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The Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue: Reading Exodus 20 in Light of Northwest Semitic Monument-Making Practices

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Abstract

The Decalogue in Exodus was composed and strategically embedded in its literary context in order to reflect the discourse of Northwest Semitic monumental inscriptions. Monument making in the ancient Near East involved primarily the materialization and perpetuation of ideologies as well as the proposition of collective identities, and these functions were easily carried out by text objects. Accordingly, the Decalogue's commandments reveal a YHWH-centered ideology expressed in terms familiar to Northwest Semitic monumental discourse. These commandments were strategically structured to provoke collective interaction with the text that would persuade its users to accept its proposed perspective as their new collective identity. Finally, the Decalogue is inserted at a point in the narrative where the ancient audience could reasonably expect an account of monument erection—immediately following the account of YHWH's defeat of Egypt, which makes up the first half of the book of Exodus. The Decalogue thus acts as the text of an imagined victory monument to YHWH, which materialized YHWH's newly established kingship over Israel and the divine proposition of the people's collective identity. The Decalogue thereby fulfills the primary function of royal Northwest Semitic monuments by materializing an imagined encounter between a king and his people and establishing a relationship between them. The text's monumentality thus provides a new means of conceptualizing its composition and authority.
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e Monumentality of the Sinaitic
Decalogue: Reading Exodus 20
in Light of Northwest Semitic
Monument-Making Practices
 
thogue@ucla.edu
University of California, Los Angeles, 90095
e Decalogue in Exodus was composed and strategically embedded in its liter-
ary context in order to reect the discourse of Northwest Semitic monumental
inscriptions. Monument making in the ancient Near East involved primarily the
materialization and perpetuation of ideologies as well as the proposition of col-
lective identities, and these functions were easily carried out by text objects.
Accordingly, the Decalogue’s commandments reveal a YHWH-centered ideol-
ogy expressed in terms familiar to Northwest Semitic monumental discourse.
ese commandments were strategically structured to provoke collective inter-
action with the text that would persuade its users to accept its proposed perspec-
tive as their new collective identity. Finally, the Decalogue is inserted at a point
in the narrative where the ancient audience could reasonably expect an account
of monument erection—immediately following the account of YHWH’s defeat
of Egypt, which makes up the rst half of the book of Exodus. e Decalogue
thus acts as the text of an imagined victory monument to YHWH, which mate-
rialized YHWH’s newly established kingship over Israel and the divine proposi-
tion of the people’s collective identity. e Decalogue thereby fullls the primary
function of royal Northwest Semitic monuments by materializing an imagined
encounter between a king and his people and establishing a relationship between
them. e text’s monumentality thus provides a new means of conceptualizing
its composition and authority.
ere have been many attempts to determine the signicance of the Deca-
logue on the basis of its place within the wider body of ancient Near Eastern
JBL 138, no. 1 (2019): 79–99
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.15699/jbl.1381.2019.529687
79
is article benetted from helpful comments from William Schniedewind and Jeremy
Smoak. I would also like to thank the anonymous JBL reviewers for their suggested revisions and
the UCLA Graduate Division for funding the initial stage of this research as a Graduate Research
80 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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literature.1 While many helpful insights have already been put forward, no previous
study has fully explored the Decalogue in relation to the corpus of texts it most
resembles: Northwest Semitic monumental inscriptions. Indeed, beyond a few
passing references, this comparison seems not yet to have been pursued.2 e foun-
dation of the Decalogue’s textualization and resultant social power has therefore
mostly been missed. e Decalogue was composed to function as a monumental
text in typical Northwest Semitic style. e selection of its particular commands,
the structure of the text, its literary integration into the book of Exodus, and its
resultant authority all stem from the Decalogue’s monumentality.
I. T M
Monumentality relates not primarily to an object’s form but to its function.3
Monuments function only as communities actually adopt them as part of their
Mentorship. Other forms of this research project benetted signicantly from the feedback of Seth
Sanders, Aaron Burke, and Yona Sabar.
1 It would be impossible to list every study of the Decalogue here, but some works are espe-
cially relevant for the approach advanced in this study. Recent works that have included broader
histories of scholarship of the Decalogue include those of Jean-Louis Ska (Introduction to Reading
the Pentateuch, trans. Pascale Dominique [Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006]) and David
Aaron (Etched in Stone: e Emergence of the Decalogue [New York: T&T Clark, 2006]).e works
of Brevard S. Childs (e Book of Exodus: A Critical, eological Commentary [Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1974]) and Frank-Lothar Hossfeld (Der Dekalog: Seine späten Fassungen, die origi-
nale Komposition und seine Vorstufen, OBO 45 [Freiburg: Universitätsverlag; Göttingen: Vanden-
hoeck & Ruprecht, 1982]) are also helpful in this regard.
2 In 1932, Arno Poebel detected that the opening line of the Decalogue was related to the
openings of Northwest Semitic monumental inscriptions in the rst person (Das appositionell
bestimmte Pronomen der 1. Pers. Sing. in den Westsemitischen Inschrien und im Alten Testament,
AS 3 [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932], 53–57). His work focused specically on this
aspect of the text, however, and he did not pursue further correspondences. In 1951, Umberto
Cassuto connected the same typical opening for Northwest Semitic inscriptions to Exod 6:2 as
well as the opening of the Decalogue (A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, trans. Israel Abrahams
[Jerusalem: Magnes Press, Hebrew University, 1951], 76). He argues that this was a form typical
of royal rhetoric in the ancient Near East, but he makes no further attempt to align the text with
the Northwest Semitic monument-making traditions. More recently, Nahum M. Sarna follows
Cassuto and explicitly connects the opening of the Decalogue to KAI 10, 13, 24, 26, 181, 202, 214,
and 216 (Sarna, Exodus תומש: e Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, JPSTC
[Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991], 15, 109). He notes this despite his earlier sugges-
tion that the Decalogue was closely aligned with treaties and ancient collections of laws and
wisdom literature (Exploring Exodus: e Heritage of Biblical Israel [New York: Schocken, 1986]
134–44). While he saw the connection to royal inscriptions as an aspect of how the text derived
its authority, he did not pursue further correspondences nor mention that these texts are monu-
mental.
3 Wu Hung, Monumentality in Early Chinese Art and Architecture (Stanford: Stanford Uni-
versity Press, 1995), 4.
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 81
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collective thought. Any object thus has the potential to become a monument
depending on the ways communities interact with it.4 Timothy Pauketat describes
monuments as follows:
ey inspire, motivate, and actively engage people by disproportionately articu-
lating social relationships.… Monuments, to be monuments, must be more than
big memorials. ey must possess the qualities of monumentality, the foremost
of which is the imaginary. We do not merely see them and remember. We feel
them and imagine.5
Monumentality, then, in the most general terms, is the potential for an object to
materialize collective imagination. As communities encounter monuments and
imagine through them, they participate in the formation of collective memory,
ideology, and identity.6 e quality of an object that may make it monumental is
the aordance of such communal meaning.7
e functional denition of monuments above can be applied to any material,
including texts. Indeed, texts can materialize imagined interactions with persons,
places, or events even more directly than other monumental forms.8 Because texts
can be reproduced, they have the potential to outlive monumental architecture and
iconic art worked in stone. Because texts are portable, they can reach and inuence
a much broader audience than stone monuments, which are permanently limited
to particular places.9 In dealing more specically with literary monuments, Ann
Rigney has argued that literature may become monumental precisely because it is
simultaneously permanent and mutable. Texts can potentially preserve words
indenitely, but they also allow the revision and reinterpretation of those words as
they are encountered by new audiences.10 is ts James Osbornes assertion that
monumentality is “an ongoing, constantly renegotiated relationship between thing
and person, between the monument(s) and the person(s) experiencing the monu-
ment.11 A monument remains monumental only as new communities are able to
relate to it, and no monument can accomplish this better than a text as it becomes
4 James F. Osborne, “Monuments and Monumentality,” in Approaching Monumentality in
Archaeology, ed. James F. Osborne, Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology Dis-
tinguished Monograph Series (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014), 4.
