This paper is a translation into English of the article:
W. Kosek, Zawarcie przymierza w Wj 1-18 na tle zwyczajów Bliskiego Wschodu [The Covenant-Making in Ex 1-18 on the Background of the Ancient Near Eastern Customs], [in:] T. Jelonek, R. Bogacz, Między Biblią a kulturą, I [Between the Bible and Culture, I], Krakow 2011, pp. 9-32, ISBN 9788374382854
This translation was first published on November 27, 2020,
on the Academia.edu website.
DOI of this paper:
This translation was published here on November 27, 2020,
the day of the funeral of Andrzej Kurdziel, my Dear Uncle from Kraków.
This paper describes a 6-element structure of an ancient Hittite covenant treaty in light of its connection with a 4-element ancient rite of covenant-making. We showed some examples of scholars’ works to illustrate difficulties in discovering the pattern of the suzerainty covenant Hittite treaty in the Holy Bible. The article’s main aim is to prove that the entirety of Ex 1-18 has the six-element structure of the Hittite covenant treaty. Ex 1-18 is the certificate of the covenant made (cut) by God and Israel in their passage between halves of the cut-waters of the Sea of Reeds – the covenant earlier than that made on the Mount Sinai.
Exodus, Passover, Haggadah, Judaism, treaty, covenant, rite, celebration, liturgy, liturgical anticipation, Book of Exodus, Bible, exegesis, literary structure.
The concept of an alliance as a political agreement between countries dates back to time immemorial. Archaeological discoveries, carried out in Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, the Holy Land, or Egypt, allow us to conclude that at least 2:000 years before Christ, there were already clturally established customs related to covenant-making and drawing up treaties, i.e., special records documenting the fact of the agreement undertaken. Thousands of ancient texts were found, written on papyrus or burnt clay plates, which are the literary legacy of those peoples. Among them, many covenant treaties were discovered.
On the territory of today’s Turkey, 150 km from its capital, the ruins of the city of Hattusa, the capital of the powerful Hittite state from the 17th – 12th century B.C., which occupied the territories of Anatolia and northern Syria, were uncovered in 1906 and its way of functioning can be compared to the later states of medieval Europe. With the weaker states of that geographic region, the Hittite princes made vassal agreements, i.e., alliances in which the Hittites’ position was much higher. Archaeologists found about 20:000 texts in Hattusa, written in unknown cuneiform writing on clay tablets, and, among them, many alliance treaties.
In 1917 the Czech scientist B. Hrozny  decrypted the Hittite writing, which allowed other scientists to undertake in-depth literary research.
To outline the history of the research  is necessary to emphasize the fundamental importance of the research carried out by V. Korošec – he was the first to publish a work on the Hittite interstate agreements based on source materials .
Then, thanks to him, G. E. Mendenhall  analyzed these works and discussed their literary form. He first pointed out that in A. Alta’s work, so far highly valued by scientists, which differentiated the laws of the Pentateuch in terms of their form (apodictic and casuistic laws), the comparison of the laws of the Bible with those of the Ancient Near East did not take into account the dissimilarity of their grammatical form. The commandments of Decalogue are in the form of the 2nd person singular, while the examples given by Alt are in the 3rd person singular. Mendenhall pointed out the need for researchers to turn to newly discovered texts that one had not yet taken into account: to the Hittite texts. As a reason for this, he gave examples of Hittite clauses which, in the same way as in the Decalogue, use the 2nd person singular, e.g., “You shall not covet any territory of the Hatti country,” as in form similar to “You shall not covet anything of your neighbor” . Mendenhall showed that clauses of the Hittite covenants are a ‘mixture’ of casual and apodictic law, and thus very similar to the set of laws in the so-called ‘Covenant Code’ in the Book of Exodus 21-23.
Thanks to many years of research, it became possible to put forward an essential thesis : the Hittite treaties were written according to the literary pattern that was constantly in force in the period from about the 16th to the 12th century BC.
The literary schema of a Hittite treaty is six consecutive parts:
|1. Historical prologue:||shows the relations of both partners. It was customary to go back as far as five generations, emphasizing the merits of a stronger partner to the weaker partner, and often giving examples of the disloyalty of the weaker to the stronger one (when the treaty was a renewal of an earlier agreement).|
|2., 3., 4., 5.:||these four parts are a report on the four-part covenant-making ceremony (see below).|
|6. Legal epilogue:||regulates the mutual obligations of contractors in everyday life.|
In the middle of the treaty being the document certifying the covenant was made, there had to be a text that described in the four consecutive parts how the two contracting parties entered into mutual obligations. Why in the four parts? Well, cultural custom dictated that on an agreed-upon day, the two counterparties, representatives of the two nations, should meet to celebrate the four-element covenant-making ceremony. Each consecutive part of the four-element ceremony was described in one consecutive part of the treaty (from 2. to 5.).
