Friday, September 01, 2023

ANE vassal treaties and Israel

Orthodox Israel conceives of itself as a vassal of Yahweh (in the same way that other nations are a vassal of a human emperor), and as a vassal they receive custody of the land conditionally on their loyalty to the terms of their treaty, which is represented by the covenant. Part of their vassal status means that the right of ownership of the land belongs to the emperor (Yahweh), not the vassal. Thus it is important that Israel has no grounds on which to claim rights to the land for itself. This ideology is the motivation for the ḥerem of defeated cities, by which Israel surrenders ownership rights of the land it conquers.— The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest, 65

<idle musing>
This is an important point that frequently gets overlooked in discussions about the land promises in the Hebrew Bible. The land belongs to YHWH as the sovereign. The vassals in ANE treaties are given the land as a concession, holding it conditionally, depending on their faithfulness to the vassal treaty. In the case of some ANE treaties, the conditions are pretty harsh and so the vassals rebel—with predictable results under the Neo-Assyrians (hint: being skinned alive isn't my idea of a fun time!).

When looked at that way, the conditions on the Israelites are pretty lenient. Not that I would have done any better at living under it than they did. That is, if I tried to do it without the power of the Holy Spirit!
</idle musing>

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