5 Timothy Pauketat, “From Memorials to Imaginaries in the Monumentality of Ancient
North America,” in Osborne, Approaching Monumentality, 431–46, here 442.
6 Elizabeth DeMarrais, Luis Jaime Castillo, and Timothy Earle, “Ideology, Materialization,
and Power Strategies,CA 37 (1996): 16–19.
7 Pauketat, “From Memorials to Imaginaries,” 442.
8 DeMarrais, Castillo, and Earle, “Ideology, Materialization, and Power Strategies,” 19.
9 Ann Rigney, “Portable Monuments: Literature, Cultural Memory, and the Case of Jeanie
Deans,Poetics Today 25 (2004): 361–96, here 383.
10 Ann Rigney, “e Dynamics of Remembrance: Texts between Monumentality and Mor-
phing,” in A Companion to Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Hand-
book, ed. Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2010), 343–53.
11 Osborne, “Monuments and Monumentality,” 3 (emphasis original).
82 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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an object of continuous communal interpretation. In fact, the only feature limiting
the monumentalization of texts is their strategic, communal deployment.
e theoretical considerations above will serve an analysis of the Decalogue
only once a method for reading literary texts as monuments has been developed.
For the purpose of the present study, I will adapt a model suggested by Edmund
omas in his study of Greco-Roman monumental texts. omas suggests three
aspects of monumental texts that aord meaning to communities: the text, the
writing, and the monument.12 By “text” omas intends the actual semantic con-
tent of the text and its rhetorical structure. By “writing” he intends the aesthetic
qualities of the text and its mode of presentation. Finally, by “monument” omas
intends a treatment of the greater architectural work into which a text is integrated.
omas’s model can be applied to literature if understood in terms of literary
embedding. His category of “text” may easily be applied to literature, while his
categories of “writing” and “monument” may be replaced by considerations of the
literary frame and narrative setting of the embedded monumental text. We have
examples from the ancient Near East of the strategic literary framing of texts to
suggest the literary embedding of monuments, so this altered model is an attractive
heuristic tool.13 I propose that a similar operation took place in the composition of
the Decalogue. e text was strategically framed, compiled, and inserted into the
book of Exodus to create a monument.
Textual Monumentality in Ancient Near Eastern Royal Inscriptions
e general denitions and aspects of textual monumentality outlined above
may suggest new approaches to analyzing the Decalogue, but, in the words of Wu
Hung, “these are nevertheless empty words until they are historically dened.14
Monumentality must ultimately be particularly dened within specic socio-
cultural contexts. Furthermore, the function of a monument may best be ascer-
tained when it is placed alongside other monuments from similar periods and
cultural contexts.15 e following example—the recently discovered adê from Tell
Tayinat—will serve to illustrate the general aspects of textual monumentality
12 Edmund omas, “e Monumentality of Text,” in Osborne, Approaching Monumental-
ity, 57–82, here 60–61.
13 e most signicant example of this is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was reframed during
the Neo-Assyrian period as having been derived from an imagined narû. See Jerey H. Tigay, e
Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), 140–46.
On this process more generally in Mesopotamia and especially the overlapping functions and
monumentalities of narû and narû-literature, see Gerdien Jonker, e Topography of Remem-
brance: e Dead, Tradition and Collective Memory in Mesopotamia, SHR 68 (Leiden: Brill, 1995),
92–98.
14 Wu, Monumentality in Early Chinese Art, 4.
15 Ibid.
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 83
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discussed above with features specic to royal monuments in the ancient Near
East.16
ough not yet studied as such, adês easily t the dening characteristics of
monuments. Whether they are labeled vassal treaties, covenants, or loyalty oaths,
adês were in general a means of communication implemented by the Assyrian
monarchy in order to reify relationships. e adê at Tell Tayinat materialized Assyr-
ian imperial ideology and imposed it on the vassal state based at that site. It thus
also constituted a resultant social stratication, granting the denizens of Tell Tay-
inat a new collective identity relative to the Assyrian crown. Notably, the adê was
not binding only to those receiving it, but “[wi]th them and with the men who are
born aer the adê in the [f]uture.17 e adê thus provoked its readers to imagine
a future in which it was still binding. is also meant that the adê was designed to
be reinterpreted by new generations and to continue acting as a monument.
Most importantly, the adê at Tell Tayinat created an imagined encounter in a
ritual context. e tablet was discovered in Building XVI, which has been identied
as a Neo-Assyrian temple constructed in the late eight or early seventh century
BCE. It was found near a podium in the temple’s inner sanctum along with a num-
ber of votive tablets. e adê tablet was pierced horizontally, suggesting that it was
meant to be mounted. e nd spot of the tablet, as well as its breaking pattern,
may indicate that it was originally mounted facing an altar on the podium’s east
side.18 is could mean that the adê was intended to be exhibited and viewed in
connection with ritual processions and oerings in the inner sanctum.19 Accounts
of similar adês in the Assyrian heartland indicate that the text had to be activated
by means of a large public ceremony involving ritual acts, including sacrices and
the recitation of the text.20 Once the adê were ritually inaugurated, they became
“tablets of destinies”—sacred objects before which those who had sworn the oath
were expected to return and perform regular ritual obeisance.21 In eect, vassals
swore to the Assyrian king by swearing before the tablet. ey imaginatively
encountered the monarch by activating the textual monument as they interacted
16 Jacob Lauinger, “Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty at Tell Tayinat: Text and Commentary,
JCS 64 (2012): 87–123; Timothy P. Harrison and James F. Osborne, “Building XVI and the Neo-
Assyrian Sacred Precinct at Tell Tayinat,JCS 64 (2012): 125–43; Frederick Mario Fales, “Aer
Ta’yinat: e New Status of Esarhaddon’s Adê for Assyrian Political History,” RA 106 (2012):
133–58.
17 Simo Parpola and Kazuko Watanabe, New-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths, SAA 2 6
(Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1988), §1 T I 13–14. This translation is derived from
Lauinger, “Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty,” 112.
18 Harrison and Osborne, “Building XVI,” 137.
19 Alessandra Gilibert, Syro-Hittite Monumental Art and the Archaeology of Performance:
e Stone Reliefs at Carchemish and Zincirli in the Earlier First Millennium BCE, Topoi – Berlin
Studies of the Ancient World 2 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2011), 109–12.
20 Fales, “Aer Ta’yinat,” 148–50.
21 Ibid., 145.
84 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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with it.22 is example is particularly pertinent because the inuence of this type
of monumental rhetoric on other texts in the Pentateuch has already been sug-
gested.23 It stands to reason that such a co-optation of monumental rhetoric may
have occurred elsewhere as well.
e adê from Tell Tayinat helpfully illustrates some of the key aspects of the
monumentality of ancient Near Eastern royal inscriptions. e spatial deployment
of the text—that is, its ritual emplacement and activation—both imaginatively pro-
duced the presence of the king and created a liminal zone for the formation of ideal
subjects.24 e identity and ideology of the king were provided by the semantic
content of the text, which also proposed—both implicitly and explicitly—a new
collective identity for its users.25 is proposed social formation and requisite per-
spectival shi was further aorded by the text’s rhetorical structure.26 In sum,
ancient Near Eastern royal textual monumentality centered on aording an imag-
ined encounter with the king and his ideology for the purpose of molding the
monuments users into ideal subjects, though precise techniques for this varied
depending on the period and specic cultural context. Ancient Near Eastern royal
monuments specically functioned by proposing collective identities to their users
and eecting their transformation.
