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The Hebrew bible récords two instances in which passing

through the parts of animals or of a single animal is part of a
covenant between God and man. The ñrst, Gen. 15:9-18, the bérit
ben ha-bétdrim, records God's convenant with Abraham and bis
descendants. Chapter 15 has aroused a great · deal of discussion
among scholars since it is rich in disparate elements and its under-
standing is basic to many Biblical concepts 1• In this berit, the
animals that are divided in half are a cow ('eglii), a goat ('ez) and
a ram ('ayil). The second is in Jer. 34: 18-19, where we are told that
the people of high and low rank who had 'entered the convenant'
to free their slaves passed through the parts of an ox; they are
upbraíded in God's name by the prophet for not truly emancipa-
ting them and are threatened with dire punishment.
Various parallels to this ritual have been cited over the years 2•
The first to do so was the great father of the Syrian church, Ephrem,
and his comment is often quoted (see below). Scholars, since the
eighteenth century, have cited classical material, not all really re-
levant, as parallels to the rite behind our texts. In recent years,
ethnological reports concerning the Bedawin have been brought
into the discussion and attention has been drawn to parallel ma-
terial from Hittite rituals 3•

1 There is a large amount of literature, much of which is recorded

in Westermann's Genesis on these verses. I found the fol1owing partícu-
lary useful: J. Hoftijzer, Die Verheissungen an die Erzviiter (Leiden
1966); O. Kaiser, "Traditionsgeschicht!Iiche Untersuchungen von Gene-
sis 15: ZAW 70 (1958) 107-126; H. Cazelles, "Connexions et structure de
Gen. XV": RB 69 (1-962) 321-349; A. Caquot, "L'alliance avec Abraham":
"Semítica" 12 (1963) 51-·66; S. E. Loewenstamm, "Abrahamic Covenant":
VT 18 (1968) 500-506; M. Weinfeld, "The Convenant of Grant in the
0ld Testament and in the Ancient Near East": JAOS 90 (1970) 184-203;
92, (1972) 468-469.
2 Much of the material was assembled by Th. Zachariae in hís study
"Seheíngeburt" reprinted in hís Kleine Schriften (Bonn-Leípgiz 1920)
pp. 245-293, esp. pp. 255-259.
3 See for the Bedawin material and a discussion of the meaning
of this ritual J. Henninger "Was bedeutet die rituelle Teilung eines
Tiere in zweí Halften": "Bíblica" 34 (1953) 344-353. The Hittite material
was .analyzed by O. Masson, "A propos d'un rituel hittite pour la lus-
tration d'une armée: le rite de purification par le passage entre les

The parallel that has aroused most ínterest in recent years

was first published in its entirety in transliteration and translation
in 1950, although the cuneiform text has been available since its
publícatíon in 1941 4• In this text we have the declaratíon of Ibal-El
that: ana Alslakka allikma ana hayarim qatiilim birit Hané u Ida-
maras míriinam u hazzam i§sunimma belí aplahma mirdnam u
hazzam ul addin hayaram mar atánim anáku. wsaqtil salimam birit
Hané u Itiamaras askur: - "I went to Ashlakka and they brought
to me a young dog and a she-goat in order to conclude a pact (lit.
"kill a donkey foal") between the Haneans and the land of Idama-
raz. But in deference to my lord, I did not permit (the use of) the
young dog and the she-goat, but (instead) had a donkey foal, the
young of a she-ass killed, and thus made peace between the Ha-
neans and the land of Idamaraz".
It has been noted that the young dog and the she-goat were
not considered suitable in this instance for the treaty ritual, even
though they must have been used efsewhere 5• The donkey, an ani-
mal not used for sacrifice as far as we konw, and not part of the
diet in the Ancient Near East was considered suitable here 6• This
may be due to the important role that the donkey played in this
period as the normal beast of burden and also the means of trans-
portation for both commoners and royalty at Mari (as we know
from the Mari texts). This particular text is not unique in the Mari
corpus and other witnesses to this phrase "to kill a donkey foal"

