The Decalogue, a  2nd or 1st Millennium BCE Creation?

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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10 February 2002
23 March 2002 Revised and Expanded

Conservative scholarship understands that the Exodus occured ca. 1446 BCE and therefore argues that the Decalogue is a creation of the 2nd millennium BCE.

Secular scholars have investigated the language found in the Decalogue and have sought to establish a "sitz im leben" within the Ancient Near Eastern world. Their conclusions are that while some of the concepts can be identified in 2nd millennium BCE contexts, there are other aspects preserved in the book of Deuteronomy that are attested ONLY in a late 1st millennium BCE environment. The preponderant evidence suggests that Moses' Decalogue, preserved in the Book of Deuteronomy, is a creation of the 7th century BCE, it mirroring most closely Neo-Assyrian Vassal treaties of that era, as noted by Moran.

Deuteronomy 10:1-2 (RSV) 
"At that time the Lord said to me 'Hew two tables of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables..."


"Love in Deuteronomy is a love that can be commanded. It is also a love intimately related to fear and reverence. Above all, it is a love which must be expressed in loyalty, in service, and in unqualified obedience to the demands of the law. For to love God is, in answer to a unique claim (De 6:4), to be loyal to him (De 11:1,22; 30:20), to walk in his ways (De 10:12; 11:22; 19:9; 30:16), to keep his commandments (De 10:12; 11:1,22; 19:9), to do them (De 11:22; 19:9), to heed them or his voice (De 11:13; 30:16), to serve him (De 10:12; 11:1,13). It is, in brief, a love defined by and pledged in the covenant- a covenantal love.

The problem, therefore, is: 1) is there evidence elsewhere in our sources for the existence of a comparable love; 2) if there is, is there also evidence which suggests that Deuteronomy knew of such a love and therefore may have been influenced by this knowledge ?

Beginning outside the Old Testament, we may point to texts from the 18th to the 7th centuries BC, in which we find the term love used to describe the loyalty and friendship joining independent kings, sovereign and vassal, king and subject. In a letter to Yasma Addu, the king of Mari, one writer declares himself the king's servant and "friend" (ra`imka, literally, "the one who loves you"). Here, however, we must be cautious. This is an isolated example in this period, while the contents of the letter and the otherwise unknown identity of the writer do not allow us to determine the implications of this friendship. But the sequence of servant and friend, especially in light of later texts, is noteworthy.

When we come to the Amarna period we no longer need hesitate, for then, as Korosec has briefly remarked, "love" unquestionably belongs to the terminology of international relations. In the correspondence between Tusratta of Mitanni and the Egyptian court it is the principal topic, and denotes the friendship between the rulers, who are independent and equals ("brothers"). Like tabutu, with which it is virtually synonymous, this friendship is the object of agreement and established by treaty.

However, a similar love also binds sovereign and vassal. The Pharaoh is expected to love his vassal. The nature of the latter's obligations is seen in the following text: "My lord, just as I love the king my lord, so (do) the king of Nuhasse, the king of Ni`i....-all these kings are servants of my lord. The vassal must love the Pharaoh; this is only another way of stating his basic relationship to the latter, that of a servant. Rib-Adda implies the same thing when in noting the defection of still another governor (vassal), he asks: "Who will love, should I die ?" To love Pharaoh is to serve him and to remain faithful to the status of vassal...Continuing down to the first millennium, we find this terminology still in use. A vassal mst still love his sovereign. The vassals convoked by Esarhaddon to insure loyalty to his successor Assurbanipal are told: "You will love as yourselves Assurbanipal." In another text we find a similar declaration under oath: "...the king of Assyria, our lord, we will love."  (Pp.104-105, William L. Moran, "The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy." Frederick E. Greenspahn, Editor. Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East. New York. New York University Press. 1991   ISBN 0-8147-3037-X. Originally published in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly. 1963. Vol 25, pp.77-87)

"It should be remarked first of all that, if Deuteronomy is the biblical document par excellence of love, it is also the biblical document par excellence of the covenant. No book of the Old Testament is so penetrated in every stage of its formation by the literary form which we now know goes back as far as the vassal treaties of the second millenium...The dominance of legal language in Deuteronomy is evident and needs no proof. Moreover, many of the expressions have close parallels in the treaties of the 1st and 2nd millenium...As we have seen, in the 1st millenium love still remains a duty of the vassal towards his sovereign. Influence from this direction on Deuteronomy is quite possible, for there is other evidence for very close contact with Assyrian treaty practices and expressions.

We may point first to the very long list of curses in Deuteronomy. Such length is unknown in treaties of the 2d millenium, but it does appear in the Esarhaddon text [681-669 BCE] cited above. 

More important is the presence of a curse which is substantially repeated in Deut 28 :23. The Assyrian curse reads: "May they make your ground (hard) like iron so that none of you may flourish. Just as rain does not fall from a brazen heaven, so may rain and dew not come upon your fields..." In Deut 28:23: "The sky over your heads will become like bronze and the earth under your feet like iron." So similar are these curses that Borger writes:..."The Deuteronomist must have derived this somehow, taking it over as an impressive image from an Assyrian source. Did it perhaps occur in a treaty between the Assyrians and the Judaeans ?"

