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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Law

Among the most impressive literary contributions of the ancient Near East are the law codes of Mesopotamia and Anatolia. These include the Sumerian Laws of Ur-Nammu and Lipit-Ishtar, certainly among the oldest law codes known to humanity. There are also the Old Babylonian law codes of Eshnunna and the famous Code of Hammurabi, as well as the Middle Assyrian codes, the Hittite laws, and fragments of a Neo-Babylonian collection from the late seventh century B.C.E. These laws cover a wide range of issues, including murder, theft, kidnapping, bearing false witness, striking one's parents, illicit sexual relations, rape, an ox goring another ox, and the manumission (freeing) of slaves. These have been compared with materials in the Bible: the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 21–23 ), the Holiness Code (Lev. 17–26 ), and the Deuteronomic Laws (Deut. 12–26 ). Indeed, there is so much in common in the content, language, and forms of the various law codes that one may speak of shared social ideals and aspirations of the people of the ancient Near East, if not a common legal tradition originating probably in Mesopotamia.

Besides the law codes, there are also the legal documents of international diplomacy: the treaties. The most well preserved of these are Hittite treaties of the second millennium B.C.E., the forms of which are, however, probably influenced by older Mesopotamian models. The treaties are of two types: (1) the parity treaty between two equal partners, and (2) the suzerainty treaty between a more powerful nation and its vassal. The first is best exemplified by the treaty between Hattusilis III of Hatti and Ramesses II of Egypt after the Battle of Kadesh in 1286 B.C.E. Such texts typically contain the self-laudatory titles of each party, a history of relationship between the two national partners, an affirmation of mutuality and friendship, a list of the terms of the treaty itself, a list of divine witnesses, and invocation of blessings on the partners if they keep their end of the deal and curses if they renege. The second type is exemplified by the treaty between Mursilis II of Hatti and Duppi Tessup of Amurru. These are typically sealed by an oath, with the terms set by the suzerain. Such treaties usually include (1) a preamble or titulary, (2) a historical prologue outlining the suzerain's benevolent deeds for the vassal, (3) stipulations of the treaty, (4) provisions for the deposit of the text and its public reading, (5) a list of divine witnesses to the treaty, and (6) blessings and curses. There are some variations in the order of the parts, however, and occasionally an element may be omitted from the treaty. One should also mention here the Assyrian documents such as the Vassal-Treaties of Esarhaddon and the Aramaic treaty between KTK and Arpad. There is evidence that the Assyrian treaties may have been modelled after those from Syria-Palestine.

Biblical scholars have used these treaty forms to explicate the Sinai covenant of Exodus chs. 19–24 and the covenant renewal ceremony in Joshua ch. 24 . As in the Hittite treaties, there is provision in the Bible for keeping the law in a sacred place and for public reading of it (Deut. 31.9–13 ).

In addition to law codes and treaties, there are many business and personal legal documents, such as the Hurrian legal texts from Nuzi and Alalakh that pertain to family law, adoption and business administration. From a later period we have a cache of fifth-century B.C.E. Aramaic papyri from a Jewish mercenary colony at Elephantine in Egypt, concerning loans, inheritance, marriage, sale of property, documents of manumission and adoption. Finally, there are the recently discovered Aramaic papyri from Wadi ed-Daliyeh, about halfway between Samaria and Jericho in the Jordan river valley. These fourth century B.C.E. documents are mainly contracts recording the sale of slaves which the owners had brought with them when fleeing the army of Alexander the Great in 331 B.C.E.

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