22 Kathryn E. Slanski has argued for a similar function of the Law Stele of Hammurabi (“e
Law of Hammurabi and Its Audience,Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 24 [2012]: 97–110).
23 For the connection between adês and biblical literature, see esp. Bernard M. Levinson,
“Esarhaddons Succession Treaty as the Source for the Canon Formula in Deuteronomy 13:1,
JAOS 130 (2010): 337–47. See also William M. Schniedewind’s approach to the two tablets in
Exodus for a connection to “tablets of destinies” (How the Bible Became a Book: e Textualization
of Ancient Israel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004], 129–30).
24 In speaking of the monument producing presence, I am borrowing language from Seth
Sanders and his analysis of Iron Age funerary monuments. I would argue that his reading can be
more widely applied. See Seth L. Sanders, “Naming the Dead: Funerary Writing and Historical
Change in the Iron Age Levant,MAARAV 19 (2012): 11–36, here 12. e initiation of contact
between the king and his subjects through monumental texts was previously suggested for Assyr-
ian texts by Mario Liverani, “Memorandum on the Approach to Historiographic Texts,Or 42
(1973): 178–94, here 188. In her study of the stele of Hammurabi, Marian Feldman suggested that
the function of this contact was to fashion an ideal subject (“Object Agency? Spatial Perspective,
Social Relations, and the Stele of Hammurabi,” in Agency and Identity in the Ancient Near East:
New Paths Forward, ed. Sharon R. Steadman and Jennifer C. Ross [London: Equinox, 2010],
148–65, here 159–61). Douglas J. Green suggested a similar function for the Zakkur stele (“I
Undertook Great Works”: e Ideology of Domestic Achievements in West Semitic Royal Inscriptions,
FAT 2/41 [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010], 164–66).
25 Bruce Routledge, Moab in the Iron Age: Hegemony, Polity, Archaeology, Archaeology, Cul-
ture, and Society (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 147–51; Seth L. Sanders,
e Invention of Hebrew, Traditions (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 118; Green, I
Undertook Great Works, 15–22.
26 Frederick Mario Fales, “Kilamuwa and the Foreign Kings: Propaganda vs. Power,WO 10
(1979): 7–9; Routledge, Moab in the Iron Age, 142–47; Green, I Undertook Great Works, 297–307.
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 85
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Before proceeding, I oer a brief explanation for my focus on Exodus 20 as
opposed to Deuteronomy 5. My arguments regarding the semantic, thematic, and
structural parallels between the Decalogue and Northwest Semitic monumental
inscriptions may largely be applied to both versions of the Decalogue. In consider-
ing the literary setting of the Decalogue, however, I have chosen to focus my argu-
ments on the version preserved in Exodus. e connection of the Sinai event in
Exodus to stela erection renders it a more attractive starting point for reading the
Decalogue’s composition as a reection of monument making.27 Whether the Exo-
dus text was in fact the primary version of the Decalogue is ultimately immaterial
to my argument.28
II. S  T P
e Decalogue borrows key aspects of its content and themes from Northwest
Semitic monumental inscriptions, especially memorial inscriptions dating from
between the ninth and h centuries BCE. is co-optation of monumental dis-
course for YHWH is unsurprising given the Israelite metaphor of “God is king.29
Marc Brettler has demonstrated at length that this concept gave rise to numerous
submetaphors and a broad swath of biblical literature. is metaphor was a signi-
cant component of ancient Israelite and Judahite ideology. YHWH’s identication
as king was so strong in the Hebrew Bible that the Judahite king seems to have been
denied some typical features of ancient Near Eastern kingship in deference to
YHWH. Among those royal trappings coopted for use in reference to YHWH are
various literary tropes and genres, such as the royal messenger formula, the use of
vassal treaty conventions, and even panegyrics.30 To these, we may now add the
aspects of monumental rhetoric to be discussed below.
27 Dennis J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant: A Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental Docu-
ments and in the Old Testament, new ed., AnBib 21 (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1978), 174.
28 is is not to deny the importance of Deuteronomy’s Decalogue in pursuing my thesis
further. Both Exodus and Deuteronomy present the Decalogue as a special communication from
YHWH to the community that is ritually activated and emplaced. See Erhard Blum, Studien zur
Komposition des Pentateuch, BZAW 189 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1990), 189. Despite these similarities,
scholars have noted as many as twenty-two dierences between the two versions, so a study
comparing their monumentalities would go beyond the scope of the present endeavor. See f urther
Johann Jakob Stamm, Der Dekalog im Lichte der neueren Forschung (Bern: P. Haupt, 1958), 5; Jose
Loza, Las palabras de Yahve: Estudio del Decálogo (Mexico City: Biblioteca Mexicana, 1989),
99–102. I will take up the question of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy 5 in a future study.
29 Marc Zvi Brettler, God Is King: Understanding an Israelite Metaphor, JSOTSup 76 (Shef-
eld: JSOT Press, 1989).
30 For more on the function of the royal messenger formula in the Hebrew Bible, see
William M. Schniedewind, “Scripturalization in Ancient Judah,” in Contextualizing Israel’s
Sacred Writings: Ancient Literacy, Orality, and Literary Production, ed. Brian B. Schmidt, AIL
86 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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e “I Am” Formula
e Decalogue opens with the following words:
:םידבע תיבמ םירצמ ץראמ ךיתאצוה רשא ךיהלא הוהי יכנא
I am YHWH, your god, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the
house of slavery. (Exod 20:2)
is opening is the rst and arguably most important clue within the text of the
Decalogue itself suggesting that it should be read as a monumental inscription. Not
only are such “I am” openings common in the monumental inscriptions of the
cultures surrounding Israel and Judah, but these openings occur in no other genre.
In fact, in the only extrabiblical occurrence of this opening not inscribed on a
monument—a section of Šuppiluliuma II’s account of his conquest of Cyprus—it
is used to suggest that the text it introduces is to be understood as the reproduction
of a monumental inscription within the narrative. e “I am” openings were argu-
ably the most operative clauses in the Northwest Semitic monumental inscriptions
that preserve them, and this was one of the most signicant ways for the composer
to tap into monumental rhetoric.
e “I am” formula identies the inscription as containing the words of the
individual who has dedicated the inscribed object or who accomplished the deeds
described thereon. Douglas Green previously argued that the commissioner of a
Northwest Semitic memorial inscription acted as the text’s conceptual and ideo-
logical center, but he did not connect this to a particular type of clause.31 is
centering was accomplished by opening the inscription with the rst-person pro-
noun.
e “I am” formula likely originated in the Syro-Anatolian monumental tradi-
tions. Its earliest attestation is in the Idrimi inscription from Alalaḫ dating to the
early eenth century BCE.32 It next appeared in use by the Hittites in both Hiero-
glyphic Luwian and cuneiform Hittite texts dating to the end of the thirteenth and
the beginning of the twelh century BCE.33 During the Iron Age, this became the
22 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015), 314. For the inuence of treaties on biblical texts, see, among others,
Levinson, “Esarhaddon’s Succession Treaty”; George E. Mendenhall, “Law and Covenant in Israel
and the Ancient Near East,BA 17.2–3 (May 1954): 26–44, 49–76; McCarthy, Treaty and Cove-
nant, 107–77. By panegyrics, I am referring to the enthronement psalms. For an extensive treat-
ment of these psalms and how they developed YHWH’s kingship, see Shawn W. Flynn, YHWH
Is King: e Development of Divine Kingship in Ancient Israel, VTSup 159 (Leiden: Brill, 2014).