The covenant-making ceremony took the following course (the numbering starts from 2 because of the numbering of consecutive parts in the treaty, which had six parts):
2. Presentation of both contractors, with the eastern exaggeration to show the stronger contractor’s majesty, superiority over other rulers, and his ability to defend the weaker partner. The same purpose was also served by listing gifts that stronger promised to convey to weaker at the end of the ceremony, after an irrevocable act of making (or cutting) a covenant.
3. Handing over the basic covenant law by a stronger contractor to a weaker one; the weaker one accepts the law by taking it.
4. Irrevocable act of covenant-making: at the peak stage, contractors used to perform the essential part of the ceremony – the cutting (conclusion) of the covenant: they used to solemnly pass between the halves of split animals lying on the ground, going through the ground which was soaked in animals’ blood, and uttering conditional blessings and curses.
5. The ceremony culminated in the commemoration of the covenant by planting a tree or heaping up a mound. In this last part of the ceremony, also, the counterparties fulfilled the basic promises they made in the first part of the ceremony: the sovereign gave the promised gifts, the vassal from now on honoring the Sovereign as his superior, the king.
The individual points of the ceremony should be understood as follows:
Ad 2. The gift of a stronger contractor was especially the land granted before or legally confirmed now to the vassal. Another meaningful gift was the autonomy granted to a vassal (gift of freedom).
Ad 3. One should emphasize that the purpose of the covenant law, communicated in point 3, was not to regulate the mutual everyday relations of contractors – this purpose was served by the law inscribed in the last part of the treaty. Namely, the law whose solemn presentation was the second part of the ceremony had one purpose: to impose on the vassal a specific way of annual celebrating the day of his entering under the sovereign’s rule. The record of such a law was given to the weaker contractor by the stronger one. By accepting this record from the sovereign’s hand, the weaker contractor confirmed that he would implement it in the annual celebration in a way specified in this record. It was usually pointed out that such a celebration requires gathering subjects to listening to their obligations towards the sovereign. This ‘The main command’ is, therefore, a law safeguarding the memory of a fact fundamental to other laws: the vassal’s acceptance of obligations of servitude towards a sovereign – this was precisely the nature of the legal clauses of the ancient Hittite treaties .
Ad 4. Passing through the ground soaked in the blood of killed animals, between their halves, was to make a strong impression on the weaker contractor so that he would not dare to break his commitments in the future. The covenant was to be unbreakable, ‘to death and life’ – just as the kill of these living beings, between whose bodies the counterparties were passing for a sign of acceptance of the contract, is irrevocable. Furthermore, at the time of the passage, the weaker contracting party had to utter conditional curses and conditional blessings, such as: “If I do not keep this oath, let the gods I am taking now as witnesses (he mentions their names here) punish me with this and this…” “If I keep my commitments, let the gods I am taking now as witnesses(he mentions their names here) bless me in this and this…”.
Ad 5. When both counterparties completed the transition between the animal halves, this meant that the covenant was definitively concluded. Because of it, the sovereign then gave the vassal the gift, the one he announced in part 2. To preserve the memory of the covenant made, they used to heap up a mound, planted a tree, or set up a stone tablet. It is how the covenant ceremony used to end.
A four-part report on the course of the four-part ceremony, prepared by nimble scribes, was placed in the middle part of the treaty, between the historical prologue and the legal epilogue. Each contractor was required to deposit a copy of the treaty at the sanctuary of their principal deity.
Scientists discovered that the described-above literary scheme according to which the treaties were drawn up survived without change only until the fall of the great empires of the second millennium before Christ . They also noted that the Assyrian or Aramaic treaties had a pattern similar to that of the Hittites, but not identical: the important difference is the absence of a historical prologue, so characteristic of the Hittite treaties, where the merits of the sovereign towards the vassal were emphasized; moreover, the part for curses in the Assyrian or Aramaic treaties was extensive and bleak. The indicated differences result from the fact that a concept of sovereign-vassal relationship in these treaties is different: it is not the stronger partner’s friendliness towards the weaker (as in the Hittite concept), but the sovereign’s strength that is the fundamental justification for imposing obligations on the weaker one .
