Approaching ancient near eastern treaties, laws, and covenants.

Author:Lauinger, Jacob
Position:Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East, 3 vols. - Book review

The volume under review (henceforth abbreviated TLC) is an ambitious undertaking to edit and analyze the treaties, laws, and covenants of the ancient Near Eastern world that has finally been realized after over a half-century of labor. The result is a rich resource of texts written in eleven different languages and spanning three millennia. It is a great boon to have English-language translations of this diverse body of material and to now be able to move between the texts with such ease.

TLC consists of three parts. Part 1 contains the transliterations and translations of the anthologized texts. Part 2 offers commentaries on these texts together with several analytic indices and other tools. Part 3 is a synthetic overview of the texts, providing both synchronic and diachronic perspectives. In what follows, I discuss TLC's three parts in order. First, however, I look a little more closely at what exactly constitutes a "treaty," "law," or "covenant," since we shall see in the discussion of part 3 below that more than semantics is at stake.

One hundred six different texts are identified in TLC as treaties, laws, and covenants. According to part l's introduction, "treaties were used to govern relations (parity or vassals) between separate groups, or group(s) and/or a significant individual"; "laws (agreed or imposed) were a device for regulating conduct within a given society or social group"; and "covenant could be used to define relations between individuals on the purely human level, or between individual(s) and deity" (p. xxii). (1)

Not appearing in the anthology are "[a] variety of decrees, edicts, miscellaneous formal oaths, etc." [that] "form no part of that grouping (other than at most marginally), and so are necessarily excluded from this work" (part 1, p. xxii). Twenty-one such texts are listed at the end of part 1 together with a brief explanation of the reason for their omission (pp. 1082-86). Unfortunately, the most common explanation ("Edict, not a treaty, hence omitted here," for the so-called Hittite edicts, e.g., the Edict of Mursili II for Niqmepa of Ugarit) leaves us wanting a little more. Since these texts governed relations between two communities (Hatti and Ugarit in the example given above), they fulfill the requirements of a "treaty"--notwithstanding obvious formal differences from those contemporaneous Hittite texts that happen to be conventionally designated in the scholarship as "treaties." In the absence of any definition of "edict" that justifies their exclusion, the exclusion of the Hittite Edicts seems unwarranted. (2)

Other seemingly relevant texts do not even make it into the list of "not included" texts. For instance, it is surprising not to meet the Middle Assyrian Palace Decrees, "a collection of regulations dealing with the internal activities and behavior of the palace personnel, and in particular of the palace women (the 'harem') and those male officials who interact with them" (Roth 1997: 195). Such texts, governing life within a community, would seem to qualify as "laws," according to the definition put forward in the introduction, quoted above. (3) The absence of a number of other seemingly relevant texts, such as the "oath-protocols" from early-second-millennium Mari, the contemporaneous edicts of restoration,4 the Hittite instructions, the proclamations of late second-millennium Nuzi, and the edicts and decrees of the first-millennium Neo-Assyrian kings, is equally questionable. It may seem uncharitable to focus on what was left out of a work that runs over 1500 pages. But since the authors use only the texts appearing in TLC as comparanda in their synthetic study in part 3, the question of what is included and excluded is an important methodological issue, as is discussed in more detail below.

In part 1, transliterations and translations are provided on facing pages for 84 of the 106 texts identified as treaties, laws, or covenants. (5) The authors' statement that these editions are "not intended to replace existing standard editions of any given group of texts included" (part 1, p. xxii) is accurate. The text editions generally follow the various standard editions, with the primary deviations being minor word changes and some reordering to fit the line-by-line translations adopted in the anthology. Unfortunately, a number of errors seem to have crept into the process of textual transmission, so that while it is exceedingly useful to have the anthologized texts collected in a single volume, one probably still wants to use the standard editions for any substantive work. (6)

Part 2 contains a variety of resources intended to help the analysis of the anthologized texts. These include philological commentaries, indices of several different topics, and especially "chromograms" of the texts, which "lay out as vividly as visually possible the conceptual pageant through the centuries of the changes in format in the triple class of document studied in this work" (part 2, p. xix). As the commentaries to the texts are quite short and generally open with some background on the sources for or general structure of a given text before pointing the reader to the standard edition or a relevant reference work for the translation of various words,71 concentrate here on the indices and chromograms.

The authors provide four indices (to general topics; prices, fines, and tributary payments; deities appearing as witnesses and in curses and blessings; and topics in curses and blessings) and a brief discussion of the ancient terminology used for the types of texts gathered in the work. It is clear that a great amount of effort went into assembling the data contained in these indices, and it is quite valuable to be able to see at a glance in which anthologized texts, for instance, the Mesopotamian sun-god Samas appears as a divine witness or in a blessing or curse. However, the utility of some of the indices, particularly those to general topics and topics in blessings and curses, is diminished by the decision to use English keywords that generally do not match the words used in the translation and can be quite interpretive.

I provide here a few examples from Assur-nerari V's treaty with Mati'-ilu of Arpad (SAA 22, the authors' No. 90) to illustrate this point. The curse "[May Istar, the god]dess of men, the lady of women, take away their bow" (v 12-13) is only cited under "Misery, for people" not "Weapons" or, better, "Sterility." (8) The curse "May they be deprived of Adad's thunder so that the rains become forbidden to them" (iv 12-13) is cited with several other curses under "Drought" (part 2, p. 213) but not "Rains, failure of" (part 2, p. 217), where we find listed only a curse from the Code of Hammu-rabi, "May Adad, lord of plenty, canal inspector of heaven and earth, my helper, deprive him of rain from heaven (and) flood (water) from the source" (1 64-69). And the curse "May his land altogether [be reduced] to wasteland, may only an area of the size of a brick (be left) for [him to stand on]" (i 4-6) is cited under "Destruction, devastation" but not "Ground," thereby obscuring any connection with the famous curse from Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty, "May the gods ... make the ground as narrow for you as a brick" (lines 526-27), which is cited there.

Part 2 ends with a series of "chromograms," which are essentially outlines of the anthologized texts. The authors have identified a total of twelve elements that occur in various combinations in the totality of the anthologized texts and then color-coded these elements (so that, e.g., laws or stipulations are "Royal Blue," while curses are "Sharp Crimson"). (9) A chromogram thus consists of a column of colored bands indicating the presence and order of particular elements in a text. The strength of these visual interpretations, for which this...

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