in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The series of curses runs in ms T-1808 (Lauinger ibid:113; Parpola & Watanabe 1988):

§ 54 May Aramis, lord of the city and land of Qarnê (and) lord of the city and land of Aza'i, fill you with green water.

§ 54A May Adad and Sala of Kurba'il create piercing pain and ill health everywhere in your land. § 54B May Sarrat-Ekron make a worm fall from your insides.

§ 54C May Bethel and Anat-Bethel hand you over to the paws of a man-eating lion.

§ 55 May Kubaba, the goddess of Carchemish, put a serious venereal disease within you; may your urine drip to the ground like raindrops. (p. 49)

The curse invoking the belligerent Sebetti, § 53, is missing in ms T-1808. Hence, the sequence of curses involving Mesopotamian deities ends with Gula in § 52. Then § 54 geographically jumps to a region east of the river Jordan. The characteristics of god Aramis are not known. Qarnê is the name of the Assyrian province in Transjordan, whose eponymous capital has been identified as the biblical Qarnaim, east of the Lake Tiberias (Lauinger 2012:119). The town Qarnaim/Qarnê (Sêh Sa'd) in the Bashan Mountains and its surrounding territory was under changing Israelite or Aramaic dominion during 9th century BC (Hasegawa 2012:128f.). It became an Assyrian province in 732 BC, when Tiglath-pileser III conquered Damascus (Radner 2006-2008:61).

The following curse, § 54A, geographically points to northern Mesopotamia. Kurba'il has not yet been located, but is thought to be situated near the Great Zab river, west of Arba'il and east of Guzana (Radner 2006-2008:47). It is a region where peoples deported from the Levant may have settled and it was part of a strip of territory with a mixed population of peoples speaking Assyrian and Aramaic (Kinnier Wilson 1962:99). Salmanassar III dedicated a statue of himself to Adad of Kurba'il, which bears an inscription praising this weather god in terms that fit well for Phoenician and Israelite Ba'al, Aramaic Hadad, as well as Hittite Tarhunta, Hurrian and Uratean Tesup:

[Adad of Kurba'il] bears the Sacred Whip [called] 'Lasher of the Seas', who [...] makes rain to fall, the lightning flash, and the vegetation to grow, at whose voice the mountains rock and the seas swell. (ll. 4-6; cf. Kinnier Wilson 1962:95)

Rainfall made agriculture possible in the region of Kurba'il. This Adad has a character quite different from the Adad invoked in § 47 line 440 of the EST - the one who brings floods necessary for agriculture based on irrigation. There is not much coast in Mesopotamia. The sea on which Adad of Kurba'il lashes his lightning is Lake Van and Lake Urmia (Tesup's domain), as well as the Mediterranean Sea (Ba'al and Hadad's domain). In addition, Salmanassar III praises Adad of Kurba'il for 'bringing the kings, my enemies, to bow at my feet' (l. 36), including those of Tyre and Sidon, as well as Jehu, son of Omri (ll. 29f., Kinnier Wilson 1962:96). Hence, it becomes clear why § 54A of the EST invokes Adad and Sala of Kurba'il in a context of deities located in the Levant. This Adad is the Assyrian manifestation of the weather god, venerated as Ba'al, Hadad or Tesup by the peoples of the Levant and Armenia, and submitting them to Assur's rule.

Geographically, § 54B almost touches the Mediterranean seashore by invoking Sarrat-Ekron, a goddess identified with Ptgyh, the Lady of Ekron (Lauinger 2012:119). In 672 BC, Ekron was an Assyrian vassal, not an Assyrian province. If the goddess of Ekron appears in a curse, it is safe to conclude that there was a copy of the oath tablet in Ekron. If Assyria's vassal at Ekron (Tel Miqne) received a copy of the EST, then even more certainly did Assyria's vassal at Jerusalem - the relation between the two Assyrian vassal states being delicate due to Hezekiah's adventure with Padi, king o