Histories Twice Told: Deuteronomy 1-3 and the Hittite Treaty Prologue Tradition


The many discrepancies between the historical accounts in Deuteronomy 1-3 and the parallel accounts in Exodus and Numbers led classical scholarship to conclude that the author of Deuteronomy could not have intended his work to be read together with those alternative traditions. An ancient literary model for precisely such activity, however, was available to the author of Deuteronomy in the Hittite treaty prologue tradition. Reviewing successive treaties between the Hittite kingdom and the kings of Amurru, and between the Hittite kingdom and the kings of Ugarit, we see in each case history retold again and again and that the various retellings of the same event differ markedly one from another. Even as the Hittite kings redrafted their historical accounts in accord with the needs of the moment, both they and their vassals would read these accounts while retaining and recalling the earlier, conflicting versions of events. Studies of the El Amarna letters from the vantage point of international relations offer a social-science perspective to explain why the Hittite kings composed such conflicting histories and how, in turn, these were read and interpreted by their vassals. This literary practice has implications for our understanding of the historical accounts of Deuteronomy 1-3 in the context of the Pentateuch, where other, conflicting versions of those same stories are found.