The researchers noted that the Hittite concept of a sovereign-vassal relationship is very similar to what one can read from the Bible in the relation of God to Israel . This observation heightened the biblical scholars’ interest in Hittite customs and intensified their desire to find the Hittite pattern of covenant-making in the inspired texts.
The work of many biblical scholars  has contributed to the discovery of constant features characteristic of the circumstances of covenant-making:
Other elements of a covenant-making description in the Bible include :
In the Holy Scriptures, biblical scholars have singled out several significant texts containing the analyzed issue. Among them , one should pay special attention to the descriptions of covenants made with Moses’s mediation: on the Sinai and the steppes of Moab. The scientists attempted to discover their literary scheme.
The primary methodological assumption of these attempts is R. Meynet’s  principle that it is not enough to limit the analysis of text to demarcate literary parts (pericopes) but to discover the logic of the links between them – their literary scheme. The French biblical scholar emphasizes the need for a proper approach to Sacred Scripture, different from that introduced by the so-called ‘school of forms’: biblical books are not so much a compilation (that is, a collection of earlier texts, not structured according to some logic – as Formgeschichte wants them to be) but a composition (that is, the logical structure of elements-pericopes, the structure given by the last editor of the book). One should note that Polish biblical scholars’ works also represent such a logic of the research method .
The following presentation of the texts as perceived by various authors will allow, on the one hand, to draw attention to the elements characteristic of the covenant in the Bible, and, on the other hand, to notice the difficulties in assigning particular fragments of text to the consecutive six parts of the Hittite treaty structure.
T. Jelonek  presents the scheme for Ex 19:1-24:11:
|• Ex 19||God presents Himself: the contracting parties did so in every covenant-making procedure, notably the stronger of them|
|• Ex 20:1-23:19||The terms of the covenant – a stronger partner imposes them|
|• Ex 23:20-23||The promise – a guarantee of the care of the stronger partner in favor of the weaker one|
|• Ex 24:1-11|
The ritual of the covenant-making
the common feast of the covenant partners at the end of the ritual
S. Łach  itemized the following elements in the pericope of the covenant at Sinai:
|• Ex 19:3f||The introduction|
|• Ex 20:1||The historical prologue|
|• Ex 20:2ff||The general and specific covenant commitments|
|• Ex 24:3||The loyalty oath|
|• Ex 24:4ff|
The writing down of the obligations on the tablets and in the book of the covenant;
the instructing of the people;
the assurance of God’s blessing for faithfulness to the covenant
E. Zenger  itemized the following elements in the pericope of the covenant at Sinai:
|• Ex 19:1-20:21||The theophany at the mountain|
• Ex 20:22-21:1;
|The frame of the Book of the Covenant|
|• Ex 24:1-11||The liturgy at the mountain|
• Ex 24:12-18;
|The tablets and the golden calf|
|• Ex 33||Moses and Yahweh|
|• Ex 34||Moses at the mountain with Yahweh|
E. W. Nicholson , on the other hand, noticed three elements in the same covenant:
|• Ex 19||The theophany|
|• Ex 20:1-23:19||The law (Decalogue, Covenant Code)|
|• Ex 24:1-11||The memory of some ritual|
The Book of Deuteronomy provides highly valuable research material regarding the scheme of the covenant description because this book is a kind of document of the covenant-renewal by Israel, the People of God .
T. Jelonek  presents the following elements in Deut 5-28:
|• Deut 5-11||Introductory teaching: Moses reminds here about the Sinai covenant, the Decalogue, shows his role as a mediator and underlines the love of God;|
|• Deut 12:1-26:15||Covenant Law (here is the Deuteronomy Code);|
|• Deut 26:16-19||The description of the conclusion/renewal of the covenant |
|• Deut 27-28||Blessings and curses|
In the same book, S. Łach  discovers a similar scheme (giving sigla rather without verses):
|• Deut 1-11||The initial incentives|
|• Deut 11-26||A collection of laws|
|• Deut 26:16-19||The acceptance of the covenant commitments|
|• Deut 27-28||Blessings and curses|
S. Wypych  gives such a scheme for this book:
|• Deut 1-4||The prologue|
|• Deut 5-26||The historical code of the law|
|• Deut 26:16-19||The acceptance of the commitments|
|• Deut 27-28||The blessings and curses|
|• Deut 5-11||The historical prologue,|
|• ‘The main command’||The basic explanation|
|• Deut 12-26||The single laws|
|––||The list of gods as the covenant witnesses|
|• Deut 27-28||The blessings and curses|
J. H. Walton with co-authors  provide such a scheme for this book:
|• Deut 1:1-5||The preamble|
|• Deut 1:6-3:29||The historical introduction|
|• Deut 4-26||The law of the treaty|
|• Deut 28 and 31||The last three parts: instructions on a treaty document drawn up, its witnesses, as well as blessings and curses .|
The examples of attempts to assign particular fragments of the biblical text to consecutive parts of a typical Hittite covenant treaty presented in the previous section of this article showed that this is not an easy task, and scientists’ opinions are divided. One must admit that after an initial period of enthusiasm about the emerging new opportunities for understanding the biblical texts in light of the peoples of Ancient Near East political culture, there has been a period of skepticism.
