From the Ottawa Citizen:

Canadian archeologists in Turkey have unearthed an ancient treaty written in cuneiform that could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.
The tablet, dating from about 670 BC, is a treaty between the powerful Assyrian king and his weaker vassal states, written in a highly formulaic language very similar in form and style to the story of Abraham’s covenant with God in the Hebrew Bible, says University of Toronto archeologist Timothy Harrison.
Although biblical scholarship differs, it is widely accepted that the Hebrew Bible was being assembled around the same time as this treaty, the seventh century BC.
Harrison’s dig at Tell Tayinat revealed tens of thousands of items last summer, including the tablet. It measured 43×28 centimetres, with 650 and 700 tiny lines of script — and was smashed to pieces. Still, at least the pieces were all in one place. Dozens of similar smashed tablets were scattered.

Assyrian vassal treaties have been studied for a century and compared and contrasted with biblical documents, especially the book of Deuteronomy.  As the article says, some scholars believe that Deuteronomy is composed in the style of an Assyrian vassal treaty, which would date this “book of Moses” to the 7th century.  Other scholars find that Deuteronomy has more similarities with Hittite vassal treaties from the Late Bronze Age (1500-1200 BC), which would comport with the biblical dating of the book and not require that it be a fraud, pious or otherwise. 

Kenneth Kitchen has done (and continues to do) significant work on the subject.  In On the Reliability of the Old Testament, he wrote:

Sinai and its two renewals—especially the version in Deuteronomy—belong squarely within phase V, within 1400-1200, and at no other date. The impartial and very extensive evidence (thirty Hittite-inspired documents and versions!) sets this matter beyond any further dispute. It is not my creation, it is inherent in the mass of original documents themselves, and so cannot be gainsaid, if the brute facts are to be respected (pp. 278-88; emphasis original).

The implications of this debate are very significant, and I look forward to Kitchen’s future publication.  And everyone can be grateful for the outstanding work by Harrison and the Tayinat team.  An earlier version of this article includes a close-up photo.

HT: Paleojudaica

Update: The University of Toronto press release can be read here. The 2009 Seasonal Report for the Tayinat Archaeological Project is here (pdf).  Thanks to Joe Lauer for the links.


A great loss today in Israel with the passing of Hanan Eshel.  From Arutz-7:

Prof. Chanan Eshel, a leading Second Temple historian and archaeologist at Bar Ilan University, passed away Wednesday night from cancer. He will be buried at 4 PM in Kibbutz Maaleh HaHamishah.
Known as an expert in the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, Eshel also wrote five books, including “The Qumran Scrolls and the Hasmonean State.” He also authored over 200 articles. He was a professor in the Land of Israel and Archaeology Department at Bar Ilan University, and headed the department from 2002 until 2004. He received his doctorate from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and received research grants from Harvard, Oxford, and Michigan University.

Three of Eshel’s books were published last year and are highly recommended: Carta’s Field Guides to Masada, Ein Gedi, and Qumran.

I’ll note other remembrances of this great scholar here when I see them.

UPDATE: For more see, Haaretz (Hebrew with photo), Ferrell Jenkins, Hellige skrifter, the Jerusalem Post, and Robert CargillIsrael LandMinds has devoted a radio show to Eshel’s legacy, with interviews with Prof. Albert Baumgarten and Prof. Aren Maeir.