Ancient Israel & Near East Suzerainty- Wiki

This is an excerpt from Wikipedia on “Suzerainty”:

Suzerainty treaties and similar covenants and agreements between near-eastern nations were quite prevalent during the pre-monarchic and monarchy periods in Ancient Israel. The Hittites,Egyptians and Assyrians had been suzerains to the Israelites and other tribal kingdoms of the Levant from 1200–600 BCE. The structure of Jewish covenant law was similar to the Hittite form of suzerain.[7]

Each treaty would typically begin with an “Identification” of the Suzerain, followed by an historical prologue which catalogues the relationship between the two groups, “with emphasis on the benevolent actions of the suzerain towards the vassal.”[8] Following the historical prologue came the stipulation. This includes tributes, obligations and other forms of subordination that will be imposed on the Israelites.[7] According to the Hittite form, after the stipulations were offered to the vassal, it was necessary to include a request to have copies of the treaty that would be read throughout the kingdom periodically.[7] The treaty would have divine and earthly witnesses purporting the treaty’s validity, trustworthiness and efficacy. This also tied into the blessings that would come from following the treaty and the curses from breaching it. For disobedience, curses would be given to those who had not remained steadfast in carrying out the stipulations of the treaty.[9][10]

Hittite suzerainty treaty form

Below is a form of a Hittite Suzerainty Treaty.[11]

  • Preamble: Identifies the parties involved in the treaty, the author, the title of the sovereign party, and usually his genealogy. It usually emphasizes the greatness of the king or dominant party.[12]
  • Prologue: Lists the deeds already performed by the Suzerain on behalf of the vassal. This section would outline the previous relationship the two groups had up until that point with historical detail and facts that are very beneficial to scholars today, such as scholar George Mendenhall who focuses on this type of covenant as it pertained to the Israelite traditions.[13] The suzerain would document previous events in which they did a favor that benefitted the vassal. The purpose of this would show that the more powerful group was merciful and giving, therefore, the vassal should obey the stipulations that are presented in the treaty.It discusses the relationship between them as a personal relationship instead of a solely political one. Most importantly in this section, the vassal is agreeing to future obedience for the benefits that he received in the past without deserving them.
  • Stipulations: Terms to be upheld by the vassal for the life of the treaty; defines how the vassal is obligated and gives more of the legalities associated with the covenant.
  • Provision for annual public reading: A copy of the treaty was to be read aloud annually in the vassal state for the purpose of renewal and to inform the public of the expectations involved and increase respect for the sovereign party, usually the king.[12]
  • Divine witness to the treaty: These usually include the deities of both the Suzerain and the vassal, but put special emphasis on the deities of the vassal.
  • Blessings if the stipulations of the treaty are upheld and curses if the stipulations are not upheld. These blessings and curses were generally seen to come from the gods instead of punishment by the dominant party for example.
  • Sacrificial Meal: Both parties would share a meal to show their participation in the treaty.