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Covenants and law-codes - other treaty forms

The Royal Grant covenant

The Royal Grant is another example of a standard form involving the promise of a superior party to an inferior one, with curses attached to breaches of the agreement. Hence, it is important to look at the form in comparison with the various Old Testament codes. The discussion below will show that the Royal Grant form is actually quite unlike the treaty structure of Exodus and Deuteronomy, though it does resemble the covenant arrangements made by Yahweh with both Abraham and David.

There are examples of Royal Grants from Hittite, Ugaritic, Babylonian, and NeoAssyrian texts. It is likely that this is not the full span of the form. The best known and most frequent examples are the Babylonian boundary (kudurru) stones, which cover the period from around 1450 to 550 BCE using conventional dates, or about 1350 to 550 using New Chronology dates. The form was not strictly uniform throughout this time, but the variations appear to owe more to individual variation rather than systematic evolution. Royal Grants were used for protecting private property - copies of the original were typically made, and then placed at the boundaries to draw the attention of passers-by to the existence of the grant. It has been suggested that they may have been more common during times when the authority of the king was weak. As well as the secular power of the king, the grant appealed to divine witnesses to exact retribution if necessary. The most common use appear to have been to reward, and assure for the future, the position of a favoured individual who was required by the king to live in a potentially hostile population.

The basic supposition of the Grant was that the rights of the new land-owner and his heirs are guaranteed by the king in perpetuity. Curses were directed towards any who might seek to seize the land or deny the reality of the grant - for example "... anyone who shall rise up and shall put forward a claim concerning that land ... or shall say 'this land was not a gift' ... or shall appropriate it for himself ... may all the gods who are upon this stone, (and) whose names are mentioned, curse him with a curse that cannot be loosened." This is in clear contrast with Covenant treaties (of any age), in which the curses were directed at the vassal in the event that he should break the agreement. The blessings of the agreement were evidently directed in very tangible form to the recipient. Other elements of the agreement, for example oaths and ceremonies, were probably present but are not normally made explicit.

Grants were typically made in recognition of loyal service, and normally included explicit identification and the title of the ruler making the grant. Gift of the land itself is the main theme, usually along with the houses, crops and people living there. The boundaries of the area were indicated by reference to obvious landmarks (such as rivers) or the owners of adjacent property. Occasionally there is reference to either the recipient or a representative of the king physically surveying the land in question.

It is routine for the grant to be made to the individual and his descendants indefinitely. Correct identification of legitimate successors was therefore important, and there are law cases of challenges to a prospective beneficiary. The grant was not revoked by a single disobedient descendant - the individual concerned would be punished, but the gift would continue. For example, in a grant from Hattusilis II to Ulmi-Tessup, we read "After you, your son and grandson will possess it, nobody will take it away from them. If one of your descendants sins the king will prosecute him at his court. Then when he is found guilty ... if he deserves death he will die. But nobody will take away from the descendant of Ulmi-Tessup either his house or his land in order to give it to a descendant of somebody else."

In terms of Biblical parallels, it is clear that the covenant outlined in Exodus to Deuteronomy does not fit this pattern. The focus of the Mosaic covenant is the relationship between Yahweh as Suzerain and Israel as vassal. Although land is in view to some extent, the obedience of Israel to the treaty requirements is primary. The blessings and curses are directed towards Israel according to whether the terms of the treaty are kept or not. However, the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12-15) bears several points of similarity. Abraham has recently entered the land, and may be presumed to Land is the main focus, and the extent of the land is defined in terms of physical boundaries, other tribal occupants, and Abraham's own surveyal of its extent (Gen.13:17). Abraham is concerned about who will be his successor, and Yahweh assures him there will be numberless legitimate heirs to receive the grant. The ceremony described in Genesis 15 commits Yahweh to the upholding of the gift.

The Davidic covenant recounted in 2 Samuel 7 also shows some of the features of the Royal Grant. It is, of course, presented in the form of Nathan recounting a dream or vision, rather than direct communication between Yahweh and David. However, the promise of land and offspring is central. The sin of individual descendants will not alter the everlasting endurance of the promise itself. The actual extent of the land is not made clear, though reference is made to surrounding enemies.

Parity treaties

Parity treaties were made between two essentially equal parties. Typically they refer to each other as 'brother' and contain details of mutually beneficial actions. As a non-Biblical example we have the treaty made between Ramesses 2 and Hattusilis 3. In conventional terms this dates from the mid 13th century BCE, and in New Chronology terms around 900.

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