The Limitations of ‘Resonance:’ A Response to Joshua Berman on Historical and Comparative Method

Journal of Ancient Judaism 4 (2013): 310-333

24 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2014 Last revised: 30 Mar 2020

Date Written: 2013


In 2011, Joshua Berman published a contribution to the ongoing scholarly debate over the sources and dating of Deuteronomy: 'CTH 133 and the Hittite Provenance of Deuteronomy 13.' Berman asserted that a Hittite treaty text from the fifteenth century B. C. E. (Catalogue des Textes hittites [CTH] 133) provides a closer parallel to Deut 13 than does the seventh century Neo-Assyrian text commonly known as the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon or, more technically, Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty (henceforth, EST). In his estimation, CTH 133 is therefore the preferred literary source for Deut 13. On the basis of those parallels with CTH 133, as well as other similarities that he finds between Deuteronomy and Hittite treaty forms, Berman contended that Deut 13 should be dated to the second millennium B. C. E. The significance of this argument goes to the heart of scholarly methodology and the historical critical method of modern biblical scholarship. If correct, Berman’s claim would overturn the standard scholarly position that the core of Deuteronomy dates to the seventh century, thereby abolishing an Archimedian point scholars use to date other biblical texts.

Because of these methodological implications, we included a brief discussion of Berman’s proposals in an article that recently appeared in this journal, 'Between the Covenant Code and Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty: Deuteronomy 13 and the Composition of Deuteronomy' (2012). The focus of the article, consistent with the theme issue of the journal, was to preview some of the main issues in Deuteronomy research that we will address in the monograph we are preparing for the Yale Anchor Bible Reference Library, Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch. We therefore covered a wide range of methodological and interpretive issues, including a brief discussion of Berman’s proposals. We argued that Berman’s rejection of EST as a source for Deuteronomy does not take due notice of the unique parallels between EST and Deut 28 that lend weight to the evidence for the connection between EST and Deut 13. In addition, we rejected Berman’s claims of a source relationship between CTH 133 and Deut 13, and his dating of the text to the Late Bronze Age, because there is no clear evidence for contact between Israelite scribes and fifteenth century Hittite texts, either in the second millennium or later. Berman has now prepared a full-length rejoinder, which appears in this issue. What follows is our response to that rejoinder.

Berman has reframed the debate as a case study on the comparative method. In addition to responding to our specific criticisms of his work, Berman appears to have two main goals: 1) to advocate for a more inclusive consideration of extra-biblical texts as sources for biblical texts – one consequence of which, he assumes, would be a broader range of potential dates for such biblical texts; and 2) to define the criteria for identifying source texts by highlighting ways in which scholars incorrectly narrow their list of extra-biblical sources. His critiques are rather dramatic, and we have given them our full attention in this response. In the process, we have found that the primary and secondary sources on which Berman relies actually provide stronger arguments for our own views, both textually and at a theoretical level. The clearest way to examine these issues is to start with the specific textual arguments and claims Berman makes about the Hittite provenance of Deut 13, and then to step back and consider the larger theoretical structure of his position.

Keywords: Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty, Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon, canon formula, CTH 133, Joshua Berman, Covenant Code, Tel Tayinat, EST, VTE, Hittite treaty, biblical law, New Historicism, New Criticism, biblical scholarship, compositional history, Deuteronomy, succession, Assurbanipal

Suggested Citation

Levinson, Bernard M. and Stackert, Jeffrey, The Limitations of ‘Resonance:’ A Response to Joshua Berman on Historical and Comparative Method (2013). Journal of Ancient Judaism 4 (2013): 310-333, Available at SSRN:

Bernard M. Levinson (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota ( email )

245 Nicholson Hall
216 Pillsbury Dr., SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0229
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612-625-4323 (Phone)


Jeffrey Stackert

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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