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Covenant Terminology in the Ancient Near East and Its Influence on the West

M. Weinfeld
Journal of the American Oriental Society
Vol. 93, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1973), pp. 190-199
DOI: 10.2307/598892
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/598892
Page Count: 10
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Covenant Terminology in the Ancient Near East and Its Influence on the West
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Abstract

In the wake of intensive political relations between the various political powers in the Middle-East of the 15.-13. centuries B. C. E. a common treaty terminology had been established. The expressions for: treaty = "bond and oath" (Akkadian riksu u māmītu, Hittite išḫiul, lingāi-, Hebrew bryt wʾlh), on the one hand and "love and friendship" (Akkadian ṭābtu/damiqtu, aḫḫūtu/ra'amūtu, Hittite aššul, kaneššuṷar, Hebrew ḥsd/ṭwbh, Aramaic ṭbtʾ) on the other; treaty making: "to cut a covenant" (Hebrew krt bryt, Phoenician krtʾlt and Aramaic gzr ʿdyʾ); observance of the treaty "keep/remember" (Akk. naṣāru/ḫasāsu, Hebrew šmr/zkr, Aramaic nṣr); violation of the treaty: "break" (Akk. parāṣu, Hebrew hpr), "trespass" (Akk. etēqu, Hebrew ʿbr) etc. are almost identical all over the ancient Near-East. More surprising is the fact that all these terms penetrated the Greek milieu and were later on adopted by the Romans. Thus the terms "cut a covenant" (horkia temnein in Greek), "bond and oath" (synthēkē kai horkos in Greek), "love and friendship" (filia kai symmachia in Greek, amicitia et societas in Latin), "break/trespass a covenant" (parabainein/dēlēsasthai in Greek, rampere/frangere in Latin) etc. are identical with the Near-Eastern formulae cited above. The common covenantal tradition is further attested by a similar procedure of covenant making: erection of stelae, sacrifices, libations and divine witnesses. In the light of all this there is no escape from the conclusion that the Middle-East was the cradle of covenant formalities in the ancient world.

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