Joseph Farah is very sensitive about his Ten Commandment billboards and was feeling the need yesterday to respond to my coverage of his latest money-making scheme. He didn’t like my statement of facts, in particular, so I thought I’d throw a few more out there for general consumption.
Facts about the Ten Commandments:
What people generally do not know is that the Decalogue itself is really nothing more than a type of treaty between YHWH and Israel, based on Hittite vassal treaties (which are really near-eastern vassal treaties, predating the Hittite empire). In this case, YHWH is the ruler and the Israel his vassal. It is quite possible that the two tablets spoken of represent the copies of such treaties generally made by Hittite scribes, one for ruler, and one for vassal.
I’ve covered this before a couple of times but I’ll go at it again just for Mr. Farah’s benefit. Hittite treaties were generally of six parts:
- Preamble (identifying the author of the covenant and his titles and attributes. Begins with the formula “thus saith…”). As it happens, this is exactly how the Ten Commandments begin (cf. Ex. 20).
- Historical prologue or review (Describes the previous relationship between the parties and reminding the subordinate party of their dependence on the suzerain. The “I/thou” form of address is characteristic of this section)
- The stipulations (States in detail the obligations imposed upon and accepted by the vassal). These must be obeyed or the covenant is violated (cf. Judges 21:8 ff.). This also includes an appearance before the Hittite king at least once a year (in the Bible, three times – cf. Ex. 23:17).
- Provision for deposit (placing the treaty in a place of honor in the vassal’s city). You might remember here the Ark of the Covenant.
- List of gods as witnesses (cf. Ezek 17:12-21; Dt 32:1; Isaiah 1:2)
- The curses and blessings formula (what will happen if the terms of the treaty are or are not followed (cf. Deut. 28).
The Ten Commandments are arranged in a very similar pattern: preamble, historical review, list of stipulations (the main body of the commandments).The last three elements are missing, as Mendenhall points out, but it’s been argued that they are to be found later in the text. For instance, the Torah is to be read out loud to the public (list of witnesses) and kept in a sanctuary (call for deposition) and there are quite a few curses and blessings for the Israelites to receive depending upon how well they follow the stipulations of the treaty (statement of curses).
Moshe Weinfeld points to the similarity of the covenant forms in Deuteronomy to Assyrian vassal treaties of the seventh century and notes that “Like the ancient Greek historians, the Judean scribes of the seventh and sixth centuries also employed programmatic orations to present their ideological views.” These views are then expressed through the likes of Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon and even prophets.
In particular, Weinfield notes that a series of maledictions in Deuteronomy 28 “can be proved to have been transposed directly from Assyrian contemporary treaties into the book of Deuteronomy.” 
Oh dear. That’s bad, isn’t it? Close your eyes, Mr. Farah. Maybe it will go away.
Apparently, mentioning the fact that Israel was a puny nation is anti-Semitism, but we have seen how violently conservative react to facts in general, so this is hardly any surprise. Watch how he fits it in with some made-up facts of his own concerning the Hittites:
The trouble with that is that for centuries, liberals denied the Hittites even existed. They cited this “fact” as reason not to believe the historicity of the Bible. Then, lo and behold, archaeologists discovered this lost empire mentioned frequently in the Bible actually did exist. Now liberals tell us it was the Hittites, about whom little is actually known, who actually wrote the law given to the Hebrews. They know this because the commandments “are written in the form of a Hittite vassal treaty. What does that tell you about the debt owed by Israel to its Pagan neighbors? Their god couldn’t even come up with an original format. (The Hittites are one of the few Bronze and Early Iron Age powers that didn’t waste their time on puny Israel.)”
“Do you see the contempt in that statement – oozing as it does with anti-Semitism?” he asks.
Oozing anti-Semtism. Oooh. Yeah, facts really do upset Joseph Farah. Speaking of facts, here is one: Liberals did not deny the existence of the Hittites.
The truth about the Hittites is that people like Francis William Newman (a Christian, by the way) insisted that even if the Hittites had existed (at the time he wrote the only evidence was from the Bible), “no Hittite king could have compared in power to the King of Judah…” Farah has the same sort of attitude, that nothing could have been greater than Israel. Because God said so.
But God didn’t really say so. God didn’t write the Old Testament – or the New for that matter. And the fact is, Israel, and Newman’s Judah were no great shakes as scholars now recognize.
