A Cursory Glance at Israelite Cuneiform
I’m in the throes of preparing for my dissertation defense (this Thursday, 7/22/10), but I felt I finally had to jump in on the recent discoveries of cuneiform tablets in Israel. By far, the most startling discovery has been that of a (small) tablet fragment in Jerusalem. Given the wonderful work at Hazor, I for one was surprised by the discovery in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been so often been stripped down to bedrock by successive inhabitants and been the focus of such intensive excavation that I continue to be amazed by the luck of the archaeologist’s spade.
However, my surprise was compounded today by the announcement that not only has a tablet been found at Hazor, it shows similarities to Hammurabi’s law code! Immediately my thoughts turned to David Wright’s recent book Inventing God’s Law, which has as it’s thesis that the Covenant Code (Ex 20-22) consciously reworks material from Hammurabi’s law code and has a literary dependence on the Mesopotamian original (read recent reviews here). Wright posits that the Covenant Code (and some surrounding narrative) must have been composed c700BCE, when Assyrian influence was highest in ancient Israel and Judah and hence when it would have been most likely for Jerusalem scribes to access to Mesopotamian legal traditions.
Wright’s argument for literary dependence is tight, but his date is debatable given these recent discoveries. However, I’m not about to date the Covenant Code to the Late Bronze Age on the basis of one fragment (see similar ruminations by Seth Sanders).
Hopefully I’ll be able to give all these wonderful new discoveries their just due after defense.