I often heard theologians said that Mosaic covenant followed the structure of Ancient Near East (ANE) treaties that were there in Moses' time. For example, here is the view of Meredith Kline: Suzerain Treaties & The Covenant Documents the Bible.

Why do some theologians argue that the Mosaic covenant follows ANE treaties?

I'm rather inclined to think otherwise that ANE treaties were derived from Noahic covenant and Mosaic covenant followed the pattern of previous biblical covenants (Adamic, Abrahamaic, Noahic). The reason is as follows. All human in ANE region (if not the whole world) were derived from Noah (Gen. 9:19) and his sons because of the Great Flood. Right after the flood, God made a covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:1-17). After the covenant, the Scripture recounts the descendants of Noah's sons (Gen. 10). The knowledge of the covenant was passed down through them, even until Moses' time, who then wrote everything down. We also see that Laban and Jacob made a covenant. Jacob swore by YHWH., but Laban swore not by YHWH, but rather by the god of Nahor. So, the concept of covenant lingers in both believers and unbelievers.

Hence, I would rather believe that ANE people had an understanding of a covenant (or treaty) from the covenant of Noah. Also, God who had previously made covenants with Adam, Abraham, and Noah followed the same pattern when He made another covenant with Moses.

What are some evidences against my argument?

Thank you.

  • 3
    I think the general argument is that the Biblical covenants other than Deuteronomy don't have the full structure seen in other ANE covenants: they don't really recount the history, they don't have blessings and curses, etc. So perhaps the covenant idea did begin with God and Noah, and then Abraham, but by the time of Deuteronomy it had been expanded in ANE culture, the form of which God saw fit to utilise. By the time of the NT it wasn't an active practice, though the promise of the New Covenant remained, so the NT picks up that theme without any passage formally establishing the covenant.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 13:29

2 Answers 2


A covenant is simply a binding agreement or treaty. A suzerain covenant is a covenant between a sovereign king (suzerain), in effect an emperor, and a vassal king and thus with the vassal nation. The terms of such covenants are decided by the suzerain king, they are not negotiated between the two kings. The suzerain covenant structures differ between empires and over the centuries.

One of main issues of discussion amongst archaeologists (not theologians) is not where suzerain covenants per se orginated, but which covenant forms the covenants of the Pentateuch are most similar to in structure.
The aim of finding a match between the suzerain covenant form of the Pentateuch and that of the ancient suzerain covenants is to put a date on the Pentateuch, the supposition being the author of the Pentateuch has used/copied the covenant form of the era in which he wrote.

So in the blue corner we have Professor Kenneth Kitchen with a lot about the different covenant forms over the centuries in the Ancient Near East (ANE). In the red corner we have Dr Bryant Wood.

Both take the Bible seriously, both believe the Exodus actually happened, and both argue that the Pentateuch was written before 1200 BC: both are emphatic that the Pentateuch could not have been written after this date, and the match of covenant structure in the Pentateuch with covenants before 1200 BC is yet another piece of strong evidence against a late writing of the books. This is what the evidence of the covenant forms from the Pentateuch compared to the covenant forms of the surrounding nations is telling them: and this is why the seeking of a match with the covenant forms of the surrounding nations is so valuable.

However, Kenneth Kitchen believes the Exodus happened about 1260 BC (Late Exodus) and Bryant Wood believes the Exodus happened 1446 BC (Early Exodus). And the date of the Exodus obviously affects the date of the writing of the books of and by Moses.

Kenneth Kitchen gives a large amount of information about the changes to the suzerain covenant forms of the surrounding nations (during the era of the empires of those nations, such as the Hittite Empire, when they were producing Suzerain/Vassal covenants) in his book "On the Reliability of the Old Testament". Since we know when those empires existed if we can see a distinct match between the Pentateuch covenants and those S/V covenants of other nations then a date can be placed on the writing of the Pentateuch. He then claims the best match of covenant puts the composition of the Pentateuch in the 13th century BC.

Bryant Wood claims that Professor Kitchen has been selective in his examination of the covenants in the Pentateuch and has resorted to a bit of special pleading. Bryant Wood also counterclaims that the existence of oaths in the covenants of the Pentateuch place them in the 1600 to 1400 BC period.

Unfortunately I cannot give an article by Kenneth Kitchen on the issue since my source is his book "On the Reliability of the Old Testament". Personally I think his date of the Exodus of about 1260 BC is wrong: he assumes that 1 Kings 6:1 is not to be taken literally, and this is a big mistake, in my opinion, but his book is still full of very valuable information for lovers of Scripture.

An article by Bryant Wood which touches on this subject can be found here:-


  • So, to sum up, the purpose of identifying Mosaic covenant with suzerain treaties is for dating Pentateuch?
    – hans-t
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 2:10
  • @Codosaur and hans, having read Codosaur's post it is clear the whole field of Suzerain Covenants (SCs) is quite huge and I would need to look at it from all perspectives and see how these covenants change over whole of OT era to be in a position to be more certain. Those who believe there must have been an Exodus either 1260 or 1446 would need only to see the differences for those centuries alone. Arguing that the Pent must have been written before 1200 BC because of the equivalence of the SCs with those of other nations would need to examine 2 millenia of SCs which I have not done. But.. Commented May 10, 2020 at 7:27
  • @Codosaur & hans - But personally I think the Exodus can be nailed by other archaeological data (if our faith is not strong enough to take the Word of God on trust) whch I have written about in the post below:- christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/9573/… I urge you also to read the linked post about the fall of Jericho, because the archae. data for the date of its fall is quite stunning in my opinion. Commented May 10, 2020 at 7:29

ANE Treaty form is something very well-known to scholars.


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The study contains examples comparing Deuteronomy to a treaty by Hittie king Mursilis (around 1500BCE). Deuteronomy was composed in Jerusalem in the 7th century BCE in the context of religious reforms advanced by King Josiah (reigned 641–609 BCE).

The oldest (Monarchic) parts of the OT were written no earlier than the 8th century BCE. So clearly, ANE Treaty Form is much older.

As to the comment this treaty form was not in use around the 8thy centory BCE, KAI 222-224 The Sfire or Sefire steles are three 8th-century BCE basalt stelae containing Aramaic inscriptions. Deuteronomy 28 contains similar content and structure of the curses in this treaty text, as detailed in this study.

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  • The similarity of covenants is actually considered by many to be strong evidence of the early authorship of the Pentateuch, because by the time of the 8th century those ANE covenant formats were apparently not in current use, and the Israelites weren't doing archeology in Hittite territory.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 1:21
  • Added a study that clearly shows the treaty forms were in use around 8th century BCE and known to the Israelites. Please include a reference to an actually dated text for your "strong evidence" claim.
    – Codosaur
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 7:35

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