The facts make the Old Testament accounts laughable. Comparison of the biblical with the archaeological record reveals the lie. The Jerusalem of David and Solomon as portrayed in the Bible did not exist. Archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman assert that “[W]e have no hard archaeological evidence – despite the unparalleled biblical descriptions of its grandeur – that Jerusalem was anything more than a modest highland village in the time of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam.” Archaeologist Gideon Avni admits to problems with the traditional dating in Jerusalem, noting that “We have very minimal remains from both the 10th and the 9th centuries BC.” David may have been little more than a tribal highland chief who had perhaps, with his band of outlaw Apiru seized control of Urusalim (Bronze Age Jerusalem), a highland stronghold ruled in the late Bronze Age by a king named Abdi-Hebra, who appears in the Amarna letters dated to the fourteenth century. The facts as revealed by archaeology are striking, as Finkelstein and Silberman observe:
In Israel, regional administrative centers developed in the early ninth century. They were fortified and provided with elaborate palaces built of ashlar blocks and decorated with stone capitals. The best examples are found at Megiddo, Jezreel, and Samaria. Yet in the south, ashlar masonry and stone capitals appear only in the seventh century BCE, in smaller sizes, showing less foreign influence, and with lesser quality of construction. There is also a great difference in the layout and development of the capital cities. Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, was established as a large palatial government center as early as the ninth century. Jerusalem was fully urbanized only in the late eight century.
Israel then, was the regional – not super by the way, but regional – power. By way of comparison, Judah was “little more than Israel’s rural hinterland.” Even once-mythical Troy was more of a going concern than Judah/Jerusalem.
In other words, far from being a superpower, they were late developers and always lagged behind the actual super powers, like Hatti, Egypt, Babylonia, and so forth. In fact, the Hittties (Hatti) were so powerful that for a time, the Hittite king scorned the Assyrian monarch when he dared refer to refer to the Hittite king as “brother.” The Assyrians, you might remember, are one of those superpowers that stomped on Israel and carried off the lost tribes to eternal captivity.
I will likely be accused of anti-Semitism again for uttering these facts but that’s what happens when you challenge religious authority. But I’m not the one being anti-Semitic. No, that’s Mr. Farah’s aberrochristian friends, like Ann Coulter, who says Jews need to be perfected. This is a common attitude among those of the Religious Right. They side with Israel but Jews will never be as good as Christians for the simple fact that, well…they’re not Christians. And I will point out to Mr. Farah than the scholars making these assertions about the state of historical Israel and Judah are themselves Jews.
So I guess we have a paradox here, of anti-Semitic Jews. Kudos on your employment of logic, Mr. Farah. There real problem isn’t one of anti-Semitism but of anti-historical reality-ism. Because in a Right Wing Theocracy, of the sort Farah seems to want, despite his protestations to the contrary, there can’t be any inconvenient facts.
Look, Farah says those of us who oppose his Ten Commandments scheme don’t like to be reminded of our sin. I’ll just point out that people like Farah don’t like to be reminded of facts. They can’t refute them, so they can only call us epithets like “anti-Semite.” It’s easier you see, than actually taking the time to not only face the facts, but to formulate a logical and convincing (not to say relevant) argument.
Image from Wikipedia
 George Mendenhall “Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition” The Biblical Archaeologist 17 (1954), 58-60.
 For a discussion of Hittite vassal treaty parallels with the Old Testament see W.F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (1957) and George Mendenhall, “Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition” The Biblical Archaeologist, 17 (1954), 49-76.
 Moshe Weinfeld, “Deuteronomy: The Present State of Inquiry,” JBL 86 (1967), 253-256; cf. idem, “Traces of Assyrian Treaty Formulae in
Deuteronomy,” Biblica 46 (1965), 417-427.
 Francis William Newman, A History of the Hebrew Monarchy: From the Administration of Samuel to the Babylonish Captivity, 2nd Edition. John Chapman, London (1853), 179 note 2.
 Finkelstein and Silberman (2001), 158. cf. idem, David and Solomon (NY: Free Press, 2006), 126.
 Michael Balter, “The Two Tels: Armageddon for Biblical Archaeology?” Science 287 (2000), 32. Gideon Avni is Head of Excavations and Surveys of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
 Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed (NY: The Free Press, 2001), 159. Israel Finkelstein is Professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and director of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology. He is also co-director of the archaelogical dig at Megiddo. Neil Asher Silberman is director of the Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage Presentation in Belgium.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.