One more example, in fact one of the most striking parallels the writer knows between cuneiform and biblical literatures in any period. In a passage of his annals which describes an Arab revolt, Assurbanipal states that the curses written in the treaties were brought down upon the rebels by the gods of Assyria. The text goes on: "The people of Arubu asked one another again and again, "Why has such an evil thing as this overtaken Arubu " (and) they say, "Because we have not kept the mighty oaths of the god Assur, we have sinned against the favor shown us by Assurbanipal, the beloved king of Enlil." In Deut 29:23ff. We read: "They and all the nations will say, ":Why has the Lord dealt thus with this land ? Why this fierce outburst of wrath ? And they will say, "Because they forsook the covenant which the Lord, the God of their fathers, had made with them...they went and served other gods..." Identical contexts (the curses of the treaty/covenant), identical in literary form...In view of such parallels between Assyrian treaties and Deuteronomy, we may be virtually certain that Deuteronomic circles were familiar with the Assyrian practice of demanding an oath of allegiance from their vassals expressed in terms of love. In line with Borger's proposal above, we may even assume that they knew of such oaths by Israelite kings."
(P.108, Moran)

"To sum up: our ancient Near Eastern sources suggest a quite new approach to the problem of the origins of the Deuteronomic doctrine on the love of God...If....the old sovereign-vassal terminology of love is as relevant as we think it is, then what a history lies behind the Christian test of true agape- "If you love me, keep my commandments" !"  (P.111. Moran)

Weinfeld's research lead him to posit that the Covenant of Grant  in the Old Testament promising Land and Dynasty guarantees from God appears to be 7th century BCE in its format in the Book of Deuteronomy-

"The close affinities to the Neo-Assyrian phraseology in these verses may be understood in the light of an identical chronological and cultural background. All of these verses appear in a Deuteronomic context which means that they were styled in the seventh century, a period in which the above mentioned documents were written, on the affinities of the Deuteronomic literature to the Neo-Assyrian literary tradition, see Weinfeld,Moseh. Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School. (pp. 89-90, note #20. Moseh Weinfeld, "The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East" in Frederick E. Greenspahn, Editor. Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East. New York. New York University Press. 1991.)

"Although the grant to Abraham and David is close in its formation to the Neo-Assyrian grants and therefore might be late, the promises themselves are much older and reflect the Hittite pattern of the grant "land" and 'house" (=dynasty), the objects of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants...It was the Deuteronomist, the redactor of the Book of Kings, who put the promise of David under condition (1 Kings 2:4, 8:25, 9:4f.) and so did Deuteronomy with the promise to the patriarchs...As we have shown, the grants to Abraham, Caleb, David, Aaron and the Levites have much in common with the grants from Alalah, Nuzi, the Hittites, Ugarit, and Middle-Babylonian kudurru's, i.e., mainly in documents from the second half of the second millenium BC. This fact and the possible link of the mentioned Israelite grants to Hebron, the capital of David's kingdom, may lead us to the contention that it was Davidic scribes who stood behind the formulation of the Covenant Grant in Israel." (p. 85, Weinfeld)


From Moran's article I draw the conclusion that the Deuteronomic Pentateuch and its Decalogue most closely mirrors Neo-Assyrian Vassal treaties of the 7th century BCE. So, it is not a creation of the 15th century BCE.  This fits nicely with my research into the origins of the Pentateuch and its date from an archaeological site perspective, arriving at a 7th century BCE date for the latest sites (Aroer of the Negeb and the wall-less Jericho) appearing in the Primary History (Genesis-2 Kings).

Weinfeld, while noting that Covenant Grants of Land and Dynasty appear in extra-biblical sources of the second half of the second millenium BCE, also notes that the phraseology and imagery best reflects the 7th century BCE and Neo-Assyrian literary conventions. He suggests then, that Davidic scirbes may have advanced the notion of a Covenant Grant, and that a 7th century Deuteronomist has preserved and presented this notion in the Primary History (Genesis-2 Kings).

We are given to understand in the Pentateuch that the Exodus' destination is Canaan and
Kadesh-barnea. The problem though is that there is NO archaeological evidence at Kadesh-barnea -currently identified with either Ain Qadeis or Ain el Qudeirat- in the Middle Bronze or Late Bronze. The earliest evidence is late 10th century BCE. This date doesn't
"square" with a 16th century BCE Hyksos Exodus (Cf. Judges and Samuel chonologies), nor with a 1446 BCE Exodus (1 Kings 6:1), nor with a Ramesside Exodus of the 13/12th century BCE.

We are informed by the biblical narrratives that KADESH IS IN EDOM'S BORDER
(Nu 20:16), and archaeologists understand that Edom's border, reaching the
Negeb, did not occur until the late 8th century at the earliest, but more
likely the 7th century BCE, all of which means the Exodus narrative is a
fictional account dreamed up in the 7th century BCE, which by the way,
HARMONIZES with Moran's and Weinfeld's above observations about the Decalogue's mirroring 7th century BCE literary conventions, and some aspects of the format being similar to the Suzerain-Vassal treaties of the Neo-Assyrian kings.

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