Thursday, April 08, 2010

New vassal treaty of Esarhaddon

AN ASSYRIAN VASSAL TREATY TABLET has been excavated in Turkey:
Canadian archeologists discover Old Testament-era tablet

By Jennifer Green, The Ottawa Citizen
April 8, 2010 2:03 AM

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.


King Esarhaddon was nearing the end of his reign in Assyria when he drafted this treaty, trying to ensure a peaceful succession to the throne, Harrison said. "It was remarkable the kind of the intrigue went on." One of the reasons they made these treaties is that Esarhaddon's father was assassinated by a brother.

"So he brought together all the rulers in the Assyrian empire and essentially bound them to these treaties (to) avoid political crisis. It's a very complex document to deal with, sophisticated and intricate ... anticipating all the possibilities that might arise."

Harrison's dig at Tell Tayinat revealed tens of thousands of items last summer, including the tablet. It measured 43x28 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.

This one clearly wasn't made of gold.

We already have copies of vassal treaties between Esarhaddon and other states (See ANET 533-34 for one with Baal of Tyre; also see here). It's not clear to me what the relationship of this new copy is to the others. But in any case, more is always better.

UPDATE (13 April): Duane Smith comments.