Fourth Sunday of Advent (B): The Promises of the Lord
Mary: Surprised by Gabriel, She Trusts God’s Promise
The quality of daily life of all those in slavery, but especially that of household slaves (and children), V 6, p 69 depended almost entirely upon the particular character and mood of the owner (or father; see Eph 6:4):Greco-Roman slave systems and legal frameworks gave slave owners much room to be cruel or compassionate.
For example, even as adults those in slavery were subject to corporal punishment, private or public. Demosthenes had said (22.55) that the greatest difference between a slave and a free person is that the slave “is answerable with his body for all offenses.” And the reputation of slaves for deception was met by Roman laws requiring that their testimony for law courts had to be verified under torture. Here it is noteworthy that by the 2d century C.E. Rome made corporal punishment and torture legal also for the humiliores, the lower classes among the free, citizen population.
Further, the fact that the owner of slaves owned the bodies and not just the work of the persons in slavery meant that slaves were generally regarded as sexually available without restriction. With respect to sexual exploitation of slaves, Hillel is remembered to have said: “Whoever multiplies female slaves multiplies promiscuity” (m. ʾAbot 2.8). So it is striking that neither the sexual risks for slaves nor the related temptations for their owners are mentioned specifically in NT documents, unless Paul had owners of slaves in mind when urging Christians “that you abstain from immorality, that each of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor” (1 Thess 4:3–4, RSV).
David: Surprised by Nathan, He Trusts God’s Promise
Just as the obligatory covenant in Israel is modelled on the suzerain-vassal type of treaty, so the promissory covenant is modelled on the royal grant. Like the royal grants in the ancient Near East, so also the covenants with Abraham and David are gifts bestowed upon individuals who distinguished themselves in loyally serving their masters. Abraham is promised the land because he V 2, p 271 obeyed God and followed his mandate (Gen. 26:5; cf. 22:16–18), and similarly David was given the grace of kingship because he served God in truth, righteousness, and loyalty (1 K. 3:6; 9:4; 11:4, 6; 14:8; 15:3). The terminology employed in this context is very close to that used in the Assyrian grants. Thus in the grant of Ashurbanipal to his servant, we read: “[Balṭāya] …, whose heart is whole to his master, stood before me with truthfulness, walked in perfection in my palace, … and kept the charge of my kingship (iṣṣur maṣṣarti).… I took thought of his kindness and decreed (therefore) his gi[f]t.” Identical formulations are to be found in connection with the promises to Abraham and David. With regard to Abraham, it is said that “he kept my charge” (lit. “my watch,” shamar mishmarti) (Gen. 26:5), “walked before God” (24:40; 48:15), and is expected “to be perfect” (17:1). David’s loyalty to God is couched in phrases that are even closer to the Assyrian grant terminology, as, “he walked before God in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart” (1 K. 3:6), “he followed God with all his heart” (1 K. 14:8), etc.
Land and “house” (= dynasty), the subjects of the Abraham and Davidic covenants, are the most prominent gifts of the suzerain in the Hittite and Syro-Palestinian provenance; and like the Hittite grants, the grant of the land to Abraham and the grant of the “house” to David are unconditional. Thus, we hear the Hittite king saying to his vassal: “After you, your son and grandson will possess it; nobody will take it away from them. If one of your descendants sins, the king will prosecute him, … but nobody will take away either his house or his land in order to give it to a descendant of somebody else.” The same concept lies behind the promise of the “house” to David and his descendants in 2 S. 7:8–16.
A Hittite grant typologically similar to the grant of the dynasty to David is found in the decree of Hattusilis concerning Middannamuwas, his chief scribe: “Middannamuwas was a man of grace (kaniššanza UKU-aš) to my father, … and my brother Muwatallis was (kindly) disposed to him, promoted him (kanešta), and gave him Hattusas. My grace (aššul) was also shown to him.… I committed myself for the sons of Middannamuwas, … and you will keep … and so shall the sons of my Sun and the grandsons of my Sun keep. And as my Sun, Hattusilis, and Puduḫepas, the great queen, were kindly disposed (kanešta) toward the sons of Middanamuwas, so shall be my sons and grandsons.… And they shall not abandon the grace (aššulan anda lē dalii̯anzi) of my Sun. The grace and their positions shall not be removed.”