deux parties d'une victime": RHR 137 (1950) 5-25. Masson has díscussed
a great deal of classícal and modem material. M. Weinfeld in the
above mentíoned articles also deals with thís problem (pp. 197-198,
p. 469). Father Henninger's artícle was reprínted in hís Arabica Sacra
with additions (Freíburg/Gdttíngen 1981) 275-285.
4 Cf. Ch.-F. Jean, ARM II 37 (1941); ARMT II 37 (1950), ll. 5-14.
I have followed M. Held on the whole, "Phílologlcal Notes, on the Mari
Covenant Rituals": BASOR 200 (1970) 32-40. The phrase ana hayaram
qatálim. is Amurrite in Akkadían dress.
s Indeed, in the material assembled by O. Masson there is frequent
use of young dogs and of goats for the 'passing through' ritual; E. A.
Speiser, Genesis, pp. 112-113 díscusses the ritual and calls attention
to 'his artícíe in "Orientalia" 25 (1955) 9-15, where a bull, an ass and
10 sheep are used at Nuzi on solemn occasíons. Although there is no
pact making involved there, I do belíeve that the passage shows the
use of a set group of anímals far such occasíons,
6 It is important to note that this ritual is not a sacríñce, far the
parts are not dedicated to a deity or consumed by priests or laymen
in a sacral meal. This confusion may be found M. Noth's influential
essay "Old Testament Convenant-making in the light of a Text from
Mari, "The Laws in the Pentateuch and other Studies (Edínburgh-Lon-
don 1966) which first appeared in German in 1955. His remark, p. 109,
"the ass was far them clearly an animal which may be sacrificed, and
was indeed a particularly valuable sacríñcíal animal, more valuable
than any other animal of the the flock" has no basis.

are known, albeit only in quotation 7• It is assumed, although not

explicitly stated by most scholars, that the ceremony was similar
to that described in Gen. 15 and Jer. 34, a passing between the
sections of an animal, but there is no proof for this in the publis-
hed or quoted texts. W·e do know from these text that the custom
was widespread in upper Mesopotamia 8•
This is borne out by a text discovered sorne years ago at Tell
Rimah 9• In the text (Rimah Old Babylonian 1) Zimri-Lim of Mari
writes to his contemporary Hatnu-rapi of Karana (Tell Rimah) and
quotes from a letter of Hatnu-rapi: "In the past you have often
written that we should meet at Qattuna... 'and I shall bring the
kings my 'brothers' who are allied with me ,esa ittiya tabú) let us
make a pact hayarí i niqtul {lit: we will kill donkey foals') and
let us take an oath' this you have written". The text is defective;
but Zírnrí-Lím expressed his agreement to meet with Hatnu-rapi
and to make a treaty "by (killing) donkey foals and by oath"
(hayarü u niis ili birini li§saknüma (11. 38-40). It may be assumed
that excavations at other sites in the region of Mari will produ-
ce more attestations to the use of this idiom. Of a different nature
is the use of the term napistam lapiiium, "to touch the neck" a
symbolic gesture also made while concluding a pact 1º or the refe-
rence to slaughtering a lamb found in texts from Alalah and else-
where. Both the gesture and the act are admonitory or partake of
self-imprecation 11• In these cases the partner to the agreement
draws the curse upon himself.
The same is true of the often quoted instances from two texts
in which Mati' 'el of Arpad plays a role. In the first, the treaty
between Ashur-nirari V of Assyria and Mati' 'el of Arpad, a section
of the curse formula is devoted to the symbolic use of a larnb
(huréipu) which is torn asunder 12. Mati' 'el is threatened by the

7 Cf. He-Id, n. 4; W. von Soden, AHWb, p. 907, s.v. qattilum.

8 One of the texts has the ritual taking place in the temple of
Sin in Harran.
9 S. Dalley, etc. The Old Babylonian Text from Tell al-Rimah (Lon-
don 1976) 12-14, see addendum.
10 The writer plans to deal with this symbolic act in detall in the
near future. For the present cf. J. M. Munn-Rankín, "Díplomacy in
Western Asia in the Early Second Millennium BC": "Iraq" 18 (1956)
89-90 to which other examples may be added.
11 The case of Abban is often quoted, et. D. J. Wiseman: JCS XII
(1958) 129, 11. 39-42; A. D. Kilmer: JCS XIII (1959) 95. But this is
self ímprecatíon and there is no "passing through" ceremony.
12 Cf. E. Weídner, "Der Staatsvertrag Assurniraris VI von Assyríen
mít Mati'ilu von Bit-Agusi: AfO VIII (1932) 17-34; the pertinent sec-
tion is p. 18, 11. 10-35. See A. Reiner, ArNETJ, pp. 532-533; R. Borger,
"Assyrísche Staatsvertr:age" in O. Kaiser, etc., Texte aus der Umwelt
des Altes Testament, Band 1, Lief. 2. (Gütersloh 1983) 155-158.