31 Green, I Undertook Great Works, 306–7.
32 Tremper Longman III, Fictional Akkadian Autobiography: A Generic and Comparative
Study (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1991), 60. For a recent edition of the inscription, see Jacob
Lauinger, “Statue of Idrimi,Oracc: e Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus, http://oracc
.org/aemw/alalakh/idrimi/X123456/html.
33 Hans G. Güterbock, “e Hittite Conquest of Cyprus Reconsidered,JNES 26 (1967):
73–81; Fred C. Woudhuizen, Luwian Hieroglyphic Monumental Rock and Stone Inscriptions from
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 87
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standard opening for Hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions.34 In Northwest Semitic
dialects, comparable “I am” formulae are preserved in KAI, vol. 1: 10, 13, 24, 26,
181, 202, 214, 216–218, 306, the Katumuwa inscription,35 and the Çineköy inscrip-
tion.36 Despite the many languages and diering time periods in which this sort of
introduction appeared, its form remained relatively unchanged. A few examples
will illustrate this. KAI 24 opens:
איח רב ומלכ ךנא1.
1. I am KLMW, son of Ḥaya.
ough it is not the very beginning the text, the second line of KAI 202 reads:
הנא הנע שא שעלו תמח ךלמ רכז הנא 2.
2. I am Zakkur, king of Ḥamath and Lu’ash; a man of Anah am I.
KAI 214 opens:
דדהל ןז בצנ תמקה יז ידאי ךלמ לרק רב ומנפ ךנא1.
1. I am Panamuwa, son of Qurila, king of Yaudi, who has erected this stela for
Hadad.
Finally, in Moabite, closest geographically to Israel and Judah, we nd the following
example in KAI 181.
ינבידה באמ ךלמ [תי]שמכ ןב עשמ ךנא1–2a.
1–2a. I am Mesha, son of Kemosh[yat], king of Moab, the Dibonite.
e standard form is an opening with the rst-person pronoun followed by the
name of the addressor. e addressor’s title and lineage or social background are
then stated appositionally. Optionally, some action that further identies the
addressor may be added by use of a determinative-relative marker. All of these
features are present in Exod 20:2.
While the similarity of the Decalogue’s opening to that of monumental
inscriptions has been noted by some previous scholars, beyond suggesting the con-
nection none has commented explicitly on the function of the inclusion of this
the Hittite Empire Period, IBKW Sonderhe 116 (Innsbruck: Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwis-
senscha, 2004), 72–75.
34 For examples, see Annick Payne, Iron Age Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptions, WAW 29
(Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012); John David Hawkins, Inscriptions of the Iron Age,
vol. 1 of Corpus of Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptions, UIGSK NF 8 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000).
35 Dennis Pardee, “A New Aramaic Inscription from Zincirli,BASOR no. 356 (1 November
2009): 51–71.
36 Recai Tekoglu et al., “La bilingue royale louvito-phénicienne de Çineköy,CRAI 144, no.
3 (2000): 961–1007.
88 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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clause.37 e use of the rst-person pronoun—a clear personal deictic reference—
gave the text the quality of speech, allowing the implied speaker to gesture to
himself, as it were.38 is presentation allowed the text to activate an imagined
encounter with the implied speaker.39 To borrow language from Seth Sanders, the
monument thus ventriloquizes its commissioner as if “he were standing right in
front of us.40 Dennis McCarthy is thus absolutely right when he argues that the
opening line of the Decalogue is a theophany.41 It is monumental rhetoric tradi-
tionally used to produce the presence of a king. Here, it produces the presence of
God.
Apart from the functionality of the “I am” formula, its inclusion also suggests
that the composer was indicating to the audience that the Decalogue was intended
to be read as a literary reection of a monumental royal inscription. e literary
reproduction of a full monumental inscription within a longer narrative text is not
unprecedented in the wider Near East. e only other literary occurrence of the “I
(am)” formula is in KBo. 12.38, in which a victory inscription of Šuppiluliuma II is
inserted into a historiographical narrative. Following an annalistic account of the
Hittite king’s successful campaign to Cyprus, the tablet records in full the text of a
royal inscription the king set up in response to the event.42 e Hittite king’s mon-
ument was reproduced in a literary context through this embedding. As discussed
above, such operations were not uncommon in the ancient Near East. It is thus
37 Poebel, Das appositionell bestimmte Pronomen, 53–57; Cassuto, Book of Exodus, 76, 241;
Sarna, Exodus תומש, 15, 109.
38 Jon D. Levenson previously noted that the direct speech here aligns the text with ancient
Near Eastern royal rhetoric (Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible, New Voices in Bibli-
cal Studies [Minneapolis: Winston, 1985], 28), but he makes no connection to monuments
spe ci cally.
39 A similar phenomenon has been observed in Scandinavian Rune stones and Mayan royal
inscriptions. See Kristel Zilmer, “Deictic References in Runic Inscriptions on Voyage Runestones,
Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies 1 (2010): 123–42; Stephen Houston and David
Stuart, “e Ancient Maya Self: Personhood and Portraiture in the Classic Period,RES: Anthro-
pology and Aesthetics, no. 33 (1998): 73–101, here 88.
40 Sanders, Invention of Hebrew, 114. Sanders later argued that this feature of monuments
served to “produce the presence” of the monument commissioner (“Naming the Dead,” 35).
41 McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant, 163–67.
42 is example is noteworthy because the introduction of the Hittite royal inscription is one
of the earliest attestations of a rst-person opening to such an inscription, and it likely ows from
the same stream of tradition that ultimately gave rise to the Northwest Semitic occurrences, such
as that preserved in the Decalogue. Lines 22–24 of KBo. 12.38 read as follows:
22. ú-uk-za dUTU-ŠI Ta-bar-na-aš
23. mKÙ.GA.[TÚ]L- LUGAL.GAL LUGAL KUR uru[Ḫa]t-ti
24. UR.SAG DUMU mTu-ud-ḫa-li-ya
I am My Sun, the Tabarna Šuppiluliuma, the Great King, king of Hatti, the hero, son of
Tudḫaliya …
is transliteration and translation follow Güterbock, “Hittite Conquest of Cyprus,” 76, 78.
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 89
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unsurprising that a similar development occurred in the Hebrew Bible. By framing
the Decalogue with the “I am” formula, the text’s composer indicated to the audi-
ence that it should be read as the text of a monument.
ematic Parallels
In addition to the direct semantic parallel of the Decalogue’s “I am” formula
to those of Northwest Semitic monumental inscriptions, the text of the Decalogue
contains a number of thematic parallels to monumental rhetoric. e removal of
rival claimants to power, regulation of images, regulation of the monument com-
missioner’s name, institution of remembrance ritual, and even moral directives are
all encountered in monumental inscriptions. e juxtaposition of these particular
commands with the “I am” formula suggests that they were strategically selected in
order to further the Decalogue’s connection to monumental discourse. ough the
motivations for their placement in the Decalogue may have been more complex, a
connection to monumental rhetoric appears to have been at least one principle
guiding the text’s composer.
