Thursday, April 25, 2013

Treaty, Law and Covenant

Last year, K. A. Kitchen and P. J. N. Lawrence came out with a massive compilation of every (or nearly every) treaty, law, or covenant from the ancient Near East, called Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East. The work is 1642 pages long (A4) and weighs 5.5 kilograms.

At one point in the conclusions the authors note the importance of their work for establishing the date of certain biblical texts based on the form and outline of the text. They provide a brief outline of the various source criticism theories and the dates that they yield for biblical texts:
Naturally, it is with embarrassment and some distaste, that we have in effect to declare that "the emperor has no clothes": but that situation is not of our making. Other people's theories and their lack of actual material support are not our responsibility. Our work can only operate on tangible data, never simply or exclusively upon hypotheses. Thus, we use throughout virtually exclusively real, physical documents, written or engraved on clay tablets, stone monuments, papyri and ostraca, or in actual early or antique MSS in libraries or museums. None were invented by us. (p. 3:261, emphasis as in original).
There is, in fact, no actual evidence for either the multitude of sources for biblical texts or the late dates proposed by many scholars. Most scholars should feel some obligation to provide some evidence for their beliefs. They continue:
Therefore, no biblicist can have any factual ground for complaints if we are constrained to present very different dates from theirs, for segments of proto-Exodus + Leviticus, much of basic Deuteronomy and Joshua 24, or of the archaic traces embalmed in Genesis. We possess and thus can present good-quality, original comparative data, all with very clear date-limits: therefore, with all respect, one cannot possibly consider substituting physically unsupported theories or wholly theory-originated "works" in their place. (ibid.)
One of the traps that disciplines can fall into is to be so wholly absorbed in their own field and theories that they cannot recognize assumptions that are glaring to those on the outsides or the margins. Biblical scholars, for example, often fail to realize the special pleading they make for their theories about the formation of their texts. Source criticism is simply absurd. While the biblical texts have been edited and probably have sources, speculating what they are is an intellectually hazardous enterprise. Kitchen's work demonstrates that.