fate of the lamb for if he, his sons or officials sin against the treaty,
they will then receíve the same treatment meted out to the 1amb.
The text makes the interesting and important point that the hu-
riipu. was brought for the specific point of sanctioning the treaty
and not for sacrifice, not for a banquet, not for a purchase, etc.
This is an important point, for many scholars, in discussing the
various texts, have assumed that the animals used were essentially
sacrificial animals. The other treaty is that between Bar Ga'yah
of KTK and Mati' 'el in Aramaic 13• It succinctly refers to the use
of the lamb for demonstrative purpose {Sfire IA 40):
m~¡ ¡-m,, ,~vn~ irJ, l~ mr ~?JV irJ, [,r 7,~n
"just as this lamb is cut apart, so shall Mati' ' el and his nobles
be cut apart". The verb gzr is reminiscent of geziirim for the part
of the animal in Gen. 15: 17. Finally, in the Vasal Treaties of Esar-
haddon, the cut-open ewe and lambs {11. 547-5-54) are used demon-
stratively with admonitory function in the treaty curses 14•
As was noted above, parallels were drawn between occurrences
of 'passing between the parts' of slaughtered animals ( or even of
humans) known from Hittite rituals, accounts in Classical texts
(Herodotus, Livy, etc.) ethnological reports and traveUers' stories
and the two Biblical texts under discussion. However, even though
there are typological parallels, a distinction must be made. As has
been noted, the Biblical text are part of a convenant-making ritual,
while the others are, on the whole, lustrative or purgatory by natu-
re 15 or partake, according to sorne, of a 'rite de passage' or partici-
patory funotion 16• In Gen. 15 it is God, the suzerain, in the sym-
bolic form of smoking brazier and flaming torch - the elements
of the Sínaíttc theophany - who passed through the pieces and thus
concluded the convenant with Abraham and his descendants 17• In
13 See J. A. Fitmyer, SJ, The Aramaic lnscriptions of Sefire (Rome
1967) 56-57; D. R. Hillers, Treaty Curses of the Old Testament Prophets
(Rome 1964) 20 considers thís part of a ceremony connected with treaty
makíng, But ít occurs only in vassal treaties and was simply part of
the self ímprecatíon, For a review of the various identifications of
Bar-Ga'yah and KTK, cf. A. Lemaire and J.-M. Durand, Les inscrip-
tions araméennes de Sjire et l'Assyrie de Shamshi-ilu (Geneve-París
14 D. J. Wiseman, Vassal-Treaties of Esarhaddon: "Iraq" XX (1958);
E. Reiner, ANET3, pp. 534-541. The oft-quoted oath in Livy I, 24 is
also self-imprecatory.
15 See Masson (above, n. 3), p. 18.
16 W. Robinson Smith, Religion ot the Semites (second edítíon,
1895) 480f. is one of the frequenW.y quoted advocates of thís unlíkely
17 See Skinner, Genesis, p. 283; Speiser, Genesis, 113-14 for com-
parative material, but without awareness of the 'theophany' element.
M. Weinf.eld, (above, n. 1) 196 believes that the torch and the oven

Jer. 34, it is the 'people' who pass through the parts and are be-
sworn. It is díffícult to see how the Biblícal passages fit wíth the
other incidents.
The remark of the Syrian church father Ephrem is of interest.
His work is a storehouse of information, not only about theologi-
cal trends and traditions, but also concerning both the religious
past and present of the Syriac speaking world of the fourth cen-
tury in whích he lived 18• In the third century, the pagan cults were
widespread in Edessa and in the majar cities of the regíon as ma-
terial, both literary and archaeologícal, from Edessa, Haran, Pal-
myra, Dura-Europos and Assur makes amply clear 19• In his com-
mentary on Genesis 15, he reports: "the Chaldeans would solemníze
a pact by passing through the dissected parts holding torches" 20•
I do not believe that this an extrapolation from the Biblical text,
but was in all likelihood based on more than hearsay, The fami-
líaríty of Ephrem and other Syrian church-fathers with the pagan
background of the area is known 21•
The other references to pacts and treaties in Genesis are not
characterized by overt symbolic actions, unless Abraham's gift of
seven ewes to Abimelech (Gen. 21: 2.7-30) as an 'eda is to be seen
in this light 22• In the pact between Isaac and Abimelech (Gen.
2·6:29-31) we have what may well be a convenant meal (v. 30),
Jollowed by an oath (v. 31) 23• In the encounter between Jacob

were part of the procedure of oath-takíng. But it is the torch and oven
which passed through in this story.
18 For recent bibliography and study see Robert Murray, Symbols
of Church and Kingdom, A Study in Early Syriac Tradition (Cambridge
1975) and T. Kronholm, Motifs from Genesis 1-11 in the Genuine Hymns
of Ephrem the Syrian (Lund 1978). The subtítle of Kronholm's book
is "with particular reference to the ínñuence of Jewish tradition".
19 For Palmyra, cf. J. Teixidor, The Pantheon of Palmyra (Leiden
1979); for Edessa, cf. H. J. W. Drijvers, Cults and Beliefs at Edessa
(Leiden 1980), and before him J. B. Segal, Edessa 'the Blessed City'
(Oxford 1970) who díscusses relígíon (pp. 43-'61) and pagans in the
fourth cent. at Edessa and Harran (pp. 104-109). R. Browning, The
Emperor Julian (Berkeley 197,6) in his chapter on "Julian and the
Christians" (158-186) discusses pagan survívats in the fourth century.
See too J. Teixidor, The Pagan God (Princeton 1977).
20 Quoted by Zachariae (above n. 2). The passage is not in the
edítíon · of the Commentary on Genesís edited by R.-M. T-onneau (Lou-
vain 1955).
21 E. g. Jacob of Serug's, "Discourse about the Fall of the Idols"
edited by- J. Martín: ZDMG 29 (1875) 107-147 and the díscussíon by
B. Vandenhoff: "Oriens Christianus" 5 (1915) 251-257.
22 Note the theme of seven in the Sfire curse formula (I A 11. 21-24).
It is difficult not to assocíate 'edi'i with Heb. *'·i'idim "treaty" Aramaic
'dy' and Akkadían tuié.
23 The sharing of food and drink was a sign of amanee in
the Ancíent Near East. Note the material assembled by S. A. Kauf-