In order to understand the cause of the difficulties, one should note that there is no consensus among scientists regarding the basic framework of the pattern of covenant treaties from a broader period than the existence of the Hittite state, i.e., patterns from different cultures (Hittite, Assyrian, Aramaic, Ugaritic … and finally Hebrew) and which of the elements of the treaty are essential . After all, there did not have to be just the same scheme in the biblical treaties as in the discovered Hittite treaties. Some differences are permissible if only because each nation has its specificity, and Israel is also exceptionally capable of maintaining its own cultural and religious distinctiveness.
Another problem is that researchers often fail to see the link between the covenant treaty (document) and the covenant-making ceremony (quasi-liturgical celebration), and many commentators fail to distinguish between the structures of these two realities clearly! One can assume that this was why biblical scholars doubted the sense of conducting comparative studies of the Bible and treaties .
The treaty scheme presented above in this article and its relationship to the covenant-making ceremony scheme results from the intensive analyses, leading to the extraction of the most probable literary features in the Hittite treaties and their application in the Bible . This section of the article will show the fundamental reasoning process leading to the finding of the above schema.
In order to answer the question correctly, it is necessary to understand the logic of the Hittite scheme in light of what P. Buis  remarkably well wrote already in 1976 while analyzing the work of Korošec of 1931 on the Hittite treaties, namely:
The official document of the Hittite covenant, the burnt-clay tablet, mainly consists of two parts:
The description of the main content of the treaty, with four elements:
The description of the ritual of entering into obligations of this treaty, including:
P. Buis adds an extremely valuable remark at the end:
Some texts allude to the figurative curse ritual that accompanied the oath: the dividing of an animal, the piercing of a waxy statue through or the throwing of it into a fire .
It is only in light of the last remark that it is possible to understand the close relationship between the custom of drawing up a document to ‘perpetuate’ the contract and the biblical rite of the covenant-making through the passage of the parties between the halves of a divided animal (cf. Jer 34:18f):
In antiquity, there was a custom that contracting parties passed between halves of cut animals as a sign of an irrevocable ‘signing’ of the covenant, while then they noted this fact of that passage/the entering into a covenant in one of the consecutive parts of an official document, i.e., a treaty of the covenant. The order of treaty parts was strictly determined, similarly as it was with the order of covenant-making ceremony (ritual).
P. Buis, therefore, gives three fundamental pieces of information about covenants:
Based on the above-presented P. Buis’ division of the treaty into two parts, the author of this article makes the necessary shifting or copying of sub-items from part (a) to part (b) to cause the tractate reflecting the reality of cult celebration through which the people used to make the covenant (one will present it below). The endpoints were also demarcated as elements of the treaty epilogue, not as elements of the ceremony. Here is an explanation of changes made:
The author of this article, introducing the changes to the treaty pattern proposed by Buis, copied first the ‘self-presentation of the sovereign’ as a sub-item ‘presentation of contractors’ to the part (b). The reason is that it is hard to imagine that the solemn presentation of both allied nations’ rulers would be missing at the beginning of their joint ceremony! However, since the same element had to be at the beginning of the document as well, one should conclude that this element had to be repeated in the treaty: the first time, it appeared at the beginning of the document; the second time, it was in its second part, the one describing the course of the first element of the ceremony.
However, it is important to note differences in style between the first and second presentations. The ceremony required a special honor for the stronger contractor, so some eastern exaggeration in presenting his majesty as an outstanding individual and describing the greatness of gifts that this ruler promised to the weaker contractor in the first part of the ceremony. Therefore, the first presentation of contractors in the document did not have to be comprehensive, while the second one had to be exaggerated – after all, it described real facts from the course of the ceremonial celebration of entering the covenant.
