Sep 18, 2018

Suzerain-Vassal Treaty Forms and the Deuteronomistic History

I have often expressed my reluctance to using the so-called suzerain-vassal treaty forms as an interpretive grid for the Pentateuch. Although, I would disagree with Terence Fretheim on some aspects of the Deuteronomistic History theory, he raises a good point below on how the suzerain-vassal treaty approach might not reflect the God portrayed in Deuteronomy─Kings.
"It is often suggested that Israel’s understanding of the Sinai covenant was based upon analogy with international political treaties of the suzerainty type. However, such dependence, in the case of the Deuteronomic historian, is much less than is commonly claimed, particularly in drawing out theological implications of the covenant. As we shall see, the historian makes it abundantly clear that God is not bound to react to the people in some schematic or univocal fashion. The relationship between God and people is much too personally oriented, has too much flexibility in it, for contractual language to do it justice. God’s mercy and compassion go beyond simple justice, again and again. God is not bound by form in responding; his actions are not legalistically defined or determined in advance.”
Terence E. Fretheim, Deuteronomic History, Interpreting Biblical Texts (Nashville: Abingdon, 1983), 22.

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