Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.07.34 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.07.34

Kenneth A. Kitchen, Paul L. N. Lawrence, Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East.   Wiesbaden:  Harrassowitz Verlag, 2012.  Pp. lxxiv, 1641.  ISBN 9783447067263.  €298.00.  


Reviewed by Silke Knippschild, University of Bristol (clzsk@bristol.ac.uk)

Table of Contents

Kitchen and Lawrence in their impressive three-volume work aim to collect the laws, treaties and covenants of the Ancient Near East. It is immediately clear that this is a highly ambitious, large-scale and daunting task, started in the 1950s. At the same time, collating the widely dispersed treaties and laws of the Ancient Near East is a very worthy undertaking. To have them at hand in one edition is of immense value. Without further ado let it be said that the authors have handled their undertaking successfully and admirably.

The work is divided into three volumes. Part 1 contains the texts, part 2 is dedicated to commentaries, indices and "chromograms" (charts to allow comparison of the texts), and part 3 provides an overall historical survey.

Kitchen and Lawrence start their collection of texts in Sumer with the earliest extant interstate treaty, the so-called Stele of the Vultures, a treaty between Eannatum of Lagash and an unknown ruler of Umma. From there, they make their way in chronological order down to the Neo-Babylonian Laws. In the table of contents, the texts are presented by ruler or state and are easy to find.

Throughout volume 1, each text is introduced by bibliographical references to sources, a general description of the type of monument and location(s), editions, full translations and major extracts or other comments. The texts themselves appear in facing transliterations and translations and are subdivided into their constituent parts, such as title/preamble, stipulations, divine witnesses and oaths, which makes them easily accessible. Each entry is followed by a chromogram in black and white, which reappears in volume 2 in full colour.

The volume closes with two appendices, called excursus. The first contains fragmentary Hittite texts, Demotic laws, the law code of Gortyn (Crete) and treaties between Graeco-Roman states/political entities and Ancient Near Eastern partners (Rome and Lycia, Macedonia and Carthage). All these appear only in translation with bibliographical references. The second excursus features texts that are very fragmentary, inaccessible, or not treaties, laws or covenants, but include pertinent matter. The authors offer some brief bibliographical references and the reason why the text is not included.

Volume 2 is essentially a guide to part 1. It places most individual texts against their historical, geographical and/or philological background. It then offers commentaries to the texts, which are not intended to be exhaustive. Splitting the massive amount of data into two separate volumes is undoubtedly a smart choice on the part of Kitchen and Lawrence. This reviewer cannot imagine how any other format could have been manageable, both for authors and readers.

The next part of this volume is dedicated to extensive and detailed macro indices. These include topic headings (e.g. military support, oaths, punishments), which are normally grouped chronologically and identify the type of document in question (treaty, law or covenant, mixed forms). Further there are indices on statistics (prices, fines etc.) and scales of pricings. The next index is dedicated to deities, followed by one on blessings and curses. The last index lists terms for treaty, law and law-collections as well as covenant. The index is well cross-referenced, which greatly facilitates finding the required information.

The following section features four maps (Syria and Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium, the ANE in the early 2nd millennium, the East Mediterranean and the ANE in the late 2nd millennium, and the Near East and Arabia at the end of 2nd and in the early 1st millennium). They are generic and not particularly detailed, which limits their usefulness. While this limitation is understandable —offering a detailed map for every individual or group of texts would be a bottomless pit — an intermediate route might have been preferable. At the very least, a reference to the maps in volume 3 could have been given. In addition to the generic character of the maps, they also feature not very well executed hand-drawn additions, which does not exactly reflect the current state of the discipline.

The last part of volume 2 is dedicated to chromograms. These colour charts are designed to facilitate the comparison of format, order and general content of the texts in volume 1, including the texts from excursus 1. After a key and an example there follow the vertical colour strips, differing in size from about an inch to full-page length. While this reviewer found them somewhat difficult to use, they may well be the best way to highlight the significant elements of the texts at a glance. Equally, Kitchen and Lawrence use them to highlight change and continuity in the overall format of their texts over time.

Volume 3, Overall Historical Survey, is certainly the most ambitious part of this work. In the words of the authors, the third volume “presents herewith a continuous narrative of the ever-changing history and cultural contexts of our corpus through the three millennia of its currency. It achieves in effect a longue durée and a true metanarrative, in providing a bird’s eye view across the full width of the Ancient Near East, as well as down through time from the Sumerians to the Caesars, upon its particular theme.” (p. XIV). In essence, this volume paraphrases the texts of book 1, following its chronological order, and places them in a cultural-historical context, adding a bit of human interest (e.g. p. 18 no. 5). The easily readable and sometimes downright colloquial narrative is interspersed with tables listing e.g. legal themes. Like the first one, this volume also features an excursus, "Apodictic, Casuistic and Substantival Law: Forms and Functions in Ancient Near Eastern Legal Texts". It concludes with a general index and three maps (Eannatum arraigns Umma amidst the City-gods of Sumer, Ebla’s sphere of influence, Sites of origin/discovery of the records in TLC 1), which again look like standard maps with inexpertly hand-drawn additions and embellishments. By design, this volume needs to over-generalise at times, especially in chapter 7 (“Concluding overall perspectives: Contexts and Concepts”, 243-266), which leads to questions about its intended audience.

This reviewer does have some small quibbles. The use of diacritics to indicate (e.g.) lacunae or illegible signs is not always coherent, in spite of the conventions laid down on p. XVII. I realise this is being finicky, but employing the system consistently would be helpful.

Moreover, the authors are sometimes rather outspoken about the efforts of their colleagues, be it in details about referencing systems (“the idiotic Vancouver system”, “the lazy Harvard system” vol. 2 p. 3) or referring to the lack of knowledge of their peers (vol. 3 p. XIV). This reviewer considers such comments to be somewhat unnecessary.

The volumes are carefully edited; orthographical mistakes or typos are few and far between. However, the book is presented in different fonts. While what might be termed the standard font (the majority of the texts) is clear and easily readable, occasionally another font appears, which is diffuse and does not display well (e.g. text 9A throughout). This seems to this reviewer to be linked to the author of the passages in question and could have been avoided by more careful typesetting.

Overall, Treaty, Law and Covenant in the Ancient Near East is a welcome addition to scholarship and a highly useful starting point for quickly accessing texts belonging to one of the three genres. It has limitations, such as the lack of detailed information about the monuments bearing the texts, which are of course highly pertinent, but with a project of this scale that can hardly be avoided. As a one-stop shop, it should be on the wish-list of every good university library.

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