Finally, one should note here: it is worth checking whether there is such duplication in known extra-biblical treaties. It goes beyond the framework of this work. As one will show below, such duplication exists in Ex 1-18 text, which turns out to be a treaty.
Also, a sub-point ‘the sovereign’s promises to the vassal’ from part (a) of P. Buis should be understood as a sub-point of the first part of the ceremony, forming a whole with the sub-point ‘presentation of contractors’ (as one explained in the previous paragraph).
In part (a) of P. Buis, the sub-point labeled ‘the sovereign’s requirements to the vassal’ forms the consecutive, second part of the ceremony. It is because the solemn reading and handing over of this ‘main command’ to the weaker contractor by the stronger one must have been a significant emotional element, an element so important for Ancient Near Eastern culture. This act – as it results from the analysis of Hittite treaty structures – one has to understand as a separate part of the covenant ceremony, the one following the part defined as ‘presentation of contractors.’
The next subpoint (already belonging to part (b) of P. Buis) – are the lists of gods-witnesses cited in the document. This section should be understood as a description of what happened during the third part of the covenant-making ceremony: the weaker contracting party, when passing between the halves of animals cut, uttered conditional blessings and curses , invoking the numerous gods as witnesses to the act of making (cutting) the covenant at that moment. P. Buis states that instead of the contractors’ passing between animals’ halves, one can encounter other acts of the same value, e.g., symbolic, figurative piercing a wax statuette or throwing it into the fire. The meaning of each such act is identical: its irrevocability. Just as the act of killing animals, destroying a statuette by piercing or burning is irrevocable, so is the act of making a covenant.
Finally, one should note that the ‘the regulations regarding the treaty tablet’ mentioned by P. Buis belong to the next part of the ceremony, the last one. The purpose of this part is to commemorate the concluded covenant, in the form both publicly visible (e.g., heaping up a mound or planting a tree) and invisible, sacred (by placing tablets with a treaty written on them in the sanctuaries of the principal deities of both contractors).
The covenant-making ceremony consisted of four consecutive parts. Their description occupied the central four parts of the treaty. This description in the treaty was surrounded by a historical prologue and a legal epilogue.
Prologue (two sub-points from part (a) of P. Buis: ‘a self-presentation of the sovereign’ and ‘the history of mutual relations’) could have contained a detailed historical description, including cases of the vassal’s unfaithfulness to the sovereign. As one can suppose, these cases were not mentioned during the solemn ceremony of the covenant-making because this ceremony was intended instead to emphasize the kindness and generosity of the majestic Hittite Sovereign.
The treaty had to have a legal epilogue at its end so that specific regulations governed contractors’ daily relations. One should remember that during the ceremonial, that law which was handed out by the stronger contractor to the weaker one did not contain such provisions because it had a more fundamental purpose (imposing on the vassal a specific form of an annual celebration of the day of entering into a relationship of servitude to the sovereign).
The verification of knowledge about covenants leads to the following conclusion:
In biblical research, it is particularly important to discover a basic literary schema, according to which the last editor logically divided and organized the text into smaller literary units (pericopes). As a result of thorough analysis , it turned out that the text contained in the first eighteen chapters of the Book of Exodus is:
This treaty consists of six parts (pericopes): Ex 1:1-6:1; 6:2-11:10; 12:1-13:16; 13:17-14:31; 15:1-21; 15:22-18:27. The four middle parts are an account of the covenant-making ceremony, with the definitive act of making (cutting) of the covenant, described in Ex 13:17-41 as the passage of God and Israel between cut in half the waters of the Sea of Reeds, including the passage of reaching the sea.
In order to understand the meaning of the act of passing the sea, it is necessary to recall the ancient custom according to which God made a covenant with Abram (cf. Gen 15:17): between the halves of the animals that were cut by Abram, there passed fire and smoke, the visible signs of God who is passing – this is how God made His covenant with Abram. This event is the best biblical source for understanding the analogous passage of the pillar of fire and cloud, the signs of God who is passing with Israel between the halved waters of the Sea of Reeds (cf. Ex 14:15-31).
The second source for this understanding of the sea passage is to notice the identity of the literary schema of Ex 1-18 and the schema of the ancient Hittite covenant treaty: the description of the passage (being the compact pericope Ex 13:17-14:31) is the fourth part of the treaty, i.e., the part that reports on how the contractors were definitively making (‘cutting’) the covenant.