Verse 3 was placed immediately aer the “I am” formula in order to recall the
trope of removing rival claimants to power. Rivals most oen bear the same title as
the individual indicated by the “I am” formula (usually “king”).43 Monumental
rhetoric typically required that all of these rivals be somehow eliminated or humil-
iated.44 For example, in KAI 310.6, Hazael claims somewhat generically to have
slain ןעבש ןכלמ (“70 kings”), meaning that he has removed all of his rivals.45 Simi-
larly, in KAI 202 A 14, Zakkur’s god promises him לא איכלמ לכ ןמ ךלצחא (“I will
deliver you from all these kings”). In the case of the Decalogue, the rst line had
already made use of the motif of the king as victor by referencing the defeat of the
Egyptians.46 is verse notes YHWH’s overcoming of his primary rival in Exodus—
the Pharaoh.47 Verse 3 ensures that no more rivals will rise to challenge YHWH.
ere the people are forbidden from having any םירחא םיהלא (“other gods”) or any
that might usurp YHWH’s exclusive claim to be Israel’s god.
43 For generic negative references to rival kings, see KAI 24.5–7; 26 A I.12, 19, A III.4, 6–7,
19; 181.4–5, 10, 18; 202 A.4–7, 9, 14, 16. See also Green, I Undertook Great Works, 287.
44 Matthew Suriano, “e Apology of Hazael: A Literary and Historical Analysis of the Tel
Dan Inscription,JNES 66 (2007): 163–76, here 172.
45 Ibid., 167–68.
46 On this motif, see Green, I Undertook Great Works, 290; Moshe Greenberg, Understanding
Exodus: A Holistic Commentary on Exodus 1–11, 2nd ed., ed. Jerey H. Tigay (Eugene, OR: Cas-
cade, 2013), 11.
47 e theme of conict with Pharaoh has been explored by various scholars. For a consid-
eration of how it inuenced the structure of Exodus, see Blum, Studien zur Komposition des
Pentateuch, 9–17; Mark S. Smith, “e Literary Arrangement of the Priestly Redaction of Exodus:
A Preliminary Investigation,CBQ 58 (1996): 25–50.
90 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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Verse 4 begins a series of violation clauses opening with an injunction prohib-
iting the making of any לספ (“image”). While these images have been traditionally
understood as non-Yahwist idols, it is more likely that this prohibition has in mind
competing or unauthorized cult icons.48 As a thematic element of monumental
inscriptions, images were objects that could either enhance the text’s monumental-
ity or compete with it. erefore, monumental texts oen regulate the erection of
images, legitimating those of the monument commissioner but forbidding any
unauthorized usage. For example, the rst line of KAI 214 relates Panamuwa’s erec-
tion of a cult image, and lines 15–18 give specic instructions for properly activat-
ing it.49 Lines 20 and following, on the other hand, contain curses on any potential
successors to Panamuwa who would use the image for a purpose other than that
specied in the monumental text, namely, to maintain the memory of Panamuwa.50
In short, where similar image prohibitions are preserved, they regulate the proper
use of the monument and prohibit its misuse or destruction. e primary intention
of verse 4 in its present context is most likely the prohibition of any countermonu-
ments that would compete with those legitimated by YHWH. Anything that would
usurp the function of YHWH’s legitimated monuments is strictly forbidden.
e justication placed alongside the image commandment in verse 4 makes
its connection to monumental rhetoric even more likely. e generational blessings
and curses in verses 5–6 are typical of image regulations in monumental inscrip-
tions. Monumental inscriptions treated images as analogous to lineage, as both
were a means of perpetuating a person’s presence.51 Clauses protecting images are
therefore oen accompanied by curses on any potential violator’s descendants and
blessings on those who respect the image. For example, KAI 225.6–11a has a curse
upon the violator’s seed should he remove the dedicator’s image. On the other hand,
lines 11b–14 promise: ךל יז רצני הרחא אז אתצראו אמלצ רצנת ןה (“if you guard this
image and this plot, in the future yours will be guarded”). KAI 226 similarly pairs
the motifs of the blessing of עבר ינב (“children of the fourth generation,” line 5) with
a curse upon any violator’s descendants (line 10).
Verse 7 was included in the Decalogue to reect monumental rhetoric pro-
tecting the commissioner’s name. An ancient Near Eastern monument could not
48 e verbal form of the root לספ is used in reference to the tablets of the testimony in Exod
34:1, 4 and Deut 10:1, 3, and in reference to Solomon’s temple in 1 Kgs 5:32, suggesting that it can
be used in reference to legitimate cultic productions in addition to illegitimate ones. See Victor
Avigdor Hurowitz, “What Can Go Wrong with an Idol?,” in Iconoclasm and Text Destruction in
the Ancient Near East and Beyond, ed. Natalie Naomi May, OIS 8 (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 2012), 290–300.
49 Specically, a sacrice must be oered to the image and a particular set of recitations
performed. A similar set of instructions is preserved in KAI 26 A II.19–A III.1; 215.18, and the
Katumuwa inscription.
50 Prohibitions of misuse of images are preserved also in KAI 225.6–11 and 226.8–10.
51 Nathaniel B. Levtow, “Text Destruction and Iconoclasm in the Hebrew Bible and the
Ancient Near East,” in May, Iconoclasm and Text Destruction, 311–60, here 316.
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 91
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function unless the commissioner’s name was preserved. e destruction of the
name was seen as a metaphysical attack on the person, preventing any imagined
encounter with that person in the future from being activated.52 e “name” can
even be understood as a metaphor for the entire monument, as its function depends
on it.53 In the Northwest Semitic corpus, name erasure or replacement is forbidden
in KAI 26 A III.13–1954 and KAI 309.11–12, 16–17.55 Similarly, the forgetting of
the commissioner’s name is forbidden in KAI 214.21.56
Verses 8–11 prescribe a commemorative ritual. Monumental inscriptions
oen gave prescriptions for rituals to be performed before the monument or to
otherwise commemorate the dedicator. KAI 26 C IV.2–6 prescribe specic sacri-
ces to be brought to images associated with the monument. KAI 214.15b–18 and
lines 2b–5 and 8b–13 of the Katumuwa inscription prescribe specic acts of wor-
ship to be carried out with reference to the monument and the person commemo-
rated.57 KAI 214’s prescribed ritual is especially striking because it is instituted in
line 17 with the indirect command: רכזי דע (“let him keep remembering”). While
the content of the Decalogue’s memorial ritual is undoubtedly dierent, its place-
ment in its present context reects the broader theme of ritual prescription in
monumental rhetoric.
Verses 13–17 have previously been treated as the ancient core of the Deca-
logue and may derive from a separate composition.58 Nevertheless, it is still striking
that this particular set of commands was included with the commands in the rst
half of the Decalogue. e way they are framed by verse 12 suggests an attempt to
reshape them according to a new monumental setting within the Decalogue. Verse
12 was introduced to bridge between the rst set of commands and the second.59
is command is paired with a blessing for long life that exactly parallels a typical
blessing sought in monumental inscriptions.60 Parallels to the commands against
52 Natalie Naomi May, “Iconoclasm and Text Destruction in the Ancient Near East,” in May,
Iconoclasm and Text Destruction in the Ancient Near East, 1–32, here 4–5.
