Biblical “Special Traits List”: A Subversive Reaction to Imperial Power

Nili Wazana (Jerusalem)


The Bible is well known for parallels and similarities to ancient Near Eastern literature, found within almost all biblical genres. Yet the Bible also includes ideas and literary formats which are unique. These items on what has been termed the “special traits list” have often been discarded as accidental. In contradistinction this paper suggests that the uniqueness of some if not the majority of these items may be explained and better understood as reactions of the vanquished Israelite and Judahite scribes to Assyrian rule and power. These subversive reactions are politically motivated, providing a religious alternative to Assyrian royal power through various revolutionary concepts, such as a vassal treaty with God, various laws of war, or undermining divine authority of kingship. When searching for parallels for them we should look at literature of other peripheral powers, such as Ugarit or Emar at the end of the Bronze Age.