Ex 1-18 as a covenant treaty has six parts – pericopes.
● The first element of this treaty – Ex 1:1-6:1 – is a historical prologue: its primary purpose is to prepare the covenant partner, Israel, by presenting God as its benefactor in times of difficult history before the covenant-making. Within this part, God, as in the Hittite treaties, presents Himself and the history of His contacts with the weaker partner and his ancestors (cf. Ex 3-4), doing it without the ‘eastern exaggeration’ required not until in the next part.
♦ The second element of this treaty – Ex 6: 2-11: 10 – is the covenant partners’ presentation, including mainly the self-presentation of God, who is showing through ten miraculous signs His magnificence, omnipotence, and predisposition to be a sovereign-protector towards Israel. In the first lines of this pericope, God announces (6: 7): And I will take you for my people, and I will be God to you.
וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם לִי לְעָם וְהָיִיתִי לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים
This ‘covenant formula’  known to biblical scholars has the same meaning as ‘I will make a covenant with you.’ Since God makes this announcement in the context of other acts, characteristic of the ceremonial of covenant-making, one should understand this formula as follows: God here declares to the weaker contractor that He is initiating the ceremony of making a covenant with him right now. God takes the first step here: He presents Himself as a trustworthy, all-powerful covenant contractor. It is where the covenant-making procedure is initiated. The next parts of this procedure are the content of the following pericopes.
This pericope also informs in the first lines that God promises gifts to the weaker contractor: to free him from slavery, bring him to the land of Canaan as his heritage.
The Genealogy of Moses and Aaron (Ex 6:13-7:7) is the presentation of the representatives of the second covenant partner. One must stress the importance of this genealogy for an understanding of Ex 1-18 as treaty: the validity of its location within the dynamic description of events leading to liberation of Israel from Pharaoh’s power cannot be explained unless one understands the pericope Ex 6:2-11:10 as an account of the first part of the ceremony of the covenant-making between God and Israel, where the presenting of both counterparties is required!
What is more, ten miraculous signs, which by the will of God still not bring Israel’s release (because either Pharaoh hardened his heart according to God’s announcement: 7:13.14.22; 8:11.15.28; 9:7.34.35, or God Himself hardened his heart: 9:12; 10:1.10.27; 11:10), have a profound meaning: through their planned ineffectiveness, God as the only one whose name is יְהוָה presented Himself with eastern exaggeration as a powerful covenant partner (cf. 10:1-2)!
One should mention that many biblical scholars understand God’s self-presentation in Ex 3 and Ex 6 as a doubled text , i.e., a description of the same event, preserved in two different versions. However, this view is not appropriate because it does not consider the differences  between the significant events – revelations of God Himself! The circumstances of these two different events are, after all, different, as the place itself of revelations already shows: the first outside of Egypt (at the foot of Horeb – Ex 3:1), the second in Egypt (Ex 6:2ff is a description of the events that took place after Moses’ Return to Egypt, as clearly shown in Ex 6:28) .
The understanding of Ex 1-18 as a treaty convincingly proves that Ex 3 and Ex 6 are not a double, but a description of two different historical events. Namely, the first presentation of God occurs within Ex 1:1-6:1, being the first part of the treaty. It meets the requirement to present within a historical prologue both the counterparties themselves and the history of their past mutual relationships, history, not fiction! In turn, the second presentation of God belongs to the first part of the covenant-making ceremony. Again, it is not literary fiction but a fact: the covenant-making ceremony required the parties to meet in real terms for making the celebration, and the stronger partner to present in real terms one’s greatness solemnly.
♦ The third element of this treaty – Ex 12: 1-13: 16 – God, as the stronger partner, gives the covenant law to Israel. This law is primarily the obligation to celebrate the Passover annually on the night of the 15th day of the month Abib, that is, on each anniversary of Israel’s departure from Egypt, which – as it turns out from the next pericope – is the beginning of the time of the covenant-making (‘cutting’), i.e., the 3-day march to the sea and between its waters cut.
The observance of this Law by Israel is to serve her memory of the Lord, who, for her sake, was keeping watch on the night of 15th Abib, and with His mighty hand He both killed firstborns of Egypt and saved Israelites gathered to eating lamb on His honor in houses anointed with that lamb’s blood.
The keeping of the law of unleavened bread (12:15-20; 13:6-7), i.e., the prohibition of acid consumption for seven days, is to serve the remember about the Lord, who, before leading Israelites out from Egypt, took care of them. Namely, for the way, He provided the people with the dough not yet acidified, expensive dishes and robes, lent to them by Egyptians thanks to the grace of kindness aroused in their hearts by Him (12:34-36).