53 Ilya Yakubovich, “Nugae Luvicae,” in Anatolian Languages, ed. Vitaly Shevoroshkin and
Paul Sidwell, AHL Studies in the Science and History of Languages 6 (Canberra: Association for
the History of Language, 2002), 189–209, here 196; Sandra L. Richter, e Deuteronomistic History
and the Name eology: Lešakken šemô šām in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, BZAW 318
(Berlin: de Gruyter, 2002), 133; Karen Radner, Die Macht des Namens: Altorientalische Strategien
zur Selbst erhaltung, Santag 8 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2005), 161–62; Levtow, “Text Destruc-
tion and Iconoclasm,” 334.
54 In line 13, the person to be cursed is identied as דותזא םש חמי שא (“[he] who would
erase the name of Azatiwada”).
55 In both places, the cursed party ימש דלי (“removes my name”).
56 Here, the cursed party ומנפ םשא רכזי אל (“does not remember the name of Pana muwa”).
57 Gilibert, Syro-Hittite Monumental Art, 109.
58 Christoph Levin, “Der Dekalog am Sinai,VT 35 (1985): 165–91, here 170–71.
59 Childs, Book of Exodus, 417–18.
60 Almost the identical wording occurs in lines 4–5 of the Ekron inscription (KAI 286),
92 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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murder,61 false witness,62 and coveting63 are also attested in the corpus of monu-
mental inscriptions. ough the context of some of these injunctions may dier
from that of the Decalogues commands, what is most striking is that these com-
mands were compiled as part of the Decalogue. ese were strategically selected to
match the monumental frame of the Decalogue in Exodus. Together in their pres-
ent context, these commands act as a declaration of YHWH’s ideal justice—another
typical concern of Northwest Semitic monumental inscriptions.64
III. S P
In addition to shared phrasing and themes, the Decalogue makes use of typi-
cal structural elements of Northwest Semitic monumental inscriptions. e Deca-
logue may nd its neatest structural parallels in bipartite monumental inscriptions.
ese inscriptions have opening rhetorical units focused primarily on the addres-
sor of the inscription and closing units focused more on the addressees. For exam-
ple, in the case of KAI 24, both M. O’Connor and F. M. Fales have observed that
the rst unit of the inscription concerns Kilamuwa in his relation to foreign kings
(lines 1–8) while the second part concerns his relation to his subjects (lines 9–16).65
Similarly, Dennis Pardee notes that the Katumuwa inscription is composed of a rst
unit focused on Katumuwa himself (lines 1–5) and a second unit that contains
instructions for his descendants (lines 6–13).66 e same overarching structure has
which conclude with הצרא ךרבתו המוי ךראת (“may she lengthen his days and bless his land”).
Similar requests for the lengthening of days occur in the dedicatory inscriptions from Byblos (KAI
4–7) and the Tell Fekheriyeh inscription (KAI 309.11–12). KAI 226.3 similarly claims this blessing
but in the past tense, stating that the god to whom the deceased was devoted ימוי ךראה (“length-
ened my days”). See Green, I Undertook Great Works, 281.
61 In line 26 of KAI 214, Panamuwa indirectly commands his potential successor: גרהי לא
(“let him not murder”). Compare חצרת אל (“do not murder”) in Exod 20:13.
62 KAI 222 A 2.38 declares to any violators of the inscription’s stipulations ןלא ידעב תרקש
(“you were false to these testimonies”). is is almost exactly parallel with רקש דע (“false witness”)
in Exod 20:16. e term אידע in KAI 222 A 2.38 is a plurali tantum usually translated as “treaty.”
is is the Aramaic equivalent of the Akkadian term adê. I have translated it more literally in this
case to highlight the correspondences between this line and the verse in the Decalogue.
63 A curse formula in KAI 26 A III.14–15 includes the line: עסיו ז תרקה תיא דמחי ףא םא
ז רעשה (“if, moreover, he covet this city and usurp this gate…”). Compare דמחת אל (“do not
covet”) in Exod 20:17. For this translation of KAI 26, see Stanley Gevirtz, “West-Semitic Curses
and the Problem of the Origins of Hebrew Law,VT 11 (1961): 137–58, here 143. For more on
usurpation in monumental rhetoric, see Levtow, “Text Destruction and Iconoclasm,” 316.
64 Green, I Undertook Great Works, 314–15.
65 M. O’Connor, “e Rhetoric of the Kilamuwa Inscription,BASOR 226 (April 1977):
15–29; Fales, “Kilamuwa and the Foreign Kings,” 6–22.
66 Pardee, “New Aramaic Inscription,” 63.
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 93
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been observed by Green in KAI 181, 202, and 216.67 is pattern explains the
Decalogue’s division between commandments centered on YHWH and the so-
called social commandments.68
e transitions between sections in bipartite inscriptions can be marked by
clause type and length. In the case of the Decalogue, the rst rhetorical unit closes
when nite verbs give way to an innitive in the Sabbath command. e second
unit opens with an innitive in the command concerning parents, which gives way
to nite verbs for the remainder of the text. A similar practice may be observed in
KAI 24, where the rst unit of the text closes with a nal narrative clause that begins
with an innitive (lines 7b–8).69 e units are also dierentiated by clause length.
In KAI 24, the opening section consists of short clauses, but clause length increases
in the following unit.70 In the Decalogue, the clauses of the rst rhetorical unit are
all signicantly longer than those of the second. As in KAI 24, the Decalogue’s
rhetorical units are thus distinguishable almost at a glance by clause length and
type.
However else the rhetorical units of Northwest Semitic monumental inscrip-
tions might be organized, the unifying principle of their division is deixis.71 North-
west Semitic monumental discourse used strategic deictic shis to draw the users
into the perspective of the implied speaker. e “I am” formulae opening these
inscriptions reveals that the central ideological perspective is that of the implied
speaker.72 e remainder of these inscriptions are typically organized along tem-
poral or spatial lines, but time and space are evaluated positively or negatively on
the basis of their congruence with the inscription’s ideology.73 In other words, the
inscriptions evaluate elements of personal, temporal, and spatial deixis on the basis
of the implied speaker’s ideology. is principle is what underlies the addressor-
and addressee-focused units noted above in KAI 24 and the Katumuwa inscription,
67 Green, I Undertook Great Works, 124–27, 166–69, 223–25.
68 Ska, Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch, 50–51.
69 e verb in question is רכש. For its analysis as an innitive, see Josep María Solá-Solé,
L’innitif sémitique: Contribution à létude des formes et des fonctions de noms d’action et des inni-
tifs sémitiques, BEHE 315 (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1961), 104–18. For an alternative analysis of
this verbal form, see John C. L. Gibson, Phoenician Inscriptions, Inclusing Inscriptions in the Mixed
Dialect of Arslan Tash, vol. 3 of Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1982), 37. If Gibson’s analysis is correct, however, my argument still stands that the author
of KAI 24 has demarcated rhetorical units with shiing verbal constructions.
70 O’Connor, “Rhetoric of the Kilamuwa Inscription,” 26.
71 Previous divisions of such texts include battle narratives, building commemorations, vio-
lation clauses, and curses. For a brief treatment of some of these, see Aaron Demsky, “Reading
Northwest Semitic Inscriptions,NEA 70 (2007): 68–74. Outlining the inscriptions according to
the deictic focuses of sections, however, allows for a more unied view of their shared rhetorical
structures.
