Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Covenant Lawsuit

Having tried cases where the presiding officer acted as both judge and prosecutor, I decided to investigate the covenant lawsuit, also known as the prophetic lawsuit, where Yahweh acts as both judge and prosecutor. Usually the face saving solution, adopted to avoid the ugly consequences of an appeal, is the entry of a verdict having no consequences, such as guilty with probation.

The various examples of the covenant lawsuits identified in the Prophets are based on the form of the ancient Hittite treaty lawsuit. Although Mendenhall was the first to note the Hittite treaty/Sinai Covenant parallels, he minimized the importance of the suzerainty treaty for Israel. Julien Harvey argued that the formal setting of the covenant lawsuit is found in international law, in an action for breach of treaty between a lord and a vassal. Huffmon noted a resemblance between the saving acts of Yahweh recited in the covenant lawsuits and the gracious acts of the suzerain toward his vassal in the historical prologues of the international treaties. Renaud observed that the wronged suzerain played the roles of plaintiff, accuser and judge much in the same manner as shown in the covenant lawsuits of Yahweh. In the Hittite proceedings, one or more messengers would be sent to the vassal breaching the treaty attempting to warn the violator by announcing the consequences of default.

Kirsten Nielsen suggested in Yahweh as Prosecutor and Judge (1978) that the essence of the covenant lawsuist is in these four elements: the calling of witnesses, the lodging of an accusation, the consideration of a defense, and the issuance of a judgment. The initial comparisons were made by Mendenhall between the Hittite treaty lawsuit and Deuteronomy. In fact, some have even suggested that Deuteronomy is based upon the structure of a Hittite form of suzerainty treaty. This treaty type was not used after 1200 BCE. It is apparent that the comparison is also valid as to the covenant lawsuits in Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah.

The prophets were messengers of Yahweh to the people who have breached the covenant with Yahweh. The prophets also announced the consequences of default. The messenger theme carried over to the new covenant announced by Jeremiah and proclaimed by John the Baptist and the Prophet like Moses who followed him telling parables about the Good Samaritan and the Wicked Tenants.

In the covenant lawsuits, unlike the experiences of my clients, the consequences are real and devastating. Micah was the first prophet to foresee Jerusalem's destruction as a punishment for the city's sins against the Lord. “Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.” These prophecies were fulfilled by the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in about 586 BCE.

Copyrighted 2007


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