The telling of salvation story by fathers to sons (13:8) that very night 15 Abib, the consecration of firstborns to the Lord (13:2.12-16) – they are other elements of the Law, which form the memory of the People of the Lord about the circumstances in which He made the covenant with them.
The Law of Passover-Covenant also imposes a fundamental duty of circumcision of men who take part in the cult feast in honor of the Lord. Just as the covenant with Abraham required the circumcision of the whole of his male descendants, the same is in this covenant that the Lord made with the whole of the People of Abraham’s descendants. Just as God ordered there the circumcision of not only those born in Abraham’s house but also acquired with the money (cf. Gen 17:12f. 23.27), the same is in this covenant of Passover (cf. Ex 12:44).
As in the covenant of circumcision, anyone who did not undergo circumcision is to be removed from the Lord’s fellowship (cf. Gen 17:14), so also in the covenant of Passover, it must be done to anyone who did not refrain from eating acid from evening 14th Abib until evening 21st Abib (cf. Ex 12:15.19) .
The biblical writer pointed out twice that the Israelites accepted the Passover Law presented to them by Moses and did everything as the Lord commanded them (cf. Ex 12:28.50). Thus, the covenant’s weaker contracting party, accepting the covenant law given to him, became capable of undertaking the next part of the covenant ritual – to make a covenant definitively.
Before we discuss this next part, it is worth noting the ‘duplication’ – according to commentators – of the description of leaving Egypt: in Ex 12:29ff and Ex 13:17ff. Therefore, some scientists believe that Ex 12:29ff is the beginning of the march’s description, while others favor Ex 13:17ff .
The solution to the problem lies in the difference in the march’s circumstances recorded in both texts. Behold, in Ex 12:29ff the biblical writer points out that the Israelites brought out of Egypt the unleavened dough, precious vessels, and robes – elements of legal and liturgical significance: in the annual Passover celebration, the Israelites do not eat acid, use precious vessels  and are dressed in the best robes . The text of Ex 12:29ff, therefore, is not intended to tell about the passage of God and Israel into the next part of the ceremony; on the contrary, it aims to explain the law of the covenant, that is, to fulfill the same purpose as the whole Ex 12:1-13:16 pericope, the middle fragment of which it is.
According to the biblical writer’s idea, the passage of God and Israel into the next part of the ceremony is to be told by the second description of the march, i.e., Ex 3:17ff. For here, the biblical writer with a double, and therefore unique, emphasis (cf. Ex 13:19) , underlines that Israelites, leaving Egypt, took Joseph’s bones with them. In the interpretation of The Passover Haggadah,  this means that each Passover participant is to see oneself as now leaving Egypt with the Fathers .
The presented difference between two descriptions of the march out indicates that the presence of both of them, the first in pericope describing the covenant law granting, the second in the next pericope (describing the act of covenant making/‘cutting’ by marching out and crossing the sea – as described below) is not an unnecessary duplicate, but the fulfillment of the requirements of the literary structure of the Hittite treaties.
♦ The fourth element of this treaty – Ex 13:17-14:31 – is an account of an irrevocable act: God and Israel made a covenant by going out together, crossing into the sea and between its halves (cf. Gen 15:17; Psa 136:13; Jer 7:22-23; 11:1-8; 31:31-33), the sea which plays the role of a divided (cut) animal – Rahab, Leviathan, Dragon (cf. Isa 51:9-10; Psa 74:13-15). Blessings and curses, characteristic of covenant-making ritual, are in Ex 14:22-31 in an extraordinary form: the curse is ‘spoken’ through the death of Pharaoh and all Egyptians (14:23-28.30b) who did not go according to the will of God but against Him. The blessing is ‘uttered’ through the happy passage of the whole of Israel, obedient to God, between the walls of waters (14:22.29-30a.31).
♦ The fifth element of this treaty – Ex 15:1-21 – is an account of the form and place of commemoration of two facts: they made the covenant; they fulfilled the covenant promises. The covenant is commemorated by the song of glory that Israelites have written in their hearts, singing to God, glorifying His power, and confessing that He has already (by anticipation ) fulfilled promises made on the day of the covenant-making ceremony inauguration: having led Israel out of bondage, He brought her up to the mountain of His heritage, to the Lord’s Sanctuary.