72 Green, I Undertook Great Works, 307.
73 Ibid., 22.
94 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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for example.74 ese inscriptions transition between negatively evaluated times—
as of warfare or the reigns of inept predecessors—and positively evaluated ones—
the present time, when the king has implemented his ideals. Discourse units may
also be organized on the basis of spatial distance from the speaker, with distant
places, such as the enemy land, negatively evaluated relative to nearer places, such
as the capital city or the location of the monument.75
e Decalogue follows roughly the same organizational principle. Aer the “I
am” formula in verse 2, the text enters a unit involving the removal of rivals and
defense of YHWHs kingship. I have thus labeled this the distal unit to emphasize
its focus on actions that are negatively evaluated by the addressor and thus distant
from his ideology. at this should be taken as a unit is suggested not only by the
addressor-focused content but also by the presence of an inclusio statement fram-
ing the violation clauses in verses 4–11. Verse 4 prohibits the making of images in
the form of anything ץראל תחתמ םימב רשאו תחתמ ץראב רשאו לעממ םימשב רשא
(“that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth below or that is in the waters
beneath the earth”). is triad is repeated to close the inclusio at the beginning of
verse 11, where YHWH is said to have created םיה־תאו ץראה־תאו םימשה־תא (“the
heavens and the earth and the sea”). Furthermore, the Sabbath command exhibits
a shi from negative to positive injunction as well as a shi in verbal forms to the
innitive. Aer this, the text opens a new unit with a positive injunction expressed
by an innitive followed by negative injunctions describing forbidden actions
directed at the addressees rather than the addressor. I have labeled this unit the
medial unit to emphasize its focus on actions carried out in the vicinity of the
74 Aer the “I am” formula in KAI 24, Kilamuwa describes his inept predecessors (lines
2–5a) and then his antagonistic relations to foreign kings (lines 5b–8a). is is his distal unit. He
then moves into a medial unit describing his domestic achievements (lines 9–13a) and leaving
injunctions for his successors (lines 13b–16). Both temporal and spatial deixis are used meta-
phorically to reveal Kilamuwa’s ideological perspective. In the Katumuwa inscription, the distal
unit (lines 1–5) is more focused on the past of the addressor before turning to the addressees in
the future in the medial unit (lines 6–13). e ideology is here primarily implied by means of
temporal deixis.
While the basic rhetorical structure of these monuments is a move from distal to medial,
some inscriptions are more complicated. For example, KAI 181 begins as expected with the “I am”
formula followed by a distal unit characterized by an account of Moab’s past including short
battle narratives (lines 7–21). is section is followed by a medial unit relating Mesha’s domestic
achievements, especially his building activities (lines 21–28). Aer that, the process is repeated
for southern Moab. e preceding sections, on the other hand, were geographically limited to
northern Moab. e overall structure of the inscription actually moves along a north–south axis
through Moab, where northern Moab is seen as more ideologically secure than southern Moab
but both need to be conquered by the ideological center of Dibon. e deictic notion of space
relative to a central locale still governs the structure of the text, but Moab’s complicated ideo-
logical geography requires a more elaborate rhetorical structure. See Green, I Undertook Great
Wor k s , 306; Routledge, Moab in the Iron Age, 142–47.
75 Green, I Undertook Great Works, 297–307.
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 95
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addressees as opposed to the addressor. e structure of the Decalogue can be
outlined as follows:
I. “I am” Formula (v. 2)
II. Distal Unit
a. Removal of Rivals (v. 3)
b. Violation Clauses
i. Images (vv. 4–6)
ii. Name (v. 7)
iii. Ritual (vv. 8–11)
III. Medial Unit
a. Positive Moral Injunction with Purpose Clause (v. 12)
b. Negative Moral Injunctions (vv. 13–17)
e deictically organized discourse of the Decalogue prompts the audience to
engage in a variety of deictic projections.76 e use of a deictic element—the rst-
person pronoun—to open the inscription provokes the monument’s users to imag-
ine a face-to-face encounter with the implied addressor—YHWH.77 e evaluative
language of the text and its ideologically charged use of spatial and temporal deixis
provoke the users to project themselves into YHWH’s perspective. e intention
of provoking this shi is secondarily to bring about a change of relationship by
persuading the users to accept the ideological perspective of the implied speaker
as their own.78 A new collective identity is thus implicitly proposed relative to the
addressor as well as actually produced within the minds of the users through the
text’s strategic use of deixis.
IV. P  S
e Decalogue’s setting within the narrative world of the book of Exodus also
suggests a connection to monument-making practices. A narrative world is created
by the temporal and geographical details woven throughout the greater narrative
76 For more on deictic projection in textual and especially literary contexts, see Vimala
Herman, “Deictic Projection and Conceptual Blending in Epistolarity,Poetics Today 20 (1999):
523–41; Peter Stockwell, Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2002), 43–49.
77 ough Kristel Zilmer does not make use of the concept of deictic projection, she does
explore at length how deictic references contributed to the monumentality of Viking rune stones
and especially their production of imagined encounters. See Zilmer, “Deictic References”; and
Zilmer, “Viking Age Rune Stones in Scandinavia: e Interplay between Oral Monumentality and
Commemorative Literacy,” in Along the Oral–Written Continuum: Types of Texts, Relations and
eir Implications, ed. Slavica Ranković, Leidulf Melve, and Else Mundal, Utrecht Studies in Medi-
eval Literacy 20 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010).
78 For more on perceptual and relational shis produced through deixis, see Stockwell, Cog-
nitive Poetics, 46–47.
96 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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of the book of Exodus.79 In order to consider further how the Decalogue aorded
meaning in Exodus, I turn to questions of how the text was framed and presented
within its broader context. Of special importance is the question of where the
Decalogue is located within this narrative world.
e narrative of Exodus prior to the Sinai pericope in many ways resembles a
battle account with YHWH making war on Egypt and handily defeating them.80 In
typical fashion for campaigning monarchs, YHWH halts his march at a conspicu-
ous landmark—Mount Sinai. Now, the expectation would be for the king to set up
a victory monument, and the Decalogues composer does not disappoint. YHWH
gives a law code in Exod 21–23, has an altar and stelae erected in chapter 24, gives
a lengthy building inscription with instructions for building a shrine in chapters
25–31, and has that shrine actually built in chapters 35–40. Such an erection of
monuments on a signicant boundary landmark aer a successful campaign is
regularly encountered in ancient Near Eastern annals. e most notable of these
were short victory inscriptions meant to preserve the speech of the king and to be
read as oen as they were reencountered.81 Before any of the other monuments in
Exodus, YHWH gives his people just such a textual monument in the form of the
Decalogue, delivering his one and only direct speech to the Israelites in the form
of a Northwest Semitic royal inscription.82
Northwest Semitic peripheral monuments were produced to provide their
users with new perspectives and identities. A few examples can illustrate this. KAI
310, the Tel Dan inscription, was a memorial inscription set up by the Aramaean
king Hazael at a location distant from the center of his domain.83 is location
79 Green, I Undertook Great Works, 285.
80 A full treatment of the possible correspondences with battle narratives and annalistic
accounts goes beyond the scope of this study, but the typical syntagms of such accounts have been
extensively documented and analyzed. See esp. Enrico Badali et al., “Studies on the Annals of
Aššurnasirpal II: I. Morphological Analysis,Vicino Oriente 5 (1982): 13–73; K. Lawson Younger
Jr., Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing,
JSOTSup 98 (Sheeld: JSOT Press, 1990).
81 Badali et al., “Studies on the Annals of Aššurnasirpal II: I. Morphological Analysis,” 39–41;
Shigeo Yamada, “History and Ideology in the Inscriptions of Shalmaneser III: An Analysis of
Stylistic Changes in the Assyrian Annals,” in Royal Assyrian Inscriptions: History, Historiography
and Ideology [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2003); Yamada,
“e Monuments Set Up by Shalmaneser III during His Campaigns,Orient 42 (1999): 1–18;
Younger, Ancient Conquest Accounts, 72. A similar practice is attested also among the Hittites
(Younger, 120–22).
