Why do I hear crickets chirping?
Be that as it may, Joshua Berman, a highly original Hebrew Bible scholar from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, presented another stimulating paper at the November SBL Congress. Berman has been focusing his research lately on parallels between Pentateuchal materials and Hittite (Asia Minor) literature from the 14-13th centuries BC (around the postulated time of the exodus).
Scholars have long puzzled over why the historical synopsis in Deuteronomy 1-3 gives a different "spin" on Israel's historical events than the records in Exodus through Numbers. Berman finds a parallel for this literary practice in the Hittite treaty literature: (continued, click below)
Histories Twice Told: Deuteronomy 1-3 and the Hittite Treaty Prologue Tradition
Program Unit: Israelite Religion in its West Asian Environment
Joshua Berman, Bar-Ilan University
The many discrepancies between the historical accounts in Deut 1-3 and the parallel accounts in Exodus and Numbers led classical scholarship to conclude that the author of Deuteronomy could not have intended his work to be read together with those alternative traditions. A cogent historical record, it is reasoned, cannot have conflicting versions of the same events. In this paper, I claim that an ancient literary model for precisely such activity was available to the author of Deuteronomy in the Hittite treaty prologue tradition. Building on work by Moshe Weinfeld and his students, I begin by highlighting the many elements and motifs of Deut 1-3 that find parallel in the Hittite treaty prologue tradition, demonstrating that the author of Deuteronomy was familiar with this tradition. In the second part of the paper I analyze the four successive treaties between the Hittite kingdom and the kings of Amurru. As we move from treaty to treaty we see history retold again and again and that the various retellings of the same event differ markedly one from another. I demonstrate that even as the Hittite kings redrafted their historical accounts in accord with the needs of the moment, both they and their vassals would read these accounts while retaining, and recalling the earlier, conflicting versions of events. Drawing inspiration from studies of the El Amarna letters, I turn to the field of international relations for a social science perspective to explain why the Hittite kings composed such conflicting histories and how, in turn, these were read and interpreted by their vassals. Finally, I return to Deuteronomy and discuss the implications of this practice for our understanding of the historical accounts of Deuteronomy 1-3 within the context of the Pentateuch, where other, conflicting versions of those same stories are found.
I think Berman may at times overemphasize the degree to which the accounts in Deut 1-3 diverge from earlier records, but his research is fresh, provocative and truly helpful for understanding the final form of the Biblical text as it stands. Like Raanan Eichler's work on the ark, he shows strong cultural parallels with material much more ancient than is usually postulated for Pentateuchal materials.