It is essential to note the immensely important significance of this liturgical anticipation. Thanks to it, the singing of Israelites on the other side of the sea is the very place and time where the last element of the covenant-making ceremony fulfills itself: God as the sovereign ‘now’ gives Israel-vassal the freedom and land He promised in the first part of the ceremony, in Ex 6: 6-8. Since through Israel’s sins (cf. Josh 5:6), her historic entry into possession of the land would take place only after 40 years of wandering, God inspired the people through His Spirit immediately after crossing the sea so that they would come into possession of the land by the power of the liturgical anticipation thanks to their singing of the song of Glory. What was the reason for it? – So that just there, the covenant ceremony could be closed according to the rules!
● The sixth element of this treaty – Ex 15:22-18:27 – tells about the law Israel has to keep in her everyday life. God is engraining in the heart of Israel-vassal the keeping of the law of Sabbath (cf. Ex 16), the sustaining the deep relationships of love with Him, and remembering about His graciousness and the covenant binding them.
Without understanding Ex 1-18 as a treaty of the covenant earlier than the Sinai covenant, it is impossible to understand why God had been imposing and enforcing this command upon Israel (16:23-28) immediately after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, i.e., before giving Israel the Ten Commandments at Sinai and – therein – the commandment of the Sabbath rest (cf. 20:8). The same concerns manna, which God had been sending in a double on the day before Sabbath (to make it possible to rest on Sabbath), and whom Aaron later placed in the ark at His command, next to the Sinai Covenant’s tablets (cf. 16:33ff; 25:16).
The appointment of judges (18: 13-26) to settle disputes in light of God’s law is also an incomprehensible act  unless one notices that Ex 1-18 is a covenant treaty, the final part of which must be a legal epilogue regulating the daily life of the allies.
The first historical covenant that God made with the people of Israel is not the ‘Ten Commandments’ covenant made at Mount Sinai, but the ‘Passover/Exodus’ covenant that God made definitively with Israel at the time of the passage between the sea waters, which He cut by the power of the wind sent by Him. Ex 1-18 is the document confirming this covenant.
The first eighteen chapters of the Book of Exodus fulfill the literary principles according to which the covenant treaties were customarily written by Hittites and other peoples of the Ancient Near East in the 16th to 12th century BC. The four central pericopes (6:2-11:10; 12:1-13:16; 13:17-14:31; 15:1-21) are an account of God’s and Israel’s fulfillment of the consecutive four elements of the covenant-making ceremony; the two outer ones (the historical prologue in 1:1-6:1 and the legal epilogue in 15:22-18:27) with the four central pericopes form a 6-element whole of the consecutive elements of the literary scheme of the treaty.
Ex 1-18 is a covenant treaty written according to ancient Hittite rules. At the same time, it has features typical of Israelites: six pericopes form chiasmus – A B C C’ B’ A’ – in terms of the central message of each pericope  and also in terms of the frequency of the forms of the past tense in relation to the sum of forms of the past and future tenses : 62%, 56%, 35%, (100-34)%, 56%, 62%. A similar numerical relationship characterizes the length of the arms of the six-armed candlestick , which, like the holy tent, was made according to God’s pattern (cf. Ex 25:9 and Ex 25:40) to be one of the main equipment for cult service in that tent (cf. Ex 25:31-40; 37:17-34).
Such an analogy cannot be the work of accident, but it proves that not only 6-armed candlestick but also 6-part Ex 1-18 text is built according to a ‘pattern from above.’
This analogy reveals in a new light the conviction of many exegetes  that the model for constructing the candlestick is a burning bush (cf. Ex 3: 1-6). After all, the Bible does not say that the flame had six arms but says in mathematical terms that there are six parts in Ex 1-18 and that these parts have an analogous relationship as that connecting the lengths of the Menorah’s arms.
Since “the Bible did not fall from heaven”  but was written by God in the language of human culture through the people He inspired, this pattern of Menorah did not have to fall from heaven either.
One must say instead that this ‘pattern seen on the mountain’ (Ex 25:40) by Moses is a 6-element treaty scheme which he as the adopted son of the Pharaoh’s daughter must have known well and which – as a fruit of the process of formation and development of the human political and religious culture of peoples of Ancient Near East – was chosen by God and indicated to Moses. This scheme became, by God’s will, first the structure of His plan for the liberation of Israelites from Egypt, and then the model of Menorah, so that it would resemble God’s plan of Exodus and, closely related to it, the treaty of Passover/Exodus covenant.