82 e Decalogue is unique in the Pentateuch in that it is the only text delivered directly by
God to the people rather than through the mediation of Moses (Ska, Introduction to Reading the
Pentateuch, 48).
83 William M. Schniedewind, “Tel Dan Stela: New Light on Aramaic and Jehu’s Revolt,
BASOR 302 (1990): 75–90, here 87.
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 97
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fundamentally determined the content and message of the monument.84 e text
preserves an “apology” legitimating Hazael’s reign in Aram-Damascus that espe-
cially focused on his victories along the border with Israel, and the monument was
set up in a city on that border.85 e inscription occupied ideologically liminal
space, so its users were likely a community meant to redene themselves relative
to a Hazael-centered ideology.86
KAI 202, the Zakkur inscription, similarly occupied an ideologically liminal
space in the city of Aphis, and it functioned only as it was integrated into that lim-
inal space. e ideological center of the inscription is the capital city at Hadrach,
as revealed by the extensive narration of Zakkur’s successful defense of the city. When
the inscription transitions to relating the domestic achievements of Zakkur—the
actions most relevant to the implied readers—the activity at Hadrach is limited to
only two lines (B 3–4). e inscription then relates Zakkur’s activity in peripheral
zones (B 5–10) before homing in on his construction and cultic installations at
Aphis (B 11–15). e inscription is legitimating Zakkur’s reign in the eyes of his
implied Aphisite readers. e implication is that the inscription is meant to provide
the Aphisites with a new identity and ideology relative to Hadrach. is meaning
is aorded both by the content of the inscription, which relates the successful
defense of Hadrach and building in Aphis, and by the placement of the inscription
in Aphis.87
e Decalogue’s setting at Sinai is a literary reection of its function as a
monument. It marks the terminus of the exodus campaign as well as the boundary
of a new ideological domain dened by the victorious YHWH. Scholars have pre-
viously detected that the book of Exodus is divided roughly in half relative to geog-
raphy, with 1:1–15:21 centering mostly on Egypt, 15:22–18:27 narrating the march
out of Egypt to Sinai, and chapters 19–40 occurring at Sinai.88 e transition from
84 Shigeo Yamada, “Appendix A: Aram–Israel Relations as Reected in the Aramaic Inscrip-
tion from Tel Dan,” in e Construction of the Assyrian Empire: A Historical Study of the Inscrip-
tions of Shalmaneser III Relating to His Campaigns to the West, CHANE 3 (Leiden: Brill, 2000),
311.
85 Andrew Knapp, “e Dispute over the Land of Qedem at the Onset of the Aram–Israel
Conict: A Reanalysis of Lines 3–4 of the Tel Dan Inscription,JNES 73 (2014): 105–16.
86 is function for the Tel Dan stela may further be suggested by the apparently intentional
destruction of the stela. Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh argued that the stela was smashed in
antiquity by the Israelites when they recaptured the city. e change in Tel Dan’s aliation was
ritualistically aected by the destruction of the monument of its previous holder. See Avraham
Biran and Joseph Naveh, “An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan,” IEJ 43 (1993): 81–98, here
98; Biran and Naveh, “e Tel Dan Inscription: A New Fragment,IEJ 45 (1995): 1–18, here 9;
Yosef Garnkel, “e Destruction of Cultic Objects and Inscriptions during the First Temple
Period” [in Hebrew], ErIsr 29 (2009): 100–104, here 102–3.
87 Green, I Undertook Great Works, 164–66.
88 Smith, “Literary Arrangement,” 38.
98 Journal of Biblical Literature 138, no. 1 (2019)
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Egypt to Sinai represented a move from the domain of Pharaoh’s power to a domain
of YHWH’s power.89 is move resulted in a change in the Israelites’ collective
identity as well, as they transitioned from being the slaves of Pharaoh to the subjects
of YHWH.90 My approach sees this transition accomplished by the Decalogue’s
function as a monument.91 e Decalogue is both a summary text commemorating
YHWH’s victory over Egypt and a peripheral monument marking the edge of
YHWH’s new ideological domain. e literary insertion and especially the narra-
tive order and geography of the wider text create the expectation of a monument
materializing a new collective ideology and a new collective identity. e Deca-
logue appears where a monument is most needed in order to constitute a new
people.
V. C: T M  
D  E
In its current form, the Decalogue is presented as a peripheral, bipartite royal
monumental inscription. It was composed according to the principles of Northwest
Semitic monumental rhetoric. e commands that were included in the Decalogue
appear to have been selected on the basis of their thematic similarities to the con-
cerns of monumental inscriptions, and their justications make this connection
even more explicit. e structure of the text promoted ideologically informed deic-
tic projection intended to create an imagined encounter between YHWH and the
users of the Decalogue. is projection was initiated by the “I am” formula, the
most operative clause of the Decalogue and one that was certainly derived from
Northwest Semitic monumental rhetoric. Furthermore, the texts composer strate-
gically inserted it at a point in the narrative world where an ancient audience would
expect a monument. e composer also juxtaposed the Decalogue to other accounts
of monument making, including an explicit reference to stela erection.92 e con-
vergence of these aspects suggests that the composer of the Decalogue in Exodus
used strategic literary embedding and framing to build a monument at Sinai. An
approach to these aspects based on monumentality allows for both a richer under-
standing of the elements of the Decalogue that aorded meaning to the ancient
89 Jon D. Levenson, e Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism: Jews and
Christians in Biblical Studies (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993), 127–59.
90 Smith, “Literary Arrangement,” 39; Levenson, Sinai and Zion, 22–23.
91 It is not the victory over Egypt in Exod 15 that acts as the fulcrum for the book of Exodus,
as Mark Smith suggests (“Literary Arrangement,” 46). Rather, it is the monument to that victory
in Exod 20 that is the turning point. e Decalogue materializes the ideology and identity that
the victory enabled.
92 McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant, 174.
Hogue: e Monumentality of the Sinaitic Decalogue 99
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communities interacting with it as well as a more nuanced understanding of the
monumental rhetoric it co-opted.
e monumentality of the Decalogue reveals the texts function in the book
of Exodus. It materialized a collective memory of Israel in Egypt, a collective ideol-
ogy centered on YHWH’s kingship and a collective identity of Israel constituted as
YHWH’s people. Furthermore, the texts monumentality transformed it into an
event that could be experienced over and over again, allowing it to reshape new
communities in the future.93 As a “textual monument,” the imagined encounter
materialized by the Decalogue could theoretically be reproduced and adapted
indenitely as the text was copied and revised in new contexts.94 is aspect of the
Decalogue’s monumentality may shed new light on aspects of the texts history of
interpretation and reception. is study has focused specically on one of the steps
in that history—the Decalogue in Exodus. Understanding the Decalogue’s monu-
mentality in this context, though, is the rst step to uncovering the Decalogue’s
reception as a monument in later biblical and postbiblical tradition, as well as to
illuminating even earlier stages in the Decalogues history.
93 Zilmer, “Viking Age Rune Stones in Scandinavia,” 145.
94 Rigney, “Portable Monuments,” 383; Rigney, “Dynamics of Remembrance,” 349.
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§1 T I 13-14. This translation is derived from Lauinger
  • Simo Parpola
  • Kazuko Watanabe
Simo Parpola and Kazuko Watanabe, New-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths, SAA 2 6 (Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1988), §1 T I 13-14. This translation is derived from Lauinger, "Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty, " 112.