and Laban {Gen. 31: vs. 46-54 for the pact) beside the erection of
the gal/ma$$ebii which served also as an 'édá, we are informed in
v. 54 of the convenant meal which sealed the pact. It is, however,
in the Targum to Gen. 26:31 that a reflex of the rite discussed
above is to be found. Instead of the simple oath found in the Heb-
rew text, the Pseudo-Jonathon preserves an ínterestíng tradition:
"they arose in the morning and swore one to the other ufsag mauui
déhamréh. wiyhab pisgii tuui léhom lesahádü we$alli 'alayahon
yi$haq we'itrewa!J,ü ioé'aluiimon. yi{l,!J,aq ... and he (scil. Isaac?) cut he
rein of his donkey and gave eme piece to them as a witness and
he prayed over them and they were relieved and Isaac accompa-
nied them" 24• Although a reading matrui "loin" would make better
sense in light of the material assembled above, the reading matqii
détuimréh. is confirmed by examíníng a photograph of the Lon-
don manuscript and the editio princeps 25• It is also confirmed by
the story in Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 36: "What did Isaac
do, he took a cubit of the rein of the donkey upon which he rode
and gave it to him (Abímelech) so that there be a pact between
them". The story in Pirqe de-Rabbi Eliezer adds the word 'ammat
"cubit of", since it used the tale in a secondary fashion in relation-
ship to II Samuel 8: 1, where David takes the enigmatic meteg
ha-'amma from the Philistines. The passage in Pirqe de-Rabbi Elie-
zer serves as confirmation of the reading and for the relative anti-
quity of the tale 26•
What stands behind the use of the 'reín 0! the donkey'? It is

ltrue that in the Abraham-Abimelech and the Jacob-Laban tales

there is an 'édá that is set asíde as a 'witness' to the pact, and this
is lacking in the Isaac-Abimelech tale; 'the rein of the donkey' is
called a satuitiiita "witness" in the Targum, and this fills the lacuna
in the story. Nevertheless, the choice of a donkey here may very
well go back to a tradítíon preserved from antiquity, in whích the
donkey was used as the animal slaughtered for a treaty: But this
would not fit in any way with the Biblical background, and even
more so, with the later rabbinic milieu. It may be ventured that
the cutting of then rein was substítuted at an early date for that

man in Essays on the Ancietit Near East in Memory of J. J. Finkelstein

(ed. M. de Jong Ellis, Hamden 1977) 126-127.
24 Tbis passage is díscussed in varíous parts of A. Shinan's Jeru-
salem dissertation The Form and Content of the Aggadah in the "Pa-
lestinian" Targumim and its Place within Rabbinic Literature (He-
brew Uníversity, Jerusalem 1977).
25 I am indebted to Prof. Míchael K1lein for cbecking the readings;
see too ed. D. Rieder, p. 3·9.
26 It is quoted by tbe commentaires on Pseudo-Jonathon and most
recently by by R. Le Déaut in bis translation and by Rieder in bis
translatton (Jerusalem 1984) p. 57.

of the donkey itself. Thus, an echo of an ancient non-Israelite ritual

was preserved in a Targum whose final composition was indeed
late, but which incorporated many early traditions 27•


27 I cannot agree with A. Shinan that the Aggadic elaborations

uníque to Pseudo-Jonathon were taken from Pirqe de Rabbi Eliezer
(dissertation p. 356). Kronholm (above n. 18) has noted the affinity
of Ephrem to Pseudo-Jonathon and PdRE which wouíd indicate the
exístence of an earlier source.
Addendum to note 9: F. R. Kraus, Jrro nigliche Verfügungen in ali-
babylonischer Zeit (Leiden 1984) p. 91, n. 204 ínterprets the words in
the treaty between Hamml-deáur and Sumu-Numhim (Gl'eengus, OBTI
· 326, 11.34-35) istu anse immahsú "seit der Esel geschlachtet worden
íst" as referring to -a peace treaty.

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